Tag Archives: author

Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin

News for all my fellow science fiction and fantasy fans: it has come to my attention that one of the great sci fi and fantasy writers – indeed one of the founders of modern fantasy – passed away in January. Ursula K. Le Guin’s death was as markedly quiet as her work, though her writings somehow managed to combine that quiet success with insight, lyricism, and a world’s worth of endlessly compelling themes.

Unfortunately, I’ve not read many of Le Guin’s contributions, but the few I have experienced had special influences on my journey both as a reader and a writer. In particular, A Wizard of Earthsea, that classic of fantasy literature on par both in style and prose with The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, touched me deeply. It was perhaps the first book where I realized what profound meaning, symbolism, and import could be infused into the pages of a written work. I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered from the powerful conclusion of that tiny volume, which managed to hit me as hard as any thick tome.  What a powerful tale she wove with Ged, one that mirrored in many ways my own, as I’m sure it has for many a reader over the years. That struggle of growing up, at once both unsure and utterly confident, climbing to the top of the world only to fall upon reaching the zenith. Pride has knocked the wind out of me on many occasions, just as it does Ged. But confronting our faults and continuing on is one of the true themes of Earthsea, and I found myself bettered by the experience. Truly great stories remind us of powerful lessons we already know, and the reminder is often beautifully given. A Wizard of Earthsea gave me a great many such touching reminders, and for that I will always be grateful to Mrs. Le Guin. If you’ve never read Ged’s tale, I encourage you to pick it up. It is a lyrical, poignant journey delivered in sparse but haunting words (and it’s the original book to introduce the “Hogwarts concept” of a wizard school made famous by J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter). Other groundbreaking works by Le Guin include The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

Thanks for all the wonderful stories you brought to the world, Mrs. Le Guin. Your ability to touch us both emotionally and intellectually will be missed.

Have any of you been moved by Ursula K. Le Guin’s stories? Which are your favorites? Are there any that affected you as Ged’s did me?

Training…and Its Eventual Conclusion

Hello Everyone!

Wow. I know it’s been a long time (approximately four and a half months) since my last post, and here I am just now getting back in touch. The bad news here is that I’ve still got 4 – 5 weeks of Officer Candidate School remaining, so I can’t dive back into writing Ironheart‘s sequel just yet, but available free time is finally on the horizon. The good news is that I managed to graduate from Boot Camp in early August, and I’m well on my way to finishing OCS as well.

Phase Up

Classing up into Intermediate Phase at Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, GA. Boy, was I ever happy to put on that blue ascot!

Squad STX 2

Squad STX training out in Fort Benning’s swamps and forests.

So there’s a brief update on what’s been going on. Thank you to everyone who’s been keeping up with me and sending mail throughout my training stages. Your letters have been a joy to read! I promise to get back on my current writing projects soon. You’ve all been so patient waiting for books that were forced to take a back seat when a chance for service took priority. I’ll keep pushing forward here, and, with a little luck, I’ll be back to writing about Primals, heroes, and villains soon!

 

The Storyteller’s Voice and Art Individuality

“All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend.  Art isn’t your pet – it’s your kid.  It grows up and talks back to you.” – Joss Whedon

The idea that I discussed last week – that a storyteller’s purpose is to give questions, not answers – rankles some people, most of whom are storytellers who regularly ignore this purpose, thinking themselves wiser than their audience.  My post from last week does require some caveats, however.  Once we accept the purpose of the storyteller, there is a second truth we must embrace: Your voice matters.  It may not be your place to tell the audience what to think, but it is your job to tell a story, and one that is ultimately meaningful.

Your storytelling voice matters, and sometimes it matters in ways you never expected.

Now, I know the quote that I used this week is from a storyteller who regularly violates the purpose of storytelling.  No one knows better than I the appalling number of times Joss Whedon has downright browbeaten his audience with opinion, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when he desists from forcing a specific agenda, he is a peerless storyteller.  And the discernment shown in the above quote is striking.

