Archive for July, 2011

Subgenre Study: Science Fantasy

This is a tricky one.  For one thing, people can’t even agree whether it’s a subgenre or its own genre.  And once you reach some sort of consensus on that, getting people to try and agree on a definition – well. 

Science fantasy, I hope we can all agree, is, as the name implies, a mixture of science fiction and fantasy.  This can take a variety of paths – straight science fiction with fantasy races, something that looks suspiciously like fantasy but then you find out you’re really on a planet that was colonized by Earth some time in the distant past, a world where magic operates but where it sounds suspiciously like our world in the distant past, etc.  Some people claim it’s science fantasy if it’s technological, like science fiction, but uses technology that is impossible, such as time travel, or where things like telekinesis or telepathy are readily apparent.  You see how it gets confusing.

As Arthur C. Clarke said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  Take this book I just finished – Incarceron by Catherine Fisher.  (Brilliant, by the way.)  A key point of the book are these crystal keys that, for all intent and purposes, seem to be magical but you know they’re just extremely advanced technology from the way the world is laid out.  I’d also consider it science fantasy, if you want an example of the genre.

Perhaps the most well-known example of science fantasy is Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series.  The stories themselves involve dragons and fighting the Thread which falls from the sky and leaves the land dead in its wake.  Dragons = fantasy, yes?  But here’s the clincher – Pern itself is an acronym for Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible – and it was colonized by humans some couple hundred years beforehand.  Space exploration and colonization falls into science fiction.  Tada!  Science fantasy.

Other examples include Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials Trilogy (Golden Compass, et al.), Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, and, according to some people, things like Star Wars (the magical Force) and Narnia (arguable that Narnia is a separate planet/dimension, especially in The Last Battle).

Science fantasy is so widely debated that some people refuse to acknowledge it at all, but I have to admit it’s one of my very favorites.  I think it adds a very fascinating depth to the stories.

What about you, Squiders?  Science fantasy = real genre/subgenre?  What are your opinions of it, and any books to recommend?


Short Story Markets

So, I was talking to my friend Anne (of Sky Shark fame) last week about short stories and anthologies and how I thought I would try a few more, and she said, “Wow, you know way more about this than I do” and hence I am writing this post.  To share my knowledge with the world, or at least that small part of it that occasionally wanders by.

As we discussed in a recent post, short stories are nice for a variety of reasons: they take less time to complete, it’s easier to juggle multiple submissions, and responses are more frequent. 

So.  Let’s say you’re looking for anthologies accepting submissions, or you have a short story you’ve written and would like to research markets for it.  Where do you go?

I’ve got three websites for you.

1. Duotrope
We’ve discussed this one before.  Duotrope, aside from keeping an eye on anthology, short story, and poetry markets, allows you to keep track of your submissions.  Markets can be searched by genre, length, or alphabetically.  It will also tell you acceptance stats, pay rates, and link you to the market’s website.  This is good for all genres.

2. Ralan
Ralan focuses on speculative fiction, though it also has humor, poetry, and greeting card markets listed.  Ralan divides markets by pay/non-pay and has separate categories for anthologies and books.   It also tracks response times based on the site owner’s personal experiences.  (The Black Hole also tracks response times for speculative fiction markets.)

3. Absolute Write’s Paying Market Forum
Absolute Write is full of useful bits (certainly not least their Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks forum, where every publisher or agent known to man is covered) and one of the most useful is their Paying Market forum.  Often you can find markets here that are not listed elsewhere because publishers will come to them and advertise their anthologies, new imprints, contests, etc.  They also have a Non-Paying Market forum.  What’s nice about AW is you can get an idea if something is a major fraud before you waste your time on it.

Hopefully that helps.  Anyone have anything to add to the list?  I write speculative fiction, so that’s where my experience lies, but if anyone has any recommendations for other genres, that would be great.

Premise vs. Plot

People seem to get these two confused, so let’s clear the waters, shall we?

