Peeves and Prevarications

No, the chapter isn’t going to happen.  Look, guys, it’s my anniversary and I got up late for reasonsthataretotallynoneofyourbusiness and I still haven’t had time to go over the background of Rogue Magic, which means I feel like I’m not able to continue the plot coherently.  (The funny thing is that I need to do this even when I write a book in three weeks and not a chapter a week.  Around the middle I need to re-read and markup and reorient, or I lose the plot.)

But I was over at Mad Genius Club where my perceptive friend Cedar Sanderson is taking her pet peeves for a walk.  And the first one prompted me to write this.  Cedar writes:

Why are there no more small stories? I don’t mean short stories, although I have just finished reading an excellent collection of crime stories by Frederic Brown that were perfectly small, and wonderful to read. No, I mean stories that aren’t about saving the world (from the last humans, of course), or the universe (ditto those evul hoomans), or about the last two people on earth (who should totally not reproduce, because Malthus). I ran across an article that is geared more toward films and games, but it applies to writing, as well. Perfectly wonderful tales can be constructed over no more than “whodunnit” to hark back to my reading this week. Dave Freer’s Crawlspace, if you haven’t read it, is a lovely story of rats, aliens, and murder in the wake of war, set in the Rats, Bats, and Vats universe. Even had I not already been a fan of the setting, I would have enjoyed it, and wanted more (I do, I do!). So why are we obsessed with the epic, the grand scale, the supremely awesomely apocalyptic view of the world? Genevieve Valentine writes,  “The truth is that some stories are folk tales, not sagas; a tighter focus doesn’t make them inherently less worthy, and their stakes are no less crucial to the story for being closer to home.”

Cedar is young-in-writing (in person too :) Almost young enough to be my daughter, though not quite.)  So there are things that have escaped her notice.  I read that paragraph and I thought “Why, hon, there are no small books because writers were trained out of writing them.”

Look, don’t believe me?  Read any of the books on how to write a blockbuster or a breakout book or whatever you want to call them.  Every time (and twice on Sunday) the idea is “put the universe in peril and also involve the most important people alive then.”

This is called a “big book” and the big six decided, G-d alone knows why (though maybe their psychiatrists also know) that only big books were worthy of becoming bestsellers.  This meant that, in the circuitous self-fulfilling prophecy of late-stage-push book marketing, they only printed enough of/put enough books out there for purchase, if you wrote what they termed a “big book.”

I always had my doubts about this.  My tastes, I’ve long ago discovered, are not always (or most of the time) congruent with New York Publishing.  For instance, no matter how many times they insist on telling me that Agatha Christie is declasse and has nothing new to say, I like her mysteries.

In fact, I like her mysteries because they’re not about saving the world, but about the private fortunes and lives of people who matter only because they are human.  One of my favorites, which I was just reading, is The Hallow which is about very private people in private settings.  In fact, it is a one-off for me.  It’s a Poirot mystery, and I much prefer Miss Marple.

Or take Georgette Heyer’s romances where the most important thing at stake is who gets to marry whom.

Then there’s Brother Cadfael where, granted, the English Civil war is mentioned and is the background of much of what happens.  BUT it doesn’t bring Matilda on stage to contest the throne.

Science fiction and fantasy have some more justification for saving the world.  We do get into that sort of head space where the planet, the world, the biosphere is at stake — but even then take one of my very favorite stories The Werewolf Principle by Clifford Simak (the first person to tell me how and what I stole from that book for DST gets a prize!) is ultimately about family and two people’s happiness.

All of these books, though, are in various degrees derided by the powers that be.  All of them, too, except maybe Simak (but heck, The Door into Summer was a bestseller and it’s also about the pursuit of private happiness) and that has to do with his heirs and reprinting rights, are perennial best/good sellers.

Which means clearly it is possible for people to like a book that doesn’t involve great personalities and world-shaping fates.

So why is it that the houses became convinced otherwise?

Well, I don’t think they did.  Oh, maybe the young ones, because, you know, that’s what had sold in their lifetime (because it’s what got on shelves.)  BUT int he beginning, I think it was driven by the desire to “make a difference” that became a paramount measure of quality in the sixties.  (For reasons known only to my subconscious, I almost spelled that sissities.)

It’s a penumbra and emanation of Marxism.  Since all writing does is amuse, it falls into danger of being a corrupt capitalist “art.”  Unless, of course, it fights for justice and socialism and stuff, which then aligns the artist with “the workers” and makes him worthy.

This nutty idea then mutated into stuff like “you must include important people and social issues.”

My second agent was insistent that I should use Queen Elizabeth as a character in All Night Awake, which deformed the entire book.  He kept talking to me about one of his other clients who had written about racism and class-consciousness in Victorian England, and it kept making me think “Wut?” because surely we know this about Victorian England and frankly, pissing on the shoulders of the giants you’re standing on, does not in any way make you better than them.

