NaNoWriMo Words and Energy

While I approached my NaNoWriMo journey with much trepidation–I’m a slow and steady kind of writer–the words are flowing and the energy’s buzzing in my finger tips. I’m already over 30,000 words, ahead of my weekly goals, and champing at the bit to bang out more. Sadly, a super-fun weekend at a gaming con here in the ‘Burgh will keep me away from Three’s a Crown from now through the weekend. That’s okay, though–I’ll be that much more raring to go come Monday.

Writers, keep on writing!

NaNoWriMo–Week 1

Oh, very well, the first week of NaNoWriMo isn’t finished yet, but I wanted to share how much I’ve accomplished already. I’ve topped the fourteen thousand word mark, and will surpass fifteen thousand words for the week. This will put me beyond my goals for the week, and hopefully help me pad my word count against future weeks. I’ve just finished chapter fourteen. As anticipated, chapters are short and sweet in this novel of mine. It’s witty with fun characters, an interesting plot, and thus far, excellent character development. All of this is in my humble opinion as a writer working on a first draft, of course, but right now my voice counts the most 🙂

More updates to follow.

Day One of NaNoWriMo

So, not a bad start to my November project. A perfect title came to me–Three’s a Crown. A friend and I and his girlfriend went to a NaNoWriMo write-in at the library, and I churned out a chapter late tonight. All told, I’ve put down over 4,200 words in about four hours of writing. A good first day in what promises to be a hectic month of writing. I’m excited for it.


First of all, apologies to my readers. I experienced a lengthy hiatus where I failed to update my website. This resulted from pouring all of my writing energies into an epic fantasy series, as well as some short fiction I’ve had to wedge in here and there.

I’m returning to update my website by announcing a surprise: I’ll be participating in the National Novel Writing Month project this November. I’ve been wary of this project in the past, unsure of whether or not it would suit me. I’ve also been leery of participating because it would break up my work on other projects.

Well, I find myself bogged down in my major epic fantasy work, and in need of another project, a project to cleanse my writing palate, as it were. With this in mind, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, starting November 1st.

If you wish to find my project on the site, my user name is stout_rugger, my location is Pittsburgh, PA, and my project is entitled Rough Draft: Threedom. Yeah, I don’t usually come up with a real, full title until I progress pretty far into a piece and can feel what it should be called. The story will center around characters from the free city-state of Threedom, and so a draft title was born. And yes, that is a pic of the Gray Mouser from one of Leiber’s book covers. I don’t draw, so I found the coolest pic I could online.

I’ve listed a link to my project below.

So, here’s to a good writing experience, beginning this Saturday, and to a flooded stream of words 🙂

Brandon Ketchum’s Rough Draft: Threedom

Review up on The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’s Website

My review of the July/August issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, guest edited by C.C. Finlay, is now up on their website. You can find it on this page:

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction July/August Issue Review

The July/August issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, put together by guest editor C.C. Finlay, is a wonderful collection of different twists on familiar themes. Charlie Jane Anders brings us a dark super hero tale with a delicious sci-fi angle in Palm Strike’s Last Case, while Haddayr Copley-Woods offers a fabulously warped tale of witch biology and motherly affection in Belly. Paul M. Berger’s Subduction gives readers a good slow burn that will make them rethink classic tropes, and Annalee Flower Horne has fun reducing the awesome arena of space opera to a humorous personal level with Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned from the Trade Summit Incident. Finally, William Alexander’s The Only Known Law takes quite a different view of first contact than any I’ve read before.

Other highlights of this issue include Spencer Ellsworth’s mind-tweaking take on the irregularities of irrigation in Five Tales of the Aqueduct, David Erik Nelson’s intelligent use of mathematics, science, and a resourceful hero in The Traveling Salesman Solution, Sandra McDonald’s witty presentation of post-apocalyptic education in End of the World Community College, and a Lovecraftian-styled relation of a horrific sea encounter by Ian Tregillis, Testimony of Samuel Frobisher Regarding Events upon His Majesty’s Ship Confidence, 14-22 June, 1818, with Diagrams.

Overall, C.C. Finlay proves that he not only has an eye for spotting excellent stories, but a penchant for putting together a solid issue full of complementary tales. I am happy to relate that The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has agreed to bring Mr. Finlay back for two more future guest editing engagements. I am sure these will provide reading experiences as intriguing and enjoyable as the July/August issue turned out.

