New Year’s resolution 3: read more (classics and fantasy)

January 25, 2013 in Fantasy, Misc, On Writing by pacejmiller

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted to last year, but I blame that on the life-draining force that is parenthood, which makes sleep a priority over anything not baby-related. I blame that as well awesome TV series such as Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Most of all, I blame the turd that is the Fifty Shades Trilogy, which wasted a good part of my year and just about turned me off reading altogether.

This year, I am glad to say, I have already read two books (though I started one of them last year) and am halfway through a third. Reading really does help your writing in so many ways, including expanding your imagination and ability to visualize scenes, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can. I feel like I am already way behind because I didn’t read all that much once I hit high school, which I blame entirely on Sony (Playstation) and basketball.

Anyway, this year one of my resolutions is to read more. A lot more. I have already started executing my ‘no smartphone and read instead before bed’ plan, which is kind of working. I’m also trying to read whenever I can on public transport and even during lunch breaks at work.

A subset of that plan is to read more classics. I always find them daunting and often put them off in favour of trash like Fifty Shades or whatever commercial fiction is in fashion, but it’s time for me to discover why classics are classics. The last modern classic I read was probably Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (which I loved) and the last classic of any era I read was Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (which, despite being told repeatedly that it was probably the most technically perfect book ever written, bored me to death).

The good thing is that many older classics are now out of copyright and free to download. My guess is I will attempt to tackle the easier ones first, like say Frankenstein or Dracula, or perhaps some Dickens. War and Peace and James Joyce will probably have to wait a few more decades.

The other of part of the goal is to read more fantasy to prepare myself to get back on the fantasy writing wagon. I have A Game of Thrones ready to go, and if that isn’t enough I might finally (re)try the original Sword of Shannara trilogy or Feist’s Magician.

I doubt I’m going to get through anywhere near what I’ve planned for myself but I sure am going to try.

Happy reading!

I want my sleep back!

March 13, 2012 in Best Of, Fantasy, Novel, On Writing, Parenting by pacejmiller

It’s amazing how little sleep you can function on when you have no choice.

As a new father, I’ve repeatedly astounded myself by sleeping less than I’ve ever slept in my life, even worse than when I was working my tail off as a lawyer. The problem is not just the lack of sleep — it’s the continuous breaks in the sleep when you actually do get the chance for some shut-eye that really kills you.

I used to be a relatively deep sleeper, but now I wake up over the sound of a pube hitting the ground. You can’t sleep when the baby is crying or making noises, and you can’t sleep well when they are completely silent because you wonder if something has gone horribly wrong.  It’s f&%ed.

That said, I am getting used to it. Kind of. I had my first five-hour sleeping spree last night in months, followed by an uninterrupted two-hour nap. I am hoping my little boy has finally turned a corner (I probably just jinxed myself there), but I’ll have to wait and see tonight if it’s just a once off miracle.

I long for the day I can get a full night’s sleep again.  I hear maybe from six months onwards, babies will be able to sleep through the night.  Looking back, I deeply regret the times I took sleep for granted.  Ahh…sweet, sweet, beautiful sleep. How I miss thee!

Life has slowly entered a routine around here. Well, kind of.  I go work in the morning, stay there for nine hours, come home, have dinner, try and finish off my freelance work, maybe watch some TV or a movie, play some Words With Friends or Scramble With Friends, exercise a little, feed the little one and put him to sleep, before I collapse in exhaustion myself.

Not that I’m complaining. Despite the general exhaustion and sleep deprivation I have never been happier.  It’s such a wonderful thing watching my little boy grow everyday — he has already doubled his birth weight and has gone from a skinny alien into a fatty with a couple of chins.  I love watching his big wandering eyes, seemingly curious at every little thing in this new world around him.  I love how he cracks a little smile when I steal a kiss on his chubby cheeks.  I love the look of satisfaction on his face when he finally gets that hard-fought burp, fart or poop out.  I even adore (love is too strong a word) the way he sobs and cries.

In fact, it’s one of the rare, perhaps unprecedented times in my life where I actually know how special things are right now.

The best part about my current situation that I no longer hate my job.  I wouldn’t say the work, working conditions are pay are ideal, but it feels good not waking up to a tsunami of overwhelming dread every morning just because you have to go to work.  Amazingly, I enjoy what I do and almost look forward to it.

It’s only been a month, so I probably just jinxed myself again, but it’s been the first time I’ve ever actually thought about work outside of work hours because I want to, and not out of fear. I want to write good articles and I want to come up with better ways to write and improve my writing. I also enjoy reading my articles after they’ve been published, particular so I can see the changes our copywriters have made so I can learn to be a better writer.

