Ideas are cheap

Hello, fellow writers. This is Alice. Where do you get your ideas?

I get mine cheaply from the thrift store. That’s right, they’re hand-me-downs, and I get them by the armload at a time. If one idea doesn’t roll when I shake it, I just throw it in the bin and grab another.

Yeah, I’m not too particular about ideas. I think they’re just about the least important part of writing.

They’re not needed to start a story. (The thumb exercise proves that.) They’re not needed to keep going. (You can always bring in the stranger with the gun, or write lorem ipsum.) In fact, I don’t think of ideas as fuel for the story at all – they’re more like the byproduct. Ideas happen after you write.

Now, that may be exaggerating the point a little, but the bottom line is, I don’t believe that people should get fixated on ideas.

One of my teachers, the inimitable Niina Repo, wisely pointed out to us tadpoles once that even if you share your idea with someone, only you can write the story. Someone else may take your idea, and write it into a story, but it will be different from yours, by definition. They have taken your idea, but it’s impossible for them to take your story.

As such, I don’t believe very strongly in the idea that ideas could be stolen.

And even if they could be, what matter? Like I said, I get mine from the thrift store. Why get worked up if someone steals something of little value, that was second-hand to begin with?

In fact, I’m gonna share some of my ideas with you guys. You can take them if you like, grab them whole, or salvage for parts. It’s all free. Names included.

The Knight of the Horned Goddess

This is a story about a wanderer called Boar and her mule Ellistrata (noble in spirit though low in breeding). Boar travels the immense land of Sarpathia and earns her living as a whore. However, Boar has a secret! She is a devotee of the love goddess, Areina Plaige, who has chosen her as her sacred knight. As such, Boar is a formidable opponent in close combat (the closer the better). She travels the battlefields of Sarpathia, servicing the soldiers of all sides with love or the sword – though she prefers to keep the latter hidden.

You know, horned, horny, ha ha… Yeah, I thought I was gonna make this into erotic swords & sorcery. What can I say, I like sex.

The Maiden of Ulalla and Urxu

Less developed, but I wanted to write a story about a girl, Dimna, who was trained by the toucan knights of faraway fortress Yrkraaq. Because of her training, Dimna can travel freely from the mundane world to two otherworlds that are invisible but overlap the mundane world. In Ulalla (taken from the phrase “olla ulalla”) time moves so sluggishly it seems to have stopped, whereas in Urxu the opposite is true: the flow of time is frighteningly rapid compared to the mundane world.

I like knights also. Can you tell?

Asmela of the Night Wind

I had the idea about an invisible sword-fighter, who had an invisible sword. This would be the titular Asmela. She believes herself to be the queen of the jungle, secure in her golden palace and surrounded by a thousand slaves, but in truth she is a slave herself, belonging to strange, unseen gods. They employ her as an assassin (where the invisibility comes in handy, see) to keep in check the rebellious giants of the Dhaal Underworld, who work as masons to build the gods’ immense mausoleums.

The gods have robbed Asmela’s memory and supplanted it with falseness, so that Asmela doesn’t remember she once led a rebellion herself against the gods. Also, she’s naked a lot of the time because she doesn’t own invisible clothes, and yeah, there’s gonna be sex. But not as much as with Boar, I think.

 

There you go, friends and friendlikes! What are some of your best ideas? Give them to me!

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Good <3 Evil

Hello, this is Alice! Today, she wants to share some memories of good times!

You know Alice is a fantasy writer and loves fantasies (and not only the sexual kind). And in fantasies, the ancient trope of good against evil turns up again and again. Heroes battle wicked wizards, rebels resist invading empires, et cetera. Well, today Alice has decided that this trope needs a fresh reminder.

Who are we, reader? Are we on the side of good, or do we work for evil? Look into your soul. Do you see the answer?

Yes, that’s right, my dear friend! And to honour that fact, Alice is going to tell you about a handful of books she has read – books that aren’t about black chess pieces versus the white, but where good and bad blend, and morality isn’t as clear-cut as we might like it to be.

