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Who Decides What a Genre Encompasses?

September 5, 2017

I ask this question because I have a different spin on the genre I prefer to play in.

Genre is a marketing tool to help pigeon-hole your audience, to make you easy to find for your readers. The problem is, we may not fall into the genre people think we do.

All three of my novels are identified by more common genres than how I classify my books:  Gemini Dreams – Thriller, Do Angels Still Fall? – Christian Fantasy, Me and the Maniac in Outer Space – YA Science Fiction, yet to me they are all Mystical Realism.

The “mystical” in Mystical Realism doesn’t have to be magic, it can be anything “other.”  Realism means it takes place in the real world; no worldbuilding here, at least not at the beginning.

He isn’t only wonderful, He’s Wonder!

Critics require political commentary to be a part of it, others, heightened or lyric language. If I’m strapped to either of those, then my books aren’t Mystical Realism, but I don’t feel a need to be strapped.

Genre is for marketing – your perspective may differ.

For my existing novels, my characters are realistic people in a realistic world. Then a single thing of “other” changes everything. For Gemini Dreams, Will’s average life is invaded with dreams of someone else’s life. In Angels, Bungy’s guardian angel reveals himself. In Me and the Maniac, the boys find an alien artifact.

There is major departure from “classic” mystical realism (the genre hasn’t been around long enough to be truly classic) in each case. In the first, Will has had these dreams all his life, Angels is told from the angel’s point of view, and Me and the Maniac end up in a vastly changed world.

OK, with GD, I felt like I was writing a thriller, but with the other two, I strove for the wonder of the mystical element while retaining the real life. MatM admittedly left that real life behind mid-stream, but to me it never felt like sci-fi.  I know full-well, a traditional publisher will market it as YA Sci-Fi and I’m okay with that.

For me, “wonder” is the key element, not political upheaval (except for in the politics of the individual). In traditional worldbuilding, the characters accept their setting. In mine, they are always in awe of where they are. Even the Western I’m noodling at has wonder moments.

What’s your go-to element and genre?


Spider-Man: Marvel’s Mary Sue

July 15, 2017

Spider-Man Homecoming was a fun movie, so I kept asking myself why I was bored.


Before I begin the review and explain why I was bored, let me explain what a Mary Sue character is in literature. Mary Sue is a new single-episode character to a series who comes in and solves everyone’s problems. She is the fan’s desired role in a story: all powerful, sweet, wholesome and the problem-solver, who has no problems of her own.

Spider-Man was a good movie. The acting was great, the concepts were spot on, and they even made sense. The Vulture as villain, who picks over the scraps of alien tech and creates ultra-powerful weapons and tools to make Spider-Man’s rogues for future stories; brilliant. Mike Keaton, great. Tom Holland as Peter Parker, also great.

But like Rogue 1, Spider-Man Homecoming seemed created to tie up the plot holes of the other movies. “Hey, what happened to all that alien tech left all over New York?”

That’s not why I found it boring, though. This movie had some strikes against it. Two prior series that covered everything interesting about Spider-Man took away important story grist. Toby-Spidey, as bad as the movies were, explored webbing, web-swinging and one take on JJ Jameson. Andrew-Spidey explored, well, the same thing with different takes.

So in this movie, they skipped past the origin, didn’t include JJJ and made Peter younger. The problem is that Peter’s major character arc IS the origin story.  He did what anyone with powers would do. He cashed in on them and let the man who would be Uncle Ben’s killer go because it wasn’t his problem. Ben dies, Peter transforms into a hero.  This movie skipped over all that.

In Homecoming (a title referring less to the high school party and more to Spidey coming into the Marvel Universe), Peter Parker’s arc was “when do I get to play with the big kids?” Peter was practically perfect. No one tested his character. Flash Thompson, the perennial bully who was a constant test to Peter lashing out, in this movie was just a jerk. He called Peter names. He was smaller than Peter. There was no physical bullying, so there was not test of character (not saying name calling isn’t bullying, but there would be no justice in putting Flash through a wall). Peter was never tested.