A Review of ConCarolinas 2014

            After allowing myself a full day of recovery from con drop, I’d like to share a report on my experiences as a fan and a writer at ConCarolinas 2014. First of all, let me say how much I enjoyed myself. I went alone, which always sets a person up for disappointment at a slow event, but the con didn’t lag. Even though I missed having my girlfriend there with me, I still had a lot of fun. Plenty of interesting people, good writing tips and advice, geeky shopping options, and George R.R. Martin. Good times.

            The George R.R. Martin events I made it to didn’t run smoothly, but kudos to the event organizers for admitting this shortfall and apologizing for it. I can’t castigate folks for making mistakes when they own up to them. Okay, if I had been one of the ones screwed over, sure, I’d castigate away. Thankfully I got into the Q&A and the special reading about the history of the Westerlands, and I also got my books signed. I had to wait in line for more than an hour for each of them, then wait for the events to take place, but such is the price to pay for the celebrity panels and signings. Being in the same room party with Mr. Martin, and having a very short, very normal conversation with him alone at the elevators was icing on the cake.

            I must say, the panels and workshop in the writing track are going to help me quite a lot in my writing career. So too, I hope, will the books I bought from the author tables. My chief focus going in was to figure out how to make my stories and books more salable in today’s market. I’m a good writer with tight writing (though not here on my blog–I just follow my inner voice here). I need to figure out how to take the next step, as it were. Granted, some few of the panels devolved into too much “Well, my character X does Y and Z”, but for the most part, the writing track was authorial money in the intellectual bank. I discovered that, nowadays, editors want to be in the main character’s head immediately, and jump straight into the conflict. Gone are the days where a writer can take their time and ease into the story. Good to know! I already tried to limit my use of attributives, but discovered I need to pare it down even further. The panel dedicated to editing, agents and publishing gave me much needed perspective and knowledge as well. One panel and one workshop really stood out to me, though, and I’ll go over them next.

            The Magical Words live slush pile panel is a creation of pure genius, one which they have done before and will thankfully do many times in the future. Three authors, David B. Coe, Faith Hunter, and Misty Massey, listened to the first 300 words of manuscripts. These manuscripts were handed in by aspiring writers attending the panel, and read anonymously. Each author acted as an editor, and would raise a hand when they reached a point they would have stopped reading. No author had to own up to their story. This is a fabulous exercise. I heard the errors in others’ stories I used to make, and discovered a few I still make. It helped hammer home, to me, the modern focus on immediate character intimacy and conflict. Editors and readers don’t have the patience to wait any more, and that isn’t a gripe. It’s a reality, and one I will be happy to embrace.

            Allen Wold’s workshop on beginnings will help me to hone how I open my stories, and has already spawned the first draft of a cute but dark flash fiction piece. Attendees to the workshop were given brief but pointed directions right off the bat. We were to write the opening to a story, in 100 words or fewer, to include four items: character, setting, something happening, and questions left unanswered. I don’t want to post my contribution, which was met with great curiosity and for which I was given several pointers, and lose publishing rights. I’ll just say that I invented the godlet in my opening 😉 Okay, I’ve since found out I didn’t invent it, but everyone there thought I did 🙂

            I noted already I bought up some modern authors’ books, to catch up with today’s spec fic stories and to read up on today’s styles of writing. These are the ones I picked up: Joe Naff’s The Gospel of the Font, Davey Beauchamp’s Amazing Pulp Adventures: the Short Stories, Stuart Jaffe’s Southern Bound, and Michael G. Williams’s Perishables. My reading list is already long, however, so it will be a while before I manage to get to any of these promising works. Which one should I read first?

As for the rest of the con, well, it’s more of the same kind of geeky fun you’d expect to find. I bought two great T-shirts, one Game of Thrones Bastard Sons of Castle Black (Crows Before Hoes) and one Lovecraftian Miskatonic University. One of my friends will be disappointed I didn’t stay up to watch the showing of Zardoz, but hey, it was late and those chairs were killing me at that point in the evening. Wonderful chats, wonderful people, wonderful cosplays (surprised to see several Littlefingers, noted a perfect Oberyn, a girl with a painted on beard as Renly, and lamented the fact that we had no Varys lol). All in all, a very good time. ConCarolinas 2014 was well worth the price of admission and hotel.

