Kenneth Mark Hoover Writer Biography

Kenneth Mark Hoover

Kenneth Mark Hoover

 

Kenneth Mark Hoover has sold over sixty short stories and articles. His fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and many other magazines and anthologies. His first novel, a dystopian SF called Fevreblau, was published by Five Star Press in 2005. He is a member of SFWA and HWA. His interests include Shotokan karate and Nordic Wicca. He also likes beagles and pecan coffee.

His latest novel, Haxan, is a violent dark western published by CZP/HarperCollins in 2014. You can find out more about Mr. Hoover and his work from his blog kennethmarkhoover.me (you’re reading it now!) or his website kennethmarkhoover.com.

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My Schedule for ArmadilloCon 36, Austin, TX, July 25-27

Here’s the latest attending schedule for my upcoming appearance at ArmadilloCon 36. Come see me in action!

 

Twin Paradox Fri 5:00 PM-6:00 PM Conference Center Gibbons.

A discussion of the twin paradox and how it affects the world today.

 

Space Westerns Sat 1:00 PM-2:00 PM Room F Crider.

Why are Westerns so good in space?

 

Reading Sat 9:00 PM-10:00 PM Southpark A

(I will do a reading from my new novel, Haxan)

 

13 Assassinations Sat 11:00 PM-Midnight Room E de Orive.

Does martial arts have a place in fiction?

 

Looks like this schedule is going to be a lot of fun.  Come see me. If you can’t find me, try the bar! –KMH

My Elevator Pitch for the New Haxan Novel “Quaternity” and Other Philosophical Arguments on Recursive Genre

*Press elevator stop button. Cage jerks to a halt.*

“I can sum the novel up pretty fast. Jorge Luis Borges said man will one day resign himself to new abominations, and that soon only bandits and soldiers will be left. Which is why I’m going to beat the living shit out of you right now.”

*   *   *

Thus, Quaternity.

But this crazy scenario does represent in a stark and frightening way what the novel is all about: the ever-present actuality of man’s violent nature and its necessary place in history. A nature, the book argues, which will never be ameliorated by man himself because it is not in man’s interest to do so, nor is it his fundamental nature to be able to do so, outliers like Gandhi, MLK, and the Prophet Jesus laid aside.

As I remarked before in this blog, Quaternity is unlike anything I have ever written before. I set the bar very high for this novel not only on a literary level but thematically. Of course I don’t go into these arguments within the novel’s context or as story. It would make the damn thing nigh unreadable and pretentious beyond human reason. And, quite frankly, we have enough epidemically overrated books in our midst to last us through the remainder of the decade, and quite possibly the century.

But if I were to say these elements were not present in the story I would also be lying, and I’m not going to do that. They are there if you want to find them. If not, they won’t impact the rest of the novel one bit.

Whether I reached the mark I aimed for remains for readers to decide. If it ever gets published, and if there ever are readers.

I don’t pull any punches in this novel. I am loyal to the historical record. This is who these ruthless people were, and not the sanitized and whitewashed (in all respects of that word) romantic history we have been spoon fed by John Ford and Owen Wister and others.*

I have said before I wanted this novel to stand as an anti-western. But now that I have distance from the story I think I can more specifically say,

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

and with justification, it’s an anti-mythology western.

Not that I am dinging on westerns in particular. Like all other recursive literary genres westerns incorporate semiotic elements which make them immediately recognizable to the reading public. Science fiction has a long and storied history in this regard. This isn’t debilitative to a genre if it’s handled correctly, and if a writer has a natural respect for a genre’s history and its canonical themes and the foundations that were laid down  by other writers. Even science fiction, which by all accounts is at heart a subversive genre, adheres to some of these principles today, at least from time to time. Although, I guess we have to accept that many of them were lost during the New Wave Movement in SF. A movement that was necessary because SF themes had become so incestuous and moribund there had to be a spurt of literary growth or the entire genre would collapse into smoking slag.

But the old themes and cliches were never really lost to us, even though they had been put aside by writers with dangerous visions like Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison, Joanna Russ, and John Brunner. Later, they were rediscovered, revived, and thrust again into public consciousness via the Star Wars trilogies.

Again, it doesn’t dilute the field if handled with respect. Which, to be fair, most writers do. I may not hold George Lucas’s writing talent in the highest regard, but I do recognize the fact he had a deep love and respect for science fiction’s past, hoary cliches and all.

I simply maintain there are other writers too lazy or too inept to see the difference which half an hour of homework and research would correct. Google exists today for a reason. But so did Encyclopedia Britannica twenty years ago. I know because I bought a set and I still have it.

Writers who reinvent the wheel and then put their work up as if it’s new and different, when really it’s nothing more than recursive cliches posing as plot devices, hurt growth. Genres, like people, are organic. They must grow and evolve, or wither and die. Writing the same thing over and over doesn’t do any good. Let’s make them grow.

So, all else aside, I obviously cannot use the elevator pitch I started this blog with. So what is the story about? Simply put, it’s about a ten thousand year old demon man who is trying to find himself in a world he cannot understand.