Sure, he walked out on Liz at Homecoming. Yawn.  The Vulture threatened his family (but never put May in danger) and still Peter had no qualms about taking him down. There was never a sense of danger at all. Peter could slam through concrete and not get hurt. A building collapsed on him. Just him. Sure, he saved his friends, but that even seemed contrived. From the beginning, Spider-Man would go all out to save people. There was no character change.

Instead, the focus was on Spidey’s suit. That someone else designed.

It’s important to see through a story to the real story. There could have been an interesting core story here. Peter Parker is a tweenager going through the changes of life. Sure, it’s more than puberty, it’s super powers, but map puberty over it and you have a story. The normal adolescent’s voice cracks, he’s got emotional whipsaws, his body changes (they even alluded to this)…. mapped to Peter, maybe his powers aren’t yet reliable. Instead of a cracking voice, Peter can’t control his strength. Instead of hormonal storms, his spider-sense is haywire, making him jump at shadows. Make him think he’s going crazy, yet still has the responsibility hang-up Uncle Ben put on him.

Put the kid through impossible choices. Maybe he accidentally hurts Ned, or lashes out at Flash. A fight with a super-villain is a different story when you aren’t sure your punches would kill him. I’m reminded of some great coming-of-age stories where the poor kid does all sorts of crazy things to cope with his changes and trying to figure out who he is.

In the first two series, Peter was older. Here he’s younger. That should have been the hook. Instead, I felt like I was sleep walking through a good film. Peter and Spider-Man were the same; Peter should be quiet and brooding, Spidey, light and chatty.

And then there was Aunt May, a weird after-thought in the movie. She walks into his room and Ned is fully clothed sitting on the bed and Peter is only in his briefs. And buff. Both the nakedness and muscles should draw more of a reaction than “I know your body’s changing…. and get some clothes on.” She should have had a larger role. And not a single mention of Uncle Ben.

As they say, a great movie has three great scenes and no bad ones. This one had no bad ones, but no really great scenes. It was a good movie, but it wasn’t a great movie.

You may have a different take. I’d love to hear it.


June 29, 2017

I attend a writer’s group called the Writer’s Block (we all used to live in the same neighborhood, hence “block” as a play on words. Alas, we don’t anymore. My co-leader moved behind Publix, which makes her sound homeless, but she and her husband live in a really nice neighborhood in an even nicer house. We also have more members who joined who don’t even live in the same country, but somewhere called Lake Nona. But I digress.)

They keep me motivated, though sometimes it seems we sit around explaining why we aren’t writing, it takes the edge off the solitary nature of writing.

We had a guest speaker the other night (doesn’t that make our group sound important? Well, we are, dang it!). I won’t tell you his name, because Rick is a shy guy, but he’s phenomenal. The guy is pure talent in loafers. A journalist and college professor, even his posts on Facebook are moving. He uses language like Rembrandt used paint. Every phrase is a picture. In fact, he spoke to use about social media. But that’s not what shocked me.

Did I say this guy could write? MAN, he’s good!

Then someone asked him if he was going to write a book.

“No, I really don’t think so.”

My chin has a bruise from when it hit the floor.Image result for jaw drop

I get all tongue-tied when people ask me what I do. Bragging is not in me. Once, at work, a lady said, “I’m NOT a writer!” I felt sorry for her. Anything else is a lesser profession. I can’t imagine not wanting to write books. There are people who SUCK at writing who are convinced they have a book in them, as if they were internal organs.

“I don’t have an urge to write a book.”

That’s like Willy Wonka saying, “I don’t want to make chocolate bars.”

“I don’t think I’d be good at the long form.”

I clearly wasn’t the only one shocked, because someone said, “Then write short stories!” Maybe it was me.

Rick is a reporter. He writes articles, and lesson plans, and really great social media posts, and he doesn’t want to write a book.