Premise: the basic idea of the story

Plot: what happens in a story

They are not the same, though they are related.  I’ve seen it said that the premise is your initial idea, what drew you to a story, what made you want to write it.  My premises tend to be things like “girl saves friend from evil dimension by use of their shared locker” or “pirate will sacrifice everything to raise her lover from the dead.”  The premise gives you an idea, but it, by itself, is not enough to support a story.

The plot is the events that happen in a story.  So the plot of the above pirate story, summarized very succinctly, would be something like, “Pirate gathers crew for an ocean voyage to find a lost artifact capable of bringing the dead back to life, knowing they may perish in the attempt.  Along the way, the crew bonds over shared stories and dangerous encounters.  When they reach their destination, pirate realizes she has grown and no longer needs said artifact.”

See the difference?

Now, of course, the plot is every event in a story that contributes to the main storyline (events that contribute to less important storylines are part of the subplot).

So. Premise = idea, Plot = series of events.

Any questions?

Subgenre Study: Space Western

I can hear you now saying, “Kit, now you are just making up subgenres.”  Am I?  Am I?

Possibly, but let’s face it.  Science fiction and westerns go together like mint and chocolate.  Peanut butter and jelly.  Cream soda and Red Vines.  (Mmmm.)  Whatever combination you like.  They were meant to be.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s look at examples.  Star Trek.  Cowboy Bebop.  And, to be frightfully obvious – Firefly.

A straight western tends to take place in the American West – the frontier.  Settlements are spread-out, occasionally lawless, and in between there lurks numerous dangers – Indians, snakes, extreme weather, etc.  You see where I’m going.  Space – the final frontier.  People leaving their home planets and colonizing others, beating harsh worlds into submission or at least getting by.

Science fiction and westerns already share many conventions, so it’s easy to combine the two.

While we’re at it, let’s also discuss the science fiction western, which is slightly different.  Space westerns transpose aspects of the western into a science fiction environment; science fiction westerns transpose aspects of science fiction onto a western environment, ala the movie coming out next week, Cowboys and Aliens. (I am extremely excited.)  Stephen King’s Dark Tower series can also be considered to fall into this subgenre (though it can be considered fantasy – once again demonstrating the eternal fuzzy line between scifi and fantasy).

Science fiction westerns can occasionally blend with steampunk because both subgenres tend to involve technology that is much more advanced than actually existed in that time period.

How do you feel about space and/or science fiction westerns, Squiders?  Any books you recommend?

Submission Tracking and Why You Should Use It

You know how it feels.  You write something, you edit it, you polish it, and finally – FINALLY – it feels like you can let it go, let it out into the world to find its way.

Its horrible, dangerous way, filled with literary agents and editors and critics and…

But I get ahead of myself.

We’re writers.  We’re not necessarily the most organized people on the face of the Earth, but here’s the deal.  If this is something you want to do, if you want to see your name in print and maybe even get paid to put it there, you need to keep track of your submissions.

But Kit, you say, I’ve only got one story out, and I’m only sending it out to three people at a time.  Surely I can keep track of that.

Maybe.  But how do you feel when you’re 25 submissions in and looking for new agents to query?  Have you queried that person before?  What was their response?  Have you queried someone from that same agency before?

This is where tracking comes in handy.  At this moment in time I have one novel, two short stories, and a travel memoir in circulation at various places in the publishing world.  I can tell you where each of those are currently, where they have been, and where I will send them next if the current parties aren’t interested.  Not only does this keep me on top of things, but it gives me a pleasant little tickle of accomplishment as well.  (I admit that may just be because, as an engineer, I like things to be orderly – but I’m betting it works for you too.)

I keep my novel submissions in Excel spreadsheets.  Each line has an agent’s name, their agency and contact information, submission guidelines, any notes I have (such as specialized wants from their blogs), the date I submitted my query to them, the date of their response, and what it was.  (Some also have Partial submission dates and responses, and so forth, according to circumstances.)

