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So, what do you think of the new Stepsister Scheme icon? Please feel free to steal, if you like it. (Though a mention of the book in the userpic comments would be nice ;-)

Okay, first an announcement. It sounds like I'll be facilitating the Writers Workshop at Penguicon in 09, along with the wonderful and award-winning Catherynne Valente (catvalente). Details will be forthcoming, but I'm looking forward to it. Cat's a very nice person, as well as being a great writer.


Now onto the meat of the discussion. One of the things I realized at GenCon last week is that on some level, I'm prejudiced. That there's a part of me that thinks of gaming fiction (Forgotten Realms, etc.) and other media tie-ins as somehow lesser than original fiction like my own.

I'm not happy with that realization. I'm not sure where that prejudice came from, but I'd like to finish eradicating it now, please. In part because I have a number of friends who write gaming tie-ins, such as brainstormfront and paulskemp, not to mention Ed Greenwood and Peter David and so on... And in part because, like so many prejudices, it's stupid. (eriksdb has a good entry about this today from his perspective as a gaming writer.)

So I'm trying to break down the roots of this prejudice. A part of it, I believe, comes from the idea that if I'm making up my own original world, I'm being more creative than someone who works in a pre-defined world. Maybe that's true, maybe it's not. I'll point out that one of the things I heard again and again from folks at GenCon was that when they set out to write a new novel, the first thing they do is look for a blank area of the map so that they can make up their own part of the world. And heck, a lot of the gaming writers helped design and invent these worlds in the first place, usually in much more detail than I've ever done.

Maybe it's because I've read some bad tie-in books, gaming adventures where you could hear the dice rolling and watch the characters as they went up in level ... basically, a transcribed gaming session. But then, I've also read bad original novels, many of which I haven't been able to finish. Any genre has a range of quality. I've read some brilliant tie-in novels too. Many of Peter David's books come to mind. Tie-in doesn't equal crap any more than it equals brilliant, any more than any other genre automatically means the book is good or bad.

Digging deeper, I find -- to my utter disgust -- that on some level I feel as though original novels are somehow more artistic, more true to the integrity of the writer, more ... whatever. My books are art. Yours are work done for a paycheck. Oh sure, Tobias Buckell might go slumming with his Halo novel, but he's still a real writer at heart. Holy crap, someone please kick my ass now? This is bullshit, pure and unfiltered. I opened my second book with a nose-picking injury, and I'm judging other people's writing as not artistic enough? Seriously, someone needs to smack me.

Maybe it's just envy. After all, tie-ins get an awful lot of shelf space, whereas I've got maybe one book on the shelf if I'm lucky? Or maybe it's pure ego, wherein I secrety think I'm a better writer than everyone else, and this is one way to rationalize or justify that.

To my tie-in writing friends, I apologize. I hadn't realized this particular prejudice was there, but now that I do, I'll be doing my best to squelch it. The last thing this world needs is more genre writers bashing other genres.

One final note -- I'm sleepy, and I think I'm coming down with the kids' cold, so if I'm a little incoherent here you know why. ETA: This is also why I'm having a harder time keeping up with comments...

Please feel free to jump in and discuss. I'm curious to hear what other folks think, your experiences and attitudes toward various genres and subgenres. (Except for humorous fantasy. Everyone knows that stuff is crap!)

Dead to Me, by Anton Strout
Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy
Red Hood's Revenge




( 77 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 22nd, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
Some gaming tie-ins and the like are influenced more by a spark. Yuo can get a spark from anywhere, including from fairy tales. Some of it might even be written, and then submitted merely on speculation at first, at the encouragement of comrades. There are people who have written gaming and tie-ins that have also written original fiction.

Still, there's that wall... It's crumbling, slowly.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 22nd, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
I've written enough tie-in novels that I never had any problem with the shared world aspect. In fact, I always think it kinda cool when someone takes a bit of a given world and sheds more light...but then I really loved some of the early on Trek novelizations--Mike Ford, Barbara Hambly, Diane Duane, etc.

The few I've read, though, seemed to rely on stereotypes for characters: the orcs and trolls always talked and acted this way, the wizards like watered-down Gandalf, etc. No humor in sight...if there's humor, I'm just there. But if the tone is sort of faux heroic and dead serious, I tend to drift. Especially when the female characters are objects, and pretty much interchangeable.
Aug. 22nd, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
I should add, I haven't read any for many, MANY years, so I have no idea what the newer writers are doing, and will be checking back for recommendations.
(no subject) - jimhines - Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 22nd, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
Quote: I opened my second book with a nose-picking injury, and I'm judging other people's writing as not artistic enough? End Quote


I think it's the whole attention that they get when they are just books like the rest of them. We wonder at a deep level, 'Hey what makes them so special?' Why do they have games to go with them and people paying attention the the characters and rules...and attention and mine..?"

We want our books to be in every spotlight. All of us have thought at one time or another, "That one is a best seller??? Hmph."

