Tag Archives: fiction

Must-Reads at Stories and Stuff in 2014

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By Ken Whytock, licensed under CC-BY-NC 2.0

I started this blog in 2009–wow, that’s a lot of blogging! This year was definitely less active for me in the posting department, as I’ve had a lot going on (see Paris, and my Job and Apartment update). However, I refuse to neglect this blog! I love to debate the joy of stories with you all–as both a writer and a reader. Stories need to be not just heard, but chewed over and hashed out between us all before they solidly enter the age-long human conversation. Let’s soldier on with this! So this blog will not die any time soon, though I think the upcoming year will be a good time to branch out and try new things.

However, if you’ve enjoyed stopping by here this year, or even if this is one of your first visits, check out what was big at Stories and Stuff this year in the list below. Then check out the rest of my work by visiting my Stories tab up at the top.

Anyway, the Top Five Posts:

1.) J.K. Rowling is Not Dead – But Why Does She Want You to Know What Harry’s Up To?

This post was a response to J.K. Rowling’s update on her Harry Potter world–in other words, the explosive revelation that Ron and Hermione’s marriage might have been a ‘mistake.’ Obviously this was going to be a top post! In it, I dissect the dilemma of how much control an author should have over characters once they finish a work. Do they still get the last word on what’s going on in the characters’ lives? Or can we declared ‘death of the author’ and continue the characters’ lives in whatever vein we, the fans, please?

2.) Rant on Ruining the English Language

Here I take a go at people who get snobbish about the English language, at the expense of allowing English to change. One of the wonderful things about English is its flexibility and ability to change as people use it.

3.) Observations on Being Single, Revisited

Ah, of course everyone longs for my insights into single-ness.

4.) Independent Bookstores Have NOT Disappeared – They’re Doing Fine, Actually

My happy update explaining why ebooks has not killed the printed book – or bookstores–and that hopefully the two will comfortably coexist.

5.) Why ‘Write What You Love’ Means all Fiction is Fanfiction

Secondly, I love to see several of my older posts are still popular! Number one among them is ‘Tolkien’s ‘Take That!’ to Shakespeare.’ I guess The Hobbit has kept Tolkien pretty relevant in 2014, and I am always happy when Tolkien is popular.

My top piece of fiction hosted here is ‘Thoughts of Mr. Knightley,’ a Jane Austen-inspired vignette I posted a few years ago. I do plan to sharpen my writing skills by trying out a few more of these in the upcoming year, so stay tuned for that!

When it comes to my ebooks, Prince Charming is by and away the favourite – but I also repackaged Why Polly? into a nicer ebook format, which has been successful. (Some of you may remember this one being serialized right here on this blog!) Thanks to all of you who supported these ventures by buying, reviewing and sharing these stories. More ebooks to come in 2015, as always!

And tell me in the comments below how your holidays have been! Any big goals for 2015 for all of you?

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Rebellion of the Starry-eyed Idealists–Let’s End the Irony!

Starry NightThe next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of “anti-rebels,” born oglers who dare to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse single-entendre values. Who treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point, why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk things.

–          David Foster Wallace, E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction

Everything is ironic nowadays. Hipsters, as everyone knows, dress ironically. People like Justin Bieber–but, you know, only ironically. You can figure out what that means for yourself, if you decide that the word “irony” actually means anything anymore. But hey, you can’t deny idealists stick out. People who don’t regard our culture with weary cynicism, and actually feel there’s a message worth getting out there.

David Foster Wallace wrote the above quote (and essay) back in 1993, and he was talking about television. The essay is basically about how television relies on irony to keep people watching, despite humanity’s sneaking feeling they might be not making the best use of their time doing so. And because so many writers are raised by television, this ironic attitude carries over into fiction. Some of which is beneficial for fiction, to point out when it takes itself too seriously. But you can’t just keep using irony to tear down fiction, and the culture surrounding us, forever.