But if you’d prefer a more interactive form of tracking, I suggest you use QueryTracker.  (You should be using this website anyway, submission tracking or not, because it’s a wealth of information.)  QueryTracker allows you to see which agents are good fits, talk to other people who have queried them, and determine how long a typical response wait time is, as well as other valuable tools and information.

For short stories, poetry, and things of that general length, I recommend Duotrope.  Duotrope tracks magazines/ezines and anthologies as well as giving you statistics on the percentage of submissions that are rejections/acceptances.  And how do they get said statistics?  By lovely people using their Submission Tracker feature, which is, in itself, very nice.  I use it for all my short stories.  With the Submission Tracker you can note which story you sent where and when, and then there’s a variety of responses you can put in when you receive a reply.  Those responses, in turn, show up as the statistics on a market’s page.

What about you, Squiders?  Any other tracking websites to recommend?  How do you track your submissions?

Announcing: Harry Potter Re-read

So I have seen Deathly Hallows Part 2 and lo! it was awesome.

But, of course, with any great form of entertainment, everyone wants to talk about it, and it comes to pass that you realize that perhaps you don’t know what you’re talking about quite as well as you once did.

So, along those lines, we here at Where Landsquid Fear to Tread will be commencing on a re-read of all seven Harry Potter books.  We invite you to join us.

Every other Monday (start in two weeks, on August 1st) we will have a discussion post for whatever book we happen to be on.  We can compare notes, we can discuss theories, we can talk about whatsoever you want to talk about, as long as it has something remotely to do with whichever book we’re discussing.  We can even talk about the differences between the book and movie versions if you’d like.

Ms. Rowling is an expert at weaving in plot threads much earlier into the story than they’re actually needed.  If anything, it’s worth it to re-read the books just to see what we missed the first time around.

So tell your friends.  Tell your families.  We’ll meet back here on August 1st to discuss Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone.

The Landsquid and I hope to see you there.

Subgenre Study: Space Opera

This week on Subgenre Study we examine the science fiction subgenre of the space opera, a subgenre of adventure that tends to have more in common with most fantasy than other science fiction subgenres.  (I managed to get the word subgenre in that sentence four times.)

Kit, you say, what are you talking about?  Space Opera takes place in the far future and is often full of strange aliens and stranger landscapes.  What do you mean it’s closer to fantasy than other science fiction?

Well, it depends on your definition of science fiction.  I’d like to tell you there is a tried and true way to tell what is scifi, and better yet, where the line is between scifi and fantasy, but alas, it is not to be.  The lines are too fuzzy.

But let’s look at science fiction in general.  Science fiction tends to take place in the near to far future, involve technology that does not currently exist, and tries to extrapolate what society will be like in the future.  Check, check, and check, right?  But what separates space opera is that plot and character is what is most important, and setting is part of the background.  It’s not space adventures, it’s adventures in space.

In a lot of space opera, technology is there, but how it works is unimportant.  No character in Star Wars ever explains how hyperspace works.  It just does.   The characters tend to take it for granted.  There’s no science to back it up, and no one cares.  What you care about are things like the characters, whatever their quest is, and the other people/governments/species they deal with.  And alien species don’t need to be biologically possible either as long as they’re interesting.

That’s why I say it’s closer to fantasy, except you’ve Klingons instead of Dwarves and instead of stopping the evil wizard and his legions of the undead, you’ve got to stop the evil Emperor and his clone soldiers. 

That’s not to say that space opera isn’t real science fiction.  It is.  Like all science fiction, the author/creator does need to look into the future and think about where the human race will have ended up, or picture what will come to pass if some event in the future occurs.  A future with a nuclear-based World War III will be different from a future where Canada comes to their senses and takes over the entire world with politeness.

What are your recommendations for good space opera, Squiders?  How do you feel about it?


In case you’ve been living under a rock, the final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) hits theaters at midnight tomorrow.  I (and Landsquid) are suitably excited.

(Hey, at least it gets him out of his funk of losing to the Alpaca in the Epic Battle.  I had to hide all my Cheez-Its.  Also, I think he’s more of a Hufflepuff, but I’m not going to tell him that.  Hufflepuffs are especially good finders.)