We look at the competition and there's a mix of envy and our ego...

Nothing wrong with healthy competition to keep us on our toes. Especially if you realize it and keep yourself in check.


Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
Clearly my next project should be getting a game designed based on the goblin books. Goblins: the RPG. Which makes my books tie-in fiction, and gets me onto the media shelves, and voila -- instant fame and fortune!

That does make sense, though. Envy at the sales and shelf space, combined with some sense of it being unearned or undeserved or just unfair, or maybe just frustration at not having more space for our own stuff. (See stillnotbored's comment below.)
Aug. 22nd, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC)

James D. Macdonald has admitted he has taken on media-tie-in books as quick money-makers that "he could knock off in a few days" -- and that he still made attemtps to make them the best books he could int he time he was given, and feels some pride of craftsmanship in them, and a desire for them to go and do well.

I helped myself get over this, of all things, because of the likenesses between media-tie-in and fanfiction. Not because fanfiction is exactly universally good (usual caveat about the ones that are beyond good...), but because I can then remember how many, and how talented, are the pros who started out there, and are doing as well as they are at least partly because they took their fanfiction seriously. And how many of whom write their better works to requests by friends, which is not much different from being asked to do so by publishers; except that the publishers pay, and edit, and therefore I can only assume media-tie-ins are or should be like the better sort of fanfic. (Which is also not universally true, but there's a can of worms.)
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
It's definitely a different kind of challenge. I've done a few tie-in short stories, and it was interesting having to refer back to the sourcebook to check character info, geography, etc. This was a fairly small company, so there wasn't a lot of info to worry about. Trying to keep track of all the canonical information in one of the big worlds could get overwhelming fast....
Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)
I've got a similar prejudice, although mine's more reading based.

I tend not to read tie-ins because a) the tv series will ignore the novel story come time for continuity and character development; b)the writer is working from the movie script, so there's not as much of a difference as there is between a book that was made into a movie and that movie (Beastmaster); c)I prefer to be a player than a spectator.
Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
I haven't read the entire entry but I do love the icon...
Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:06 pm (UTC)
Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:16 pm (UTC)

I appreciate you raising the issue. To some degree, I think the sentiment is attributable to the very human desire to elevate stuff we like (or stuff we produce) above other stuff. It's certainly not exclusive to the tie-in v. non-tie-in discussion. I suspect an incredible number of sci-fi writers sneer at fantasy as childish and escapist, that lots of New Weird writers (or pick your avante garde subgenre) do the same at epic fantasy, claiming it's derivative and inherently conservative, that non-genre sneers at genre for failing to examine the essentials of the human condition without cheapening the examination by including magic/high-tech, and the list goes on. Hell, I suspect you've encountered other fantasy writers who sniff at your work because it features so much humor.

Me, I've argued against the "tie-in sucks" generalization on many forums and I probably will continue to do so (I'm a lawyer and argument/debate is what I do). I think the prejudice against tie-in has been softening, but it's still prevalent. The logic of the argument only goes so far in changing minds. As you mentioned, when a writer with creator-owned credits writes tie-in, he/she may be perceived as slumming; when I writer has only tie-in credits (or only a few non-tie in credits), that writer may simply be perceived as a hack who can't cut it in the "real" world of writing (I've got a variety of reasons I stay in the Forgotten Realms, btw; happy to elaborate if you'd like to hear them).

Anyway, in the end I've got to try and make my case not by winning a debate but with my writing. I like to think (and hope) it's the best argument I've got (and, in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, here are the first five chapters of Shadowbred, book one of my most recent trilogy. Download them and have a peek).


Edited at 2008-08-22 04:18 pm (UTC)
Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC)
I'm in the midst of my writing hour right now, so I'm trying not to respond here, but I'd love to hear your reasons for staying with Forgotten Realms!
(no subject) - ex_paulskem - Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC)
I don't know about prejudice necessarily, but tie-ins ARE commonly constrained by fan expectations.

ETA: and the overall demand of the series/world/whatever.

Edited at 2008-08-22 04:21 pm (UTC)
Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:06 pm (UTC)
How much do you think fan expectations constrain the books? That's not an aspect I'm aware of. (On a related note, it's been interesting to follow some of the fan complaints about Stephanie Meyer writing a "wrong" ending for her series.)
(no subject) - squirrel_monkey - Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ex_paulskem - Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC)
What kills me is when a tie-in author slags on fanfic. Because, seriously...what's that author really writing? Yes, he's getting paid, and he has a paid editor, but creatively, IMO, he's not really doing anything different than a fanfic writer.

The best tie-in novels give us new insights into the characters and worlds we already love. The worst ones are phoned-in pieces of crap. Part of the problem is that the quality is so all over the map that I really have to already trust an author before I'll pick up a tie-in--the Iron Man novelization being a case in point. If it hadn't been Peter David or kradical writing it, I probably would have left it on the shelf, my unhealthy obsession nothwithstanding.