Basically, this essay blew my mind. I’ll put a link to the full thing here, even if it’s forty-four pages and I know most of you won’t read it–but, you know, just in case you do want to. I long for an update that takes into account the way the internet has changed things. In some ways people are less passive about their entertainment, but in other ways everything is still the same. We still waste endless hours living life through “more exciting,” imaginary people’s eyes. And irony still rules–if anything, the default mode of the internet is to look at everything ironically.

It does take bravery to stand up and decide to treat the world’s problems honestly, and dare to suggest ways of coping. It’s easy to be cynical and tear down facades endless. Because we know so much–we know millions of ways to poke holes in solutions, view things from a different angle and point out why it’s invalid from a certain perspective.

But, even though I myself am cynical all the time, I know Wallace is right when he says irony is only useful for deconstruction. It’s good to tear things down sometimes, but at some point we have to start building things up again. Give people something to believe in. Believe there’s truth out there.

It’s about finding the right words to start putting those “single-entendre,” earnest values out there.  And then finding the nerve to do so.

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Filed under On Writing, Quotables

Neil Gaiman on Reading, Reading Terrible Books, and Libraries

So, at the last moment I decided to sign-up for NaNoWriMo, which will significantly cut in the time I spend writing for this blog. (In theory, at least – I hope I can force myself to churn out terrible writing for a month – sometimes I’m too much of a perfectionist!) Since this is the first day, I’ll point you to another absolutely lovely piece of writing (well, technically it was originally a lecture, but it’s still lovely). It is Neil Gaiman, explaining the value found in fiction.

I have trouble explaining to people why reading is so important, myself. Especially when I am lazy and I read terribly written stuff. Also, at times I feel bad when I sit down and read, as if I’m actually doing nothing, even though I know my brain is working.

It’s pretty widely accepted in our society that reading is important, but most of us wouldn’t know how to argue why if someone didn’t believe it. After all, can’t we get all the info we need in short little video clips on YouTube if we wanted? And we all hang out with many people who proudly declare, “I don’t read,” and we don’t know if we ought to have a good reply to that.

So, Neil Gaiman will go ahead and explain this better than I can. He’ll defend reading bad fiction too, fortunately for me. I certainly had my share of teachers who frowned on the books I read growing up. And, after defending both of those things, he’ll go on to defend libraries. Anyone who defends libraries (lovely, book-smelling places) is all right in my books.

Here it is! Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

I could add more complex thoughts on several of theses, and on Gaiman as an author in general (I have actually read a couple of his books), but I have a couple thousand words of a novel to churn out. So I’ll leave you lovely readers to discuss it amongst yourselves!

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The Debate: Literary vs. Genre Fiction, and Is There a Chasm Between the Two?

SERIOUS fiction, you guys.
(Book covers, by Lars Aronsson. Licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 1.0 License.)

When I began submitting stories to fiction magazines, I was amazed to find there was a large gulf between “genre” fiction and “literary” fiction, and that literary fiction was usually considered to be the superior kind. As a person who enjoys reading all types of books, I’d always thought a good story was a good story, whether it was a mystery story, contained dragons, or examined the inner life of American housewives circa 1950. In my inner hierarchy, Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice, and The Secret Adversary could all comfortably sit on the top tier of “greatness” together, despite belonging to the Fantasy, Classic Lit, and Mystery categories respectively. This clearly exposed my ignorance of the conventions of the literary world. “Genre” fiction panders to the market, and the clamouring hordes’ lack of taste. “Literary” fiction deals with real issues. Therefore, certain literary magazines refuse to even consider “genre” fiction.

Therefore, if your work can conceivably be slotted into a category such as Romance, Fantasy, or Western, it is not literary. I still find that weird. I think you can still explore serious issues, even if unicorns are a main feature of your prose. But I can see it’s an easier way for editors, who are flooded with thousands of submissions from basement dwellers who think being a writer is easy, to weed out the stories that merely hit every cliché of a specific genre. They want something that makes the reader think. The regurgitated pap can be published by some more commercial magazine.