The working hours are good, the work itself is varied and most of the time it’s interesting. Occasionally I still get the dud article but I take it on the chin and think of it as a learning opportunity. On the downside I thought I’d have a lot more spare time during work hours to do other stuff, such as doing my own writing.  But not only does it feel wrong, I actually don’t have that much time — maybe five minutes or ten minutes here or there, which is never enough to get into the writing mood.

Right now the only thing preventing me from getting back on the novel-writing wagon is this freelance job I’ve been doing. After three months of crawling through this turd, I can finally say I am in the home stretch.  I’m just about in the colon.  My guess is one or two more weeks, and then I’m done.  It’s a good thing to have on my CV, being able to say I edited an entire book and all, but it’s just too hard and the pay is too low.  Besides, I’d much rather work on my novels again.  I’ve been in touch with my friend back in Oz and maybe we will get my masters project back on track.  I still believe it has potential.

As for my fantasy novel, I’ve been dreaming about it a lot lately. I guess it’s always like that — the scenes are written in your head much easier than they are written on the page.  Having kind of ‘figured it out’ at last, I know I’ll have to rewrite most of the damn thing, but I look forward to the challenge. Thanks to Game of Thones for getting me back into fantasy.

That’s the life update. I have about 40 posts in wait, and I promise I’ll eventually get to them. The only problem is that new post ideas are popping up quicker than I am writing them. Oh well, it’s time for the night feed. Sweet dreams (fingers crossed).

I don’t know how people with kids do it!

February 8, 2012 in Blogging, Fantasy, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Parenting by pacejmiller

Ned Stark had kids (including illegitimate ones), and he still accomplished a lot

Action has been somewhat slow on this blog lately, and with good reason.  My baby boy had been caught a little cold, as have his parents.  A healthy baby is brutal enough, but a sick baby is the cherry on top. Man I wish I cherished my sleep more in the past!

On top of that, I have commenced a full-time job at a place where I can write and edit  for a living.  It’s mainly newsy, journalistic stuff, but it’s better than nothing.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn as much as I can and hone my skills, which need a lot of honing. It doesn’t pay nearly as well, but on the bright side, it’s soooo cruisy compared to being a lawyer.  I finally feel like I belong, doing stuff I believe in and that I am comfortable with, without feeling totally stressed out all the time and like a fraud who has no idea what’s going.  And the best part is that I can leave work at 6pm, not 6am, meaning I can get home in time for dinner with the family and spend time with my wife and son.  That would never have been possible before.

I’m not quite sure what this means for the future of this blog, which still has at least 2 dozen posts waiting in the wings for me to write.  I started this blog as a hobby and it will remain so, but finding time to write posts is going to be difficult.  Time is a premium commodity these days, and even finding time to read is difficult, let alone exercise or play video games.  And what about my novels, the novels I so desperately want to finish (especially my fantasy novel, which has garnered renewed interest after I recently watched the first season of Game of Thrones — I also need to read all those books, by the way)?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Seriously, I don’t know how people with kids do the things they do.  How and where they find the time to go to the gym, catch up with friends, see a movie, write bestselling novels, change the freaking world.  I’m sure it gets easier as the kids get older but seriously, there are so many other excuses to prevent you from doing what you need to do!  You can count me in as someone in awe of anyone who can finish writing a book with young children in the house.

I remember reading somewhere that John Grisham used to get to work (at his law firm) an hour before everyone else and write at least a page on a yellow note pad.  Every day.  In a year or two, he had A Time to Kill.  I also remember reading that Dan Brown would get up at 4am every day to write.  Are these people even human?  I mean, come on.  Don’t these robots need sleep?

The good news for me is that my new job is a get-your-work-done-and-you-can-do-whatever-you-want kind of place.  I’m still as slow as a snail’s turd at the moment, but if I can train myself to be an article generating machine, then chances are I’ll have some time during the work day to pump out a couple of posts or even work on the novel.  In the meantime, however, I still have a bunch of freelance editing work holding up my “free” time, so it might be a little while longer before I can get into the groove.

That’s all I’ve got time for now.  As a butt-groping former governer once said, I’ll be back.

What kind of fantasy novel are you writing?

August 26, 2011 in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller


It’s been an exciting few weeks around here for an assortment of reasons I won’t go into, which means my catatonic fantasy novel is being pushed even further back in my list of ‘things I must work on soon’.

I started this novel about 10 years ago as a bored student who had read little fantasy and had zero idea what made a good fantasy novel and even less of an idea on how to write one.  And yet I wrote slabs here and there, developed character biographies, planned, planned and planned some more.  Most of the writing took place over the space of two years, but it’s been one of those projects that can get neglected for years at a time — and it has been.  I guess I am one of those millions of people out there who would love to reach their goal but haven’t yet been willing to (or developed the discipline to) put in the hard work necessary to get there.