So, behold! Alice’s Glorious Good and Evil Mutual Love Harmonious Reading List Deluxe, Fantasy Edition!

Latro in the Mist

This is a duology by Gene Wolfe, comprising Soldier of the Mist (1986) and Soldier of Arete (1989). It tells of an amnesiac Roman soldier, lost in Greece, who can communicate with the local gods. The Rope Makers Spartans play a big role, and arguably Pausanias and Pasicrates are bad men, but to call them evil would be very short-sighted. Both of them are chiefly allied with Latros and help him at pivotal points in the story.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

This is a bloody brick, by Susanna Clarke, published in 2004. I’m still not done with it, but here’s what I know: it’s the story of two English magicians who lived in the early 19th century, and details their difficult relationship, first as teacher and student, later as rivals.

You could claim that the gentleman with thistle-down hair is the villain here, but if you said that, shame on you! How dare you hold the sidhe to the same moral standards as humans? What’s next, saying that cats are evil? Pshaw!

Skellig

Who on earth could be evil in this story? Or good, for that matter? It’s about a depressed angel on the attic and a baby who has a heart defect, for chrissakes. Ostensibly a children’s story, but what do the categorical adults know, eh? Written by David Almond, out in 1998.

The Book of Knights

Written by Yves Meynard, published in 1998, The Book of Knights tells the archetypal story of a young man growing up and becoming a knight. It is, frankly, more nuanced than I can understand, and I should read it for a third time before saying my piece. Adelrune fights monsters, wizards, mad kings, and faerie queens, but who’s really evil here?

Lastly, he ends up in dread combat with himself. The finale made me cry the first time I read it.

Wise Children

This is Angela Carter’s last work, published in 1991. It’s the story of a Shakespearean family and the struggle to redefine parenthood. More capers than I can count. If you’re into twins, Shakespeare, butterflies, sexy Poles, bombs, tits, kitsch, or all-out song-and-dance shenanigans, this is for you! (Melchior is evil here. Or was it his brother? Or their father? I forget…)

 

That’s it for today, peeps! Does anything ring a bell? If you can recommend similar works, let Alice know!

Writing and guilt

Recently, Alice read Ville Ranta’s interview on Helsingin Sanomat. He seems to be an asshole, but he had a very wise thing to say about guilt.

In brief, he claimed that people today can’t deal with guilt. When they feel guilty, they have to contrive whatever excuse they can to explain away the guilt and return to a guiltless existence. “Oh, I fly to Spain every year for my vacation, and yeah, it harms the environment, but hey, I’m a vegan so it’s okay!”

Instead of avoiding guilt, Ranta advocated staying with the feeling. He wanted to be guilty, in order to process and live through guilt.

Dunno about you guys, but this idea resonated with Alice. She has realised she, too, needs to feel guilty.

I don’t know if it’s right to be rich white Western elite. I don’t know if it’s right to have a big fat arse and blog. I don’t know if it’s right to drink port and gorge on colonial chocolates. I don’t know if I have the right to write.

I’ll keep doing it, though, and maybe I’ll find some answers. I’ll keep feeling guilty, depressed, anxious, horny, angry, self-righteous, and small-minded.

And you guys, I encourage you to embrace your dark emotions, too. After all, what else would we write of?

You can’t paint with bright white alone.

 

 

We’ll all be gone soon

Earth is overheating. Animals are going extinct, and growing food will soon be nigh impossible. Billions of humans will die.

And what the fuck am I doing? I sit here on my fat arse, writing novels and blogging.

Lately I’ve been wondering if everything I do is false. What’s the point of being a novelist and shooting for publication if publishing houses will be just a bedtime story fifty years in the future? What’s the point of writing at all, if the biggest audience I can hope for in the future will be maybe fifty people, not all of whom can read?

What’s the point of blogging if there will be no internet in the future, no international community, no time for anything but the struggle for the next bite to eat? Really, with our future prospects, blogging seems the falsest thing of all.