However, in the last year or so there’s been several articles about the resurgence of genre fiction. The claim that some genre writers are now, finally, being taken more seriously. The typical sort of internet argument between those who believe there is a wide divide between literary and genre fiction and that this divide should always be maintained, and those who think the walls should be broken down.

To illustrate, here is one article which argues that though the difference between genre and literary fiction is hard to describe, it is not a difference between an “artistic” work and a more pedestrian one. Lev Grossman claims the skill of plotting is much more required in a typical genre novel, whereas standards for style and characterization might be higher in literary novels – and this might be the dividing factor. He also argues there is a great blurry space between literary and genre fiction, inhabited by authors whose work doesn’t fit into either. And I agree. Trying to slot every work of literature into some prefabricated category is always a dumb idea. And Grossman ends by suggesting genre fiction may yet overturn the world of literary fiction.

Arthur Krystal, in The New Yorker, takes up the other side – insisting that there’s always been hybridization in literature, and just because there’s a middle ground between genre and literary fiction, doesn’t mean the differences between the two will be erased. He claims, “Writers who want to understand why the heart has reasons that reason cannot know are not going to write horror tales or police procedurals.” (And I say – why not? But I am not a highly acclaimed author, so what do I know?) Literary fiction, he insists, tackles the difficult side of reality in a way genre fiction can never dream to. And there will forever be a difference between the two.
So the question remains – should I shoot for the literary or the genre side of the target, or wager on the fact the lines between the two will become increasingly blurred?

Or maybe I should just concentrate on writing great stories. Let the chips fall where they may.

 

Do you think there’s an impassable chasm between literary and genre fiction?

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Filed under Bookish Thoughts, On Writing

To Help An Enemey: Chapter 22B (Why Polly?)

Hello all! This post was previously Chapter 22B, but has now been removed. But don’t despair! Why Polly? will soon be available in its entirety on Amazon.

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Filed under All My Stories & Extras

Fanfiction: For Geeks Only?

Or, What I Learned From Writing Fanfiction

 

Ginny Weasley – as my 15 year-old self drew her…

So, now that I’m looking back over my looooooooong career as a fanfiction author (just kidding) and wondering whether it was a useless exercise. After all, when I look back at some of the drivel I posted on fanfiction.net, I cringe. And it’s not like I could ever get recognition or money for that stuff – it’s frowned on to swipe characters from other authors.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that it did make a difference in my writing after all.

After all, it did enable me to try some ridiculous stuff I never would’ve tried in my “serious” writing. It allowed me to be as sappy, mushy and sentimental as I wanted. Once you’ve tried writing the extreme, it’s a little easier to scale back and be more realistic. Also, it helps you experiment with aspects of your writing without worrying about characterization. Practice on one area at a time. Sometimes that’s helpful for a writer.

Writing fanfiction is a bit like playing house when you were a kid – you have a set of stock characters (the mom, the dad, the baby, etc.), and a certain setting, and a certain set of events that are more likely to happen – but as a kid you have complete freedom to let you imagination run wild within those bounds. Before you know it, you’ve played for hours.

Another point is, people read fanfiction. When I went back recently to check my old fanfiction account (that I had not updated since I was in junior high), I was amazed to see it still got one or two hits a day. And I hadn’t updated in eons by internet standards! So I posted a little something new, to see what would happen, and I got over eight hundred hits in a day. Needless to say, that’s higher than I get on this blog.

Besides, people leave comments and reviews, and though lacking in constructive criticism (it’s mostly “I like it! Keep writing!”), it boosts your confidence. It forces you to actually write another chapter. Recently it dawned on me that a writer is not really a full writer without readers (which is one of the reasons I am updating this blog more often).

Yeah, so call fanfiction writers lame and geeky if you want. It’s a bit of a weird hobby. But it’s a ridiculously engrossing and incredibly fun one.

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Filed under On Writing, Randoms & My Life