This is when I started having doubts about this concept.  After all, most of the stories I enjoyed weren’t “big” by modern publishing standards.  So, should I even be writing, if I had to write things that weren’t me?

It was at this time that Kristine Kathryn Rusch told me to ignore that stuff, and write what I needed to write.  And I did.

Oh, some of my stories involve saving the world — or the multiverse.  I suspect the Magical Empires series will a lot of times (but not always.)  DST involves revolutions and such, but I’m not sure it’s saving the world.  It’s more like our struggles.  You know, you save/restore liberty for one generation…  And the stories are still about people and their private struggles/desires.

I suspect that the big indie hits will come from this sort of private story.  (In fact I have two cozy mystery scenes outlined and, hoping to Ghu I don’t get sick every other week in 14, once I finish books for Baen, I mean to do one of those, and the Tudor Queens, and…

But it’s going to take a while for things to reassert themselves.  You see, writers, misgivings or not, have been TRAINED to think in terms of big-book.  It will take time and the success of some “small books” for balance to reassert itself.

 

A) Now, some housekeeping — only two of you sent book publicity to Free Range Oyster who is compiling it for me to put up, so we’re not putting up a post on that today.  So, come one come all, send your self-publicity to the mollusc at his screen name at gmail.com

B) Witchfinder really is going to be taken down, today or tomorrow (hey, I got up late) and then those of you who pre-paid will get an email directing you where to go to download a copy in your favorite format.  (After I go over the copyedits — so sometime next week, since I have to do those three pages at a time, or I glaze.)  And then it goes to printing so I can send out review copies.

C) I will continue Rogue Magic and Elf Blood, but these holidays have been very unsettled and weird, and it might not be till the first weekend in January.

D) My friend Alan Lickiss is back in the hospital and struggling.  Prayers, good thoughts and general healing intentions much appreciated.

 

107 responses to “Peeves and Prevarications

  1. Could the whole thing be a symptom of our liberal big government mentality … only government can solve things, and little people and independence don’t matter?

    • Except that even if you’re asserting the precisely contrary position (“‘little’ people and independence matter more than anything else, dammit!”), you’re still telling a big story.

      Of course, I for one don’t understand the antipathy to big stories anyway. Aim for “small” and you’re running a grave risk of inducing in your would-be reader that kiss-of-death reaction: “why should I care how this comes out?”. (The canonical example, of course, is the ubiquitous joke regarding the novel about a middle-aged humanities professor contemplating an extramarital love affair. More personal for me is a novel I distinctly remember once borrowing from a library, but whose existence — whether present or past — cannot, seemingly, now be verified online, wherein a teenaged girl and her pseudo-friends spend several hundred pages doing nothing remotely remarkable, amid a world that an even marginally competent storyteller could have made into a truly interesting place to explore and play with, if he weren’t perversely focused exclusively on the least-interesting people in it.)

      At least in an Austen story somebody’s going to get married (married well, married badly, in some cases both, but invariably in service to a Big Picture point about how human nature gets applied in civilized society) and in a Christie story somebody’s going to get murdered (the grave significance of which I presume I don’t need to elucidate).

      Much as I hate to disagree with both Sarah and Cedar, I fear I have to, here.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Well when I hear “Big Story”, I think of stories focusing on Big Events such as WW2. [Smile]

        In a small story, the writer/reader aren’t focusing on Big Events (affecting the characters’ world or country). Now the events being focused on may be important to the characters and a good writer can make the reader care about the Characters and their “small” problems.

        Now an Austin or Christie story may have “important themes” associated with them, but they are still not “Big Stories”.

      • How about “intimate” stories, instead?

  2. In my defense, my writing mentors are odd, with twisted versions of what makes a story *good* and what doesn’t and I avoided the “usual ways” in to publishing, so… Yes, I’m young. Not that it feels like it in the mornings. You and Dave inculcated in me a desire to write what I wanted to write, and further, Baen’s Bar taught me to read what I wanted to read.

    I can (sort of) see why the “Big Story” got pushed. But it’s been overdone. As I said in the comments at Mad Genius, I wonder if it’s a pendulum, small stories, big stories, now we go small again? If it’s aligned with Art, are we now going to go away from the literary equivalent of splatters on paper which have Deep Meaning and back to wonderfully skilled constructions that are meaningful to all, not just the enlightened? My brain is abuzz.