The first part of my point is that your voice matters, and that’s important to grasp before we move on to the next half.  Your artistic voice matters.  I may repeat it a thousand times in this post, but it’s an important truth to embrace as a lifelong artist.  If you don’t embrace it, you won’t be a storyteller, plain and simple.  You’ll give up.  You’ll stop telling stories.  If you believe you’re shouting into the void, how long do you think you’ll sit around listening to your own echo?  Not long for some.  Years for others.  But, if you don’t embrace the idea that your art has unique value, you will eventually quit.  Embrace this truth.  You’ve got a voice, you’ve got questions to give the world, and only you can deliver them the way you do.

If you accept that, we can move on to my second point, summarized by Whedon as “interpretations the author did not intend.”  Often, your work will become something you never planned for it to be.  One of the greatest facts about this world is that people are different.  They interpret life and experience and art in a way distinctive to themselves.  You don’t always get to choose how your art affects people, and that’s okay!  After all, you may be the god of your stories, but that doesn’t make you the God of this one.  Your only duty is to tell stories to the best of your ability, putting 110% of your work and effort into each one.  And don’t apologize for them!  Never apologize for your art, whether it is received poorly because it is interpreted as you intended or not.  It’s your art, and just as you’ve no call to force your audience to think as you do, they’ve no call to silence your voice.  Tell your stories – without preaching, without bowing to the whims of social critics – and tell them well.  Tell them with care and with meaning and with purpose, but don’t fret over interpretation.  Sometimes people need something specific from a story, and yours provides it.  Life influences people to equate what they see in art with their experiences, and you can’t control that.  So don’t try to!

Storytelling, like life, isn’t about having it all together or being in control.  It’s about doing the best we can, and trusting that something larger than ourselves will handle the rest.

Tell your stories, because your voice matters!  But relinquish control, because worthy art is always bigger than the person who made it.

The Role of the Storyteller

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.  Too often, we forget that.” – Wit, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

What is the role of the storyteller?  He or she brings a tale to the audience, yes, but what is the purpose of doing so?  It could be to entertain.  After all, entertainment is the reason most of us regularly partake of stories in the first place.  In fact, a story can be said to have failed in its purpose if it doesn’t entertain, whether through humor, excitement, suspense, pathos, or some other means.  I agree that a storyteller must entertain, and cannot fulfill the real purpose of the profession if he fails to do so.  But entertainment is not the significant role of the storyteller.

In a world that always has been, is now, and will ever be gray, we storytellers have, by and large, abominably bungled the presenting of that fact.  The present is no more polarized than times before – humans will always find reasons to break into opposing camps, extolling their side’s virtues while vilifying their “opponents” – but we are not any less divided either.  Which proves only that we’ve done a poor job of learning from the past.  Right and wrong are rarely what separate people and their enemies.  It’s different standpoints, different perspectives.  Just two sides holding disparate views about what is most important. What does this have to do with storytelling?  Why, it shows that much of the time we have forgotten our role as storytellers!  Many of us are as guilty as anyone of dividing the world, cutting it up into stark sections of black and white, of using our stories to cram agenda down our audience’s throats.

The reality, however, is this: The role of the storyteller is not to tell people what to think, but to teach them how to think for themselves.

We storytellers often try to influence how people think and act, though it is not our place to do so.  Rather, our goal should be only to get people to put that brain between their ears to work.  Questions!  The storyteller’s duty is to present them with questions upon which to ponder, because thinking for ourselves, not merely mimicking what we’re told to think, is the only we grow.

So we must make them think.  We coax them into evaluating life – both the big and small things – on a deeper, more personal level.

You might say: “Come now, Dakota, all storytellers build their stories around theme.  Without theme, without purpose, a story is just a jumble of words or images.  Themes are all about trying to influence people to act a certain way.”  You may be right.  Themes are important.  They do provide purpose to a story.  But I will say this:

Good themes are about questions, not solutions.