Sometimes, Occam’s razor is the best starting place after all. 🙂

 

*It is to their everlasting credit creative directors like Bud Boetticher, Clint Eastwood, and Sam Peckinpah, along with robust writers like Edward Gorman and Loren D. Estleman have worked to correct this fault.

Conventions I will attend this year, and my other writing plans.

Here is a list of conventions I plan to attend this year, along with some other things I expect to get working in the pipeline:

MidSouthCon March 22-24 I used to go to this con all the time in Memphis with the guys in my gaming group. Probably too late for me to get on a panel this year. But it tends to be a good con all the same.
JordanCon/DeepSouthCon April 19-21 Roswell, GA. DeepSouthCon moves around and often hooks up with MidSouthCon, this year they are in GA. This is in our area and I can probably make this one. Not really a big deal if I miss it, but I would like to attend. Might be a better candidate for next year, though.
World Horror Con June 13-16 in New Orleans. This one is a definite.
Armadillo Con in Austin July 27-29.  Another definite. Sort of a low key con in some regards, but it’s fun and focuses more on writing than anything else.
Bubonicon August 23-25 in Albuquerque. I’d like to go to this one. It’s supposed to be pretty good and it’s right at the limit of our area. Might be time enough for me to get on a panel. Anyway, this is one I would like to attend but if I don’t make it this year it’s all right. I’ll make it next year.
 
LoneStarCon 3 WorldCon August 29-Sept. 3, San Antonio, TX. Absolutely going to this one. Because this is such a big convention I might pass Bubonicon by because by the time I get home from New Mexico I would have to turn right around and head out to this one. Anyway, next year I could plan to attend Lone Star Con all by itself since it’s always in San Antonio. (I think.)
FenCon October 4-6. Another Dallas convention and one I’ve been to before. I will try to get on panel but not the end of the world if I cannot. I can make this one easy.
Finally, I need to renew my membership for SFWA and HWA. Both are good because many of these cons have parties and meetings only open for members to meet and greet. Despite the many changes in publishing having these letters after your name still carries a little weight as well.

So that’s what I have planned as far as conventions go. Let me know what you think. I am also going to contact the libraries around here and set up readings. I know I have said that before, but this time I am really going to do it since I am focusing the entire year on writing,

Attending the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, 2012

I made it to Worldcon in Chicago yesterday. So far it’s been good even though I had to wake up at what, I forget now, 3:15 am? Had a little trouble with the plane trip from Dallas because we had to go back from the runway because there was a problem. After an hour wait we got a new plane and flew in to Chicago. Later that night I attended a Chicago Cubs ballgame, and of course they lost, haha. I also ate an Italian beef sandwich for supper, and boy am I believer!

I got my registration packet yesterday and read through it today. Penciled in a couple of panels I want to attend, but mostly I’m here to see and connect with some writer friends and watch some anime. Even so I expect to be pretty  busy. Hope to see some friends and have drinks with them on Saturday afternoon.

I’ll try to update what’s going on when I can. Maybe some pics, later, if I can remember to take them. 🙂

 

SWTOR Goes Free to Play

I suppose we kind of saw this coming but it was shocking news nonetheless. I view it this way. No gaming company goes f2p because they want to. If subscriptions are healthy and show a positive climb, then it escapes me why a company would decide to go f2p. It seems to me Bioware made this decision not because they wanted to,  but because they were forced to.

I still like the game but I am worried about its long term viability. I can’t help but be reminded of the slag mess Star Trek Online became when it went f2p. Then again it was a slag mess before it went f2p and I left that game when it became apparent they were not going to fully support a Klingon faction. A lot of people point to Lord of the Rings Online as a game that has succeeded as f2p. But even so LOTRO is pretty lean on expansions and updated content. Because the f2p model doesn’t demand content but it does demand microtransactions.

Companies have this pretty well figured out. They know all the ins and outs of the sociological aspects of what drives customers to purchase extra stuff (carrots) using a f2p model. Of course, part of the disconnect here is that no game is free to play. Not if you want to experience the entire breadth of content. Dungeons and Dragons Online has figured this out to an art form. Yes, you can play the game for free. But you can’t experience the entire breadth of the game for free. Looks like Bioware now wants to dip their biscuit into that gravy while it is still hot.

I don’t like this move, personally. I haven’t had very good experiences with free to play games. I didn’t mind when SWTOR went f2p for the first fifteen levels. That’s a good way to get people to try the game and if they like it they can purchase a subscription. But, sheesh, this damn game hasn’t been free to play for the first 15 levels very long before Bioware went whole hog and made the entire game that way.

I think this says a lot about their subscription base and how soft it is. I honestly do not believe they would have made this move if the subs were healthy. And it doesn’t really take many subs (relatively speaking) to keep a game healthy. Look at Eve Online. It has about 400,000 subs and it’s still going strong and certainly shows no signs of even thinking about f2p. Then again Eve Online provides a playing experience no other MMO does. It’s a niche game. SWTOR, despite its excellent voice over work, is still a standard MMO when it comes to playability.