  3. My objection isn’t even the “big stories” it is the huge volumes/series that make them up. I see quarter million word books that would read better at 150k with a decent editor. I see movies like Dances With Alsatians that screw up a good 90 minute movie with 2.5 hours of mindless extra scenes. I see good stories and characters turned into caricatures of them selves by volume 16 (David Weber I gave up).
    I remember on the other hand, The Door Into Summer giving me a pleasant day’s reading. Audie Murphy covered the story of the most decorated soldier of WWII form birth to discharge in about 150K. Tell me that every battle needs 280,000 words to cover! Bring back commuter novels, something I can read without a spread sheet to keep track of the characters.

    • I suspect it is inflation. Money inflation. The cost of the book goes up mostly because the money is falling in value, and to make it seem a reasonable purchase, books get fatter. I remember the shelves of ACE books making swathes of yellow across the bookstore shelves, and each one 150 – 190 pages and $1.75 new. And then I remember finding monstrously thick books like…say Lucifer’s Hammer. Now, well, they cost what they cost and they are the size they are. Granted, the story telling can be better, and the author can get into things he couldn’t touch in a thinner book because of space and development.

      • “If I’m going to pay $7.99 for a paperback it had better be darn thick.” And I used to think that $5.99 for a fat novel was highway robbery. Siiiiigh.

        • Did I ever tell you about the time I swore that I would never, never, ever pay $.50 for a loaf of wonderbread? I’m a prophet.

    • I’m of two minds on these things. I’ve been taking a tour of Louis L’Amour lately, several tight, concise novels with a short timeframe. And I dig ‘em. But there’s also some of those weighty tomes and prolonged series I’m quite fond of, so…

      I tend to be drawn to characters, and as long as the characters remain true and interesting I’ll keep up with them. L’Amour’s talent with the concise books is a slice of life presentation, wherein you have a strong idea of what came before and what will go on from here. Handy for those tight narratives. The genre lends a hand in this as well.

      As to commuter novels, I suspect economics dictates buying habits dictate longer works. Same thing in restaurants, as the cost of business went up, the price followed and people expected to see more on their plates. That the excess is often filler is a side concern.

      • Louis L’amour basically slaps all the publishers ‘what sells’ theories in the face. Mostly tight concise (read shorter than most novels today), check, private people, private settings, check, prolific (multiple novels per year), check, characters who know what they want and go about getting it themselves instead of waiting on someone important/government to do it for them, check, happy endings, check, lots of action and very little navel gazing, double check.

        • Yes. Very much so. I’m really wanting to fathom how he keeps such a clean but informative story time and again. That or it’s envy.

        • My least favorites of his books (I find them merely passable) are the ones where he deviates from those principles, namely The Walking Drum and The Lonesome Gods. Still, the vast majority of his work is, to me, the epitome of the writing craftsman.

          • Those later novels were, I believe, an effort to appeal to a more mainstream audience (aka, get respect from the high hats) without totally alienating his core audience. I don’t believe anybody thinks he was successful.

            • I enjoyed The Lonesome Gods, but while I have read The Walking Drum a couple times, yeah for a L’amour it was pretty bleh. On the other hand Last of the Breed and The Haunted Mesa are two of my favorites of his, and they are both deviations from his norm. But they deviate in setting and in length, not of any of his other principles.

              While I like series that build on each successive book, and even enjoy those that are basically a 10 million word book broken into 20 separate bindings (if I stumble across them after they are completed) all authors should read L’amour’s series before starting one of their own. Each book is a standalone, they can be read in any order without detracting from the story, but they also provide reader cookies to his faithful fans.

              • If you haven’t tried audiobooks, L’Amour’s are a good place to start. David Strathairn does a good job on the books set in the post-Civil War era, and John Curless uses appropriate accents to great effect in Sackett’s Land and its sequels. Excellent for driving, mowing the lawn, whitewashing the fence, dusting the library or any other mentally undemanding task.

                • Sigh — all the effort I took to embed the link to that excerpt of Sackett’s Landhttp://vimeo.com/33478009

                  – I had really hoped the image would load on the WP page. Nearly fifteen minutes of lovely Elizabethan English accent, free for the listening!

          • Oh, and my least favorite of his books are The Ferguson Rifle and Down the Long Hills (which interestingly was made into a very good movie) followed closely by The Walking Drum.

            • Least favorite L’Amour? Probably Showdown At Yellow Butte and Son of a Wanted Man….today, some other day it might be Over On The Dry Side and Guns Of The Timberlands. I take moods

              • Hard to pick any least favorite L’Amour* books. Possibly the Kilkenny trilogy, perhaps some of his other early novels in which he was clearly grinding it out. But even those have their moments and enjoyable passages. L’Amour has that ability to grab the reader in the first couple paragraphs and take you on a fun ride. One advantage of authorial brevity: the book isn’t long enough to really slog down and annoy.

                *None of the Hopalong Cassiday novels are L’Amour books, in my view, and thus do not enter the discussion.