BTW, your bookmarks got snapped up at WorldCon. I have no idea where they all went, but I don't have any left. :)
Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC)
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<what [...] creatively,>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

<What kills me is when a tie-in author slags on fanfic. Because, seriously...what's that author really writing? Yes, he's getting paid, and he has a paid editor, but creatively, IMO, he's not really doing anything different than a fanfic writer.>


I'd like to go a step farther and point out that, in some very real sense, all writers are fanfic writers . . . it's just a question of how easily you recognize the source material.

Seriously. You get inspired by something, and you write a story about it. That's just how writing works.

Everything else is marketing.

(no subject) - agilebrit - Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - agilebrit - Aug. 22nd, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sonyamsipes - Aug. 22nd, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Aug. 22nd, 2008 06:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sonyamsipes - Aug. 22nd, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Aug. 22nd, 2008 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:39 pm (UTC)
You know, it might have something to do with the fact that the writer doesn't create the universe. They may create the characters and the conflicts, but the universe is already built. There's none of that creative struggle with building the world from scratch.

That doesn't mean it's easier to write in a pre-built universe. My husband has worked on at least two version of the Star Wars RPG, and he has to do tons of research to make sure he isn't creating something that's already been created, or ignoring something that's pivotal to the story. And unfortunately for him, his sources are every published book, all the movies, and all the cartoons. You have no idea how much Star Wars shit we own...
Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
Come to D*C, and I will smack you.

I think this is a really common bias, and I also suffer from it occasionally. Less so now that I also write fanfiction in addition to original fiction, but I get where you're coming from, and I'm sympathetic.

One thing that wouldn't surprise me is if some of the collective bias against it doesn't have something to do with internalizing anti-geek/gamer bias as well. I spend a lot of time -- and a lot of my friends spend a lot of time -- basically apologizing in conversation for our pastimes and interests because they're denigrated in our culture.

I mean, come on. Alltel sells phones and services with an advertising strategy that acts out the whole anti-geek thing. The other companies are represented by gamers and fans of fantasy literature who have a van with a wizard painted on it.

Like most groups that get flack from more empowered groups, fantasy/sci-fi lit sort of has an unspoken hierarchy wherein elements of the group are deemed undesirable enough (or non-mainstream) enough to villify in order to build other elements up. It's bollocks, we all know it's bollocks, but people play that particular game anyway.

But yeah. I'm glad you brought this up.
Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)
Hm ... interesting point. I'm aware of the anti-geek bias, and I could see where Star Trek and Dragonlance could be put forth as the ultimate in geek literature, even more so than the average SF/F novel. (I'm not saying that's an accurate characterization, but I could see people pointing to them as the geekiest of the geeky.)

And you're definitely right about the various hierarchies. Me and my humorous sword & sorcery stuff are still fairly low on that totem pole :-P

In the end, the important thing is Where can I get one of those wizard vans?
(no subject) - bodlon - Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
Back in the late 80's early 90's, there was a definite looking down at the D&D books among the professionals that I'd talked to during those times. All advice given was to steer clear of them, so that you don't end up stuck writing them. (I got a sense that they were viewed as a ghetto.) Oddly, this didn't extend quite the same way out to other tie-ins, but I definitely got the sense that they were considered second tier. (Strange, but true, how we humans will *always* find a way to place things in heirarchy, even when it is a group that is often the victim of being slandered as "not real or worthy literature" by the establishment.)

I read a lot of the D&D stuff when I was in high school. Back when I was playing D&D practically daily. When I stopped playing regularly, I stopped reading that stuff, and frankly never went back. In part, I'm certain because at the back of my head there were echoes of that sentiment that I'd heard among the professionals whose ranks I aspired to join. But also, because right at this time, that's just not my thing right now. I have other ideas I want to write about, and read about. I get my D&D fiction kicks, by actually playing D&D with my friends, and participating in that way. Reading the fiction right now, well, I can hardly keep up with my mountain of TBR books as it is, if I tried to add back in the D&D stuff, you'd find me buried under the pile. (Quite possibly by my wife.)

Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC)
I'm busy writing today, but I'll come back tomorrow (hopefully) and debate the finer points with you on this topic. Having worked as a novel author, story writer, game designer, and line editor in the Forgotten Realms, I've got some stories and perspectives to share on this topic (not the least of which is the silliness of using The Comics Code verbatim for TSR's Code of Ethics in publishing).

who'll at least say that one of the reasons he's still working within the FR setting is familiarity of 18+ years with those characters and places....
Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC)
After 18 years, do you ever worry that the stories/world could become stale? For me, one of the reasons I moved away from the goblin books was because I worried I'd end up writing the same stories again. (On the other hand, that hasn't really been a problem for someone like Terry Pratchett with his Diskworld books...)

Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
(no subject) - brainstormfront - Aug. 22nd, 2008 08:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jim C. Hines


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