Oh, well, nothing can be done. Sad to say this appears to be somewhat of an epic meltdown as regards SWTOR. Too bad because as I said in a previous review I liked the story driven content.  Which came as a surprise to me because I don’t like the Star Wars mythos at all. I also liked the voice over work and how it tied to story. It spoke to the writer in me, haha. I also thought the writing within the game along with the story arcs were pretty good. But I still have Eve Online to play and Skyrim…and let’s face it as a writer I need to be writing more than playing computer games anyway, haha. But I do like computer games. I have always found them a nice way to relax. We writers are already an angst-ridden lot. We need relaxation now and then, and computer games are how I relax.

I think I will let my subscription to SWTOR end and then I will move on. It’s really not a big deal because like I said I do have other games to play and I need to write a lot more anyway. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. And I’m really going to miss my avatar Gaella. 😦

Poor Gaella...she was my favorite avatar!

My New Story! Lisetta Lawrence is a myopic graduate student with knobby knees and a troubled love life….

In the story “Tennessee Waltz” Lisetta Lawrence is the main character. Which is interesting because she was a secondary character from an unpublished novel. But I have know over the years there was more to her story that needed to be told.

I am a writer. I talk about writing in this blog all the time. But I was trained in physics. Lisetta is a character who can bring some parts of that academic world to light, I think. I wrote this story when I was living in Mississippi. I’ve always liked it and I drew on my two years in Tennessee as source material.

I’m very proud of this story put out by Argo Navis Publishing and I really hope you like reading it. There are even a few autobiographical aspects to it as well. You can find it on Kindle and if you do read the story I would very much appreciate if you would take the time to post a review on Amazon. Thanks, guys! 🙂

 

What hidden secret does Lisetta Lawrence find in a Tennessee hollow? And what part does the nameless cat play? Read the story to find out!

 

Product Description: Lisetta Lawrence is a myopic graduate student with knobby knees and a troubled love life. She is sent on a hopeless fact finding mission into a distant Tennessee hollow and discovers a reclusive genius who keeps bees, and a nameless ginger cat that grins at her.

Working together they reveal the true nature of the universe which will change quantum physics, manned space travel, and Lisetta’s life, forever!

In Which I Opine (whine) about Joining Professional Writer Organizations

I have learned I am now eligible for membership in Western Writers of America. I already belong to the Science Fiction Writers of America and Horror Writers of America. Therein lies the problem.

Do I need to become a member of  another professional writing organization? I am also eligible for the Mystery Writers of America. I mean, a line has to be drawn somewhere. These organizations have yearly dues and they’re not cheap.

Here is the crux of the problem. I am no longer convinced these organizations bring anything to the table in this new day and age of Have professional writing organizations become antiquated?publishing. Back in the day having the letters SFWA or HWA after your name, while it didn’t guarantee a sale, let the editor know he had a story from a writer with a professional track record.

I am certain these things are still important to some degree. I don’t mean to diminish their relevance while, you know, diminishing their relevance. But I can’t escape the fact the publishing world has changed drastically in the last three years (and will continue to do so) that organizations like this simply do not carry the weight they once did.

I am probably wrong about this. One thing I know is the cost of yearly dues is not cheap. At least it’s not cheap to me. I don’t want to become a member of WWA for no other reason than my own gratification, either.

On the other hand, I admit these organizations bring good networking opportunities. That is one thing that hasn’t changed in this new day and age of publishing. I also like my friends I have made in SFWA and HWA. Not that they would stop being my friends if I left, but you get the idea.

I suppose I would be missing out on more than I can list if I did not become a member of WWA. I hope no one looks at these organizations I belong to and thinks I am trying to prove something. Being a writer I am mostly always lost and confused anyway. It’s my constant state of mind.

Okay. I guess I will submit an application to WWA (when I get around to it) and continue my membership in the others even though it will put a pinch in my budget.

I guess when you get down to it these organizations still bring more benefit than not. Although, that, too, may change over time.

Thanks for hearing me out. I’m glad we had this little chat.

The Saga of Ragnar Greenkirtle and the “graskinna” Loki

One of the things I like about being a writer is how I can do research about topics that interest me and use that information to generate story ideas. I have always been interested in Viking culture and when I read the Sagas I was taken with the voice used to tell their stories.

Being a writer I only steal from the best so I decided to steal from the Sagas. I wrote the story “The Fire Egg” and liked the result. There are a few twists and turns in the story and I’ve had people remark on the ending because it is so stark, and because it shows Man in his one true form.

I also don’t pull any punches about the Viking culture in this story. I now write mostly westerns but I see the same problems in both genres. People would rather depend on cliches and what makes them feel safe than admit what these cultures were really like. Vikings have become romanticized over time but the truth is much more brutal and bloody. When all is said and done the Viking people were not very nice people, even among themselves. Even less when they came across a stranger from an unknown culture.

This is another short story being offered by Argo Navis Publishing on the Kindle. I hope you give it a look and maybe a review if you feel so inclined. Thanks!

A story from the Viking Sagas you might not have heard, or imagined, before.....

Product Description: This, then, is the tale. In the waning days of the Viking age a lost soul falls from the distant stars to the barren shores of Iceland. There Ragnar Greenkirtle, explorer and practitioner of Greek logike, finds and protects the alien called Loki. As cultural forces build, Ragnar is forced to face the true meaning of his existence and question whether a violent and savage culture deserves to survive…or evolve into something beyond the present ken of men.

