Monday, 22 September 2014

How to Script an Election

Hi Guys,



Well the big news this week from New Zealand is that we had our general elections on the weekend, and the National Party romped home while almost every other party lost ground. This despite the fact that the National Party has been in power for six years and this would be its third term - and the normal cycle is that parties in their third term lose support. In fact this surprising turn of events we are told by the people who take note of these sorts of things, has happened only once in the last century.
 
So how did this happen?
 
Well my take as an author is probably a little bit different to that of the media, who are busy portraying the left as having run a dismal election campaign - and I should at this point declare myself as a Green voter - which places me squarely on the left of the political spectrum. And to be fair I do think the campaign from Labour - the main opposition party - was on the boring side. Maybe they didn't have enough money to produce slick advertising, or maybe originality deserted them, but there is no doubt that their campaign was flat.
 
But there was far more at work here then just that in my view. This was an election that was completely overshadowed by a popularity contest. The Prime Minister versus a German Millionaire who doesn't want to be extradited to the US for trial. (I won't mention his name since he ran a website where people could pirate and post artistic creations and thus is far from my favourite person as an author.) And reading from the Castle playbook of crime solving (I love that show!) I looked for an answer by asking the question - what would make a good story?
 
Now so far what I've laid out is I think fairly uncontroversial. But it occurs to me that one way to boost your popularity if you're desperate to gain a third term and the numbers aren't looking so good, is to reframe the debate. Housing prices going through the roof? The gap between rich and poor growing greater? Don't have enough money to offer tax cuts as the right always seems to want to? Then don't run a debate on the issues. Your numbers will be hurt.
 
But instead when you have a popular Prime Minister - and I can take nothing away from John Key in terms of being a popular political figure - make it a battle for credibility. So bring an enemy (sort of) from out of left field. Let him build a political party and campaign out of a single political agenda - to get rid of John Key. Let him just before the election take a huge personal swing at the Prime Minister through a dubious email which he can't seem to back up. And then let him miss. Miss so horribly that it looks to the entire country as though he never had anything at all. Just hatred.
 
And there you have an election won and lost in my view.
 
The voters on the centre and right side of the electorate are incensed. Their hero / everyman has been maligned for all to see. So he and by extension his party gets a massive protest vote. Not because of a massive swing to the right - though that's effectively what it looks like. But because John Key has been made out to be an innocent under unfair attack. So he has to be supported. The left are tarred with the failure and perceived malicious attacks on the person of John Key, while at the same time their campaigns on the issues have been completely overshadowed by personal politics. So many of them stay home instead of voting for what they believe in and the left vote collapses.
 
Is this what happened? More or less in my view. But the real question is, was it planned? I personally don't know. I'm not privy to the secrets of the various political machines. But it feels right. Horribly right. It feels as though we - by which I mean the New Zealand voting public - have been played.
 
And as I sit here with the taste of bile in my mouth - yes I freely admit it -  I look to some of the other things that happened that shaped this election and wonder. For example another right leaning political party, the Conservatives, who were trending towards the five percent threshold and had they crossed it would have been in parliament and would have prevented National from being able to govern alone, had a melt down two days before the election. The leader's press secretary resigned declaring that the leader was manipulative. And immediately the Conservatives who National would not have wanted in parliament, lost votes. Instead of five percent and maybe six or seven seats, they got four point one percent of the vote, and no seats. Coincidence? Again I don't know. But from the Castle school of investigation it looks damned convenient.
 
So how do we find out? I don't know. I'd guess we could look at the futures of the two players who seem to have delivered an election between them to National. Do things coincidentally come up rosy for them? And maybe someone will investigate - it won't be me. I'll just sit in my home and write my books and feel as though I've been played like everyone else.
 
But maybe Nicky Hager you have your next book waiting for you here. Dirty Politics Two. A book of which even Machiavelli would be proud. At least one author seems to have done well out of this campaign.
 
Cheers, Greg.
 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Self-confidence, Fear and Writers

Hi Guys,
 
 
Bit of a delay between my last post and this one - apologies for that, but I simply didn't really have much to write about.
 
However, yesterday I was responding to a post on a writing forum and realised that I did have something to blog about. The importance of self-confidence to writers, and particularly writers who haven't yet published.
 
You will recall that I have previously talked how important it is to a writer to actually publish. It is what will turn a writer not just into an author, but also a better writer. And a lack of confidence is what will turn a writer into a never was. Sorry for the harshness of that - but I believe it to be true. As a writer these days, the single biggest barrier to becoming a better writer you face in these days of self publishing, is yourself.
 
