Something Besides Fantasy

I like to think that reading a variety of genres helps make me more well-rounded.  Maybe it just makes my fantasy less oriented toward the typical audience.  Either way, I definitely like reading other genres!

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The cover I had.  Picture from this nice write-up on the story.

Science fiction.  I don’t believe that sci-fi and fantasy are interchangeable, and I can’t stand when places jumble them together into one big mess!  That being said, I quite like the genre in itself.

As a kid, The Runaway Robot by Lester del Rey was a stand-out, and possibly my first experience with science fiction in book form.  Somewhere in the same time frame, my parents introduced me to the original Star Trek, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.  From there, games like Metroid continued my appreciation for the genre.

You’ll probably see a sci-fi story or two emerge from my keyboard in the near future.

Westerns.  As a kid in the 80s and 90s, I hated westerns.  They looked dreary and old-fashioned, with dusty trails and dustier old men.

Somewhere along the way, after having read biographies, text books, romance novels, and various non-fiction, I realized that I tended to like the best of a given genre.  Why not westerns?  I started with Sergio Leone’s classic The Man with No Name trilogy, and was surprised to find genuinely good movies.  I gobbled up any that had Clint Eastwood, and then I branched out into other classic westerns (and other classic Eastwood!)

Shortly afterward, I found some Louis L’amour books for a pittance at some rummage sales in Michigan’s upper peninsula.  While shorter on detail than your typical sci-fi of fantasy epic, they were brisk, tense affairs, and I’ve enjoyed a dozen or so in the past few years.  I don’t always pick them up as my next book, but once I start one, I typically power through it in a day or two.

Philosophy.  A few times a year, I’ll find myself with the urge to dive into books that explore the deeper meaning in life.  G.K. Chesterton has some of my favorites in Heretics and Orthodoxy.  This year, I attempted an abridged version of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica in Peter Kreeft’s A Shorter Summa.  It was well over my head, even summarized and explained, but still worth the read.  I’ll attempt it again someday!

There are others, too, like turn of the century crime literature.  Every few years I reread Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s entire Sherlock run, and occasionally branch out into others, like Chesterton’s Father Brown series.

Of course, all sorts of random genres occasionally show their faces on my nightstand.  But for the present, I think that about covers it!

Currently Reading: The Eyes of God by John Marco

Normally, options are a great thing, but sometimes it’s simply overwhelming!

As a kid, the next novel I read was based heavily on what was cheap and what was available.  In the late 80s and early 90s, that meant finding what I could at rummage sales, Salvation Army, and the occasional new purchase from brick-and-mortar stores.

Now, books are everywhere, and for dirt cheap!  It took me a couple of weeks to figure out where to go after Prydain, and after a quick jaunt through another Louis L’Amour’s A Man Called Noon (quite enjoyable!),  The Eyes of God found its way into my hands.  I’ve had it on my shelf for a few months, and I’ve been feeling like digging into something a little weightier than I’ve been reading.

It’s pretty interesting so far, starting from a point that seems like it’s the end of a different story, and I’m looking forward to charging ahead with the titular Bronze Knight.  And from what I’ve gathered, the series gets better with each book.

His descriptions are also on point.  Mine could use some work, so I’m definitely taking notes!

 

Writing Short Stories versus Writing Novels

I have two roughly-complete novels sitting on my hard drive, awaiting some final touches.  Nothing is ever quite done though, and so they remain there for a little longer.

In the meantime, I figured a short story collection might be a good way to explore the realm of indie publishing.  After all, a short story is a little bit easier than a novel.  Much shorter, much smoother.  Right?

Well, in some ways, but in some ways not.

With a collection of five short stories now on Kindle Direct, I’m enlightened to just how much work short stories require.  I definitely found it easier to right a single short story by itself compared to a novel.  The structure is similar, but much more concise, the cast is a little smaller, and mine clock in around 4,000 words, give or take a thousand.