I absolutely write themes into my stories.  I write with a purpose in mind, but always with the intention of revealing universal principles, thoughts, and feelings, never blatant conclusions that READERS MUST ACCEPT.  I want my readers to see what I present in my stories and use it to consider who they are.  I want questions – glorious, inspiring, dark, bitter, infuriating questions – to be the product of my work.

We all want to change the world in some fashion, don’t we?  Of course we do!  But consider how you do so, otherwise you may end up changing it in ways you would never wish to have done so, because the forcing of change often backfires.  Don’t force it.  Promote it.  And more than that, accept the fact that you are not, nor ever will be, fully in control of change.  Change cannot be forced on people; you will harden them against it.  Change can only grow from within, as they consider things for themselves.  The movie Inception is a great visual representation of this.  People will often reject the ideas forced on them.  But the ones that seem organic?  Those ideas shape the world.  Remember: The ideas you plant without rancor, without design, without insisting people should think a certain way are the ones that will be deeply and seriously considered.  Don’t browbeat them.  Inform them.

“Here is an interesting concept, reader.  Perhaps you should consider it, and decide how it affects the world.”

“Here’s an issue we struggle with in today’s world, viewer.  It’s there now, front and center in your mind, why not analyze how you see it?  What you think about it?  How we might be able to fix it?”

As a storyteller, think of the philosophy you champion when you try to force an agenda on others.  This, in a nutshell, is what you are saying: If only the whole world thought as I do we would never have any problems!  You’re absolutely right.  We wouldn’t have problems.  Not of a certain sort, at any rate.  What we would have is stagnancy.  Apathy.  A world full of boring people who might as well be vegetables for all the stimulation we would receive from others, since everyone would be carbon copies.  We would all be mindless clones of one another, espousing the exact same things.  I don’t want to live in a world like that.  Do you?  Then why bully others with your stories?  You’re not changing the world for the better when you tell people what to think, but you most certainly are when you help them learn to do so for themselves.

Asking tough questions is to be encouraged in storytelling, pushing agendas is not.

The example this week is going to be The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.  The story, if you’ve not read it, starts out great.  There are some excellent scenes that really hit you with a new appreciation for tragedy, and the early stages raise some provocative questions about rampant capitalism.  By the end, however, it has devolved into a soapbox, a pedestal for what can only be labeled as propaganda.  And you know what?  The novel did change things, though not in the way Sinclair intended.  The Jungle did not convince the American people of the benefits of socialism (the agenda which Sinclair pushed with all the subtlety of a Super Bowl half-time show), but it did expose horrific conditions in the meatpacking industry.  In effect, the agenda espoused by The Jungle fell flat, while the questions raised by Sinclair’s tale inspired a generation to enact change in what had been an oppressive, unsanitary industry.  What would have been the result if Sinclair had simply provided his readership with thought-provoking questions about socialism instead of cramming it down their throats?  We’ll never know.  Because he didn’t.

“But The Jungle is a classic!”  I can hear the outrage from the peanut gallery even as I write this.  “How dare you use a literary work, hailed the world over, as an example of abusive storytelling?”

The answer is simple.  To a certain extent, people like to be told what to think.  Life is easier that way.  We can either eagerly embrace or easily reject what is shouted at us, because we are given no reason to give such blatant messages serious thought.  If we agree with a brazen message?  We heartily agree and move on.  If we find it out of line with our preconceived notions, we either put the story aside or ignore its obvious propaganda and continue on with the story.  When we are told what to do, we don’t have to go through the hassle of carefully considering life.  We simply agree or disagree out of hand.  Passivity is easy.  Scrutiny is hard.  Ladies and gentlemen, storytellers are not obliged to make life easy for the audience.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  It is our purpose to make certain that they never stop moving forward, never cease growing and learning and being.

So let’s make a resolution, shall we?  No more agendas.  Only questions.  People will learn to be who they need to be without our sanctimonious preaching.  Our audience, after all, is no less human, and they’ve got more to teach us than we ever could them.

 

Did my post about questions raise any questions? Comments? Rants?  Do you find it ironic that I used a post about not using stories to tell people how to think to tell people how to think?  Let me know!

