How to write like uber-popular author Louis L’Amour

Louis L’Amour was born in 1908 and died in 1988. The heyday of his writing career was in the 1950s and 1960s. But— a few weeks ago I went into WalMart in the book section to find a Louis L’Amour book still available.

What is the secret of Louis L’Amour’s fiction-writing power? Why is he, a writer known for writing Westerns, not the most popular genre today, still on the WalMart buyer’s mind as someone to keep in stock? It may be in the nature of the very first book Louis L’Amour published.  A book of his poetry called Smoke from this Altar.

You see, here is the difference between writing a novel and writing poetry. In a novel there are thousands of words, and a writer who worries overmuch about whether word 27322 is exactly the most powerful and best word for that position doesn’t finish many novels. Words and sentences in a novel can be bland or dull, so long as the action in the novel keeps coming and you find ways to make readers identify with the characters.

In a poem, every word counts. A novel can have unnecessary words, sentences and even paragraphs so long as they don’t interfere with the flow of the story. A poem must not have a single word that does not serve the poetic purpose. The words in a poem must be powerful and evocative. Even the sounds and rhythms of words must be considered in a poem.

So what happens when a poet, or someone who loves and reads poetry, writes a novel? The language gifts of the poet may find their way into the prose, making it more powerful. Here is an example taken from L’Amour’s ‘The Sackett Brand.’

“The trouble was, when I walked out on that point my mind went a-rambling like wild geese down a western sky.

What I looked upon was a sight of lovely country. Right at my feet was the river, a-churning and a-thrashing at least six hundred feet below me, with here and there a deep blue pool. Across the river, and clean to the horizon to the north and east of me, was the finest stand of pine timber this side of the Smokies.

Knobs of craggy rock thrust up, with occasional ridges showing bare spines to the westward where the timber thinned out and the country finally became desert. In front of me, but miles away, a gigantic wall reared up. That wall was at least a thousand feet higher than where I now stood, though this was high ground.”

Lest you think the above example was too descriptive, rest assured that someone gets shot by the end of the page. It still is an action-packed western. It’s just that L’Amour knew how to use language very well, as a result of his work as a poet. So he could through in a good bit of description that could bring the West to life.

If you are curious about the poems of L’Mour, his book ‘Smoke on the Water’ is available and so you can see for yourself. But until you get so far, here is an example poem that tells a Western story.

I have three friends, three faithful friends,
more faithful could not be-
and every night, by the dim firelight,
they come to sit with me.

the first of these is tall and thin
with hollow cheeks, and a toothless grin,
a ghastly tare, and scraggly hair,
and an ugly lump for a chin.

the second of these is short and fat
with beady eyes, like a starving rat-
he was soaked in sin to his oily skin,
and verminous, at that

the crouching one is of ape-like plan,
formed like a beast that resembled man:
a freakish thing, with arms a-swing,
and he was the third of that gruesome clan.

the first I stabbed with a Chinese knife,
and left on the white beach sand,
with his ghastly stare, and blood-soaked hair,
and an out-flung, claw-like hand;

the fat one stole a crumbling crust,
that he wolfed in his swinish way-
so i left him there, with eyes a-glare,
and his head cut of half-way.

we fought to kill, the brute and i,
that the one that lived might eat,
so i killed him too, and made a stew,
and dined on human meat.

and so these three come to visit me,
when without the night winds howl-
the one with the leer, the one with a sneer,
and and one with a brutish scowl;

their lips are dumb, but the three dead come
and cough by the hollow great-
the man that i stabbed, the man that i cut,
and the gruesome thing that i ate.

their lips are sealed, with blood congealed,
but they will not let me be,
and so they haunt, grim, ghastly, and gaunt,
till death shall set me free.

i have three friends, three faithful friends,
more faithful could not be-
and every night, by the dim firelight,
they come to sit with me.


Superversive Press: What’s a Superversive Anyway?