Yet here I am, for the time being, at least. Why do I keep doing this? Sure as hell not for the fun of it – some days I feel so bad for my lifestyle it makes me physically ill. Is this just a habit? Or do I keep writing because it’s somehow in my blood? Writers have a foolish way of saying that they couldn’t live and not write.

Yes, that’s bullshit. But somehow, I don’t even have the strength to be angry at the idea any more. Go ahead and say what makes you feel good.

I’ve always known on some level that I can very well go on living without writing. With our hot and destitute future on the horizon, I’m wondering, should I drop the pen for good now?

What do you think? Have you ever thought of stopping altogether? Did you, and how did it feel?

I’d appreciate any thought.

Alice Question Extravaganza, vol. 2

Hello once more, this is Alice! Tags and awards make rounds, the wheel of fate spins, and the arrow lands upon Alice. This time, the mistress of fate is the lovely Melissa Rose Rogers! Again, Alice won’t nominate anyone.

To be frank, Melissa is a newer acquaintance of mine. I have little in-depth knowledge of her, but she seems sweet, clever, alert, and savvy. One of her aspirations is screen-writing, which is highly important! You see, much as it saddens me to say so, screen-writing is the writing of the future, quite apart from novels and like. Ergo, every writer should be proficient in screen-writing. Melissa is.

Also, she’s photographed sharks circling over a sunken ship. How awesome can you get?

Anyway, on to the questions:

If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be?

My mother. She’s an irritating little boozer. I could use that lunch to try and talk her out of the goddam habit!

Yes, I know. The question is set up so you’d be inclined to choose some historical or modern celebrity, or something. But suppose I chose Lord Nelson, everybody’s number one lunch companion? He might be delighted to find himself alive again, depart the lunch table, and embark on a destructive naval campaign of global scale! Wouldn’t want that.

The real trick with wishes is to wish small. So yeah, my mother.

What word annoys you the most?

Creativity. Just, yech. It gets bandied about so much it doesn’t even mean anything any more.

When you were six, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A space fighter! Yes baby, I had it all clear in my mind’s eye. I’d have a wicked beam-gun (kind of like the Nintendo laser gun), and a really sweet, glossy, green-and-blue jumpsuit that my mother had made for me. And a baseball cap. In that getup, I’d be racing through the stars, fighting nefarious enemies, and… you know… being cool. The dreams of six-year-old me didn’t really go further than that. Good thing my dreaming ability is now much more well-developed.

I’d still jump at the chance to be a space fighter, though.

Is there a movie based off a book that disappointed you?

I don’t know. I haven’t seen that many movies where I’d also read the book. What comes to mind is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That kinda sucked.

Is there a dessert you find overrated?

Cake. My God, CAKE. It’s like the mother of evil advertising! I fall for the promises of cake every time: so foamy, so crispy, a balance of perfect sweetness, tempered with tanginess, and lovely chewiness that melts your jawbone! And it’s a lie, every time. Cake never delivers.

Besides, if I want dessert, there are tons of better options: gelato, pudding, toffee, rolls, even pie! (Pie is usually pretty icky. But compared to cake, it’s up there in the third or fourth heaven!) And lastly, port. Oh Lord, I despise drunkenness, but… port. Turns my gonads liquid.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

I don’t know. I don’t think I was a very bookish child. Maybe Moominpappa’s Exploits. That’s still a great book.

What’s something that always makes you smile?

Elves with pistols! And Relm from Final Fantasy VI.

Is there a book that you wish was a movie?

Elric of Melniboné. In a bizarre way I’m fond of the original Conan the Barbarian, you know, the Milius film. Yes, it’s a platter of cheese on top of a slab of bad acting, but some of the images just make my mind spin. I’d like for them to make Elric into a film of that scope – no cheese, but the same kind of cinematic ambition.

