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Ramblings on the Bad Man

December 22, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization, Plot, The Craft  2 Comments

In The Baby Dancers, the current work in progress, there is a crucial battle scene where our heroes (Zeke and Josh), do battle with the forces of… what exactly?

To be honest, I do not know. Certainly I know all the motivations, and I have a clear ending for a the book. Indeed, unless I have the last chapter outlined in my head, I do not start working on a novel.  I learned that one the hard way with Unfinished Book.

There are the protagonists, stuck in a bad situation, and all that remains is the journey to the end of the quest.

All in a good, fun story, of course. With no preaching!

There is nothing like a good old story about good vs. evil, but is that interesting in today’s world of complexity? Do young adult fantasy readers want more?

There is a price to be paid for wantonly attacking a group of martial artist who have sequestered themselves in the northern mountains of Idaho. They isolated themselves for a reason. They are the best of the best, and should be left alone. When all is done and the battlefield is covered in blood,  the antagonist is clearly the bad guy. But is he evil?

His actions are evil, from the point of view of the protagonists, just as the Indian’s actions in The Searchers were evil to Ethan Edwards. The novel The Searchers was an extraordinary book, and the film even more so.

I wonder why I can’t remember any teen novels with the complexity of The Searchers. Do publishers feel that the subject matter is too complex? Is it? I do not think so. No, to this day I remember being fascinated by the story that held no clear winner.

The Searchers anchors  around the theme of the family and personal honor, a point often overlooked. This theme runs through The Baby Dancers, but I believe I have found a certain clarity. The protagonist, Zeke, has a moral code and a divine directive. He will suffer no man’s evil. But, Zeke is a thinking young man.

When the antagonist is gray, when evil comes in bits and pieces and not wrapped in bow that is easily identifiable, the stakes are high. Once could say they can go no higher from our protagonist. For, like Ethan, when faced with the quest, the power he wields puts him on the razor’s edge. To fall the wrong way in the quest is to become the bad man.

The sword has but one purpose.

I’m not going to preach to my readers, Lord knows I have several writing friends who will kick my ass if I do.

But I am not going to make it easy. Sometimes the journey is not the the reward. Sometimes, the journey is a long, terrible path, fraught with peril and a stain on the mortal soul.

To Channel Your Inner Sci-Fi Moojoo, You Must Swim With the New Media

December 05, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Plot, Setting, The Craft  5 Comments

Some of the best science fiction stories lately do not come from books. While it seems that some authors are trying to grasp a straw from the playbook of the golden years of science fiction Grandmasters, there are visionary people working outside of traditional story-telling to deliver the goods. Interactively.

Take for instance, Portal. Portal is a three-dimensional puzzle computer/console game that requires spacial thinking. But it also tells a story, and is vaguely connected, in a creepy way, to another great science fiction story from a computer game, Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Set in the grand and so very bleak Half-Life universe, Portal is, at its heart, a complex tale filled with tension, foreshadowing and base malevolence hidden behind sarcastic humor. Over the course of the game, you are slowly fed this story and if you do not pay attention you can even miss it! And when you escape from the clutches of the antagonist, your are not really too sure escaping was a good idea.

My point is thus: If you want to write science fiction (and the Bunny Trouble story is science fiction which is why this subject is dear to my heart), then you have to play and understand the appeal of these games. For they are very good, and very compelling. They tell a story in such a way as to draw you in and keep you thinking about it long after it is done, much like a good science fiction book does. That is caused not just by the game itself, but in large part from the pure science fiction goodness presented to the player.  If you do not understand the appeal of the great  stories, in their complex universes, such as Half-Life 2, Portal, Mass Effect, etc., your future audience is limited, your readers left wanting for more.

Evolve or die.

Read More…

Max Leone: My Hero!

November 17, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, The Craft  1 Comment

Max writes in a letter dripping in awesomesauce:

“I am of that population segment that is constantly derided as “not reading anymore,” and is therefore treated by publishing companies as a vast, mysterious demographic that’s seemingly impossible to please. Kind of like the way teenage boys think of girls. The reason we read so little in our free time is partially because of the literary choices available to teenagers these days. The selection of teen literature is even more barren now that the two great dynasties, Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl, have released their final installments. Those two massive successes blended great characters, humor and action in a way that few other books manage. When they went for laughs, they were genuinely funny, and their dramatic scenes were still heart-poundingly tense, even after I’d read them dozens of times.”