 

Go on!  Go introduce the world to some questions!

Changing Gears

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this blog and expanding my author platform, and I’ve come to the conclusion that one of two things must happen.

Either I discard it altogether, or I change it up.

Here’s the thing.  Blogs are a metric ton of effort if you want them to work properly.  I’ve not been dedicating the time required to put out consistent, quality content, so I’ve gained all of zero followers.  (Okay, that’s not true, but it certainly feels like that sometimes.)  Should I forget about the site and focus on my books?  Or put more effort into the blog, potentially drawing away attention that my novels deserve?  I’d like to say the former was the answer, but that’s not the world in which we live.  According to the great, collective everyone, building an author brand – through social media, blogging, etc. – is much more important.  This strikes me as odd, seeing as I want book readers for my books, not internet surfers for my books.  Geez, I don’t know.  Perhaps they’re one and the same now?  I’m not a marketing guru, and I don’t make the rules.

So this is what I’m saying: I’m rebranding this blog.  It’s time to start putting more effort into my public image of being a science fiction and fantasy writer, and less time into actually…writing science fiction and fantasy.

Am I the only one who thinks that sounds backwards?

Whether it is or not, according to the experts it’s the way to go, and I’m going to give it a shot.  I’ve realized in my analysis that not only have I not created enough content (which is the main problem), but the content I do create is wildly unrelated.  I just talk about random stuff that interests me, while throwing in updates on my novels.  That won’t cut it.  I need a focus, a distinct topic.

The Power of Stories

From now on, this blog is going to focus on the influence stories have in our lives.  It will have a fantasy/science fiction bent, of course, since that’s what I write, but that will just be the flavor of the icing, not the cake itself.  Stories – in any medium, in any genre– are going to be the topic, and we’re going to discuss the heck out of ‘em.  If that sounds like your idea of a good time, then come join me.  If not, well, sorry to disappoint, but here’s your exit ramp.  It’s only fair to give you warning.  I know I hate having content show up on my feeds that I couldn’t care less about.  And for reals, especially if this is your stop, thanks for sticking with me to this point.  I’m going to miss the 50% of my followers who are leaving.  Hope you three have a great life.

Anyway, there’s the big announcement.  Expect a bit more content on a regular basis.  (I’m going to shoot for one good blog post a week.  That should add constancy to the site without taking undue time from my books.)  Hopefully I can turn this site (and my author platform) into a place people come to get their fix for all things story.  Feel free to come along for the ride.  Your thoughts, opinions, and discussion are always welcome.

Full Author Interview

As promised, I checked with the Self-Publishing Review and they gave me permission to post my author interview with Cate Baum, SPR’s co-founder, in full.

Cate:  Dakota Kemp is the winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Fantasy Prize for his book, The Arrival.  Dakota hails from the Oklahoma Panhandle in the US.

Cate:  Tell us about your winning book.

Dakota:  The Arrival is an epic, medieval fantasy set in the world of Vrold.  The plot weaves the lives of several different characters into one tale, centered around an investigation into a series of deadly attacks that has plunged two powerful city-states into war.  I like to think that The Arrival has something for every reader because it’s as much a mystery, drama, action/adventure, military epic, spy thriller, and comedy tale as it is a fantasy novel.  The protagonists range from a sorceress/detective to a hard-edged mercenary to an enthusiastic history professor, and the plot, characters, and locations are all wrapped in a world of enigmatic mythology and electrifying peril.

Cate:  What inspired your interest in this genre?

Dakota:  Ever since I first fell in love with reading as a child, I’ve been captivated by fantasy stories – legends of wonder and magic and adventure.  The Tales of King Arthur and J.R.R. Tolkien’s works in particular had a great influence on my becoming a writer, perhaps even greater than my mother, who taught me to read.  Middle-earth wasn’t just a jumble of words, plots, characters, and settings – it was (and is) a real place for me.  Tolkien created such a rich, beautiful world as to become reality, even if it is only in the mind.  That’s my interest in fantasy, and, to this day, it’s my goal as a writer.  If I can give just one reader the slightest sliver of the sense of awe and passion and beauty that was given to me, then my purpose as a writer will have been fulfilled.