Five short stories is another beast entirely.  I managed the first couple of short stories in relatively quick succession.  But then it began to drag, because each new one required starting completely fresh.  Each set of new locales, situations, and characters needed to be thought about, plotted, and brought to life.

With a novel, the world and cast you create get to stick with you for fifty-thousand-plus words.  You don’t need to go back and think up new heroes and villains.  Even if the world itself is bigger than the world of a short story, it’s already in place (at least to some extent), meaning there’s no agonizing over a new one, with all the nuance every world brings: politics, factions, locations, groups, magic systems, species, nature, religions, and so forth.

I wrote five short stories for my first release, and clocked in around 25,175 words.  My novels are between sixty and seventy thousand.  While it was easier to finish those short stories, they required quite a bit of frustrating stop-and-start, struggling to find interesting new characters in new worlds.

For my own preferences, I probably won’t do one long span of short-story writing again.  One is relatively easy to write (compared to a novel, that is), but a compilation is quite a challenge.  In the future, I’ll pepper the novel-writing process with short stories as inspiration hits (and I’m hopeful to have another compilation before the year is done!).

But just like writing my first novel was an incredible learning experience, so too was writing several short stories in a row.  It taught me just how challenging they can be, and some of the pros and cons of the medium.  Even if they’re not the best stories out there, what I’ve learned is invaluable.

 

Fantasy Adventures Volume 1: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War is out now for 99¢!

Releasing a Book: The Challenge is the Nuance

With my first publication on Amazon, I thought I’d share my experience getting a completed work out there.  Even just to the digital shelves of Kindle Direct, there was a lot of nuance to pay attention to.

One thing I cannot stress enough: edit that book!  Then give it another once-over, then have your editor do it again!  I had two major issues: I fixed everything without letting my editor read it one final time, and so I missed a couple of things.

Secondly, I used the wrong files for one or two of my short stories.  I had several files–early drafts, later drafts, edited versions, and “final” versions.  Somewhere along the way, I lost a finished version of a story.  When I went to compile it, I ended up having to spend another hour fixing mistakes!

Why is this so important?  Because pushing out updated versions is a pain in the butt.  (More on this below!)

From there, I used a program called Kindle Create to compile it and package it for Kindle Direct.  Unfortunately, it’s in beta, and still a little buggy.  I was unable to rearrange chapters by dragging-and-dropping, and so I needed to take my original .docx file and swap things around to how I wanted them.

I also had an issue with creating the Table of Contents.  Curiously, the Kindle Create-packaged file does not show a ToC when the book is read in the Cloud Reader, but it’s just fine in actual Kindle apps!

Note that Kindle Create requires you to make a plain-text cover for your book.  The image is uploaded later in a separate place in Kindle Direct.

With it packaged, I was ready to publish!  Or so I thought.

Besides the stories, what else do you need?  Turns out a lot!

  1. Cover art.  I know fancy, paid-for art is far more eye catching, but sometimes finances are an issue!  I used Canva to create an acceptable cover. (Note: not a paid endorsement!)
  2. The blurb!  Somehow, I had forgotten to put together that little write-up that’s supposed to catch your attention.
  3. Bank account information.  Naturally, to get paid!
  4. A copyright page.  And acknowledgements, and “About the Author”…

From there, you click “Publish”, and then wait.  It says it could take as long as 72 hours for new authors (24 for existing), but my book was up by the next morning!

All in all, it wasn’t too bad.  The second time around should be much smoother.  I highly encourage anyone out there who has something written but is daunted by the prospect go ahead and give it a go!  It’s fairly easy, and will make a lot of sense once you’re done.

 

So about that update process…

It’s out, it’s up, and… you have a terribly-written sentence in the first paragraph.  Welcome to my world.  My wife and I excitedly downloaded it to our Kindles, and found this: “Even in the dim daylight, his a shine emitted from his gold-colored armor shined.

