True Confessions of a Mediocre Writer: Things Can Only Get Better

I became a published writer at age 11, when I wrote a 250-word article for the local paper about a concert at my elementary school. I still have the check—the first ten bucks I ever made as a writer.

The article was not well-written by adult standards, and the editor misspelled my name in the byline, but damnit, I wrote something and I got paid for it.

Soon, I was writing everywhere, every day. I wrote on legal pads, in school binders, on my mother’s old desktop. I wrote literally hundreds of pages—the early sketchings of novels, “Lord of the Rings” fanfics, and cringe-worthy NaNoWriMo entries. The characters I brought to life were like old friends. I liked them better than the assholes I went to school with, at any rate, which is probably why I imagined them in the first place.

None of what I wrote was very good, but it didn’t matter. I had ideas in my head, and I wrote them down. I don’t remember it ever getting more philosophical than that. I didn’t know any better. I was unafraid.

A few years ago, that changed. The ideas weren’t there anymore. I didn’t stop writing, but what I wrote felt stiff and artificial, every word measured and every line of dialogue premeditated. I rethought and rewrote and reworked the first paragraph of a story fifty times, and the poor thing died still waiting for me to go on and finish telling it.

I’m afraid to write a 500-word blog post, which is why I haven’t posted here in over month. Shit, I can’t even send a two-line email without agonizing over the verbal cadence—the cadence of a fucking email.

Aside from the occasional freelance gig, I’m unemployed. I have all the time in the world to write, but I find excuses not to. Instead, I watch YouTube videos and read blogs and click on links to more YouTube videos and more blogs.

That’s how I came upon this article over at Medium.

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On Weaponry and Weapon Variety in Fantasy

I was washing my hair in the shower this morning when I started thinking about the regrettable lack of weapon variety in Tolkienesque or “high” fantasy.

What? You mean you don’t think about broadswords and morning stars in the shower?

Fantasy heroes and heroines almost invariably wield a sword of some description, while their companions wield axes, bows and arrows, or magical staffs. And, almost invariably, a dwarf gets the axe, an elf gets the bow, and a grumpy old wizard gets the staff.

God, could this get any more boring?

Here are some high fantasy book covers to illustrate my point:

tolkienesque-coversThere’s actually one guy who appears to be wielding a hammer. Creative.

Now, please don’t think I have a problem with swords. On the contrary, swords remain my fantasy weapon of choice. (When I was recently married, I had the photographer snap a shot of me in my wedding gown with my replica of Andúril.)

What bothers me about high fantasy is not the pervasive obsession with swords, but rather the failure of most authors to provide any variation beyond the occasional “broadsword” or “longsword.” Even disregarding the endless possibilities that exist when you’re creating weapons for a fantasy world, there are hundreds of real-world sword types to choose from, and hundreds more variations on each type.

Here’s a short list of sword types I’ve compiled just from a quick look at Wikipedia:

Gladius – Short, one-handed Roman sword
Estoc – Edgeless variant of the longsword, used for thrusting
Rapier – Slender, sharply pointed sword ideally used for thrusting attacks
Cinquedea – Italian short sword with tapered blade used during the Renaissance
Sabre – Backsword with a curved, single-edged blade used for slashing (see also Middle Eastern scimitars)
Falchion – Slightly shorter version of a sabre
Jian – Chinese double-edged straight sword
Hook sword – Exotic Chinese weapon with a crescent-shaped hand guard and pointed daggers on the ends of the hilt
Katana – A curved, slender, single-edged blade with a circular or square guard, associated with Japanese samurai
Balisword – A longer variant of the balisong knife or butterfly knife, with two hilts that cover the blade when folded
Kalis – Double-edged Filipino sword with a wavy blade
Machete – Cleaver-knife used in the Americas for cutting through thick brush
Cutlass – Type of saber often used in naval combat
Dirk – A long thrusting dagger used by naval officers in hand-to-hand combat
Pata – Indian sword with integrated protective gauntlet
Katara – Indian ceremonial dagger with H-shaped hand grip

While we’re at it, why stop with swords? There are so many more interesting weapon types to choose from outside the mundane array of swords, bows, and axes:

Slingshot
War hammer
Whip/Chain whip
Morning star
– Spiked club-like weapon first appearing in medieval Germany
Glaive
– Type of polearm with a curved blade, and my personal favorite exotic weapon (see also Chinese guan dao and Japanese naginata)
Shuriken – Traditional Japanese throwing stars, often seen in manga
Poleaxe – Type of polearm with a steel axe head mounted on a wooden haft
Tomahawk – North American throwing axe resembling a hatchet
Quarterstaff – wooden shaft used especially in martial arts (see also Chinese gun and Japanese )
Chakram – Circular blade used as a throwing weapon in India
Knobkierrie – Long, wooden club used in Africa for throwing or bashing
Stinkpot – Invented in China, filled with gunpowder and sulfur, used as incendiary and suffocating naval weapon
Qiang – Chinese spear with a leaf-shaped blade and horse hair tassel
Bolas – Throwing weapon consisting of weights tied together with a cord, common to South America
Blowgun – A small tube for firing light projectiles or poisoned darts, used in Southeast Asia and South America
Nunchaku – Japanese weapon consisting of two sticks connected by a chain
Hunga munga – curved throwing dagger native to the tribes of South Africa

Be honest—do you really want to outfit your fantasy hero with a classic longsword after learning that there’s a weapon called a hunga munga?

Swords are a staple of high fantasy, and I don’t think they’re likely to be replaced by the knobkierrie or the slingshot anytime soon, but the next time you sit down to a blank page on a new project, think twice before falling back on the standard weapons that you’re familiar with. Give your hero or heroine a glaive or a chakram to throw around, and I guarantee you’ll create a character that your readers aren’t likely to forget.

What are some weapons you’d like to see more of in fantasy novels? Share in the comments!

Lessons of the Red Wedding: The Uses of Character Death in Fantasy

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***SPOILER ALERT***
This post contains spoilers for the June 2 episode of “Game of Thrones.” If you did not watch the episode, have not read “A Storm of Swords,” and do not want “The Rains of Castamere” spoiled, do not continue. There are NO spoilers posted here for “A Feast for Crows” or “A Dance with Dragons.”

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If you’ve read George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” then last night’s “Game of Thrones” was a chance to relive the horror, the pain, and the rage you felt the very first time you read those blood-stained pages chronicling the Red Wedding.

And if you are a “Game of Thrones” fan who never read the books—I’m so sorry. Here—watch this video of a kitten stuck in a hamster ball.


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The George R. R. Martin Complex—or, Why Fans Have Entitlement Issues

Hello there, ladies and gents! Sorry for the shortage of updates recently. I got hit with a pretty severe cold and was laid up in bed for a couple of days. Just when I started feeling better, Winter Storm Nemo buried us in two feet of snow and knocked out our internet, phones and cable for about three days. We were fortunate not to lose power.

Now that order has been restored, I want to jump back into blogging with a few words about fan entitlement.

But first!

I just had to mention this incredible site, http://mywatchbegins.com. Developed by HBO as a promotion for “Game of Thrones,” this site lets you record yourself swearing the Night’s Watch oath, led by the Bastard of Winterfell, Jon Snow himself. Your voice is then mixed with the voices of hundreds of others who’ve visited the site and recorded their own oaths.

The result—one truly epic sound bite. George R. R. Martin even recorded his own version for YouTube.

I felt I needed to give HBO credit for thinking up this brilliant marketing strategy, and for making me feel like a badass when I listened to my voice right alongside Jon Snow’s. To hear my recording and to record your own Night’s Watch oath, clicky the pic below!

mywatchbegins.com


The George R. R. Martin Complex

Last week, I wrote an article over at my friend Dave’s site, The Sonic Saber, about the deal George R. R. Martin signed with HBO, and fan reaction to this news.

It got me thinking about fans (of books, television shows, musicians, etc.) and what makes them feel entitled to a constant stream of new content from the writers/actors/musicians they claim to adore—content, by the way, that they dictate.

I have dubbed this phenomenon “The George R. R. Martin Complex.”
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On Firsts of the Month I Am Prone to Delusions of Grandeur

Have you ever wondered why everyone makes New Year’s resolutions on January 1st?

What’s so special about January 1st? What’s wrong with June 24th or November 17th or April 3rd? It’s all so arbitrary. If you were truly committed to your resolution, would it matter that you made it on the first day of the year rather than midsummer’s eve?

But “firsts” are seductive like that. I blame the cyclical nature of our calendar for this phenomenon. After all, January 1st is still just the day after December 31st, Monday is still just the day after Sunday, and time marches ever onward without the least concern for how we choose to chop it up into convenient slices. Yet, invariably, the dastardly “firsts” lure us into believing that this time we’ll wipe the slate clean, start anew, and overcome character flaws that have plagued us since the womb.

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