Archive for September, 2011

Subgenre Study: Off-world Fantasy

Most fantasy can be divided into either real-world or off-world fantasy (sometimes called second world fantasy).  The distinction is obvious: real-world fantasy takes place in the “real world” (so most urban and contemporary fantasy, as well as things like historical fantasy/alternative history) and off-world fantasy takes place on a different world of the author’s own creation.

(You run into problems where some fantasy looks like off-world fantasy at first, but it’s supposed to be our current world after some apocalypse in the future, which puts you into science fantasy or pure science fiction territory.  The entire thing is a mess.)

Off-world fantasy is attractive to authors because it allows them to create their own world with their own rules, their own histories, and their own cultures. Most epic fantasy is also off-world fantasy.  Everything from Howl’s Moving Castle  to George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is off-world fantasy.

The worlds can be patterned after a time period or a culture here on Earth or they can be something completely of the author’s devising.

You also find books that are both real-world and off-world, often where the characters start in one and go to the other.  Usually it’s from real-world to off-world, ala Narnia, but sometimes it goes the other way as well. (Disney’s Enchanted, for example, goes from fantasy to real world, and the 10th Kingdom jumps back and forth between its two worlds constantly.)

As a reader, do you prefer real-world fantasy to off-world?  If you are a fantasy writer, what are your opinions on off-world fantasy?

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Working on Multiple Projects

Perhaps you’re one of those sane people who works on a single project at a time.  You sit down and work on a one thing from start to finish and then, when you’re done, you move onto the next project.

This post is not for you (and I will be sending the Landsquid to TP your house later).

If you’re anything like the writers I hang out with, you’ve got multiple projects you’re working on.  If you don’t, it might be because life is trying to eat you and you barely have time for any projects, let alone more than one.  Or you’re in your first.  Good for you!  It all goes downhill from here.

(Note to self: do not read Ian’s blog before you write your own.)

It’s a complication of time, honestly.  Once upon a time, I worked on a single project at a time too.  You write one novel.  Then you write the next, and the next.  Then you realize you’ve got to edit the things, and then there’s reader comments to incorporate, and then perhaps you decide you’d like to sell them…next thing you know, you’re up to your shoulders in stories in various stages of the process, and nothing’s getting done.

So how do you dig your way out?

The answer is simple: compartmentalization.

The real issue with working on more than one project at a time is that it’s difficult to get your brain to switch between them.  It’s hard to work on your horror short story when, the day before, you were writing fluffy romantic fanfiction.  Your brain gets into these grooves and wants to stay in them, leading to frustration.

The solution is to give each story their place.  This can work a number of ways, and you’ll probably have to experiment to see what works best for you.  You can compartmentalize by location: write one novel at home, a short story at a coffee shop, fanfiction during your lunch break.  Or by time: mornings are novel, afternoons are short stories, weekends are fanfiction.  Or by the color of fingerless gloves you’re wearing.  It’s up to you.

The idea is that you train your brain to expect to work on something specific under specific circumstances, so when your brain finds itself in those circumstances, it knows what to do and it becomes easier to get into the right frame of mind.  It’s the same idea behind creating a writing environment.

Any tricks to share, Squiders?  What works for you?

Harry Potter Re-read: Goblet of Fire

When I first read Goblet of Fire, I had to stop and read the graveyard part twice.  You see, I’d read the first three books about a month before GoF was released, and they’d all followed a nice formula where things were wrapped up and people were never really in mortal peril.  The basilisk in Chamber of Secrets was exciting, sure, but I wasn’t ever terribly worried that Harry wasn’t going to walk away from it.  But Goblet…Goblet changed everything.

It’s very interesting, really.  The beginning reads like the first three, very much still a children’s book, but by the end, it’s started to transform into a much darker series.  While Harry wins the tournament, it is not really his achievement.  It brings no joy.  And the reader is left with a sense of despair and disbelief.

Goblet is the first place where a lot of the darker elements that are staples of the later books make their appearance.  We learn about the Dark Mark and the Death Eaters.  We learn some of the horrors that went down during Voldemort’s first reign of terror.  We see the Unforgivable Curses in action – both in the classroom and outside of it.  (Poor Harry will experience – and live through – all three before we’re done here.)  We learn that Snape was, definitively, on Voldemort’s side and we begin to wonder, truly, why it is that Dumbledore trusted him.

Goblet is the second time in the series where the first chapter is in someone other than Harry’s point of view.  (The first being the beginning of Sorcerer’s Stone on Privet Drive.  We won’t see it again until Half-Blood Prince.)  The books are written in limited third, meaning that, while we are not in Harry’s head as much as we would be in first person, the thoughts are his thoughts and the actions are all his actions.  We don’t know what anyone else is thinking.  We don’t know what Harry doesn’t know (in most cases).  Very effective, really.