Too many authors - and a lot of you will recall that I have previously harped on about the lies author's tell themselves as they go through the submissions process - allow themselves to be held back by insecurity. All those lies writers tell themselves about why their work was never picked up by an agent, are a form of insecurity. And they are destructive to a writing career - even more so than rejection.
 
You can get over rejection. You can survive bad reviews. You can improve your writing by receiving harsh criticism. And in fact these things are all in their own way, a part of growth of an author. But if you can't get past the fear of these things, you are doomed. You will never become the writer you could be. And it is fear that I believe holds so many back.
 
Fear comes in many forms. It lives in doubt - about you, your writing ability, the quality of your work. It lives in the trade publishing world of submissions to agents and publishers. And it absolutely thrives in the self criticism authors constantly subject their own work to. And while yes - it can be a valuable tool in improving your work - if you let it become your master it will destroy any chance you have of becoming an author.
 
This is why I say the trade publishing route to writing success is so limited. It's not just in the lies writers tell themselves about why they never heard back from an agent. It's in the process itself. It is a trap for so many. An endless trap. A cycle of fear and inadequacy that will cripple many. And the cycle runs like this:
 
You write your book, you submit it, you hear nothing back, and you assume that you heard nothing back because the work was not up to standard. So then you rewrite, you improve out of sight so you believe, and you submit again, and you hear nothing back. Which means that your work is not up to standard. So you rewrite and submit. Endlessly. And then some day, five years, ten years down the track, you just give up.
 
This is what's called a vicious cycle, and each repeat of it destroys self-confidence. But worse than that it's also a strangely comforting process. A rut a writer can find a place to call home in. Because in going through this cycle a writer learns that - yes - he can survive not hearing back from agents. Yes, he can survive getting the occasional rejection letter. But he never has to expose himself to the even harsher world of publishing and reviews etc. You can learn to like your rut.
 
This is why I say to all of you who have yet to publish - you must publish. You can choose to self publish, or you can throw your hat into the ring and hope to be picked up by an agent. But in the latter case you must set yourself a deadline. It may be a period of time - say a year. Or a set number of submissions to agents. But whatever it is, stick to it. And then at the end if you have not been picked up, bite the bullet and publish your work yourself.
 
Yes it's scary, and it's hard. Yes there is a lot to learn. Yes it can be brutal. Yes you will make mistakes and be picked up on them. And yes those first few one star reviews will make you wish you'd chopped your fingers off instead of letting them touch a keyboard. But if you do it, you will discover that you can get through this. And you can write. And you can become an author. And you can become the best writer you can be.
 
Cheers, Greg.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Amazon versus Hachette - I Don't Have a Pony in This Fight!

Hi Guys,
 
 
 
Well the big news today - at least for us indies on KDP, is that Amazon sent us an email asking us to get involved in their dispute with Hachette - if only by sending the CEO a letter.
 
I have to admit that when I saw the email from Amazon I was shocked. It was something completely out of the blue, and equally unlike anything they've sent before. For a while I did actually wonder if it was a hack. However, after reading fourteen pages of comments about this same letter on Kindle Boards from other KDP authors, and also having waited a day without a retraction from Amazon, I have to assume that it is genuine.
 
So here it is in all its unvarnished glory:
 
Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99.. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read). A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures. And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch:
Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

 
Sorry for the lengthy cut and paste but I didn't want to be unfair to anyone by cherry picking sections.
 
And my response? I will not be sending an email to Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch.
 
It's not that I don't agree with Amazon's stand on the issue. I actually do for the most part. It's that as the title says - I don't have a dog in this race or a pony in this fight.
 
Look, my view is that I am both an author and a publisher - indie of course. And as such I am deeply grateful for what Amazon has done for me in making it possible for me to publish and sell my work. I owe them for that. But at the same time I recognise that this was not done out of charity. It was a business decision and Amazon expects to make money out of it too.
 
As an author I naturally feel some sympathy for some of the other trade published authors being given poor returns through their work. However, I remind myself that they signed the contracts, and they accepted upfront lower royalties in return for other services such as marketing and exposure. It may have been a good deal or a poor one for them, I don't know. But it is their choice.
 
I also have some annoyance at being used in this way. Especially when one of the things Amazon asks for from Hachette is for them to stop using their authors as leverage and to leave them out of the dispute, and then does exactly the same thing.
 