“Mark Hoover is a writer who never hesitates to go deep, to try to find the core of what it means to be human and take a good hard look. If he has to stare down a nightmare or two along the way, well, that’s just fine.” —Richard Parks, author of the Lord Yamada series

Violent Love and Quick Death with a Beautiful AI Construct in Star City, Russia

Mark here. My story “The Bonebreaker” has a strange germination. It grew out of my first novel  Fevreblau in that I cherry-picked a few parts from the book and expanded them into a story. Writers do this a lot in case you didn’t know. We write a story about a character and then we might go back and write another story that revolves around a secondary character. It’s a good way to generate new ideas and themes. I use it often. You simply have to be careful you are not telling the same story over and over again.

Another nice thing about this story is I set it in Russia. I have always been fascinated by Russian history because there is so much to work with there. I have written a lot of stories set in Russia and I think it might have helped my sales a little in this regard. It’s a setting you don’t see all the time so it has an exotic flavor to it, especially among western readers. Anything that might make your story stand out to the editor always helps, and I think having written stories in this Future History of Russia definitely helped me.

The story was first published by Challenging Destiny in September, 2005. It has been reprinted by Argo Navis Publishing on Kindle. I hope you like the story! 🙂

The Bonebreaker -- a SF short story set in Star City, Russia

Product Description: As the Russian regime crumbles, a grim man who destroys AI simulacra for a living travels to Star City. There, he traps a young woman seeking freedom. Battered and betrayed by all sides, the Bonebreaker and the newly freed AI called Natalya fight to escape the reprisals and executions emanating from Moscow…and together find a new life in an Archipelago of worldlets orbiting Earth.

“Hoover never hesitates to go deep and find what it means to be human.” –Richard Parks, fantasist & SF author

Love, Betrayal,and Recombinant DNA Gone Wrong in Cabo San Lucas

I remember when I first began to write the short story “Dead Reckoning” and the challenges I faced. The prompt came from a writing class I was taking at the time. They were talking about an exercise the teacher gave a year or so ago in which he wanted the students to write a scene about a boat in trouble.

Everyone turned in a scene about a boat sinking. He seemed disappointed in the turn out after all that time. But I sat there thinking, “No way I would have written about a boat sinking because I know that would be the default plot line. I’d try to look deeper into the possibilities of the prompt than mail in something that boring.”

And then I started. “Ok, wise guy,” I said to myself, “what would you have written instead?”

After the class I went home and wrote this science fiction story. It had the added benefit of being set on a sailboat which feeds into my mania for sailing. The story went through about three very deep revisions until I found the proper voice. It’s one of my favorite stories and was written when I was beginning to move out of the SF genre and into other things. But I like the story no less for all that and people who have read it seem to like it, too.

Of course, you will be the judge of that. It’s being offered on Amazon Kindle now by Argo Navis Publishing. I really do hope you like it, and if you do read it I would appreciate an honest review posted at Amazon. Reviews help writers a lot, even so-called “bad” ones because they point out problems the reader had with the story.

If you are interested just click on the link below. Hope you enjoy the story! 🙂

A story of love and betrayal outside romantic Cabo San Lucas....

Product Description: Three years ago alien crystalline structures fell to Earth near Cabo San Lucas, shattered on impact, and released von Neumann machines. Meanwhile, a 52-foot island of teak and canvas crewed by three people sail toward the towering, enigmatic alien structures with their own hidden mysteries, and fractured lives…and broken love.

As mankind races to an ultimate understanding why these alien structures came to Earth, and how we can communicate with them, two of the three people aboard the sailboat plot to kill the third…while outside forces set into motion their own terrifying plan to jump start the next step of human evolution.

“Mark Hoover is a writer who never hesitates to go deep, to try to find the core of what it means to be human and take a good hard look. If he has to stare down a nightmare or two along the way, well, that’s just fine.” —Richard Parks, author of the Lord Yamada series

Island of Lost Souls (1933) – Censored Horror with Sex and Atmospheric Bestiality

The Island of Dr. Moreau is one of my favorite novels by H.G. Wells. Published in 1896 it has deep philosophical elements whichThe garish movie poster for Island of Lost Souls Wells faces head on. It is arguably one of his least known, but best written, scientific romances.

In 1933 the novel was adapted to film by Paramount Pictures. It starred Charles Laughton as Moreau and he brings that character alive in a creepy and memorable way with his soft spoken voice and oily manner. Bela Lugosi has a small but pivotal role as one of the Beastmen called The Sayer of the Law:

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?

The film has many layers to it. It’s not a simple and straightforward story. Moreau sets himself up as God. He claims he knows what it feels like to be God. There are implied Gnostic principles at work here as well because Moreau dresses in white but he has the countenance of the Devil. I don’t know if that’s intentional, but I suspect it was. It’s too obvious to have been a mistake.

Laughton is unforgettable as the evil Dr. MoreauThe Sayer of the Law stands for man caught between Heaven and Hell. Purgatory if you will. The House of Pain, where Moreau engages in his horrific experiments to transform beasts into men using plastic surgery, ray baths, and blood transfusions, is an obvious stand-in for Hell.