Didn’t peg me for a HP fangirl, did you?  Oh, you poor thing.  I had it so bad right around books five through seven.  I even ran a scholarly discussion forum between Half-Blood Prince (hereafter referred to as HBP) and Deathly Hallows.  We discussed what a horcrux was, whether Harry was one, and whether Dumbledore was an older Ron come back in time and that’s why he knew everything.  It was glorious.  I also lived through the Ship Wars.  That was less glorious but occasionally good for a laugh.

I was seventeen when I first picked up the books; twenty-four when Book Seven came out.  So I can’t claim to have grown up with the books, but they were a major influence on my young adult life.

People who haven’t read the books often look at those of us who are fans with something akin to wary suspicion.  Seriously, though, if you haven’t read the books (and, I’m sorry, but the movies don’t count) you should.  They may not be Great Literature, but they are an impressive work.  Each characters stands out as three-dimensional even though there’s approximately a billion of them, and she has threads that run through all seven volumes.  They’re worth it just from the insane organizational standpoint, but they do tell a story that resonates somewhere deep inside.

And now that the last movie is coming out, it’s really the end.  Nothing more to look forward to.  Will the series fade into our cultural memory?  Will something else ever come along that will be able to stretch across of so many cultural boundaries and unite people with a single story?

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic.  How about you, Squiders?  Potter fan, or don’t get the hype?  Are you hitting the midnight showing?  Dressing up?

Editing: Why the Big Picture Must Come First

I admit, the first time I sat down with a completed manuscript to edit it, I was overwhelmed.  I procrastinated for days.  It was a sad sight to see.

Editing is hard.  You’ve got a first draft, a complete manuscript, and now you have to refine it, to shape it into the story you want it to be instead of the story it ended up.  It’s enough to make people run for the hills screaming.

On some level, you want to do the easy parts first.  So you go through and read the story, correcting typos and grammar and the fact that you changed Character X’s name five times in the first three chapter.

Resist this urge.

Line-editing makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere, but you’re not.  What’s worse is, when you do finally get up the nerve to do the hard part, some of what you fixed won’t survive being cut.

So always do the big picture first.

Big picture items include: overarching plot, characters arcs, subplots, world-building, themes, and other things of that nature.  Things that effect the entire story.  What good is it if you fix all mentions of a character’s name if it turns out that character isn’t needed?  What good does it do you to fix your commas if your climax makes no logical sense?  What good does it do to be spelling-error free when your readers are fed up with your world by chapter four?

Yes, these are the hard parts, but until you work on them, you can’t tease your story into its final form.

And once you get the big picture things done, everything else will fall into place.  Believe me, there is no greater feeling than looking back on a productive session of editing and knowing that you actually accomplished something.

Subgenre Study: Paranormal

This one’s a bit controversial, friends.  While I would put paranormal as a subgenre of fantasy, I’ve started to see publishers and agents list it separate, like it’s its own genre.

Paranormal tends to involve things that are not quite fantastical, such as ghosts, aliens, parallel worlds.  It’s a strange mix of fantasy and horror, to some degree, whether something is just lurking on the edge of your consciousness, just out of view, or it’s something more concrete.

I admit I’m rather fond of it.  Ghosts and their ilk fascinate me, and I like to see something mythological played straight.

Paranormal presents you with the world you know and love, but something’s just a little not right.  And since it is presented as the real world, it makes you wonder if things really do lurk in the shadows.

A subset of paranormal (a subgenre of the subgenre?) is paranormal romance.  Everybody’s heard about this, right – how could you not?  It’s probably the hottest thing on the market (aside from, maybe, Steampunk), filled with perfectly normal people and the vampires/werewolves/demons/angels/zombies/kraken they love.

What do you think, Squiders?  A subgenre or its own genre?  Why?  And what are your favorite paranormal novels/short stories?  (Speaking of paranormal shorts, I just sold on to an anthology last week.)