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In a moment of utter horror, I looked at the “Reports” tab in Kindle Direct and found that some random person had already bought it!  No biggie, I figured: I’ll just push out an update.  Within a day, I had a new version out–but with one major catch: Updated versions only go to new customers.

For existing purchases to get the update, you (the author) need to contact Amazon support.  This was another process in itself: contact Amazon directly, explain the issue, give them specific examples, and within a week they will give you a decision.  It has to be a major issue for them to force an update to existing purchases.  If it’s minor (as mine was judged to be), it will be given as an optional update under Manage Content and Devices on Amazon.

In my case, it took about two days.  But what a harrowing two days it was!

 

Fantasy Adventures Volume 1: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War is out now for 99¢!

My First Publication is on Sale Now!

Wow, that title sounds like a sales pitch, but imagine me saying it in the same voice you’d say something like, “It’s Christmas morning!” or “It’s my birthday!”, followed by this:

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(Yeah, I even made a gif for the occasion!  That’s my character in the online RPG Blade and Soul.  He’s got moves!)

What a long, strange journey it’s been!  My desire to write started around 10 on an old Mac II.  Now I’m 34 with a life that’s taken completely different turns than I expected.  Even the publication itself isn’t what I expected: a collection of short stories published quietly on Amazon Kindle Direct.

And yet, I’m still thrilled.  It’s exciting to have an author page on Amazon.  It’s exciting that two people have bought it already: the first time in my entire life I’ve ever been paid for my writing!

It’s like I’ve crossed a threshold.  I’ve published something.  I’ve put myself out there.  You can search for Charles Belmont and find something I wrote.  I’m not just a dreamer anymore.

It’s a crazy feeling.

On Wednesday I’m going to cover some of my experience publishing independently to Amazon Kindle Direct.  It managed to be both incredibly easy to do while requiring a headache-inducing focus and attention to detail–certainly a smoother process each time!  After that, I’ve got one discussing the challenges, benefits, and differences of writing short stories compared to the two novels I’ve written (side note: not yet released!).

And I suppose I should, you know, discuss the release itself: Fantasy Adventures Volume I: Five Short Stories of Humor, Love, and War.  It was a lot of fun to try my hand at a few different sub-genres of fantasy, and I hope for this to be the first of many volumes.  It’s available digitally for 99¢ on Amazon (link below).

If you happen to honor me with a purchase, let me know what you think!  I’d love to know how I can improve, which stories and characters you did or didn’t like, and what you’d like to see in the future.  You can post here, leave a review on Amazon, message me on Twitter at Charles Belmont, or send me an email at cbelmontauthor@gmail.com.

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

Thoughts on The Return of the King

I’m just not going to do The Return of the King justice in this little blog, so I thought I’d touch on a few major bits.  As usual, there are some spoilers, both for the books and for the movies!

 

The Battle of Pelennor Fields
The Battle of Pelennor Fields was, I think, much better handled in the book than in the movies.  As stated in my blog on The Two Towers, one of my chief complaints with the films is that Helm’s Deep feels like a turning point.  The forces of the West have routed Mordor’s forces once, and the tension never quite reaches that same level.

In the book, however, The Battle of Pelennor Fields feels like a much bigger deal.  Mordor’s forces have yet to be defeated in battle, and their threat has been built up over the course of two-plus books.  Gondor is frantically preparing their defenses, begging allies for assistance in what looks like certain death.

And that leads into another example of what the book does well: showing the gravity of the situation, and just how far-reaching the threat is.  Several nations and groups that were glossed over (or non-existent) in the movie arrive to help, the most prominent film omission being Imrahil, the prince of Dol Amroth.  Several other nations send troops and captains, and a race entirely absent from the film–the Pukel-men–even lend some minor aid.  It really feels like a world war, while the movies feel like “Mordor versus Gondor and a few elves.”

 

Sam and Frodo
In the movies, the epic battles and sweeping vistas overshadowed Samwise and Frodo to the point where I find myself a little disappointed when it switches from Helm’s Deep to the plodding adventures of the two little hobbits.