The stage is set. Enter a shipwrecked man, Edward Parker, played by Richard Arlen. Moreau, in the role of God, has not only made men from beasts, he has made a woman from a panther by the name of Lota. Kathleen Burke plays Lota and she does a phenomenal job. Moreau throws Parker and Lota together because he wants to know if she is a real woman or not. As Moreau explains, Lota is too afraid of him to accurately judge her sexuality so Parker is perfect in this role. He can awaken Lota’s sexuality if it exists. (Parker has a girlfriend back on the mainland who later comes looking for him.)

But you get the main  idea. Moreau is God. He has made a woman for an unblemished “Adam” who accidentally stumbled into his horrific Garden of Eden.

He wants them to mate. Be fruitful and multiply.

There are many unsettling undercurrents to this film which got it banned three times in Great Britain and has made it one of the best pre-code films that exist today. There is obvious bestiality (the romance between Lota and Parker) and cruel vivisection and lots of irreverent talk how God must stand aside (or be shoved aside) for the coming dominance of Man. Throw in some steamy pre-code half-dressed jungle sexuality and innuendo, along with intense torture and mindless brutality — and this film becomes more powerful today than when it was released.

I love pre-code films for exactly this reason. They were willing to take dangerous subjects and leave no stone unturned. But Another iconic image from the film in which we see the juxtaposition between Man and Beast. Is Man at his basic level only a beast? That's what Wells argues. for all this it is Lota, the Panther Woman, that make this film endure today. She is the  character all the other players revolve around. The look she brings to the screen is iconic and there are subtle touches of the Flapper about her as created by Coco Chanel: she is thin and boyish, her breasts are bound tightly to her body, yet her sexuality is raw and powerful and she wants to experiment and flout the rigid laws which restrain her. That’s straight out of Flapper philosophy, btw.

Wells did not like this film. He felt it glossed over the philosophies he talked about in the book. I don’t disagree. But when I watch this film I watch it as a film. When I read the novel I read it as a novel. They are apples and oranges. That’s not to say films made from novels don’t get it wrong. They often do. But in this case the film pays homage to the philosophies Wells put forth while challenging basic human sexuality which Wells did not.

I guess what I’m saying is in this case, both book and movie complement each other. That doesn’t always happen, but in this case it does.

The final five minutes of this film are unforgettable. It is very, very intense. You cannot look away. Especially during the demise of Moreau when the Men he has created decide Hey, let’s do it, let’s murder God.

I am not going to spoil it for you more than that. You will have to watch it for yourself if you think you can stand it.

If you like atmospheric horror with underpinnings of raw sexuality then you are going to like Island of Lost Souls a lot. The use of light and shadow is wonderful in this movie. The makeup is as good as anything you see today. These don’t look like people in cheap masks. They look like real Beastmen. The sets are lush and gorgeous and reek with dripping evil. It’s a great horror film and a superb example why pre-code films are so powerful even today. Give it a peek. You should watch this film if you like horror and science fiction.

Kathleen Burke plays Lota the Panther Woman who experiments with her new sexuality.

Good Writing is Often a Question of Character

On the argument of Character vs. Plot I tend to side with the former.  I think a story with a strong character connects faster with readers than a plot-driven story. Then again the strongest story is one in which both character and plot are very strong and work together.Books with characterization and plot tend to be my favorite. Fleming was good at both.

There are always counter-examples where this may not be true, of course. Such is writing. And readers. Some readers honestly prefer plot-driven stories. How else can you explain Tom Clancy’s success? I read two or three of his novels back in the day and couldn’t go any further. His characters were pure cardboard, but the plots were great. Same for two of the biggest SF writers: Clarke and Asimov. They were superb on plot and sometimes lacking on characterization. On the flip side Heinlein was a very good character-driven writer. Lazarus Long, Mike the Computer, Podkayne, these are a few of the examples in his fiction of long-standing iconic characters. Same for Edgar Rice Burroughs and his creation of Tarzan. I love the Tarzan novels. The plots are forgettable. It’s Tarzan we remember.

Novels that do double duty, however, tend to be my favorite. Moby-Dick is a good example of outstanding characterization and a memorable plot. Dune, by Frank Herbert, is another. Dr. No by Ian Fleming does double duty in this regard, I think. Bond is definitely a memorable character and the plot of the book is a superb framework.

There are tons of other examples, and lots and lots of examples that don’t agree with my supposition. But speaking for myself I tend to gravitate toward character driven stories. Finding a story that has both characterization and plot is a special gem.

Which story is easiest to write? Well, I don’t think any story is easy to write. But I suppose if all you are doing is laying down a plot and stuffing it with interchangeable cardboard heroes…well, that should give you some clue.

Fortunately, there are lots of different writers who write lots of different stories for lots of different readers. There is no one format or guideline to writing and I hope during the existence of this blog I have shown that.

But some readers do prefer certain styles, as do some writers. That’s the world. Knowing the difference, and being able to make a judgment as to which makes the story stronger, character, plot, or both, is a necessary tool for any successful writer.

Reading Outside Your Genre Even if it Kills You

There are lots of ways to get better at writing. Sitting down and writing more is one of the more obvious. Another helpful way is to read a lot, and read often. That is also obvious. If you write science fiction you should read a lot of science fiction. If you write romance you should read a lot of romance.