I'm also a reader, and as a reader maybe I do have a dog in this race - a small terrier perhaps. Certainly not a big dog! As a reader I would like to see lower prices on some of the books I love. And it seems unreasonable to charge such high prices for ebooks. But at the same time as a competing publisher I have another terrier - running the opposite way. It's good for me as a publisher that some companies do appear to be over-charging since it makes the market less competitive for me.
 
So perhaps I do have two small dogs in this race, running in opposite directions. And as any student of modern math knows, two dogs running, one positive and one negative, adds up to one very confused hamster running around in his wheel going nowhere fast!
 
Which leads me to my position. I have no vested interest in this battle. I think on balance I prefer Amazon's side from a principled perspective. But at the same time I don't think it's right for Amazon to try and force publisher's prices down through coercive tactics. It is a free market after all, and if Hachette thinks they can sell lots of books at higher prices, that's their business decision.
 
So I will not be writing a letter to anyone on this matter - just blogging about it ad nauseum! My advice to other authors and indies is to do the same (plus or minus the blogging!).
 
Cheers, Greg.
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Is This Wrong?

Hi Guys,


Well yes - this absolutely is! But it amused me and I'm told popes are quite forgiving people and maybe a few Hail Mary's could keep my toes out of the lakes of burning fire!
 
But more to the point I was thinking about questions that keep being asked on some of the writing fora about the do's and don'ts of writing these days. Can I do this? Or not? And it occurred to me once more, how drastically the writing scene has changed these past ten years. And how the rules have changed.
 
Six or seven days ago I published a new book - The Session - a short story about the devil going into therapy (I sense more Hail Mary's in my future!) and it struck me that what I was doing in publishing that story was a radical departure of what I could have done a decade ago. And it's not just because of the advent of self publishing. It's because of the rise of the e-book as well. I published a short story on its own - not as part of a collection or a magazine. Ten years ago that would have been impossible. It would also have been wrong. Because printers could not have been set up to produce 6k novels. The option of e-books makes this possible.
 
And as those of you who have read my books - especially the print editions - will know, my paragraph formating is not traditional either. I use either block formating - a clear line between one paragraph and the next, or sometimes block formating with a small indent as well. I also generally use a twelve point font. My reasoning is that it looks damned good (oh no - more Hail Mary's coming) on a page and it's clear. Maybe my eyes aren't quite as sharp as they once were - I don't know - but I value being able to read a book easily over saving a little bit of paper by producing a wall of indented text.
 
In one of my fora perhaps a month or so ago a poster asked if she could use vertical lettering in places and swapping fonts occasionally and so forth. And my answer to her was that if it adds to the book then yes. I can't imagine many traditional publishers going for this option, but we're no longer in the era of traditional publishing. We're in the era of self publishing and e-books.
 
So the thrust of my post is this:
 
If you're self publishing it's time to stop asking the questions - can I do something? Is it right? Because the answers are yes you can and right and wrong don't work the same way any more. There are no hard and fast rules about writing.
 
So instead of asking these questions the indie author should instead ask another question entirely: Does this work?
 
Remember as an indie you are the artist in charge. You write the book. You edit and format it. You decide on cover design and what have you. The power is in your hands. And the only people who can judge you are your readers. And that's how things should be in a free market.
 
Cheers, Greg.
 
(Off now to find out just what exactly is involved in saying a Hail Mary!)
 
 

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Soul Crushing Lies Authors Tell Themselves When They Submit

Hi Guys,




New post this time, quite a bit different from what I normally write. This post is not about writing per se. It's about the submissions process. About putting your work out there, sending it off to agents, and then living in hope and fear as you wait for a response. It's about the myths and lies that authors believe about the submissions process. And mostly it's about not giving in to the dark demons that plague so many people and which can destroy an author.

Okay, submitting your work to an agent or a publisher is a difficult and sometimes harrowing process. In a very real way it's as though you are putting yourself out there, naked and in public, to be judged by others. And I would guess though as far as I know there are no statistics on it, it's the place where most authors give up and dreams die.

I can't stop that. I can't tell all you new and hopeful authors out there that you have a future. That your work is brilliant or terrible. But I can at least give you another perspective on the submissions process. A reality check if you like. And I'll do it by looking at the myths and lies that abound in people's thoughts about it. The ones that in one form or another seem to be rehashed on writing fora and elsewhere throughout the net.

So here it is - myth by myth.

Myth 1. If my work is good an agent will pick it up.

No. Absolutely do not ever believe this. This way lies the death of the soul. And it's a straight out lie. A big, fat porky. The truth is that your work might be picked up - but it is very unlikely. Agents are busy people. They are snowed under with manuscripts submitted to them. And they can only take a very few. Almost every author has a string of rejection letters for their work. I do. J.K. Rowling does. You are just one of five hundred others on their desks, and the chances are that at best they will read only a few paragraphs of your book before rejecting it.