                • “*None of the Hopalong Cassiday novels are L’Amour books, in my view, and thus do not enter the discussion.”

                  True, they are an excellent example of what an overbearing editor/publisher can do to a book. There is a reason L’amour refused to have them published under his name.

                  • Since they would have been my least favorites, mood or no mood, if I could remember they exist. Agreed

                    • One aspect of L’Amour of use to all aspiring authors is the number of novelette versions of his novels available for analysis. Studying how an expert writer expanded a story can be a useful exercise.

  4. Funny, the reason I ended up writing “big, world-saving stories” is when I screw up and realized I couldn’t sqoosh, oh, a planetary civil war into 6000 words. And then a year or so later I did the same thing. Finally I gave in and wrote a novel – big earth-shaking – because I discovered I can’t explain why people abandon chunks of their planet and culture in 6000 words. I’m not good enough. Which may be another reason for Ye Bigge Novel – they are easier to write in some ways. “Hey, I’ve got space to wander off this way, and to take ten pages to explain why thus-n-such functions because I always wondered and I can add these characters because the Editor says I need [type] characters to sell and . . .”

    • No, no. IN SF you often need that. The Earth Revolution was supposed to be a chapter in DSR and it will be — mumble — books.

      • *warped grin* I was looking at the length of the third Colplatschki book and thinking “jeepers, this is short for all the action.” Except its more of the last installment of a 200,000-word novel rather than a truly independent story. Although it does stand alone. I hate getting cliffhangers and I try not to give them, either.

  5. “pissing on the shoulders of the giants you’re standing on, does not in any way make you better than them.”

    Bu, but, but…..that’s all these twits HAVE! If they can’t criticize the generations that preceded them, they might have to examine, for example, how their witless anti-war protesting has enabled mass murder in southeast asia.

    * * * *

    The Old Man And The Sea
    The Phantom Rickshaw
    The Maltese Falcon
    The Big Sleep
    Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut
    Study In Still Life

    WTF do these morons think makes the above LAST so damn long? Sure, there’s a sweep to a good Space Opera. I’ll give up my copies of CORDELIA’S HONOR or the Honor Harrington books when they are pried from my cold, dead fingers. But a small focused story can be a delight, too. And a BAD story attempting a grand sweep is likely to produce the literary equivalent of John Wayne’s performance as Genghis Khan.

  6. Congrats on the anniversary and double congrats on getting up late. May the two of you have many more to come.

  7. Ah-hah! I thought it was a publisher thing, given good cozies, noir mysteries, tales of small horrors, and westerns about the regular folks getting by seemed to disappear with the consolidation into the Big Six.

    In a way, I think this is where some of my husband’s success comes from – he’s not writing Fate Of The Universe (da da dum!) novels, but following one guy’s rise through hard work, persistence, and cleverness throughout a career and across several planets. It’s upbeat human wave scifi, and there’s a hunger for that from readers.

    There have been a few series I’ve read (and no, Sarah, your Shifter series is not being referenced here. Seriously!) where the author kept throwing more and bigger antagonists at their main character and showering them with rewards/increased power/better armor/bigger ships/more armies. As the character’s power increased, so the stakes kept rising – but because the main character always handily wins (often with angst and navel gazing substituting for setbacks), so it gets to Fate! Of! The! Universe! vs. QueenEmpressPlanet-WielderCelestialAvatarLeaderofDemonHordes in every darned book. And boring. (Why yes, yes that last title is almost as long as Honor Harrington’s. Ahem.)

    (I’ve also seen series rescued from this by giving the characters major setback that actually strip them of some of their accumulated awesomeness, or by moving the characters out of their realm of comfort/power to another where they’re constrained, or by placing them in a situation where their power doesn’t help. So it’s not a certain doom if FOTU (da da dum!) is introduced.)

    • Hey, shifters is what it is. I fought it becoming it all the way, but there it is.
      People complain about this with Vimes, but they shouldn’t. Pratchett gives him all these extra powers/honors, but keeps him heartbreakingly human and in that is his frailty.

      • “the author [keeps] throwing more and bigger antagonists at their main character and showering them with rewards/increased power/better armor/bigger ships/more armies”

        IOW, books for the video game generation–

        • “IOW, books for the video game generation–”

          Except… in most video game sequels, you start right back at ground zero again.

        • My thought was D&D world-building, which would correspond with the publishing trend a trifle better. But perhaps what we’re seeing is merely correlational to some underlying societal factor?

          • Underlying societal factor? Yeah, you even know which one if you think about it. We grew up with danger as a part of out lives that we discounted because it was part of our lives. The last 40 years children have grown up wrapped in cotton wool. Every man knows what it feels like to take a blow to the groin. We instinctively flinch when we hear anything about it. It doesn’t have to be a horrible ripped off and thrown away blow, a smack with a wiffle ball will get that reaction. Kids today have seen little danger close up, it takes massive danger to kick their sensoriums into gear.