Let’s review shall we:

The reason we read so little in our free time is partially because of the literary choices available to teenagers these days.

Sound familiar? It should.

Max goes on further to state:

Finally, here is what I consider the cardinal rule of writing for young adults: Do Not Underestimate Your Audience.

Oh man, Max’s letter just goes from great to, well spectacular as Max hits a lot of people with a clue-by-four.

And the best thing about his post it ties directly into what Courtney was saying. DIRECTLY. See, I told you Courtney was smart. And here is proof! PROOF I SAY!

Max, this is my plege to you: My YA Fantasy novel will be as you say. I call it the Max Leone YA Novel – Winter Pledge 2008. Who’s with me?

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If it gets published or not is something else entirely. I promise to give you and your friends what you are looking for. I promise to play my part, it remains seen if others will step up to the plate and deliver.

Me thinks yer smoke’n something, mate.

November 09, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: The Craft  0 Comments

The Baby Dancers is a book that starts in Idaho (since Washington, Idaho and Oregon are the places I know) and eventually winds it way to someplace else. It is Young Adult Fantasy. I’ve noticed, however, my setting is very time period generic. So here I am plodding (1000 words a day is plodding for me) on The Baby Dancers and I write this:

Big Jim found a fallen log, brushed it off and sat down. “It was easy. I taught you that equipment to make a point. It is so easy that we learned only one thing: how to hunt with modern weapons. We did not learn other lessons, such as what happens when those modern weapons break down? The men who built those weapons are gone. Their technology outlasted them, but someday it too will die, and then what do we have? No understanding of the finer arts of the hunt—so we too will pass.”

“What about reverse engineering?” asked Josh.

“What about it? We know everything there is to know about making those rifles. We do not have the society to manufacture them in any numbers worth their cost to produce! Nano tube woven composite construction, adaptive software, advanced computer chip manufacturing, environmental agnostic superconductors, etcetera­—the list is endless of things we know how to do but cannot do. Even the ammunition is too expensive to make.

“So, if we are to learn about the world around us, we must make do with the things we can make, not what somebody long dead left behind.”

??? Why why why why? Why did I write that? It’s not in my outline. It just came spewing forth. Was it too much wine? Am I tired? Was this a bolt of creativity, or ust silliness?

Inquiring minds want to know.

A reminder

November 07, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, The Craft  3 Comments

The Young Adult Science Fiction blog is updated every Friday, with today being no exception.

Anybody who writes Young Adult speculative fiction should put this on their read list. It’s like a free box of bon-bons every Friday!

Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl

October 12, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Not Exactly Random, The Craft  3 Comments

This book review is for novelists. If you simply have love a reading, John Grant does an excellent review on Infinity Plus.

Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl is an extraordinary Young Adult novel—an entertaining, thought-provoking story and a fine technical achievement. The novel itself encompasses not one or two genres—but three, one for each point of view. From the forward by Lois Lowry:

“How rich a literary landscape is the one that enables the reader to enter several worlds and make a home in each.”

Reviewers throughout the decades have attempted to define this gem as a blend of science fiction and fantasy. This, perhaps, is an incorrect interpretation of the novel. Enchantress from the Stars is a book that deftly switches between three points of view: Elana, the daughter of a field agent from an advanced galactic civilization, Jarel, a medical officer from a space faring race and Georyn, the youngest son of a woodcutter whose life is turned upside-down when the Dragon invades the Enchanted Forest.

The plot is thus: A space-faring race has invaded a planet where the inhabitants are in a primitive, medieval state.  They go about clearing their landing site of their future colony with little thought to the impact of the people already there. The Dragon is a mechanical demolition machine, but to the natives it is a fearsome beast. Above both these two peoples, Elana, her fiancé and her father must try to save the primitive civilization, but they must do so in a way as to not interfere with the cultural advancement of the colonists. Simply, without a doubt, a marvelous bit of plotting.