My dreams of becoming a fantasy novelist are still very much alive, but the expectations are no longer the same.  Having now read more fantasy and with a better understanding of what makes a good book and how to produce one, it has actually gotten much harder to write.  I also know now what a difficult industry it is, how poorly the industry is performing right now, and how bleak the future is looking for the majority of aspiring novelists.   Not to say it can’t be done, but hard work alone won’t be enough.

Simply being a good writer and writing a great book isn’t going to cut it.  These days, it’s all about the market — and the marketing.  You really have to identify your target market and write specifically for that market.  Sometimes you get lucky and the book has cross-market potential (say Harry Potter), but if you don’t have a clear target market you’ll find it difficult to find a publisher willing to take you on (especially if you are not an established writer).

I find it’s a catch-22 situation: you want to write something that is different to what is already out there at the moment to distinguish yourself from the pack, but publishers are seldom willing to take on books that they can’t comfortably squeeze into a particular genre.

And that’s just to get published.  What about sales?  Of course, paranormal romance has been big since Twilight, and I suppose that’s not really fantasy any more because it kind of become a standalone genre.  It seems every second book on the shelf involves vampires, werewolves or other mythological creatures these days.

More recently, thanks to the HBO series Game of Thrones, epic fantasy is starting to really pick up again, especially those with dark plots that feature demented themes and characters.

When I was in writing workshops, the general consensus was that if you want to sell these days, you ought to target the ‘young adult’ market.  According to Wikipedia, that’s roughly the ages of 14 to 21.  But apart from the Harry Potter clones (ie teenagers playing around with magic and magical worlds) and Twilight clones (ie teenagers falling in love with magical creatures), I can’t really think of any young adult fantasy sub-genres that have been hugely successful in recent years.

Every week I am coming across more and more people who are writing fantasy novels, and the majority of them either doing something generic or one of the above.  And that got me wondering — where the heck does my fantasy novel fit into all of this, and should I be doing anything to change it?

Back before I knew anything about anything, my intention was just to write a good fantasy yarn.  I thought I had a good story, a few interesting characters, and didn’t think about much else.  I suppose if I had a particular slant, it was to make the novel less like the sprawling fantasy epics that give me headaches just trying to decipher the blurb on the back cover.  I wanted to write something lighter, more straightforward and action-packed, like a thriller with a fantasy setting.  I wanted to appeal to the RPG geeks who like the idea the these fantasy worlds but are either too lazy or find it too tedious to read 1000+ pages for a good story.

I still want to keep that idea in tact, but I’m wondering whether I need to rewrite the damn thing so that it fits more into a particular category.  Because right now, it’s not really anything.  On the one hand, I could go ‘George RR Martin’ and make it a more ‘adult’ fantasy with more violence, gore, treachery and sex (and let’s face it, the geeks love that kind of stuff).  On the other hand, I could go the ‘young adult’ path and make my protagonists younger, make the story slightly more sanitised, and maybe even throw in a little more romance.

They would make completely different books, but I can’t figure out which one would be more appealing to the wider market.

Anyway, that’s my aimless rant for the day.  If you too are writing a fantasy novel, what kind of fantasy is it?  Does it follow the trodden path of those before you, or is it something drastically different?  Are you writing with a specific target market in mind or do you not care?  And what makes you think your novel is special enough to be published or potentially become a bestseller?

The Magic of Fantasy Book Covers

August 17, 2011 in Best Of, Blogging, Fantasy, Misc, On Writing by pacejmiller

By Alan Rabinowitz

8 Seconds

I recently read an article which said that the average person spends 8 seconds looking at the front cover of a book and 15 seconds on the back.  If the book doesn’t grab their attention then they move on to the next book.

For me, 8 seconds is a long time.  When I browse a book store I literally just glance across the shelves to see if anything grabs my eye.  And to be honest, not a whole lot of books grab me enough for me to pick it up and read the back, and even fewer make me open up the book to read a few pages.  There are just too many to look at, and let’s face it, the majority are either too similar or generic.

These days, I tend to go on personal recommendations, best-seller charts and online reviews more than anything else, but occasionally there are books that I’ve never heard of before that have covers that jump out at me.  Occasionally it may be because of the book title or the author’s name, but sometimes it’s because of the uniqueness of the design art.

Fantasy Book Covers

The genre with book covers that interest me the most is fantasy (and sci-fi to a lesser extent).  To me, fantasy covers are the most fascinating because they have the potential to be the best — and the worst.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

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