          • I put a lot of the blame for the fantasy ones at the feet of D&D, yes. For others, I think it’s more a matter of “I was expecting my series to be three books, but it’s really popular, and now that I’ve hit book 4, I can’t kill off the main character, and have no clue where to go. Um, bigger monster! Add another lover! Bigger Reward! Oh, shoot, what can challenge them now?” Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

            • I have a thought bumbling around in my head about the serialization of popular characters vs the grey goo gallons. Let’s see if it coalesces:

              I know from my own reading that finding characters and worlds that I had any interest in visiting was/is a bit of a trial, too often whether or not I liked the characters in the beginning, by the end the goo had sucked them (and me) down so deep I just wanted it to end. The obsessive need to finish a book did not help. When stumbling upon characters I actually gave a damn about — well, I didn’t want ‘em to go away. At some points I would have been happy to read how our intrepid heroes saved the day and went on to host a gardening show and cultivate a bushel of kids. Even if the biggest threat to their world from there on out was aphids.

              Finding an author I liked was not always a gurantee of a good read, either: too often the gooification was contagious. The only hope was a popular series that they didn’t dare risk fouling (who dares, goos!). Often a forlorn hope.

              Coupled with the economics mentioned above, and the nature of publishing (if this is the only story I’m ever gonna sell, I’m gonna tell it ALL!) and we get big books and/or long series.

              Not always bad, as I said somewhere else, but at the loss of the small, intimate tales. The commuter novels, the tight stories, the subtle and lasting reads — all lost to the pressures.

              Hm. Maybe it’ll coalesce later.

              • I know of one indie author who did continue a series one book more by just writing about day to day life (the book is titled Gratuitous Epilogue, hee) She finished the main trilogy, and then just wrote about the day to day lives of her characters after all the big events were over. Building their house, finding new jobs after “killing all the monsters” is no longer necessary.

            • Series metastasis in SF/F, yeah — it is always easy to step up the danger and slide into the FOTW-hood. Thrillers, too. Mysteries, less so, unless you drag in a serial killer and even then we’re hard put to put the World at risk. Even the most ambitious and productive serial killer is hard put to eliminate more than a few hundred folk.

      • Yeah, sure, shifters has some FOTW now, but you know what? By the time you got to that level, Tom isn’t the permanent head of all dragons with a kowtowing court, married to Kyrie being the head of all feline shifters, with their throne ruling the world from behind the diner, and a necromantic sidekick, and blah blah blah enough firepower for three armies, blah….

        So yeah, the danger level goes up – but you do a good job, in a way, of balancing the ebb and flow of that power level, having established right up front that he stole a great power and they’re trying to figure out how to have a normal life. The next book will still be great, even if it’s just covering “The Health/Code Inspector find the traces of animals in the building awfully unsanitary, even as his mind skips right past the squirrel’s nest in the wiring having Rodent Liberation Front graffiti, will the diner be shut down? or fined past what he bank can bear?”

  8. Allow me to suggest the writings of P.G. Wodehouse as an example of the affairs of humans as opposed to states and civilizaitons.

    Allow me too, to offer felicitations to our worthy hostess on the occasion of her wedding anniversary. (Full disclosure: yesterday was Connie’s and mine, except that we both forgot about it until after nightfall. Sic semper stupidii.)

    • It’s okay. I only really remembered mine last night :-P

      And btw getting married this time of year is not a brilliant idea. It’s hard to get friends together for a party for your anniversary because they’re off doing family things. And big celebrations get snowed out. And…

    • Well, yeah, but Wodehouse knew how to write characters so that their small triumphs delighted us as fully as the characters described.

  9. Happy anniversary!

    Good thoughts for Alan and zen support for his wife and kids.

    This is not to say that FOTU books are bad, it’s just that the Traditional Publishers ought to recognize that other sorts of books have large readerships as well. Or not. I’m perfectly happy with Indie taking over the more personal problems niche.

    And I’m with Sanford in thinking the “Big Stories” ought to fit into, if not a single cover, then three or four. I’ve tried to make mine stand alones, but failed a couple of times. Certainly the whole soon-to-be-eleven books is not a single story, they just take place in the same multiverse with a fair amount of character overlap.

  10. Happy anniversary – I would like to read more small books too. ;-)

  11. Feliz aniversario.

    Yeah, I know that’s Spanish, but my Portuguese is non-existent.

    I can’t write save-the-universe stories – they require the ability to keep massive amounts of information in the writer’s mind.

    But I care in great detail about a very small number of people who can’t all have what they want. You write the way you write (now that you can publish it YOUR way), and at the length you decide is appropriate for that story. Heady power.