But a step past that is to read outside your genre. It makes sense to read the genre you are working in. That gives you perspective to what is going on, what is being published, and the impact it is having within the genre. But reading outside your genre? Does that mean if I write science fiction I should read Regency romances?

Well, you don’t have to read all Regency romances. I am arguing you need to be familiar with them, what they are about, how they are written, the structure of those novels, etc. That goes for every genre. I firmly believe you need to cross-read into other genres to get a perspective on your own genre. The more you know about other books and writers the more tools and confidence you can bring to the table in your own work.

There are genres I despise. I mean, I absolutely despise them. But I have read a couple of novels and short stories within them to have at least a passing familiarity with them. I also bring that knowledge to my own work. My dark fantasy stories set in the mythological town of Haxan have the benefit of not only being westerns. In that setting I can write romance, fantasy, mystery, suspense. drama, practically anything I want. The setting allows versatility.

Therefore, if I am going to write a romance story  in the Haxan mythos then shouldn’t I at least have a passing familiarity with the genre? I cut my teeth in science fiction. I read it almost exclusively when I was growing up and that’s what I first started writing. But that is a narrow focus. Anytime you look to one genre as your template you are limiting yourself.

As I got older I started branching out and began to read everything. All right, being a voracious reader to begin with I was already reading everything I could get my hands on, but this time I started reading in order to understand what the genre was about. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. I see a lot of that, by the way, from new writers in SF particularly. There’s a lot of “reinventing the wheel” that comes along. I know the SF genre pretty well, I think. I’ve exhausted it completely via my reading. Not difficult to do because while deep, the genre itself is rather narrow. As opposed to fantasy which is extremely broad in nature, but there’s not as much literary depth as one might like. Or westerns, which is both narrow and shallow. (More about that later.)

One good thing that comes from this is you can stumble across great books in other genres you might not necessarily have thought about approaching. I freely admit when I was younger I was an SF snob. I didn’t see any reason why I should have to read classical literarture. What did dead Englishmen know about SF, aside from the scientific romances of H.G. Wells? Shakespeare? Joyce? Shelley? Hell do they know about science fiction?

You can see the fault in my so-called “logic” I am sure. By limiting myself to only one genre I limited my knowledge of the genre I professed to be interested in: Science fiction. Because the more you know about other genres the more you know about your own. Fortunately, I grew out of that ridiculous assumption the classics were unworthy of my time, and now I love the classics. In point of fact they, along with history, are what I mostly read now, with the occasional foray into books I read in my youth for light entertainment: Burroughs, Fleming, Hamilton, Le Carre, and others.

So why don’t I continue to read a ton of science fiction? Because I have exhausted the field. As I said before, while the genre is somewhat narrow, it is deep. Even so you can completely exhaust the field via reading in four or five years. And I’ve been reading that stuff since I was a kid. I’ve seen it all. I know all the plots and I’ve seen all the variations. There is nothing new under the sun in science fiction other than different ways to tell the same story.

All right. That is true for any genre. I get that. But we’re talking about science fiction here because that is the genre I cut my teeth on. So once I realized I was reading the same book again for the umpteenth time I moved on to other genres, other work, other voices. I don’t always like what I see. Actually, unlike when I was a kid, if a book or a story doesn’t grab me right away I move on. I don’t give a book “time” to grow on me. I try not to do that as a writer, and I don’t like coming across it as a reader. Besides, there are lots of other better books out there, so if something doesn’t grab me right off I move on.

Writing is always red in tooth and claw. That’s the way it should be.

Finally, a word about westerns. I am deeply involved in working this genre right now. My attraction to the genre is well documented: I fell in love with the old time radio series Gunsmoke and wanted to write something like that. Meanwhile, I began to read through the genre to get a feel of what was out there.

Hoo boy. A lot of crap, mostly. Even the so-called “classics” of the western genre are achingly bad. It didn’t take me long to realize there wasn’t a whole lot going on here. Very little growth, almost nonexistent literary quality, and an almost obsessive dependence on myth and cliche.

It didn’t take me long to read through the genre at all. There’s simply not that much out there that isn’t a clone of something else, and the times you do run across something new and different like Cormac McCarthy, or Ed Gorman, or Estleman, well, it’s a real pleasure.

But because the genre is so narrow I realized here was a great opportunity. I could write anything I wanted if I created the right setting. I could experiment with all sorts of stories. I am not saying I am the first one to do this in the western genre. I know better. I am not saying I am doing it better than anyone else, either. I am merely stating I love the opportunity to work like this and hopefully, by some small part, bring a fresh look and a reawakening to a genre that, at best, is on life support.

Well, I’ve said a lot in this blog post. You may or may not agree with all of it. But one thing I want you to take to heart, particularly if you are a beginning writer. Read everything. I mean everything you can get your hands on. You don’t have to like it, but be familiar with it. When you start writing your stories and your books and your plays, you don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel like the other writers around you.

You will have read outside your genre. You will be well armed and well prepared to meet whatever obstacle comes your way as you write your story because of your breadth of knowledge. Want to be a writer? Then write.

And read. A lot. No. More than that. Read everything.

