Readers deserve works of fantasy that are written for an intelligent and imaginative audience.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Self Published Fantasy Collective

One of my favorite thing in the world when I was a kid was that last page of a paperback where the publisher had included an advertisement for numerous books with checkboxes and dollar amounts for me to send away for a few more. I loved that list of options of books that would be an enjoyable read in a way similar to the one I'd just finished had been. It was a salve to that horrible sadness that always accompanied finishing a book. I've experienced worse pains in the years since I got my books from the Scholastic ordering pages passed out by my elementary school teachers or from their sponsored book fairs. It may be muted these days, but I still experience that sense of loss when finishing a book.

I've been thinking of a way to get the word out about my novel without having the money to really invest in any of the more expensive marketing tools available online for would-be authors. I remembered that exciting feeling at the end of a book when I'd see all the others I might enjoy if I sent away for them, and I thought about adding a similar list of self-published authors to the end of my novel.

I used to argue that with piracy and the insane quantity of underground music that the DJ would become important again. We'd gravitate toward personalities with taste we enjoy, and their tastes would be important and influential. Podcasts do this to some extent, and services like Pandora and Spotify Radio succeed because I was right about the need. Readers of self-published books are in a similar position to the contemporary music fan.

I have a fairly particular audience in mind when I write fiction, and a certain kind of fantasy that I like. If you think the following descriptions fit you as a reader (with title suggestions) or writer, send me a message or email me'd like to put together a linked list of works that belong together in certain ways and include it at the end of my books.

I generally assume my readers get that they're reading a self-published book. They accept that there are going to be a certain number of typos and formatting issues. A lot of self-published authorial advice includes a suggestion to make your work as perfect as possible. Try to make your work seem like it's been through the editorial mills of a publishing house. The thing is that it hasn't, and if both the author and the reader recognize this fact, it opens up the possibility of writing with an awareness of your actual form not the one tradition dictates you emulate. Web productions like xkcd nicely demonstrate a sort of minimalist style that doesn't pretend not to be a webcomic in exactly the way my books don't pretend to be proper examples of a novel or novella. I'm borrowing the structure of the novel to play, and because my book is only going to appear as a .mobi or .pdf or.epub, I lose a lot of support, but I gain the freedom to publish it however the hell I want.

A lot of us have grown up IMing or texting. We're accustomed to communicating in ways that ignore all sorts of mechanical rules. I'm not saying that it's good to use the wrong there, their, or they're; but there's a difference between accuracy of word usage and taking advantage of a flexibility in language to have fun-to enjoy punctuating the movement of the flow of consciousness rather than insist on the strictures of a linguistic rule system created in part to implant the worthiness and tradition that Latin grammar bestowed on English. Those Grammarians who made up the rules of English by forcing it closer to Latin were stealing a trick from early Christians who included the Old Testament in hopes of escaping Roman persecution by claiming to  be connected with the Jews who got away with monotheism by virtue of the Roman's valuing ancient things, and Judaism is damnably old. The move was was a failure for the proto-Christians. I enjoy English far too much to be able to say whether the move to make its grammar more Roman was for the better or worse, but I can say that its day is coming to a close.

I believe it's possible to create enjoyable and in certain senses good works that aren't technically clean or properly fleshed out. What I care about is what the words do not what they're worth when evaluated by traditional standards. If the book makes me forget about life for awhile or exposes me to a new way of thinking about something, I'm fine with calling it a success. I'd rather a book be innovative or experimental or even sloppy but interesting than crisply unoriginal.

That takes care of what I want from a self-published book, but what do I want from a fantasy novel? There's a trend in fantasy and supernatural thrillers which I quite enjoy on the one hand and despise on the other hand --- it's the sort of fantasy found in The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf (both of which I'm completely caught up on). These are television examples of that genre I call Neo-Realism. For all that they depict supernatural worlds what they really serve to do is reassure the viewer of the boundaries between the real world and this fantasy world. It's a reassurance that's demanded by a culture that faces as much change as ours does. NASA's working on warp drive and people are trying to isolate immortality genes, but hey, werewolves definitely aren't real. See, this is fantasy and all that stuff in the news really is real. That's what neo-realism does. It makes use of fantastical elements to reinforce the boundaries of reality by lacing familiar experiences with impossibilities.

Real fantasy is about escape. It's about a world that is genuinely different. Max Frei's The Stranger is, perhaps, the best example of a fantasy novel which creates a truly different world while still being connected to our own. That's the real trick of urban fantasy. I love the Desden Files, but I'd have to say that Butcher falls more into the category of Neo-Realism than Urban Fantasy. Kate Griffin is probably the greatest writer of Urban Fantasy today. The difference between their work that, to my mind, qualifies Griffin for Fantasy but not Butcher is subtle and as much a matter of style as it is content. I'm more of a Butcher fan than a Griffin fan, but I think her work is better fantasy, and it's certainly purer Urban Fantasy in the sense that her work taps into the true magic of cities far better than Butcher's does. Don't get me wrong, I love where Butcher's taken Dresden lately, and I think the series is fantastic. But, it's definitely more imaginative entertainment than an vehicle for escapism which grew from contemplative observations of the world.

If that's the kind of fantasy you read or write, and you have suggestions or comments for books you think belong in this category, send me titles.


  1. Just wondering, would you put Butcher's Codex Alera series into the category with Kate Griffin? I haven't thought of the Neo-Realism angle before but your take makes a bit of sense.

    I'll have to check out some Griffin stuff.

    1. I haven't read Butcher's Codex series. As a rule, nothing that doesn't somehow juxtapose "ordinary life" and the fantastic counts as Neo-Realism. I was under the impression that his Codex books were traditional horse and sword style fantasy, if that's the case, they wouldn't be Neo-Realism.

    2. Fair enough. Just making sure I was understanding things. That clears it up.

  2. I think Kevin Hearne fits your description nicely. while he blends ancient religions, myths, and fairy tales into his stories the results are images of the morrigan at a diamond backs game, or Jesus at an Irish pub in Scottsdale. I also like John Conroe and his demon accords series but that may be more along the Dresden files description for me.