  12. I think I’m going to have to re-evaluate my definition of big story, then (totally kidding). I must have missed that lecture (is there going to be a test on it? Please tell me there’s no pop quiz). Probably a good thing I did, anyway, because I have a definite limit to suspension of disbelief- saving the world, the universe, time and reality itself generally only gets a pass every once in a while for my reading pleasure.

    I’m glad mysteries and noir detective novels escape this. Granted, I can see that larger than life characters need bigger, nastier challenges to overcome. What about the heroes we can relate to on our level, though? With all the human frailties and competing commitments, but no easy button to fix it all, there can still be some amazing and wonderful tales to be told.

    Even in fantasy worlds where magic and monsters roam, this doesn’t strain belief. If a wandering knight must risk his life battling trolls and giants, I can see there being a story in, say, a farmstead defending their home and stock from goblins. Those creatures the hero slaughters in job lots could be a serious threat to folks with little or no combat experience and no real weapons/armor. Surely there’s a story in that. You can do it in space, too. I’m still waiting on “Space waitress saves the day” from a few of yous. *grin*

    Is it easier, as a writer, to do the big problems and big solutions stories? I mean, there’s a sense of pressure and suspense when The World Hangs In The Balance. I suppose it’s possible a reader could pass over weak character development and stone-ax-simple plots (not looking in anyone’s direction here) if you can create that “what’s going to happen?” feeling.

    I’m trying to say all those world-saving stories are bad, but I do wonder if we are missing something. Especially given what the rest of y’all said, it could be there’s a relatively untapped market there, ripe for the taking- err, selling. Who knows? It could be the next monster pron category and we’ll be reading about somebody making thousands a month selling the “everyman makes it good” stories. *grin*

    And happy anniversary to you both! May you have many more, all joyous and contented.

    • Dan there is an exam, its an essay test, and only the Big Prof In the Sky knows when we hit the time limit. ;)

      I think there is a market for the smaller stories. For me personally it is harder to write small, because I’m just not that good at writing different kinds of characters (yet.) I admire the people who can. Heck, just writing the Colplatschki stories without using any telepathy/empathy/precognition was HARD after all the Cat stories.

    • Ahem, Mr. Lane, it is only a ‘pop’ quiz if you are unprepared. Otherwise it is only an unscheduled exam. I guess we know where you stand? *disapproving lemon face* (They teach that face in ed college?)

      I’ve got both kinds of stories working (though not a 15 book epic, or anything…least not yet.) My blue collar space stories I’m trying to keep tight and concise (thus L’Amour tour) and slice of life. But they keep connecting in my head and trying to get bigger. The space waitress mysteries (Plural? Whaddya mean plural? Hush up, I’m typing.) are in that universe. But I’ve not done mysteries so I’m having to learn how to write them. And this is not the time of year to try and learn the intricasies of a genre, not for me anyroad. You know how impatient characters get when the story’s plotted but you’re not writing ‘em? Yeah. Noisy.

      There’s a special seat in the lair for you, Mr. Lane, waitress-catalyst. Ignore the tank at your feet, it’s of no concern…for now…

  13. mikeweatherford

    Happy Anniversary, Sarah. May you have many, many more happy anniversaries!

  14. Merry Canoodlemas ;-)

    As a reader, I too dislike 15 book series, of which the first four books are throat-clearing and cast introduction. As a writer, however, I can see why it happens. My series has earned WAY more and with higher velocity than the standalone books (two of which are going to become series now that I know this). Perhaps this will be less of an issue as more readers become familiar with my writing and I have more books, period, available.

    A favorite short story is “The Boy who Painted Cats”. A sage piece of advice being, “avoid large, stay with small”. Which saves the boy when he spends the night in a haunted temple with demon rats. The rats can’t get in the little cupboard he is sleeping in. It would not surprise me to see a counter-cyclical trend to big story/little story. When you are living in what feels like The World Is At Stake (WWII) you don’t need *more* angst and drama. You want nice quiet villages with piping hot scones for tea and lashings of butter and the biggest problem is deciding who will be in charge of the garden fete to take your mind off the bombs and the food rationing and the fact that your neighbor’s son isn’t coming home ever again and you’re rather worried about yours..

    Then when life is more boring and peaceful, fire up the galaxy-wide wars with phalanxes of psychic supermodels and pan-dimensional octopi.

    Dunno. Just a theory. I sure hope we don’t *need* cosies in the next few years… but a little variety would be nice.

  15. And we have Ninja Nun! Tiny bit confusing, though, says 392 on the comic and 391 (again) on the intro page.

  16. Happy anniversary, may it continue as it began, in joy and companionship!

  17. Heinlein was rather good at the small story. “Starship Troopers”, “The Rolling Stones”, “The Farmer in the Sky”- all avoided the “fate of the universe/humanity” thing, and are rather interesting because of that.