The 2011 Conan was stupid, of course, and most films of the genre are ghastly in their pandering. I know it’s a pipe dream, but I want a swords & sorcery film that’s actually thoughtful and artistic and goddam credible. I want Elric to be that.

Elric books mostly suck, though. Just like Conan. See, more parallels?

Is there a disease you wish the average person knew more about?

Yes! That disease in Judge Dredd, where he goes to that weird planet, and the man he’s tracking has contracted a local disease that makes parts of his body slowly disappear! So, when Dredd meets the guy, he’s full of square holes! I want the average person to know all about that disease!

Yes, out of all fictional diseases that I know of, that one is the stupidest. But it’s stupid in a pretty funny way. “Hey! Where’d that bit of my leg go? Well, whatever. For some reason, I can still walk normal.”

What is your least favorite movie?

You mean a movie I absolutely loathe and despise above and beyond all the other movies I loathe and despise? You must know me well, for I loathe and despise most movies in existence!

Jokes aside, I don’t know. “Least favorite” doesn’t imply outright hatred, anyway, right? It implies that if given the choice of watching something, it’d be near the bottom of the list. Something unpleasant, something trivial, something you wouldn’t want to give a minute of your life to. Right. Manchester by the Sea, you’re up!

If you could only read books by one author for the rest of your life, who would you choose?

This is a very evil question. As a writer, I need to be able to read my own works, if I want to edit them and improve. But I also need to read broadly to keep my blade sharp. I’m afraid that if I had to so choose, it would be a mortal blow to my work.

In fact, if faced with such a wicked predicament, I would probably stop being a writer.

If I could.

Alice Question Extravaganza, vol. 1

Hello! This is Alice. Some awards and tags are doing rounds, brushing up against Alice’s forlorn little blog. While she won’t nominate anyone, the questions seem pretty fun, so here goes!

The first round was thrown by the questing, cerebral, serene Michael T. Kuester. I got to know him right after I started blogging, and he’s a real treat to talk with on various science fiction topics. Ask him about spaceship design and alien biology! Or Wide Horizon and The Pioneer, his sci-fi novels!

The best thing about Michael is that he’s unhesitating in answering the most difficult questions about writing or science fiction. Like I said, a real treat to talk with, a man of measured words. (Also, you can apparently talk college football with him!) Do pay him a visit. Preferably many.

On to the questions:

Name one novel that inspired you to write.

Here comes that cheesebomb of the eighties, David Eddings! Like anyone, I was once a little girl with a big, impressionable mind and no clue as to how the world really worked. Hence, when I first picked up Queen of Sorcery, I was ensnared. (That’s right, I started with the second volume of the epic. In your face, rules!)

While I can’t say Eddings inspired me to write – that came later, and I don’t know if there was any one book that acted as the catalyst – he certainly threw me into the fantastic realm of cheese, dorks, and illogic swords, sorcerers, knights, and dragons! I still haven’t found my way back.

What’s your favorite genre to write and read?

To read, nonfiction. To write, swords & sorcery! (Does it still exist as a genre, though? When it comes to forgotten genres, did you know there was once a genre of adventure stories that were set in fictional European countries? That is, there was an entire genre devoted to making up fictional European countries as backdrops for adventure! I forget what the name of the genre was, though.)

Do you prefer to write stand-alone or series?

Yes.

Use 3 words to describe yourself.

Hehe, I farted!

Reveal your WIP image that represents your MC or setting.

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Here’s a brave fighter, daring as a peacock, sword and dagger poised! Note especially the fashionable hose, the absolutely eye-catching plume, and the dashing doublet! Not directly related to my current work, but very representative regardless!

How long did your first MS take to draft?

I don’t know, some months? I try not to get fixated on time. Time is an unhealthy habit.

Who is your author idol?

I often froth and foam about Gene Wolfe, that underappreciated pole star of American spec fic. His fluency of language is wondrous. His clarity of prose belies the labyrinthine complexity of his storytelling. His manner of alluding is like sweet, tantalising nectar to the brain, and always keeps the reader on their toes. All that combines to make his works so fascinating, it’s almost unthinkable to go through them only once!