SWTOR is fastest selling game in MMO history…and it’s only Week 4

Star Wars: The Old Republic has sold two million physical copies in four weeks, outselling all other MMOs and expansions. What amazes me is these are only physical copies. Which means people going down to Target or Best Buy or whatever and picking up the game. This is how I bought my game. It’s how I buy all my games. I’m old school. I always prefer physical copies.

This doesn’t take into account the number of digital copies that have been sold. That is to say, the number of copies downloaded over the Internet from clients like Steam or whatever. (I don’t know if SWTOR is on Steam, I’m  using an example.)

It’s an impressive number and I have to think it has grabbed the attention of the people at WOW. When you look at the number of SWTOR copies sold week by week, you see a big drop off. That’s normal for any MMO, however. The first week is always the big week and it tails off fast after that. I think one reason the numbers are so good for Week 1 is because the game was launched right at Christmas. You can’t discount that kind of market timing.

What remains to be seen is the retention rate. That’s a big if. How many people will resubscribe and continue playing the game? Any MMO that has 150,000 active subscribers can be considered a success these days. SWTOR has sold almost two million physical copies in one month. I think we can say the odds are pretty good it will retain more than 150,000 active subscribers from that pool.

Of course, one thing SWTOR has to keep in mind is that while 150K player base is good for your average MMO, SWTOR is not your average MMO. Bioware put a lot of money up front into the game. Therefore they need a high retention rate to make their money back. How much did the game cost to make? Figures have been bandied about. There was a rumor the game cost $300 million to produce. This number is totally unfounded and has been traced to a person who was fired from Bioware. More reasonable estimates put the figure closer to around $100 million. That’s still a lot of money… and a hell of a lot of groundless speculation. The only people who know the exact number are the suits at Bioware and they aren’t talking.

Another aspect of MMOs isn’t only the production money, but the continued bills of paying for servers, technicians, updates, everything else that goes into a mammoth enterprise like this one. To break even SWTOR has to have a pretty big retention rate of subscribers, I would think. One way you do that is by providing patches and extra content for the game. Again, I have seen speculation about this on other forums, but that speculation is groundless. They don’t know what the game cost to produce, they don’t know how many subscribers are currently active, they are just pulling numbers out of thin air. The only people who know those numbers are the employees at Bioware and they aren’t going to tell us that proprietary information any more than WOW will.

MMOs are a cutthroat business these days. You don’t open yourself up to attack from other companies by revealing either your strengths or your weaknesses. Bioware knows this, as does Blizzard.

Of course, all this is mere speculation. We don’t know how much the game cost to produce, we don’t know their operating costs, we don’t know how many subscribers SWTOR has…no one outside Bioware has that information. And anyone outside of Bioware who thinks they have hard numbers simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

But there is one number we do have. Selling two million physical units in one month is an impressive feat for any MMO. We will have to watch if the numbers continue to sell, what the final drop off rate of sales will be, and the retention percentage of subscribers. MMOs are all about numbers. The one number we kn0w is almost two million hard copies sold in only four weeks.

That is amazing.

SWTOR is the fastest selling MMO in history...two million physical copies in four weeks

SWTOR: Casual fun with glowbats in the classic mythos of Star Wars

I am enjoying Star Wars: The Old Republic quite a lot. I have been looking for an MMO since I quit Eve Online a while back, and bailed on World of Warcraft after the disastrous Cataclysm expansion. I think I have found my MMO at last.

I am a casual gamer. Period. I can’t and I don’t devote hours everyday to game play. I’m a writer and a publisher so gaming has a back seat. No problem. But finding an enjoyable game I can return to when I have a few free hours is a nice change. For the record, I do not like the mythos of Star Wars. In point of fact I absolutely despise it. I think Lucas is a hack and he proved it in his ridiculous and ill-fated attempt to channel Joseph Campbell’s hero mythology with his Star Wars arc.

From my perspective, because of how I feel about the original mythos, I cannot review this game without looking at the movies. As for them, the only one I can watch without puking is The Empire Strikes Back and that’s Lucas wasn't always a hack writer and director. He did make the excellent SF movie THX 1138.for a very good reason: it was written by Leigh Brackett, a real science fiction writer. Lucas views SF as background furniture for his story. He has no real love and appreciation for the history and canon of classic SF. It’s just a cartoon backdrop to him. Okay, I give him credit for the movie THX 1138.  But that was when he was young and hungry and his creativity was at an all time high. Star Wars? At the core it’s about a mass murderer (Darth Vader) who apologizes in the last reel and that makes everything all right and magically transforms him into a sympathetic character who finds final redemption and forgiveness.Think about that a moment. Try getting that story published in Analog or Asimov’s or any top flight SF magazine today. Hell, try getting that story published in the bad old days of SF pulp. Even worse, it’s a perverse parody (if not a downright misunderstanding) of what Joseph Campbell’s work in comparative mythology was all about.