One point of view in the book comes from Georyn, and as such is “fantasy.” The other point of view is from Jarel, and could be classified as “science fiction.” The third point of view, and the most important, comes from Elana, and is, in my humble opinion, visionary fiction. The three genres come together in a rapturous conclusion that is both harrowing, contemplative and finally, bittersweet. If you do not become misty-eyed, or at the least wistful at the conclusion of the book, then you heart is hardened to the likes of love gained and love lost in sacrifice for a noble purpose.

As a writer this technical achievement deserves your study, for Engdahl carries it with finesse and a unique style that has stood the test of time and is without peer. That is only the half of the reason I recommend this novel.

You will never find me disparaging the Young Adult novels that have reached a resounding success yet never come near the thoughtfulness offered by Engdahl. How many new-writer doors have opened because of Rowling and Meyer? Not just from a commercial perspective, but simply from an audience-building standpoint. This week, there is agent calling her client with a book deal that never would have seen the light of day without the expansion of the teen market. No matter how much the protagonist personally grates on one’s nerves, we owe that literary vampiric mouse of a girl a debt. Would the reprints of Enchantress from the Stars be possible if Harry Potter only existed in an Edinburgh coffee shop? It is not for me to say, but the influence of Rowling’s speculative work on publishers is as obvious as the sun rising each morning.

This is the heart of my review. There is, in my mind, the achievement of this novel from 1970 and the commercial success of the contemporary mega author. Like a greedy child, I want both. I demand both. I want novels that meet the standards presented by Engdahl, while commercially fulfilling the dreams of agents and publishers because their audience is legion.

Enchantress from the Stars explores personal ethics and morality and presents a cosmos that demands personal sacrifice not just for the good of who we know, but also for a greater purpose beyond our immediate universe. The personal growth of Elana through her great efforts, sacrifice and loss was awe-inspiring as it was a heartbreaking journey to behold. I could go on and on about the little gems inside this book, such as the psychological insights offered to the reader on human nature and matters of the heart. Nevertheless, I will not for that is not my purpose in writing this review. What I will do is toss down a literary gauntlet.

Dear writers, this is my challenge to you. If you are a fantasy author, there is much to learn from Enchantress from the Stars in the creation of legend and myth and the personal trials of the human spirit filled with curiosity. As science fiction, it is a wondrous universe filled with more questions than answers. As a Young Adult novel, it is, simply, without equal. Read this novel and then read your work in progress, and attempt to rise to a higher measure.

Firebird reprinted Enchantress from the Stars in paperback. I encourage you, however, to order the signed hardcover edition published by Walker, and send the author a note thanking her for her efforts. If you already have a copy, blow the dust off it. Enter once more a universe that does not talk down to you, assumes you can handle characters that grow and wonder despite hardship and love lost, and, ultimately, expands your mind to new horizons.

My problem with YA Science Fiction

September 23, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Not Exactly Random, The Craft  3 Comments
  • I buy books.
  • I prefer my books in hardcover.
  • I like to buy books at indie bookstores.
  • I tend to talk to the people in the bookstore about what I like.
  • I am a successful working man.
  • I love reading YA SFF books.
  • Yet, the SF seems to be… missing.
  • See where I am going with this?
  • My pocket book is yours.
  • You have only to publish your entertaining yet thought-provoking Young Adult Sci-Fi for me to read it.
  • More importantly, I read in a pack. I have friends. Most of them make more money than I do. They will buy your book too, if I like it!
  • I have two children.

Write it for God sakes. Write it right now! Right now! Right Fucking Now!

Man do I feel better. This has been a public service announcement from Anthony Pacheco, Hack Writer. No need to thank me, that’s just the kind of guy I am.

Dreams of My Youth Shattered

September 23, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: The Craft  0 Comments

I had no inkling that Alexei Panshin’s ode to a proper education, Rite of Passage, was a response to Heinline’s politics.

My YA Science Fiction fan core is hiding under the covers, snuffling.

It’s still a hell of a book, which is a very interesting observation to me. Even though History has been kind to Heinline and less kind to Panshin, motivation and passion provides the fuel for an excellent story. As a teen, it made me think.

Politics motivates one of the main characters in Bunny Trouble. This motivation does not serve him well.

As a meta observation, how many other bombs are lurking for me now that I am diving into the world around SFF, rather than the SFF stories themselves?