  18. This has been my biggest beef with the “new” Dr. Who versus the classic. Sure, Tom Baker’s Doctor had to retrieve the Key to Time, and Davison had to keep the universe from dying from entropy, but even while that was going on, they mostly solved LOCAL problems. Did it matter, in the grand scheme of things, that a Frankenstein-wannabe was Nags Heading ships and parting out the survivors? Did it matter, on the scale of all time and all the universes, if a group of fascist scientists took over the Earth? Or whether the generations-passed descendants of a wrecked survey ship lived or died?

    No. But the Doctor still cared. Now, he can’t go out for ice cream without discovering a Threat To All Existence.

    • The old Dr. Who had worse plots, horrible FX, corny dialog, and insufficient budget for extras, so its crowd scenes were always spectacularly bad.

      They were having a lot more fun.

      (They also had a lot more variety in companions.)

  19. I am of two minds about the swiping of ideas from The Werewolf Principle for DST. I don’t need no prizes and don’t wish to spoil others’ fun.

  20. I enjoy big stories in my sf because I endured tons of ‘meh’ stories in my English classes. They were supposed to be small stories, but they ended up being claustrophobic tales of nothing at all or about an exploration of one guys’ head.

  21. From a perspective of mumble years, there are examples of both kinds. The worst examples are the “novella that wouldn’t die” (AKA “I can’t kill this d–n typewriter!”) and the story line so inflated it take N books (20 I think), from ACC and RJ. Sorry Sanford, but DW is the only “Major” (AKA well known) writer that I have seen successfully mix large and small stories.
    Part of the reason is that as someone becomes more successful, regardless of the personal cost, they get MORE c–p dumped on them. It’s the way the Universe works. I guarantee that NO ONE sets out to be a “world saver,” whether on a large, or small scale. They “do what has to be done.” I suspect the “X saves the world(s)” comes from the Anti-hero c–p of the 70′s and onward. A “little” person doing something “heroic” is noxious to the vapid mind of the Liberal. (Just *try* to imagine “To Sir, with Love” being done today.) Making a difference on a small scale is unimaginable to them. Much less, the major character being actually Human. They always have the, “Oh, I have to go save the world/Universe again” attitude. They never recognize the cost of doing that, and there is a very real cost. NO ONE can be “super alert/prepared” all the time. There has to be a time/place/person the “hero” can go to, and let it all come out. The alternative is that they break. “Stinker” is part of what keeps HH from going batshit insane. If you read the books carefully, she nearly does break, several times. (Death of Paul Tankersly, for example.) It takes a good writer, to make a “small” story, a “big” one.

  22. “Blockbusters” — the movie which created the notion for cinema was a “small story”: Three hopelessly-disparate men versus one Extremely Large, Extremely Ill-Tempered Fish. This is not “save the world”; this is “there is the enemy — kill it”.

  23. To steal and invert one of Professor’s recent memes; May you have an Average Anniversary – Way Better than Last Year’s, and Not Nearly as Great as Next Year’s!!

  24. Congratulations on your anniversary. You deserve at least a day off.

  25. Cedar is young-in-writing (in person too :) Almost young enough to be my daughter, though not quite.) well she is young enough to be my younger daughter. (Don’t you dare say Granddaughter.)

  26. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote may small stories for Sherlock Holmes.

  27. One of my friends, from whom I haven’t heard in a long time is Lisanne Norman. Her first book, Turning Point, was a nice, normally sized book, and a complete tale by itself. Then it turned into a tremendous series of goat-chokers that I simply have not been able to finish. Frankly, they get convoluted enough that I can’t tell you what the plots were, although there did seem to be some world saving involved a few times.

  28. I think I will try to go for small to big to small again with the science fiction characters and their universe I have. Four siblings with the usual dead parents (ouch, but for this it seemed fitting, sorry), and the first stories I’m seeing are mostly about them getting into trouble, growing, finding their spouses (two oldest are already adults in the beginning, one a young teen and the probably most used main character in his late teens), and so on. But I will try to get in hints about the bigger problem to come. So it’s far future, colonies on terraformed worlds, not very advanced technology because humanity has had setbacks including a time of plagues which killed off whole worlds (including everyone in Solar system), and while humans have not yet found any aliens bigger than microbes now they are going to find out that maybe those plagues weren’t natural, and not created by humans either.

    So I’d have to write a few war stories, only maybe I’ll try to keep them more to ‘how this family survives and sees it’ rather than ‘they save humanity all by themselves’.