It’s like popcorn. I got one book from Superversive Press, I looked at the ads for other Superversive Press books in the back, and I just had to buy another one….. I’m still jonesing for 2 more Superversive books but can’t probably buy them this month as I’ve had unexpected expenses.
What does ‘superversive’ mean anyway? It’s obviously related to the word ’subversive’ somehow. I looked at the Superversive web page and found several essays on the ’superversive’ movement. But it wasn’t until I asked around for a short definition that L. Jagi Lampwright Wright told me: “Subversive is change by undermining from below. Superversive is change though inspiration from above.”
One of the projects of Superversive Press is Astounding Frontiers, a science fiction periodical. I have issue #1 which was published in July. My author friend Declan Finn has a story in the issue, and I thought it was epic. There were also stories by Patrick S. Baker, Lou Antonelli, Erin Lale, Sarah Salviander, John C. Wright, Ben Wheeler, Nick Cole and Jason Anspach.
I also have the anthology Forbidden Thoughts, which has this on the back cover: “You are not allowed to read this book. Don’t even think about reading this book. In fact, just forget about thinking all together.” So of course I had to read it.
And then there is “For Steam and Country” by Jon del Arroz, which is a steampunk novel about a girl who inherits her dad’s military airship in a time of war…. I haven’t finished it as I keep getting distracted, but I really liked the first third of the book.
It seems that most of my friends in the Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance are involved in Superversive Press. I hope the effort succeeds because so far I love Superversive Press’s books. I hope readers will give some of these books a chance.

Superversive Links:
Superversive SF: Science Fiction for a more civilized age
What is Superversive Press?

MAGA 2020 & Beyond

Superversive SF Facebook Page

Would you please do me a big favor? My Facebook author page is Nissa Annakindt, poet, Aspie & cat person . I’m frustrated because I haven’t had new ‘likes’ in a while and my posts don’t have much ‘reach.’ So if you and a couple other people could ‘like’ my page and ‘like’ three posts on the page— at least I can see if that will help. Thank you so much!

How to Research a Genre #writing #genre

Whether a writer is trying a new genre or continuing in an old genre, genre research is a good idea. Lawrence Block, who wrote ‘Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print’ gives some instruction on how to do this research.

Block gave the example of how he did research for writing mystery short stories for various mystery magazines that in those long-ago days were plentiful. He admits voraciously reading through every magazine of that type he could get.

Since Block encouraged young writers to start with a novel since the short story markets had almost vanished, he suggested reading 8-12 books in the genre. But when he got more specific he suggested starting with six books by six different writers, some established writers in the field and some newer ones.

I would suggest a little more organized approach. Step One: Google the name of the genre. You want to find out: are there alternate names for the genre? Who are the big name writers in the genre right now? Who were the classic writers that were active earlier in the genre history? Can you find any current list of the best-selling books in the genre?

Don’t skip this step if you have been writing in the genre, have been reading the genre since age 8. You need to expand your knowledge and can’t do that sticking to the same old websites and same old writers.

After the research, pick some books. Pick 2-3 books from the current best-seller list, 2-3 books from current authors in the genre, and 2-3 from newer, less known authors.

In the book, Block gives as his example gothic novels. This was a sub-genre of romance. When I was a girl, there were whole sections of just gothic novels in shops. Then the genre pretty much died. The top writers of gothics started calling their books ‘romantic suspense’ or some such thing. I thought it was kind of interesting that Block just randomly picked a doomed genre as his example genre. It shows that a writer needs to be flexible in genre matters.

If you chose ‘science fiction’ as your genre, and you are a Christian, should you limit your reading to just Christian science fiction? Not really. Christian fiction in its broader sense— including not just Evangelicals but Catholic, Lutheran, and even Mormon authors— is still a limited group. Most Christians read more secular novels than specifically Christian ones.

Of course in the science fiction genre we are plagued by a lot of ‘award-winning’ authors that have no interesting ideas but are filled with Social Justice Warrior (SJW) conformity, and just the right kind of non-diverse left-wing diversity with a touch of fashionable hatred for ‘religious people’, mainly Christians and Jews.  If you are picking random books by random authors you may get stuck with one of these books. If the author is a newbie in the field, feel free not to finish the book, but if he/she/they/zie are well-established and actually make the genre best-seller lists, you may feel the need to force your way through it for educational purposes. I’d suggest rationing the poison, and reading a bit of something you actually LIKE after to get the stupidness purged from your mind.