I should be happy, because I’m sure any book he wrote would put ours to shame.

His response was as blithe as mine when someone says, “Hey, you wanna run a marathon?” “No thanks, I don’t have it in me.”

I don’t expect to write a best-selling novel or Oscar-worthy screenplay. Nobody is pounding on my door to write, OR ELSE!

But to me, there is no greater aspiration than writing books.

“Naw, don’t think so.”

Color me stunned.

Marvel’s Got It; Disney Doesn’t

June 29, 2017

Figuring out a successful formula can be money in the bank, as Marvel has discovered. Their screenwriters, all of whom are experienced, must take the Marvel Screenwriting Course in which they are dunked in their formula until it’s part of them. Good on them, part of their formula deals with the character and qualities of their heroes. Structure and humor are in there, too, but it’s the understanding of the Marvel characters that makes it work (too bad the TV shows don’t work off the same formula).

Disney, on the other hand, has a shallow formula based in the sound and looks of their characters rather than their character. Rapunzel was the 3D realization of 2D Little Mermaid. And now Muana is a brown Rapunzel, Elsa and her sister split the Rapunzel look. Same body language, same songs, same personality. Feisty grandma (Mulan and Muana), newt = chicken, you get it. Muana does go into some interesting directions, but formulaic main characters is beneath them. There are more kinds of princesses

Are formulas good? If they’re kept loose, sure. Most of us fall into them as our personal style evolves.  Avoid the surface stuff, expand your themes and have a variety of character traits split amongst different characters, different settings, different goals… okay, maybe Disney is pretty good. Eh.

Celebration, now Good Times!

June 26, 2017

Holding down a demanding full-time job, a dwindling freelance writing job, having a wife and children (even as adults they take some time), and my own general laziness, it takes me (this is embarrassing to admit) years to write a full-length novel.

And so it has been with the one I JUST COMPLETED! Okay, first draft, it still has what may be a huge rewrite, which may take another year, but let me tell you, having that first draft complete is a reason to celebrate. This is weird, but it’s the ones with no deadline that feel the best to finish. Ghostwritten books aren’t “mine” so getting them completed is a relief, not a joy.

Right now, Me and the Maniac in Outer Space has been loaded to my beta-reader’s Kindles (that would be my eldest daughter, eldest son, and only wife’s Fires) so they can tell me what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a long book, and I expect to wait.

What do I do with that wait time? Work on a short story (Kindle single, I hope), and try not to fret about the big questions. Me and the Maniac is a strange book. Written in three parts, the first part has a boy navigating his known world with wit, humor and insight. Part two throws him into a world not his own and his response is that of a lost tweenager, and in Part three he is a world-weary adult. Will it work? Who is the audience really? What needs to go, what can stay?  You know, all the usual writer fears.

It’s important to put a draft away for a bit to get fresh eyes on the work. Of course, it’s taken years to write, so you’d think the beginning would be fresh BUT you need eyes over the manuscript as a whole. So I’ll wait.


Rough, rough draft

The other big question is: Do I micro-publish like I did my last book, or search for a traditional publisher? I like the benefits of micro-publishing (what some call self-publishing, but Prevail Press is a registered company, so micro-publishing is the proper name).  No traditional publisher can tell me I can’t write to different audiences. If I want to write to teenagers in one or two books, then write to young adults, then to adults, I should be able to. A traditional publisher wouldn’t go for that (even Stephen King’s publisher doesn’t want him going off-brand). Of course, I could sell more books through a traditional publisher, assuming I could interest one…  All nice problems to have. J

This is a rough version of the cover. Note the different treatment of my name. Seems Rob Swanson is a common name, and it defaults to “Ron Swanson.”  Hence the full name as my moniker.  Your thoughts are welcome.

I will if You will

May 4, 2017

We love strong names. One syllable, and the powerful K sound, one of few letters that are unvoiced (no vocal cords necessary, just powerfully released breath. G is the other one, but so much weaker than K. B is better, J can be good, L is also strong. For some reason, unvoiced letters are bold). What names does that give us?