And her use of Promises for foreshadowing is fantastic.  In the first Quidditch World Cup scene, Harry and the Weasleys (new wizard rock band?) use a portkey to arrive.  The portkey’s promise is fulfilled within the scene, yet it’s foreshadowing for later in the book.  They stay in a wizard tent; promise fulfilled by the time they leave, yet it sets the basis for the camping they will later do in Deathly Hallows.

And I would argue that when the Dark Mark is summoned, it is the first truly frightening scene in the entire series.  You see the fear that Voldemort inspired, you see the cruelty of the Death Eaters.  It’s not something as basic as someone trying to kill you, but it’s more primal, more subtly evil and wrong.

Goblet lays the foundation for the remainder of the series.  It introduces the pensieve and hints at why Harry must return to the Dursleys each summer.  It teaches us that we can’t wrap everything up in a single book, that there are things to fear, and that we are going to lose people – possibly people we care about.  Cedric was only the first.

(A couple of things that I found interesting – just more examples of JK Rowling’s excellent foreshadowing ability: Harry forgets to use a bezoar in his antidote in Potions class.  Dumbledore hints at the existence of the Room of Requirement in a conversation with Karkaroff.  And Fleur looks at Bill in an appraising manner.)

Questions:

1. Hermoine spends most of the book trying to convince everyone for the need for House-Elf rights.  Is it wrong to try and force freedom on the House Elves?

2. The main goal of the Triwizard Tournament is to build bridges between the different wizarding schools.  Do you think it succeeded in this goal?

3. Hagrid tries to resign after it is revealed that he’s half-giant.  How does this tie into the larger theme of prejudice and “blood” in the series?

4. Harry feels a lot of guilt for Cedric’s death.  Do you think he is justified in this?

5. The end of Goblet is really the start of something bigger.  Dumbledore warns that they will need to be united, yet there are divisions in his own school.  What could he have done differently?

Subgenre Study: Dystopia/Apocalyptic Fiction

This week on Subgenre Study, we will be looking at the seemingly-increasingly popular subgenre of Dystopia, or Apocalyptic Fiction.  This is a subgenre of science fiction that takes place anywhere from the near to far future which portrays a bleak view of the future, usually one in which humanity has or is going through some form of apocalypse or catastrophe.  Often, “civilization” has ended.

(These are actually two separate, but related genres.  We will explore each separately.)

A dystopia generally involves a carefully controlled society and is usually initially portrayed as utopian, but there is usually some sort of dark twist.  Think 1984, Brave New World, or V is for Vendetta.  Think Oryx and Crake.  Or Fahrenheit 451. (A lot of “classic” science fiction, the kind the make you read in school, are dystopias.) Freedom is usually completely gone or merely an illusion.

Apocalyptic fiction tends to deal directly with some external form of catastrophe or a human (or non-human) caused apocalypse.  It can be a nuclear apocalypse, a zombie apocalypse, or one caused by biological agents.  Despite the poor reviews, I thought the Happening’s tree-apocalypse was pretty awesome.  (I have a character who believes trees are evil.  The Happening really validated things for her.)

Technically, apocalyptic fiction deals directly with the apocalypse; post-apocalyptic fiction deals with what happens after the apocalypse.  (Somewhat confusing, I know, as “post” generally gets tacked on to artistic movements as a post-script.  Postmodernism.  Postcyberpunk.  But in this case, it’s part of the genre definition.)

The Wikipedia article on Apocalyptic Fiction is fairly awesome, so I’m just going to link you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalyptic_fiction

What’s your feeling on Dystopia/Apocalyptic Fiction, Squiders? Like to see possible glances of the future, or do you find it depressing?  Recommendations?

Surviving My High School Reunion

So, Saturday was my high school reunion.  Aside from a general feeling of “Oh God, when did I get so old?” I was looking forward to the event, as I was interested to see how the last ten years had treated people and what they had been up to in that time period.

First of all, I want to say that I was over optimistic.  I imagined a nice, laid-back atmosphere where I’d have long conversations with people and I would come off as stunningly witty or something along those lines, and my former classmates would leave me thinking, “Man, she’s done well for herself.”

Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking either.

Saturday I found myself getting anxious.  What was I going to tell people?  I’m a writer, which some people don’t consider a real job.  It doesn’t pay that much, it’s not terribly glamorous.  But I sucked it up, grabbed my business cards (got to justify their existence somehow, right?), and dragged my husband along.