Cate:  What writing experience did you have before this?

Dakota:  Little to none, actually.  The Arrival is my first novel.  I initially started writing when I was about fourteen – my own, personal adaptations of the King Arthur tales – but, as we often do in our younger years, I gave up after a short time.  It was much later – in my junior year of college – that I started to seriously think about picking up writing again.  The Arrival was written largely during my senior year at Southwestern Oklahoma State.

As far as official training goes, I’ve never taken any writing classes or anything like that (though I probably should).  I did have some wonderful English teachers in high school and an equally brilliant literature professor in college, and everything I know about writing was either self-taught or acquired under their instruction.

Cate:  Why did you decide to self-publish?

Dakota:  I tried to get The Arrival traditionally published in the beginning, but I quickly found that publishing is a highly exclusive market.  It is nearly impossible to break into the industry without some prior connections, no matter how good your work might be.  I sent queries and applications to over seventy agents and publishing companies and never once received a request for my manuscript.  I can deal with rejection, but how was I to prove my manuscript’s worth if no one would even read it?  After over six months without a single request, I decided to self-publish and let readers decide the quality of my work.

Cate:  How did you find the self-publishing experience?

Dakota:  It was definitely educational, and I’ve learned a lot of useful things about the publishing process and the professional industry.  One thing that you discover early on as a self-publisher is that marketing accounts for a huge amount of your time and effort.  This is both good and bad, as it provides a good learning experience, but it also sucks away time that could be spent writing.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed self-publishing.  It’s allowed me to learn new things and meet loads of great people.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t leap at the chance for a good publishing contract, though.  I’ve found that it’s all about earning your stripes and showing that you can consistently put out quality work.

Cate:  What tips could you give others to produce a quality self-published book?

Dakota:  Edit, edit, edit, and re-edit.  Proofing and editing is HUGE, and it’s essential.  This is the one, non-negotiable fact of self-publishing – if your work doesn’t appear professional, both in cover and content, it won’t succeed.   Period.  Purchase professional editing if you can afford it.  If you can’t (like me), ask everyone you know to read your manuscript and mark editing or proofing mistakes.  Get your old English teachers or professors to peruse it for you.  Find someone knowledgeable about grammar, sentence structure, and formatting to give your final copy an approval.

Other than editing – don’t give up.  Never stop writing.  You’ll have bad days, of course, when you feel like no one outside of your mother and grandma wants to give your work a try.  Write anyway.  You’ll improve the more you practice, and maybe – just maybe – your work will touch someone in a far off place you never knew existed.  Perseverance – it sounds cheesy, I know, but is there anything more true in life?  If it wasn’t hard to do, everyone would do it, and it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Cate:  What obstacles did you face?

Dakota:  Finding readers has been a nearly insurmountable challenge.  There just aren’t a lot of people willing to spend money and take a chance on an unknown, self-published author.  Maybe that’s the way it should be.  It makes you work hard and appreciate every single reader.  Every time I see I’ve made a sale, I just want to reach straight through the computer screen and give that wonderful individual a big ol’ bear hug.  I don’t know that I’d have that appreciation for my amazing readers without that struggle.  So, I continue to write, and every time a reader contacts me to say they love my stories, I take it as a personal affirmation.

Cate:  What are your plans for the future as a writer?

Dakota:  Since The Arrival’s publication, I’ve released a science fiction novella titled Goddess (the review of which, incidentally, was recently posted by SPR), and I’m presently working on a steampunk/sword-and-sorcery mash-up novel.  The second installment in the Ascension series (of which The Arrival is the first), will be up next following my current project.

I appreciate your time in reading my humble tale, and I wish all of my fellow authors out there the very best!  Keep up the good work!

(End Interview)

I hope the interview was educational for my independent author friends and interesting for everyone else!