You want to use them, don’t you?  A hero named Jake is strong; a hero names Luke is the strong, silent type.

Jake and Luke. Perhaps the most overused names in modern literature. It seems every romance novel has a barrel-chested Jake or a smoldering Luke. I’ve used Jake, myself, in a screenplay. I’m using Jack in my current novel (he’s a kid though, and that makes it OK).

Kate is perhaps the strongest female western name. You can only trust a Kate so far before their independence and strong will leads them astray… but they are so easy to love…

Other strong names include Ben, Jim, Megan, Bruce, and more. Oddly, two of sound makes it weaker: Bob, Clark, to name tow. If we bend our minds to it, we’ll come up with good, strong names that aren’t overused.

Image result for rose

By any other name…

There are no rules about names. You want the name to fit the character (or completely not fit). It’s fun if there’s an underlying, subtle meaning (a depressed character with the name Willie Grayson, a hot-tempered boy named Red O’Dare).  Just avoid easy. Jake is an easy reach, Luke is an easy reach.

Is your character one who would keep a nickname? Crush, Creek, Poke, Bungy, Tuff…

Stretch for your names – aim for memorable, not pedestrian, but it should be a name parents would name a kid (unless it’s a nickname; you can get away with a lot with nicknames).

Just do me a favor and retire Jake and Luke. Think twice about Kate, but I do love name (because I love my sister). I’ll stop if you will.


Iron Fist is Bad… Because BATMAN

March 31, 2017

Marvel Comics, way back in the bad old 70’s, invented a character that was derived from two popular characters: Kwai Chang Caine from TV’s Kung Fu (Danny’s name came from Kwai’s brother, Danny Caine), and Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman.

Now Netflix has made a really bad TV show from it. SPOILER ALERT!

They were smart enough to ditch the costume (not even an homage to it), but not the backstory.Image result for iron fist

Danny Rand lost his parents to a murderer when he was a boy (Batman) and was raised in a Monastery where he mastered Kung Fu (Kung Fu), and the only cheesy original part was receiving the Iron Fist from the heart of a dragon. In shades of Kung Ku, Danny was branded with a dragon emblem by hugging a dragon, while Kwai got his hugging a brazier. Danny on his chest (Batman) and Kwai on his forearms. In the TV show, it’s a tattoo rather than a brand (because the dragon was a tattoo artist?). Because it was the 70’s, the monastery was Brigadoon, uh, K’un L’un, which appeared every 15 years. They kept this for the TV show. For some reason.

Perhaps a good actor could have pulled this off, but Finn Jones is an incredibly bad actor. As painful as he was, Tom Pelphery was amazing (and the ONLY reason I watched). Ward Meachum’s subtle train wreck was flat out amazing. He should win an Emmy, handling truly awful dialog with skill.

Everybody else, painfully over the top.

An actor’s job is to make the unbelievable, believable. But there are limits. K’un L’un, which appears every 15 years, and dragon-wrestling, are harder to believe than the green spandex pajamas and Spidey half-mask. Saddled with the derivative backstories, the writers had to avoid a landscape filled with landmines. Badly. Covering the crazy with more crazy, a Hand plot reminiscent of the Monkey Paw (each time the bad guy dies and comes back, he looses some of his soul, becoming more and more inhuman) is the main plot.

Besides the obvious flaws (Danny and family were declared dead; they wouldn’t have any shares, let alone 51%), he listens to Hip-Hop, which didn’t exist 15 years ago (did it? Hmm, maybe it did), has no surprise from modern technology, can drive even though he never had before, and so many other things, we can learn something from this.

Avoid hokey story premises. If you must, give it a good twist. Do better with pacing, and if you make a movie, cast good actors.

So, Marvel TV: Eh.  Jessica Jones was okay; Luke Cage, sort of good for awhile, and Daredevil, too brutal.  Netflix has the habit of including gratuitous violence and language because they can.