Brown River Queen cover art

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Write What You Know, No!

People are quick to offer writing advice.

Some of the advice is good. Write every day, for instance. I try to follow that rule.

Some of the advice, though, is pure poison. Take the time-honored adage 'write what you know.'

If I, as a writer, wrote only what I knew, I'd be churning out books with titles such as I Was a Teenage Pastry Chef and Adventures in Middle Management. They'd be filled with paragraphs like the one below:

        Woke up at five-thirty. Hit snooze once before stumbling out of bed, tripping over dog, and shuffling for the shower.  Rain fell with a distant, nearly inaudible pat-pat-pat on the porch. A loud car thundered past, a snatch of discordant music in its wake, and I pondered the first pressing question of the day.
         Cereal, or oatmeal?

Because that's what I know, in a nutshell. Work. Grocery stores. Finding a decent song on the car radio.  Getting a haircut, or waiting a few days. Where epic high adventure is concerned, I mainly differ from mollusks in that I lack a protective shell and have a valid iTunes account.

I've never been a suave, deadly secret agent embroiled in jet-setting international intrigue (except that one time in junior college). I've never been locked in hand-to-hand combat with some slavering supernatural beast bent on devouring my soul via my tasty, tasty viscera. I very seldom match wits with anything that can even remotely be described as eldritch, fell, ancient, diabolical, or even more than mildly disgruntled.

So, if I actually limited my writing to that which I know, I'd be a very poor writer indeed (I hear you, in the back, snickering and saying "Yeah, and that's different how?").

Take Markhat, for instance.  He's my fantasy detective character, and he's a blast to write. He's a blast to write because, and this is important, Markhat is so unlike me I'm surprised I can write him at all. Markhat is always ready with a snappy comeback and a clever plan.  He thinks on his feet, he punches with his manly fists, he takes on blood-crazed halfdead and deranged sorcerers and vengeful ghosts and at the end he emerges victorious.

We don't always emerge victorious, on this side of the book. In poor sad reality, as often as not, the bad guys not only win the day but get the girl and drive off in the shiny new Mercedes while the good guy is left to stare at the want ads and hope that nagging small pain in his chest isn't anything serious.

That's the kind of scenario most of us know.

But it's the last thing I want to read about.  Now, I'm not saying you should ignore loss and losing and pain and regret -- quite the contrary.  Without them, you wind up with breathless potboilers lacking any kind of heart.

But please, please don't take me into your character's head if all he or she can do is whine about the injustice of it all.  I can get all of that I want right here, right now.

Show me a hero. Even a reluctant, flawed hero. Especially a reluctant, flawed hero. Show me a Frodo Baggins, or a Harold Shea, or a Merlin of Amber.

Show me someone and something I don't know.

I don't know any actual Hobbits, or any misplaced magicians, or any reality-crossing sorcerers. I do know people who are brave, or kind, or determined, so I take out those bits of them and stick them in a pot and boil until the noddles are soft, and out comes Markhat.

Same goes for villains. I've not met many actual bloodthirsty murderers, but I have known people who were heartless or sadistic or just plain mean. I'm sometimes tempted to look up a couple of particularly vile specimens and email them a thank-you for being such an excellent example of cruel, amoral villainy. I don't, though, because you never know when you'll need to visit that bank again.

So I guess I do write what I know, to a very small extent. My point is this -- don't let your lack of experience as a cat burglar or an international jewel thief stop you from writing about one. Do your research. think things through. Season your character with tidbits of what you do know.

And then lie your little fingers off, and hope to be paid for the excellence of your lies.

Isn't this a grand way to not quite make a living?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Contest Begins NOW -- Ready, Set, Go!

Every now and then I run a contest.

Usually I give away a signed book, or a Camaro. Okay, I usually give away a signed book. If I had a Camaro I'd probably keep it.

But this time, the grand prize is an actual item from my book, All the Paths of Shadow. Specifically, it's a wand, one of the many stored in the dark recesses of the Royal Thaumaturgic Laboratory of the Kingdom of Tirlin.

What kind of wand, you ask?

Well, in technical terms, it's a Class IV free-field linear thaumic emitter, with a resonant dispersion signature of 30 mT and a lateral discharge angle of 160 degrees. But that's only relevant if you're a licensed thaumaturgical practitioner, and if you look in the Yellow Pages you'll find exactly zero entries in that field of arcane endeavor.

So I'll let the photos do the talking. Here it is, Prolep's Capacious Latch, created in 987 by Prolep himself:

I know. they just don't make 'em like that anymore, do they?  You've got brass, you've got copper, you've got oak -- it's a work of art.

Here's a closer look:

The wand shows a lot of wear and signs of use, but hey, it's nearly six hundred years old.

Look above for a close-up of the wand's inductive regulators and coronal discharge arrays. All hand-made by magelamp, well before the advent of the Magic-Industrial Revolution.

Old Prolep was an artist! No jamming conductors any which way into an old broom-handle, not him.  His windings were always precise and orderly.

The wand is about 22 inches long (for my metric friends, that's about 56 cm). Mage Meralda assures me it has been completely discharged of all active thaumaturgic energies, so you don't have to worry about accidentally turning the mailman into a toad. 

This is a hand-made, one of a kind item. And I'm giving it away, partly out of the goodness of my heart (you, over there, stop snickering) and partly to promote my book, All the Paths of Shadow.

But Frank, you ask, how do I enter? 

It couldn't be easier.  Keep reading, and act thusly!

1) Enter by emailing Frank at Put the words WAND CONTEST in the subject line. If you win I'll use that email address to ask where you want the wand shipped.
2) Enter by leaving a review of All the Paths of Shadow at Amazon, Amazon UK, or Barnes and Noble. Now, you don't have to leave a review to enter.  You don't even have to leave a good review. Any review qualifies. You can just email me as stated above. But if you do leave a review, that counts as an entry. If you email me and leave a review at one of the sites stated, that will count as TWO entries, so you just doubled your odds. I have to be able to contact you somehow based on your reviewer info, so make sure there's at least an email addy associated with it!  If I can't see a way to contact you, I'll move on to another name.
3) You must enter between Sunday January 22, 2012 and midnight CST Sunday February 5, 2012. I will announce the winner here on my blog, on my Frank Tuttle Facebook page, and on the All the Paths of Shadow Facebook page the next day (Monday, February 6, 2012).

I will choose the winning entry by printing out all the email addresses or other contact info, cutting them into single pieces, putting them all in a special-purpose metal container (i.e., an empty coffee can), and drawing the lucky winner out with whatever appendage seems most convenient at the time.

So, enter!  Email me at Put WAND CONTEST in the subject line.  Or go leave a review on Amazon or Barnes&Noble.  Do both. Do one. But do it now, before the passing parade we call Life gets in the way and you forget and two weeks from now you read that someone else has won and you spend your remaining days weeping and sobbing, crying out in a loud voice "Why, why, WHY?"

We don't want that.  It's a very cool wand.  Give it a shot!