Monday, April 23, 2018

The Magic of Conventions

Me and some writer friends
This past weekend, I went to my favorite science fiction/fantasy convention, Cape Comic Con. I wasn't able to attend last year, so it was great catching up with friends and making new ones. It seems I've been fortunate enough to attend these kinds of events just when my confidence is at its lowest.

Most recently, sales of my latest release, Gateway Mothman, have been much slower than I expected. This book means a lot to me since the setting is my hometown, which is still dealing with the radioactive cleanup issues at the West Lake Landfill and Coldwater Creek. Also, my book features the Mothman. Yea Mothman!

I sold more books at this regional Con than I ever have at the big national shows (i.e. Wizard World). Readers who bought my books two years ago came back for more. I just about sold out of
Looks a little like Gaston
my entire stock, and most importantly, I got to connect with other readers and writers.

*There was a pair of young girls with a parent who described in great detail their fantasy universe, the stories, and the characters in their world. They said that the two of them, along with a couple other friends, would sit under a big tree and write down ideas and draft their epic fantasy novel. Isn't that amazing? Most kids are glued to their smartphones or playing video games. Talking to these budding writers really touched me.

*Another young man had purchased my Mechanica Series two years ago, but just recently started reading the first book. He said those first five chapters inspired him to start writing again. What??? Seriously? I was blown away.

*A group of what I call "super-fans" rushed over. They scolded me for not coming last year. They then introduced me to some new members of their crew who proceeded to buy a copy of every single one of my books. One of them even showed the cover art to a nearby artist who then sketched a fun caricature of Zenjiro, the MC of my steampunk series. They wanted pictures of all of us together, and they continually visited my table in the vendor hall throughout the weekend. I love them!

Most of my readers are also writers, and I lost track of how many engaging conversations I had with them. We traded resources and ideas, shared our favorite books, and we talked about the challenges we face as writers.

I'm glad I sold a lot of books. That helps offset the costs with travel and lodging to attend these kinds of events. But the connections and friendships I made were more than worth it. To me, it's the magic of going to sci-fi/fantasy conventions.

P.S. Lou Ferrigno was at this Con. Here he is being sworn in as an honorary deputy by the local sheriff's office. Mr. Ferrigno is 66, people. 66! And "The Hulk" still looks like he could crush Thor.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Hard or Soft Magic?

With the release of my latest book, Gateway Mothman, I decided to ride this creative wave I've been fortunate enough to have found since late last year. I miss writing about mystical adventures and swashbuckling heroes.

But I wanted to do something a little different.

My roots are deep into science fiction and fantasy. It's what I choose to read for pleasure. I decided to plunge back into fantasy writing and world building. In doing so, I found myself wondering: What kind of magic system do I want to have?

My Mechanica Wars steampunk series had a little m
agic (especially in the beginning), but there was definitely more of the fantastical towards the end. But my magic was somewhat limited, and not really considered "high magic." In this series, my magic consisted of mostly enhancing a person's abilities.

With my new project, did I want a hard or soft magic system? I need to define each first:

1) Hard Magic: Where the author describes in great detail the nature, rules, and limitations of magic. For those who played D&D or any other RPG, I get the feeling that these folks are drawn to hard magic systems. Many poplar fantasies have a hard magic system (i.e. Sanderson, Last Airbender/Legend of Korra, Full Metal Alchemist). As a fan, you know exactly how the magic words, what the limitations are, and what the costs are for using said magic.

I'm a wizard!
2) Soft Magic: This is where the author doesn't give you any set rules or limitations of the magic system. Soft magic systems have vague or unclear rules and limitations. The best example of this is J.R.R. Tolkien. There's magic throughout the books and movies, but we really don't know exactly how it works or what are its limits. The Chronicles of Narnia is another good example. We know that Aslan is all powerful, but we don't really know its limits or costs (which might be none since he's actually Jesus).

Whenever I think about magic, I always think about Brandon Sanderson's Three Laws of Magic, particularly the First Law, which states: An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.

I think Soft Magic is inherently more dangerous in producing a deus ex machina type of issue in a story. With Hard Magic, because everything is so well-defined, there's less of a chance of getting your characters out of a tough situation out of nowhere. Because Soft Magic has so many unknowns, it's easy to use the vague magic to solve problems and conflicts for your characters.

That being said, I think there are some strategies to help avoid Soft Magic becoming a crutch. Consistency goes a long way, and maybe the unpredictability of the magic for the characters can provide extra tension. Or maybe the magic does help the characters get out of a jam, but it comes at a tremendous and unforeseen cost.

How about you? Which do you prefer? Hard or Soft Magic?