Myth 2. If an agent doesn't pick up my book there must be a problem with it.

No! No! No! And a thousand times more, No! Do not ever assume this. We see this myth written in one form or another on every writing forum and in common conversation. And it usually goes something like - "well if I submitted my work to a dozen agents and heard nothing back, that tells me something."

No. It tells you precisely nothing. Your work could have a problem. It could be magnificent. You don't know. You have no way of knowing until someone gives you feedback. I mean if you played the same six numbers in a Lotto game all the time and won nothing would you assume that there was a problem with your numbers? No. You wouldn't I hope. Because if you did that would be a sign that you were a problem gambler.

The simple reality is as above. Agents are busy people. Maybe your work wasn't quite what they were looking for. Maybe they already had fifteen vampire romance novels on their desks. Maybe the writing style in the first two paragraphs simply didn't catch their interest. I don't know why they rejected your book. But the important thing is that you don't know either. You cannot assume that you do.

Myth 3. I know what's wrong with my book and why he rejected it.

No you don't. You might have an idea. But unless an agent actually took the trouble to send you a letter outlining what he thought any problems might be, then you are guessing. You don't know. You probably don't even have a clue. You are just guessing. And agents very rarely send these sorts of letters.

To give you my experience, when I was first doing the rounds in the early naughties with Thief I sent it off to maybe fifty agents. From them I would say I got perhaps twenty five rejections, and twenty five complete non answers. I did not get one single letter with words of advice. Now I don't blame agents for that. They're busy people and their job is not to be a writing coach. But it's important to realise that if they don't send you letters like that, you as the author are still sitting in the dark.

Myth 4. I can make my book better.

Maybe. But the one thing you can never do is make your book better so that it meets the expectations of an agent. Not when he didn't tell you what they were. Look you can join writing groups - I recommend it. You can discuss purple prose, passive voice, and the correct use of the apostrophe until you're blue in the face. And maybe you can improve the technical side of your writing. But you can't actually make you work so much better that the agent who rejected your book will say - that's what I want! Not when you don't know what he wanted.

Lets turn briefly from writing to acting for a second. And think about all those Hollywood actresses desperate for parts and willing to do anything. Willing to mutilate themselves with nose and boob jobs, oral surgery and whatever else, when they were all perfectly pretty to begin with. This is exactly the logic working through their minds when they go under the knife. I can make myself better. But there was never anything wrong with them to begin with. And it never seems to occur to them that the reason they didn't get the part wasn't because of them at all. It was because there were five hundred other actresses trying for the same part.

(Apologies here for perhaps being a little sexist in concentrating on women only. I'm sure men have exactly the same issues and do exactly the same stupid things.)

This of course leads us to the most damaging of all the myths. The one that destroys writers.

Myth 5. If I make my book better an agent will pick it up.

No! This is such bad thinking and on so many levels. First - see myth 4 - it assumes that you know why an agent didn't pick up your book in the first place, which unless he sent you a letter - you don't know. Second it assumes that there is a problem with your book - see myth 2. You don't know that either. And worst of all it contains the underlying assumption that you can make an agent do something. You can't. The power is not in your hands.

This is exactly the same poor logic that allows teenage girls to think "well maybe if I do my hair, smile a lot and stay close he'll love me." But they can't and their feelings get crushed. It's inevitable. Because it is completely out of anyones power to make a person love them. And it's completely out of anyones power to make an agent like your book. (Again apologies for the sexist stereotype. Boys do stupid things too to get girls to like them believing that the power is in their hands.)

Hugh Howey recently wrote that there is a false dichotomy between choosing to self publish and choosing to trade publish. And he's right. You as an author do not have that choice because you only have the power to do one of those things. Your choice is actually between choosing to self publish, and trying to get your work trade published.

Okay - enough ranting. My purpose in writing this post is to hopefully bring a little reality to the writing scene. To perhaps squash some of these myths a little. Because these myths are what destroy writers. They are what convince them to put away their books, lose confidence in their writing abilities and completely give up. And I don't know how many of those that do were brilliant writers who had a unique voice and a vision to share that would have enriched the world. Neither do they.

Cheers, Greg.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Yes! The SFWA Wants Us! - Oh Wait A Minute Should That Be No?

Hi Guys,

 


Well the big news this week - the SFWA wants us! Well wants may be a strong word. They'd consider letting a few of us indies in the door if we can meet whatever standards they deem appropriate.