    And then back to small as they try to rebuild their lives afterwards. Lets see if I can pull it off. Well, even if it won’t work well at least I am probably going to enjoy writing them. I did finish the first, it’s just the two brothers trying to save each other from a group of, er, freedom fighters, and get off one rather dystopian colony world they landed on for ship repairs, but I don’t know how well that works (it’s on free download on Amazon till Monday, check ‘Escape from Tekmar’, just under 70 000 words so at least it’s short) since it took rather late last fall until I finished it, and my head does not work all that well that late in the year. I’ll go through it next spring and see what I think of it then. Maybe should have let it wait until spring. :(

  29. My big problem is with stories that try to tell me that the World Is In Danger in the first chapter. You have to wait until at least half way through the (first) book.

    Because otherwise, you are saying The Cardboard Set Is In Danger. You need that room to establish the reality and solidity of the world. A world whose predominant trait is being endangered is flimsy.

    And do better than Tolkien in giving us some bridging conflict to build up to that.

    • He gave us the whole Hobbit to build up to that. And if you didn’t read The Hobbit, there’s the bloodcurdling way he writes Chapter One and then segues into the next few chapters.

      Dear God, woman! I couldn’t get past the first freaking Rider for at least a year or two!

      Admittedly, I was coming straight off The Hobbit, I was in first or second grade, and I thought those weird ball-trees on the cover were spooky enough, even without the spooky crows. But still, The Lord of the Rings doesn’t make you fear for the world so much as for your own life!

      • ” But still, The Lord of the Rings doesn’t make you fear for the world so much as for your own life!”

        From boredom?
        /runs away from all the Tolkien fans, very fast/

        Sorry, I have tried several times and have been unable to get through anything Tolkien wrote. I know he is heralded as a great author, but to me about the only thing he was great as, was a sleep inducer.

        • I couldn’t either. You have to see the movies. they are fabulous!

          • Only if you are a female and have a thing for the scruffy one or the gay dude

            • ” .. and have a thing for the scruffy one or the gay dude”

              Uh, you will have to give me more clues to be able to narrow down from the entire cast to the actors you are referring to …

            • What, John Rhys-Davies? Or, oh, Sir Ian, put on that wizard hat….

            • …the gay dude… :D

              Generally I liked how the elves in the Lord of the Rings movies looked, but I have to admit there were a few elf crowd scenes when I would not have been too surprised if the males had suddenly got in line and started tippytoeing to the music of Swan Lake. A few of them were kind of too, well, human masculine made up into something almost feminine, the end result impression being, with several, kind of vaguely drag queenish instead of otherwordly. :)

        • The hobbit was wonderful when i read it…at 10. The Rings books were tolerable a couple of years later because of the dearth of fantasy. I managed to get through them again in my early 20s because they were literally the only thing available. By the time the movies came out a few years ago they were unreadable

  30. On goodreads, you can nominate what sort of book you want to read in February.

    https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1630002-february-themes

  31. “It’s a penumbra and emanation of Marxism. Since all writing does is amuse, it falls into danger of being a corrupt capitalist “art.” Unless, of course, it fights for justice and socialism and stuff, which then aligns the artist with “the workers” and makes him worthy.”

    Samuel R Delany said something like that about mysteries: Since they are about solving a crime, they are inherently conservative fiction that supports all those bourgeois values. (I guess only rich people object to theft, robbery, kidnapping and murder; yeah right.)

    • Delaney also thinks that the marvel of the novel is that it shows people are a product of their environments and will change if put in new environments.

      • “Delaney also thinks”

        I don’t think that verb means what you think it means.

      • Apparently Delaney missed that session of “Novel Writing 101″ in which it is explained that novels constitute fictional environments inhabited by fictional characters who behave* as the author damn well tells them to. As such novels prove nothing and show what the writer (or the writer’s subconscious) wants them to.

        This would explain some of Delaney’s later novels, written once he’d slipped the surly bonds of editors.

        *YMMV, writers who are committed to telling the Truth (as they perceive it) of a character, of an event, of a story, may have difficulty forcing certain of their characters jump through the desired hoops. That DOES NOT make the characters real except in the writer’s (and readers’) imaginations. People who consistently confuse their imaginations with reality are prone to become writers, politicians, inventors, visionaries and (most commonly) inmates.

    • Disproving Delaney might be interesting. Say, setting a Whodunnit in a housing project, being solved by a single mom fighting a liberal bureaucracy which doesn’t care or believe her.

      Don’t ask me to write it, I suck at Mystery.

      • It’s not exactly a Whodunnit, but the movie Harry Brown, starring Michael Caine, is set in a housing project (or something similar enough to make little difference) with the protagonist dealing with an uncaring bureaucracy. Good movie IMO.

  32. Oh I don’t know, judging by some of what Delany has written, he might find the filth and squalor of the housing project rather, um, arousing. :-)