But yeah, he’s not my author idol. That position is taken by the matchless Angela Carter. She wrote Wise Children. While dying of cancer.

Share a writing memory that made you determined to carry on.

Y’all know what I talkin’ bout. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, episode 11. Simon has been depressed ever since that fateful battle with Thymilph. He’s lost his will to go on, and thinks himself less than a worm. Things turn worse, as Guame lays a trap and imprisons the rebels! But then SIMON COMES BACK. From his slump, I mean. Just thinking about that scene brings tears of determination into my eyes!

Tell us something surprising or unique about yourself.

There’s nothing unique about me. What I am, someone else has surely been before. But what may be surprising to you is that I love weight-lifting! Yeah baby, that’s right! Big plates, bars, mats, the clang of iron, the sweat of pursuit!

As an aside, the more cerebral your work is, the more you ought to have something that taxes your body, to balance it out. Really goes double for writing, since a fit body thinks better than an unfit body.

Share the hardest part about being a writer and how you overcame it.

The reluctance of starting. And I can’t tell you how I overcame it, because I didn’t. Every morning, I need to fight it again. Some days, I fail.

A little less hard is trying not to compare myself to other writers. So-and-so has won all these awards, so-and-so landed a six-book deal, so-and-so is at the con talking about her newest trilogy! Just a bit of that is enough to send me hurtling into the pit of self-loathing.

What helps me is thinking of writing not in terms of achievement but of duty. I don’t write for glory, I write because it is decreed my writing must help others. And only I can write the stories I will write. Others do good work (they had better, anyway!) and I am one among them, fighting for a better tomorrow.

Share some uplifting wisdom in six words or less.

YOURS IS THE DRILL THAT WILL oops, ran out of words!

Be weak

Hello! This is Alice. Do you know the saying about the bug and the windshield? That one night, you, the bug, will meet the windshield of a speeding car, and SPLAT!

It means that no matter how badass you are, somebody out there is – and will always be – stronger and better than you. And when you meet that somebody, all you’ll be is a wet spot on the pavement.

What does this mean for us, the writers?

There will always be another writer out there who will exceed us in every category. Someone whose characters top ours. Someone whose plots blow ours out of the water. Someone whose dialogue dazzles in comparison to ours, whose powers at description make us look like sausage-fingered Sunday painters.

And that, dear friend, is liberating.

It is liberating to be surpassed, liberating to be outranked, liberating to forever stand in the second-to-last place.

Why?

Because, for the strong, there is a relentless pressure to stay strong. Goodness is expected of the good, genius of the geniuses. But what is expected of us, the mediocre? Mediocrity. If that.

For us, there is no demand to be strong. No primal race to slay the lion. It’s just us, the mediocre little us, standing unnoticed in the waving grass, not bothered by those who want the lion killed, free to just stare at the sky.

Don’t pine after the lion killers, my friend. It is comparison that kills.

When we compare ourselves to others, we settle the leaden weight of expectancy upon our shoulders, and that weight makes it that much harder to trudge on. And yes, some of us whisper in our minds, “You’re only in competition with yourself.” But that’s a bullshit truism. If the idea of competition is there, it doesn’t matter if the opponent is Carter or yourself – it’s competition regardless, and competition is a merciless knife. Don’t let it cut you.

Call me morbid, but I prefer waiting for death to struggling to prove that I’m strong, good, or honest. That struggle takes my energy away from more meaningful things. And even should I succeed in that struggle, where would that take me? Ahead of my peers. But is that any place to be?

Humanity isn’t a solo event. Remember it when you meet the windshield, and don’t fly headlong at it. Instead, shake hands with the windshield. Make friends with the windshield. And know, deep down, that the best of us are just sacks of easily-crushed organs once the robot overlords arrive. But never get smug about it.

Revel in your weakness. Don’t compare. Encourage, instead, your fellow weaklings on this shared path of mediocrity.