Now I don't want to sound bitter, and if they do eventually decide to allow some self publishers in and assuming I have sufficient sales or what have you to meet their standards, I will give the option serious thought. But it occurs to me that this is 2014, and they are a few years too late for many indies. Worse than that of course for them the indies who will I assume make the grade by selling however many tens of thousands of books, will probably be wondering the same thing I am - what's in it for me?

The prestige of belonging to an internationally known writers association? Well much as I hate to say it as of last year the SFWA found itself embroiled in a bitter controversy over sexism - and some of that prestige has gone, no matter which side of the debate you find yourself on.

The connection to other well known trade published writers and other industry big wigs? Maybe, but at the same time it must be considered that many of the more successful indies already have those connections. And lets face it, if they can sell well as indies what exactly is the attraction of trade? Less money?

Legal advice? Yes, absolutely. But you still have to pay for it whether you're a member or not. So maybe on reflection that's actually a no. But the Grievance Committee sounds like it might be useful.

The emergency medical fund? It's not really on my radar at present and if one day I have to fly to the middle of nowhere and then become ill while there I'm sure I'll have arranged appropriate travel insurance first.

Their private discussion forums? Hmm? Since they're private I can't really comment as to what's on them. The secrets to the publishing universe perhaps? Their favourite chicken soup recipes? But there's an awful lot of public fora I can join and get I would guess, most of what's on them.

Look, at the end of the day I can't really advise anyone who's an indie sci fi / fantasy author which way to jump. That has to be up to each and every one of us. All I can do is say please do take a look at the site and be informed on the issue. Also leave a comment on their site. Let them at least know your thoughts.

http://www.sfwa.org/

And of course one other thing. Before jumping one way or the other ask yourself this question. What's in it for me? My view, four or five years ago there would have been a lot. Now, not so much. I think the ship has sailed and they've been left standing on the dock.

Cheers, and as always - be good or don't get caught!

Greg.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Villains - Sometimes We Don't Want To Understand Them!

Hi Guys,




Been doing a lot of writing lately, and the next book "The Godlost Land" is in the final stages of it's first draft.

I'm pleased with the way the book is going, and particularly with the way the bad guy - Terellion - has shaped up. He is a thorough going baddie which is what I wanted him to be. In fact to quote (or probably mis-quote) one of my favourite authors Harry Harrison, he is the perfect example of a complete freewheeling bastard!

All of which has set me to thinking about villains in general in writing. And of course how Terellion will fit in among them.

To give some background to my thinking on the subject, there has been a trend in recent years in a lot of genres to go for greater realism. Grimdark in fantasy and science fiction is an expression of this trend - the belief being that by making things somehow more horrible they will become more real. In my view this is a reaction to the unrealistic optimism, heroic victory tropes that dominated fantasy until the seventies. But also in my view grimdark is just as unrealistic as that which it replaces, and in some cases it can go too far. In science fiction the best example of this in my view would be the Gap series, by Stephen Donaldson, where the three main characters all go through cycles of being victims. And in fantasy I would argue that GRR Martin's Game of Thrones follows this same trope where all the heroes have feet of clay and the villains have reasons for doing what they do. (Except for Joffrey who is a truly horrible spoilt child king and needs to die a terrible death  in my view!)

As part of the entire movement towards grimdark and realism in the fantasy genres there has been one trend which has become particularly prevalent - the villain being another victim. Misunderstood and suffering from whatever trauma in his past, the reader is asked to "understand" and even empathise with the villain - because villains are real people too!

I understand this desire to humanise the villain, and to a certain extent I agree with it. After all in real life villains do usually have reasons for what they do. But it occurred to me as I was writing Terellion, that this is high fantasy. It isn't real life, it's escapism. And sometimes a villain should just be a villain - and preferably die a horrible death! Besides even in real life there are villains who simply are just villains. The mafia hit man Richard Kuklinski (the iceman) is a perfect example. He was a sociopath pure and simple. In every interview he gave it was clear that he never really understood the suffering of others.

So if in real life there are people like this, and if what I'm writing is pure escapism, why should my villain be more than just a sociopath?

That was the realisation that struck me as I wrote Terellion. Granted I gave him a back story to explain how he became what he did and explain his motivations, but at no stage did I as the writer want to "understand" him. I didn't want to sympathise with him. And while some readers may find my choice challenging in the face of modern grimdark fantasy which seems to be all over the book shelves, I'm happy with it.

I hope you will be too.

Cheers, Greg.