Block suggests in the book that you don’t just read the books, but you write outlines of them This helps you see the structure of the book.

How do you write outlines for a book you are reading? Keep a notepad nearby. When you finish a chapter, write the main things that happen in the chapter. Page back so that you get all the character names right. Make sure that your chapter notes run to several sentences so that you get the main points covered.

When you finish the book, go through your chapter notes. If you have written a longish paragraph for each chapter, try to condense it down to two sentences covering the most important things. The desire is to end up with a tighter outline.

Now, read your draft 2 outline. Can you detect the three acts of the three act structure? Or the doorway of no return and the mirror moment that James Scott Bell speaks of in his how-to-write books?

After you have read through several books in this way, answer some questions. What do the books have in common? What is the minimum that readers of the genre expect, to show that the book IS in the genre? What are some plot elements that are so common in the genre that they might be stereotypes?

If you are trying a genre for the first time, genre research is essential so that you are able to actually know the genre requirements and expectations, and meet them. A more practiced writer in a genre may do research in order to renew their enthusiasm, and to detect changes in the genre. This is important if you tend to read the same authors over and over for years, and are reluctant to try new authors.

The problem with #Superman as a fictional character #writing

Superman. I like him, perhaps because I come from an era when comic books were safe for kids. But there is one interesting think about Superman. As he was originally conceived, it was very hard to write interesting stories about him.

Superman was basically invulnerable, with no weaknesses. We felt he was quite heroic, but everything was so easy for him, was he really heroic after all? He could pick up street criminals by the bunch and drop them at the jail. Of course he probably had to go back to pick up eyewitnesses so the criminals could get convicted. But it wasn’t really a challenge for him.

The writers of Superman added kryptonite so that Superman had a point of vulnerability. It’s kind of silly that rocks from Superman’s destroyed home planet would be harmful to him. And that so many villains could obtain kryptonite. But by making Superman vulnerable— at least to one thing— it made it easier to identify him. And he could be really heroic by taking real risks in order to save someone.

The other thing that the writers of Superman had to invent were supervillians. Ordinary, realistic street criminals were too easy for Superman to defeat. So there had to be villains with superpowers of their own, or who were evil geniuses who could figure out how to seriously endanger Superman or thwart his efforts.

The rule we should learn from this is a real hero needs to be vulnerable in some way, and needs to have an opponent who can actually harm or defeat him.

This can be a problem in some fantasy fiction. Writers might create heroes with amazing magical powers so that the reader wonders: why doesn’t he just use his magic? Unlimited powers in a hero lead to boring stories where the hero is unchallenged. Or unrealistic stories where the hero doesn’t attempt to use his magic powers to accomplish his goals without any real reason to not use this power.

A villain that seems too powerful to defeat does work in fiction, as long as the author plants clues that the villain has a weakness, a limit to his powers, or a way to be defeated. The Harry Potter series works in part because we know Lord Voldemort had limits. He couldn’t just sit in his lair with magic wand out, chanting ‘Aveda Kadavera’ and have his distant enemies all drop dead. We know from the beginning of Harry Potter that Lord Voldemort was defeated once, and that he had opposition as well as supporters.

Writers that don’t think their story through, give both villain and hero non-unlimited sets of abilities, and arrange defeats-of-villains that make actual sense in the story world don’t manage to create entertaining stories.

Book-oriented Writers and TV-oriented Writers #amwriting

There are two kinds of aspiring writers in our age— book-oriented ones who get much of their fiction through books, and TV-oriented writers who get much, most or all of their fiction through television and movies.

Since television and books are different art forms, you can guess that the more book-oriented a writer is the better he is able to produce good books of his own. But with television ever-present in American homes and beyond- with DVD players in vans so little tots don’t have to do without entertainment on the ride to the grocery store, and televisions even intruding into family restaurants— we can understand how some folks can be TV-oriented.

I was almost wholly TV-oriented myself. My mother wrote in my baby book that they sat me up in front of the TV to watch Captain Kangaroo at six months. They thought I was a TV-watching prodigy or something. And as I grew older the first fiction that really inspired me to make up stories of my own was the original Star Trek.