So there’s that. But, what about the game itself? It is Star Wars after all and our characters run around with glowbats and operate within the trappings of the classic mythos with the force and Sith and whatnot. Well, as a game it’s quite entertaining. Are there problems with the game? Yes, there are. I see video artifacts sometimes, and one or two of the quests I have come across are definitely bugged. But I have not experienced any game breaking bugs so far. I do very little PVP other than the battle zones so I can’t speak for those servers. I hear there are ability timing issues and global cooldown problems. I haven’t experienced them but that’s not to say they don’t exist.  But it does appear Bioware is involved and engaged and working to correct the biggest problems with the game. They released a big patch yesterday with more content and fixes to come. They’re not ignoring the game and problems inherent within the game like Age of Conan did.

WOW has been around a long time in terms of MMOs. It’s pretty polished. Therefore, since SWTOR is only about a month old I discount the angst and tears and pearl clutching from whiners and self-indulgent WOW fanbois on the Star Wars forum. One suspects they would be unhappy with everything less than instant gratification anyway. If you just go by the forums you might think the game was a broken, buggy mess. It’s not. There are problems. They are being addressed by Bioware.

Then again maybe I am a little more forgiving because I used to play Age of Conan and Star Trek: Online. And those games are still a buggy mess.

Speaking for myself I bought a six-month subscription to this game because of my style of casual play. I wasn’t the only one. This game has already sold over a million units. It’s had a very fast start. But a six-month sub will give me enough time to level my toon and maybe start one or two more. As a writer I do love the story-driven arc of the leveling process. I think it’s very well done and it would be hard for me to ever go back to WOW and read quest text. And this coming from me, someone who always said the WOW quest text was very well written.

Finally, as far as comparisons go,  SWTOR never promised to be a WOW-killer or anything of the kind. To be fair the only thing that can kill WOW is Blizzard. Just like the only thing that can kill SWTOR is Bioware. But SWTOR is engaging and fun without being too serious like Eve Online. It’s darn near perfect for the casual gamer. If you want hardcore SF gaming, play Eve Online. I still plan to return to Eve now that they’ve brought back ship spinning. But I may wait until I get my new computer, it will make the transition that much easier.

All I have left to say about SWTOR is if someone like me who has never liked the Star Wars mythos can find something enjoyable in this game, then maybe you, too, should give it a look. I think you will be pleasantly surprised and have a lot of fun swinging your glowbat and busting heads.

I’m on Soresu server and the name of my Jedi Consular Sage is Gaella. Come find me and we’ll do a quest line together and kill some Sith.  🙂

Enjoyable game so far, good story line.

Edit: Sorry about many of the grammatical errors in this review. I am having problem with my vision today. As close friends of mine know, the Lasik surgery I had some years back did more harm than good, and there have been recurring problems from time to time. Thanks for your patience and understanding. –KMH

Woot! My new science fiction story “Tennessee Waltz” is available from Argo Navis. Hope you guys enjoy it! :)

  • Tennessee Waltz

“Mark Hoover is a writer who never hesitates to go deep, to try to find the core of what it means to be human and take a good hard look. If he has to stare down a nightmare or two along the way, well, that’s just fine.” —Richard Parks, author of the Lord Yamada series

 

Yay! Free Argo Navis Bookmarks!

Argo Navis Publishing will be adding new content over the coming months and years. Please bookmark them and follow them on Twitter @ArgoNavisMedia for  the latest updates.

In the meantime here are bookmarks for you to share and link with. Thanks!


My SW:TOR Consular Sage: Gaella

I have had the opportunity over the past couple of days to squeeze in some play on Star Wars: The Old Republic. There’s a lot I have to say about this game, some good some bad. For the most part it is good. It is very story-Yvonne Craig...an unexpected inspiration for my SWTOR character Gaella...oriented, which is what you expect from Bioware. As a writer I kind of like that part. Go figure.

I am still a little uncertain about the replayability of the game. World of Warcraft has more of a sandbox theme (it’s not really a sandbox by Eve Online definition, but those elements are there) than the linearity of SW:TOR but there are many little things about the new Star Wars game that I am finding enjoyable.

I will post a more exhaustive review later once I get deeper into the game, but so far I can say I am finding it enjoyable. I have been looking for a new MMO and I may have found one. I am only ever a casual player anyway, and this game seems to fit that general need.

As I was blogging about earlier I rolled a Jedi Consular and chose the advanced class of Sage. She’s sort of like a warlock from WOW, a mid- to long-range DPS class I enjoy playing. As I was making her she sort of came out to have the old Yvonne Craig look from a Star Trek episode, haha. Anyway, she’s pretty cute. Her name is Gaella:

My Jedi Consular Sage character Gaella. So far the game is pretty fun and entertaining, and what else can you ask from a PC game?

“Alpenglow” – New Haxan Story Coming Soon. Woot!

My new Haxan story “Alpenglow” will be released soon from Argo Navis Publishing. This is a dark fantasy/horror story about the Old West. An ancient trapper named Cesar Coffin comes unannounced out of Taos into the grinding maelstrom of Haxan. He has fresh scalps…and an even darker secret hidden in the fragments of his soul.

Don’t miss it.

An old mountain trapper enters Haxan with one thing on his mind...kill the demon who rules there.

 

And, in case you missed it, my new SF/horror story “Fishing the Styx” is now live for the Kindle and Kindle Fire exclusively. Enjoy!

 

Horror and heroic rebellion in the infinity of Hell....

 

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