The Forgotten Greats

            Ask any avid fiction reader who their favorite authors are, and you’ll invariably hit on this topic. Every one of us has an author or two, sometimes many more, who we feel has been forgotten, pushed aside by modern readers. Some of these authors may be obscure artists with few works, or prolific giants of literature we’ve let fall through the cracks. I feel Fritz Leiber, one of the Grandfathers of Fantasy I mentioned in a previous post, is one of these forgotten greats. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people supposedly well-read in fantasy ask me, “Fritz Who?” As much as Leiber doesn’t get the recognition he deserves today, though, one specific author brought this topic to mind for me: Rafael Sabatini. 

            For those of you who are familiar with Sabatini, I’m sure you’re cheering over your keyboard; for those of you who aren’t, I’m hoping you’re eager to find out about him. His life itself was quite interesting. Sabatini was born in Italy to an Italian father and English mother, both opera singers turned teachers. He lived in various European countries throughout his life, and spoke six languages. Although English was only an adopted language, he wrote in this language because he felt all the best stories were written in English. He wrote at an impressive clip, too. At his peak, he put out a book a year, over a span of more than a decade, along with many short stories, a play, and multiple nonfiction works.

Yet many writers have written a lot of dreck. Why should Sabatini still be considered a great? Because his work withstands the test of time. It’s just that good. But don’t simply take my word for it. Sabatini had several best sellers, and enjoyed critical success. A good number of his books were adapted to film, some of which are lost to posterity. His biggest film successes were significant. Scaramouche earned over 2 ½ million dollars in the first year of its North American release, an impressive figure for that time period. The Sea Hawk, a silent film, was considered by the New York Times to be the greatest sea adventure to date, and held that unofficial honor long after. Captain Blood was adapted to film twice, the second film launching Errol Flynn’s impressive career. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, and director Michael Curtiz finished second in the Best Director category as a write-in. The Black Swan starred Hollywood giants Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara and won an Academy Award.

            The success of film adaptations doesn’t make for a great author, though. I’ll reiterate how good Sabatini’s works are. Granted, they won’t be to everyone’s tastes. He wrote a lot of historical fiction using original styles of language and description. Still, critical success both on page and in film says a lot about an author. Sabatini’s writings are filled with passion, pathos, adventure, villainy, redemption, fights against tyranny, lust, love, and most of all, realistic characters dealing with exceptional but believable circumstances. I find the scope of his writing encapsulated within his famous opening line to Scaramouche, which is engraved on his tombstone: “He was born with the gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad.”

            Rafael Sabatini, author, a forgotten great. Check him out, read a few of his books. They don’t pack the shelves of Barnes and Noble, no. You may find Captain Blood there, or Scaramouche, or on rare occasions my favorite, the Sea Hawk, but no others. Heck, take the plunge and order one online. You won’t be disappointed. If you are, blame it on some crazy blog writer.

            Now tell me, who are your forgotten greats?



On Authurial Obligation

Like many other avid fantasy readers, I have eagerly awaited publication of the Winds of Winter, book 6 in George R. R. Martin’s mesmerizing A Song of Ice and Fire series, for years. And, like every other ASoIaF fans, I have been frustrated for years. “Write like the wind, George R. R. Martin,” many fans have pled. Still others have become infuriated, feeling a sense of entitlement, that Martin has an obligation to get these books finished. Martin has replied by stating he is a slow writer, and wishes the fans would stop pressuring him; it’ll be “done when it’s done.” Other writers have strongly supported Martin in this view. As a writer who understands just how much work goes into the craft, but one who cannot yet comprehend all the ins and outs of celebrity and dealing with my craft in other mediums, this back and forth on the topic of authorial obligation intrigues me.

Do we as writers truly ‘owe’ our readers anything beyond what we’ve already published? One can argue that we do from a purely financial angle; if we don’t write to our audience, maybe our audience will stop buying our work.

But that’s not the issue at hand. Should writers be held to some kind of timeline, a reasonable, minimal framework for completing stories or sequels? It sounds like a simple question, with a simple answer. Of course we can’t work to rigid deadlines—with the fans, anyway—our editors can most certainly hold our feet to the fire. Past that, however, I don’t think the answer is as black and white as one might think.