But I was lucky enough to be born into a book-loving home. Neither of my parents went to college— in their day it was rare for people of their lower-income background to have that chance. I always remember my father having a collection of ‘serious’ non-fiction books– about the lives of recent presidents and statesmen, about wars, a set of books by Winston Churchill. My mother had some popular novels like Gone With the Wind and The Silver Chalice, and some sets of mystery short stories.

When I was a baby my mother bought a 12 volume set of children’s books for me called ‘My Book House.’ The first volume had nursery rhymes from around the world. The second had simpler fairy tales, and the next had more complex ones. The last volume was advanced enough that it had chapters from ‘The Mill on the Floss’ in it. When I was about nine I decided that the numbers on the books indicated the age of child who was allowed to read it. So I didn’t read the last few books as often, since by then I was finding reading material on my own.

I got the idea to want to be a writer from reading ‘Little Women.’ I don’t know that I liked writing, or the character Jo from the book who wrote, all that much. I just was afraid if I cultivated my musical talent like Beth, I’d die young.

But, more so in these days, there are a lot of people who are keen on TV shows and want to tell TV inspired stories. That’s where the impulse to write TV-based fanfiction comes from. And there are a lot of fans of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter that experienced the movies first, and may or may not have read the book series. If you are from a TV-oriented family where no one owns books or reads them, it may not occur to you that the books can be deeper and richer than any movie could be.

The answer, if you are a TV-oriented aspiring writer, is to find books you like and read them. Novelizations of movies and TV shows count, at first. As a kid, when in about fourth grade I saw another kid reading the Star Trek book illustrating this blog post— Star Trek 3 by James Blish. I nagged my parents into buying me the other books in that series, and later used my allowance to buy others in that eventual 13 book series. Later, after the movie Star Trek 2 came out, original Star Trek novels started being published by Pocket books and I regularly bought them. I now have a nearly-full bookshelf of them— though some very recent Star Trek novels I bought were so very bad, riddled with political correctness, that I don’t think I need to be buying any more. Imagine a character in the middle of action worrying about which pronoun she should use when thinking about a gender-neutral alien species. People that dumb wouldn’t survive long in a hostile situation.

Of course an aspiring writer, even of genre fiction, will want to read a variety of books, including some that are rated ‘good literature.’ Don’t be afraid of trying books like that. Some of them are even better than Star Trek 3.

What is a Dystopia?

‘Dystopian’ is a popular subgenre these days particularly in older children’s fiction (YA/Young Adult.) But a lot of people don’t quite understand what the word ‘dystopian’ means— even people who are thinking of writing dystopian fiction!

‘Dystopia’ comes from the word ‘Utopia’— a word coined by Thomas More (1478-1535), and the title of a book of his. The book was a philosphical account of an imaginary kingdom and its ideal government. ‘Utopia’ means ‘Noplace.’ Thomas More may have been interested in government because his good friend Henry was a king of England. Unfortunately for More, it was Henry VIII, and when the king broke with the Church in order to get rid of his first wife, he insisted his subjects sign an oath which assented to Henry’s rejecting the Church. Thomas More was a faithful Catholic and could not do that, and so on July 6th, 1535, he was beheaded. It never would have happened that way in Utopia. Thomas More was canonized a saint and his feast day is July 9th. He is considered a martyr who died in defense of marriage and so is a saint for our own times.

‘Dystopia’ replaces the ‘U’ of ‘Utopia’ with a syllable which means ‘painful’, so instead of ‘noplace’ it means ‘painful place.’ A ‘dystopia’ is normally more painful for some people than for others. Think of the real-world examples of Stalinist Russia and National Socialist Germany. If you were a faithful member of the ruling party, even a lower ranking one, life might not be that bad at least as far as the government was concerned. But if you were part of a group the government targeted, life could be hellish.

In ‘The Hunger Games’ you can see how Panem was a ‘dystopia’ for Katniss. She lives in an impoverished district and has to break the law to keep her mother and sister fed. Both she and her sister are eligible to be selected for the Hunger Games, a fight to the death between 24 contestants. But for residents of the Capitol, like Caesar Flickerman, an entertainment celebrity, Panem isn’t a bad place. It’s a place where he can live in comfort and luxury.