It was…not what expected.  It was hot.  Ungodly hot.  Makes-you-sweat hot, which is just not impressive to anyone.  And it was loud, so you had to shout to be heard, which is not conducive to catching up with anyone.  And apparently I don’t actually remember names that well, or faces, for that matter, which was embarrassing and awkward.  What do you do when someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, remember me?” when you honestly don’t?  Do you say no and hurt their feelings, or yes, and hope you can play it off successfully?

By far the most common question of the night was “So, what’s new with you?”  It was a bad question, and we all knew it was a bad question, and yet we all asked it anyway.  It’d been ten years.  No one really expected anyone else to say “Yes, well, I went to college, and here’s what happened there, and I got this degree and then moved to this state for this job, and then I decided I hated that job, so now I raise alpaca.  Oh, and I got married, and then divorced, and then married again and had 15 children,” so then there’d be an awkward pause while the answerer debated the best thing to mention.

Smarter people asked about specifics, such as relationships or work, and I experimented between answering writer or author to see the different reactions.  “Writer” made people think nonfic or technical documents, whereas “author” would then get questions about genre and what was available.  I plied my business cards liberally which, for me, is, like, five.

After all, networking is the game, right?  I may not see these people for another ten years, but if they pull out that card and think of me (and hopefully my stories) between then and now, it will have accomplished something.  In theory.

Whoops (and a Fairy Tale Anthology You Might Like)

Sooo.  It’s Sept 19.  And I know, weeks ago, that I said that today we would discuss Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire today, but it turns out that I am not actually capable of reading a 700-page book in the three days between when I stumbled home from Peru (thankfully malaria free) and this morning.

I also freely admit that I spaced it completely, between stumbling home, my high school reunion, my nephew’s birthday, the inlaws visiting, and apparently hanging out with friends Friday night that I actually cannot remember at all, and I wasn’t even drunk.

Anyway, that’s a long-winded way to say “Sorry, Squiders, I am a cad and we will do Goblet next Monday instead in all its portkey-y goodness.  Here is something Potter-related to tide you over until then.”

While I have your attention, I want to point you in the direction of a fairy tale anthology myself and my dear writing partner Sarah have put together.  It’s an awesome mix of brand new tales and twists on old favorites and is definitely worth a look.  Once Upon a Spork can be found on pretty much all internet platforms for your reading pleasure.

So, to summarize: Goblet next Monday, excellent anthology for you to read available now (click the link!), and no landsquid were harmed in the creation of this post.

Subgenre Study: Sword and Sorcery

GUYS I got to touch an ALPACA.  Although it was fairly bad-tempered.  I may let you see when I finish photoshopping twisty evil moustaches on the pictures.

Anyway, on to the topic at hand.  Sword and Sorcery is perhaps the best known of all fantasy subgenres.  Some people will swear that it IS fantasy.  Swords, magic, romance, epicness, good vs evil, a world at stake!  The main thing that separates it from epic fantasy or high/low fantasy is the focus on the battles and the adventure as opposed to more overarching themes.  Often, if there is no battle to be fought, the protagonist will not know what to do with himself.  (This tends to be a theme in Sword and Sorcery; like Frodo at the end of the Lord of the Rings, the protagonist cannot return to a normal life.)

Sword and Sorcery almost always involves a fantastical world, whether it is author-created or an earlier version of our world where it is populated with gods, demons, and monsters, often built up from mythology.  It shares a lot of tropes with adventure stories and is often fast-pace, including many battles.  They include a brave, almost unnaturally strong hero, damsels in distress, and evil sorcerers with plans of world domination.  In Sword and Sorcery, magic is rarely used for good, compared to some other subgenres (most notably Fantasy Romance, where magic is almost always good).

Closely related genres include Sword and Sandal (similar tropes, but historical instead of fantastical) and Sword and Planet (science fiction related, obviously).

Edgar Rice Burroughs is generally considered the father of the subgenre.  Other authors that are generally considered Sword and Sorcery include Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, and Sprague de Camp.  It tends to be an extremely masculine-oriented subgenre, though some progress has been made to make it more gender-equal.  Marion Zimmer Bradley ran an anthology for many years called Sword and Sorceress, and most modern examples of the subgenre will feature both a male and a female protagonist.

The Conan the Barbarian books, which are generally considered Sword and Sorcery, led to a trend in the 80s in Hollywood for fantasy movies involving a lot of bloodshed and not much clothing.  These movies were also called Sword and Sorcery, which has led to some infamy for the genre in general.

How do you feel about Sword and Sorcery, Squiders?  Does it get your blood racing, your heart pumping?  Do you find it trite?  Any recommendations (books or movies)?