My belief is that authorial obligation does exist, but it’s a much more amorphous concept than simply churning pages out at a reasonable rate. I’ll use Martin as an example. He’s taken a long time in between books, sure, but let’s examine why. He’s caught up in working on a television series about ASoIaF, Game of Thrones, which is surely relevant and which has brought us fans no end of joy. He’s also of necessity been attending a lot of events worldwide, as part of the publicity and celebrity he’s written himself into. This must hamper his writing, as it takes up large chunks of time and must often put him on an irregular schedule. So far, so good, and fans should simply shut up and wait. The problem I as a fan and writer run into, though, is with his other writing and editing pursuits.

Martin has been prolific in writing and editing in recent years, but a lot of this focus has been devoted to works other than the Winds of Winter. Granted the Dunk and Egg novellas take place in ASoIaF’s history, they are not book 6. Likewise his story about the fictional-historic Dance of Dragons in the Dangerous Women anthology, an anthology he edited too. He’s also editing a new, unrelated anthology to be released in June, called Rogues. Add to this the World of Ice and Fire, a history of the ASoIaF’s world soon to be published, and the Wit & Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister, released last year, and it seems like Martin is doing everything but writing the Winds of Winter.

Of course he’s working on the Winds of Winter. He’s just devoting a lot of his writing time to a vast array of other projects. Martin has also said that he enjoys having written, not writing, which likely results in a lag in word count. Couple this with his television work and his worldwide appearances at conventions and other media events, and it’s no wonder it’s taking him forever to finish the next book, let alone the series. It’s enough to make a fan and reader want to tear out their hair.

Let’s face it, though. Martin has no real, tangible obligation to forego other projects and focus primarily on the Winds of Winter. I do think he owes it to himself, not just the fans, to regain some of his focus and get on with his story. No, sales will not lag because his word count lags. Still, as an author, I would feel uncomfortable spreading myself thin working on other writing projects while I let a popular series simmer on the back burner. Whether or not you get burned out, you also need to push on to the conclusion. That’s my personal view as a writer. I’ve never experienced this situation, so take it with a grain of salt, but I think we have an obligation to focus on our projects, once they’re begun, and to not take on more than we can handle.

This doesn’t mean we have any obligation to fans and readers in any real sense, though. Martin is right to ignore the critics and to fire back when the situation calls for a louder response. So yes, while I do think authorial obligation exists, I don’t think it should be overblown, or go any further than what should be an inherent dedication to your own work.

Sorry fans, but you’ll just have to be patient right along with me. Then again, I’ll be seeing Mr. Martin at ConCarolinas 2014 in May. Perhaps he’ll have a little announcement for us there 🙂



The Grandfathers of Fantasy

Every fantasy reader and writer recognizes and, on the main, reveres the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings trilogy especially is often held up as the definitive work of the high fantasy genre. I certainly consider Tolkien to be one of the masters of fantasy–a Grandfather of Fantasy, if you will.

But who else would you put up on such a lofty pedestal? What other writers would you consider a Grandfather of Fantasy? For me, there are two other greats, individuals who broke new ground in their genres, who do not get the credit they deserve.

The first must be Robert E. Howard. A man who took pulp stories to new heights, who has been called the father of sword and sorcery, reached the pinnacle of fantasy with his character Conan of Cimmeria. Yet though Howard’s works have inspired so many modern works, and though he has been lauded for his writing throughout the twentieth century, recognition of this Grandfather of Fantasy has fallen by the wayside. It is difficult to find more than one or two Howard books in modern bookstores, while cheap schlock crowds the shelves. This is a shame, since Howard, through Conan and other classic characters like Kull and Solomon Kane, helped make fantasy the genre it is today.

Finally, Fritz Leiber is one of the masters of the field, a Grandfather of Fantasy who has been set aside for some unknown reason. When Michael Moorcock (another great in his own right) sought to name the genre created by Howard with Conan, Leiber responded and named the sword and sorcery fantasy subgenre. Aside from this, Leiber penned a series of stories surrounding two iconic characters, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Their adventures were certainly not high fantasy, nor were these characters heroes in the traditional sense. I consider Leiber the master of low and weird fantasy, where the characters are as debauched and strange as the world they live in. Their motivations were base, their adventures a window into the weird. Sadly, Leiber’s writings find even less recognition today than do Howard’s. Still, through Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and other works, Leiber established himself, in my view, as a Grandfather of Fantasy.