In the books, I found myself quite a bit more interested in their adventures.  Both characters, but Samwise in particular, are much stronger characters in writing.  To my surprise, I found myself looking forward to those segments, and books Four and Six were highly enjoyable.

While a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes words can show us what pictures cannot.  In the books, the Ring feels heavier, and it’s easier to understand and live through Frodo’s suffering.  Similarly, Sam’s commitment to him comes off even stronger, as we can see deeper into their minds.  I went from liking them the least to possibly preferring them–although Aragorn still gives them stiff competition.

(I would argue that only Legolas and Gimli are weaker than their movie counterparts, although their friendship and personalities are still well-done!)

 

The Scouring of the Shire
Vying with Tom Bombadill for title of “Biggest Omission from the Movies”, The Scouring of the Shire!  I must admit, I actually liked this part quite a bit.  I feel like endings are often too short, and that if you’re going to err, err on the side of “too much”.  Stories often leave us without any indication of the afterward (sometimes setting up sequels, sometimes just leaving us to imagine).

In this case, maybe it was too much, but I quite enjoyed seeing the hobbits return to the Shire.  It was a chance to showcase their growth, and, in the case of Frodo, give us a better idea of the scars he’s now carrying.  It was also nice to see that hobbits in general, when roused, have quite a lot of spirit, beyond the occasional Baggins or Took.

All the same, I can see why it was removed from the movie.  Despite being an exciting, well-written adventure, doing it justice (along with the multiple chapters prior of good-byes) would have easily required another hour of screentime.  After a point, the practical realities do need to be considered, and it would have seriously messed with the pacing.  While the pacing works for a book, The Scouring of the Shire is almost a fresh adventure in itself, something of a mini-sequel/epilogue.

It would be like putting Peter S. Beagle’s Two Hearts at the end of a long, epic production of The Last Unicorn: while Two Hearts is a magnificent coda, it’s a story unto itself.  Jumping from one to the other, the audience is never quite given a chance to really process what came before it.

At the same time, I really quite enjoyed The Scouring, and I’m not sure I would want the book itself to drop it.  A quandary.

 

In Conclusion…
Do I prefer the books to the movies?  I’m not so sure, despite what the tone of these blogs might imply.  They’re favorite movies of mine, and that certainly won’t change regardless!

I found this blog a bit of a challenge, and so it’s fairly slapdash, and just hitting on the big points.  Neither this one nor the previous two really do The Lord of the Rings justice, and so I have at least one more planned that will focus on the overall experience of reading, and finishing, the book, as well as if I prefer it to the movies!

Finding Time to Write

Today was supposed to be on my thoughts regarding The Return of the King, but I think I need a little more time to digest it, for a variety of reasons.

One of the challenges of writing–blogging, tweeting, or actual stories–is finding the time to write.  Life manages to be conducive to all sorts of things that aren’t writing.  Time vies for several things with higher priority: sleep and food foremost.  After that, there are the second-tier necessities: whatever obligations the day brings, including work, school, and family.

Writing is still absent from the third tier, which includes the various tasks that need to get done on the massive To-Do lists that we all have.  Mowing the lawn, fixing that squeaky hinge, and organizing that pile of crafts all beg for time.

Because we’re not robots, relaxation is a necessity as well.  All work and no play makes Charlie a dull boy, and burnout is not something to strive for.  After all these things are done, it’s perfectly reasonable to sit back with a few episode of Frasier, fire up World of Warcraft, or indulge in some sugary candy-reading.

So where does that leave writing?  Where we can manage it, and that’s where passion comes in.  You just have to find the time, a few minutes here or there, to get some words onto the screen.  It does require some sacrifices, whether it’s fewer shows on Netflix or letting the lawn go a little further, and it does require balancing.

But that’s all part of life itself, and without the tapestry of life, we wouldn’t have reason to write.