In The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson, the Christian villagers from Glenrock are kidnapped by the infertile people of The Safe Lands so that the women can be made pregnant and have their babies taken away by the state. But the hedonistic young people that live in the Safe Lands have good lives— until they reach age forty and something that sounds like death is their fate. So The Safe Lands society is dystopian for the Glenrock villagers and for people approaching 40, but not so much for the younger people of the society.

When planning a dystopian story, you have to consider both who are victims of the dystopia and who are the people that benefit. There will likely be a third class of people who are at least getting by— the system is something they can live with and that is not targeting people like them.

Should every main character in a dystopian story be involved with overthrowing the government? It’s probably not such a good idea. The teenage kids who read a dystopian YA story will soon be in colleges where they will be taught that they must have an absolute meltdown when someone from the ‘wrong’ political party gets elected. We don’t want to encourage the idea that rioting in the streets is a good idea.

An alternative plot to the start-a-Civil-War approach is the escape story. The Dystopia is bad, but there is a place where the dystopian conditions don’t apply. Your character can be struggling to get to such a place.

Your character can also be involved in a non-violent underground or subculture, like the Christian subculture in the Communist countries both in the past and in China today. Such an underground may be aimed at allowing people to practice a forbidden faith or pass on a forbidden minority culture or language.

A final thought about dystopian fiction: the temptation may be to make the dystopian leaders similar to the leaders of your least favorite political party or faction and the heroes of your own political party or faction. This is not a good idea. Ideally your reader should have to stop and think when asked who are the Democrats and Republicans in the story.

Note: comments with swears and nastiness don’t get published on this blog, be civil.

The #Orville: Star Trek alternative or moral sinkhole

A lot of people who have once loved the Star Trek series but are turned off by the modern movie series in which James T. Kirk seems to be a sexual predator as well as a bratty overgrown kid. Some people seem to think the new series ‘The Orville’ is a enough like Star Trek to be an alternative, plus it’s on free TV so we can all see it.

But a recent episode shows that The Orville is not the family-safe show that the original Star Trek was. The big funny in the episode is that there was a male alien who went into heat and gave off pheromones which attracted reproductively  irrelevant species and genders. The captain of the Orville and his ex-wife and first officer were competing for the alien’s sexual attention and neglecting their duties. The ship’s female doctor— mother of two fatherless kids— had sex with an alien who looks like a pile of goo. But it was all OK in the end because the crew used the pheromones to make two male warring aliens have sex with each other and believe they were ‘soulmates.’

Ok, funny. Not someone one could watch with their kids, other people’s kids, parents, grandparents or pastor in the house, but funny. And wholly unrealistic.

In the real world a military space ship that has mainly peaceful intentions would have to train its people to resist sexual temptations especially when dealing with other species or cultures. There are good reasons why cultures all over Earth have had rules against certain forms of sexual behavior. Adultery not only destroys marriages but what happens to a child when its father suspects he’s not the daddy, and that fact can be confirmed with DNA tests? Fornication with young unmarried women can lead to them becoming unsuitable for marriage. And it is highly likely that many cultures will look at sexual relations with other, different-looking species to be a form of bestiality that would cause outrage.

In addition, it’s very possible that sexually transmitted diseases that are mild for one species can mean death to another. We can see a little of that in the history of Earth in how mild non-sexual diseases like measles became a deadly plague to Indians in the Americas. Not only would Our Heroes from the Orville probably not enjoy, say, a flesh-eating STD, if they passed it on to members of an alien species before they knew they were infected it might well be considered an act of war.

Some viewers of The Orville may believe that one of the alien crew members is involved in a homosexual relationship, since both partners seem male. But an episode reveals that though the species considers itself ‘all male’, females are born (hatched, actually) and they are given ‘sex change’ operations. The alien crew member’s husband revealed herself to be born female, so therefore the relationship is not homosexual.

The Fox channel has a long history of providing raunchy and/or inappropriate programming even if the programming might also attract children, as in The Simpsons, Married with Children, and many others I’ve never even watched. Sadly, the Orville’s content as well as its mocking tone make sure that children can’t be inspired by it as I was by the original Star Trek. If only television producers had not lost the art of making clean television programming that even Christian and/or conservative families could enjoy!