Archive for January, 2013

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong: Dealing with Dragons

Hoorah! Here we go, Squiders. If this is your first time through this series, I hope you’re enjoying it thus far. I know I am.

What’s the most brilliant about this series, I think, is how it takes fairy tale conventions and turns them on their heads. Or at least mocks them a little bit. (This is a common thread throughout the series. It gets more ridiculous.)

When I first read these books, probably in my early teens, I really identified with Cimorene. She’s tall! Likes non-traditional things! Isn’t afraid to defend herself! Now I notice that she tends to be smart when the plot needs her to be and not when the plots needs her not to be, but it wasn’t too jarring. (Except for inability to accept that a female dragon could be king. I remember that part bothered me when I was younger too.)

There’s a lot of elements I really like about this book. I love that wizards melt in soapy water. (That’s important throughout the series, if I remember correctly.) I love Morwen and her cats. I love the stone prince’s tale. I love that the talking frog is not a prince, but has picked up a few things from hanging out with them.

Admittedly, this series doesn’t have the depth as Harry Potter or the Time Quintet, but I think it makes up for it by being so much fun, and by being so very aware of the genre that it satires.

(As a random aside, I have a paperback copy of the book, probably the first paperback printing, and I think that Kazul–at least, I assume it’s Kazul–on the cover looks really strange, and isn’t nearly large enough, seeing how Cimorene should come up to Kazul’s shoulder when Kazul is on all fours.)

All right, onto discussion.

1. Which twist on fairy tale convention was your favorite?

2. The dynamic between the dragons and the princesses is very interesting. Do you think it’s worth it to keep a princess for the minor status increase it comes with, even knowing that you will have to face knights and princes coming to save them?

3. The book focuses on the way things are supposed to be done. How does going against what’s expected affect the characters?

As always, feel free to leave your own impressions and questions in the comments. And we’ll discuss Searching for Dragons on February 28th.

The Year of Accountability

Well, Squiders, if you’ve been around the internet at all over the past month (and I’m sure you have), you’ve seen the goal posts. Posts that tell you how to choose goals, how to stick to your goals, how to pick realistic goals, etc.

Those are all wonderful, important things.

But what I want you to do now is think of one ABSOLUTE THING you want to do this year. The one thing where, even if everything else falls by the wayside, if you get it done, it will be a good year. Something like: I want to edit my novel and start submitting it to agents. Or: I am going to finally finish that family cookbook so I can give it out at Christmas. Or: I am going to read the entire works of Mark Twain. Something big.

Not that goals like “I am going to write 300 words a day all year” aren’t good. They’re just not appropriate here. We’re talking Big Picture items.

Got your goal in mind? Your Number One Must Do?

Good.

Now tell me about it, here in the comments. If you have a plan forward or a date it MUST be done by, include that. Then, give me some way to keep track of you. Link me to your blog or website, or your Twitter account, and I will stop by periodically to check up on you and your goal.

Sometimes, all we really need, in order to get something done, is someone who cares.

Have at it, Squiders! I am here for you.

Magic Doesn’t Solve Everything

Despite being one of my very favorite sayings (“Why does blah blah blah?” “Magic.”), magic must, unfortunately, make sense.

This means if you are creating a world where magic exists, there has to be rules, and the rules must be consistent and make sense (in the context of your world).

This, Squiders, is called a Magic System.

The good news is aside from the making sense and being consistent thing, your magic system can be pretty much anything.

And you don’t have to explain to your audience how the magic system works and what its rules are. Like a lot of backstory, as long as you know, it’s all good.

So, if you’re working on putting together a magic system for your story/webcomic/video game, what have you, here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • Who can use magic? Why?
  • Can magic be taught? Is it hereditary?
  • How does magic manifest (for example, is it elemental)?
  • Are there magical beings, and how does their magic differ, if at all?
  • How has technology compensated for the level of magic (for example, a world with high magic probably has low technology, since there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel)?
  • How has magic affected society, culture, politics?
  • What are magic’s limits (what can’t magic do)?
  • What is the source of magical power (tap into mana, etc.)?
  • What are magic’s costs?

This last question is something that’s come up in more recent fantasy. If you look at older fantasy, a lot of times there’s no consequences of using magic, no limits, etc., but in the gritty story era of today, magic has costs. In some cases, the bigger the spell, the more energy it drains, or you may draw life out of nearby creatures, or something along those lines. Magic becomes more interesting when there’s the risk of something going wrong.

Any additional questions you would include in generating a magic system, Squiders? Anything you feel I’ve left out? Any magic systems (yours or ones in the media you consume) that you really like?

Diversity is Good, But It’s Okay to Stay Home

Are you wine connoisseurs, Squiders? My husband and I watched Bottle Shock this weekend, which is the story of how California wines rocked the world by beating out French wines in a blind taste test back in the 70s. (In as much as any Hollywood “based on a true story” is based in actual truth.)

Which got me to thinking, because nowadays the California wines are pretty full of themselves. When we lived in the San Francisco Bay area, it was lovely because we were halfway between two major wine regions: Napa/Sonoma to the north, and the Central Coast to the south. We drank a lot of very good wine. But then we moved home to Colorado, and you can’t get a lot of those wines here, and what you can tend to be their lower end, more generic stuff.

So we looked into Colorado wines.

Let me tell you what California wines think about Colorado wines. (I bet you can guess.)

But the thing is, Colorado wine isn’t worse than California wine, it’s just different. Sure, the big red grapes–zinfandel, cabernet (sauvignon — the franc’s pretty decent, actually), syrah, and pinot–don’t grow well here. I’ve yet to have a really good Colorado big red that didn’t import their grapes from California. But Colorado excels at gewurztraminer, reisling, fruit wines, mead and a ton of grape varieties I had hardly heard of out in California, like petit verdot, carmine, frontenac, mourvèdre, and lemberger.

(Mmmm…lemberger.)

I could go on all day about wine, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the point of this blog, so I’ve created an analogy for you.

Good wine comes from all over–Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, California and, yes, even Colorado. Picture each type of wine as a genre of book. You can try a multitude, get a full experience out of them, see the world, as it were.

But it’s okay to stick close to home, to become intimately familiar with what those that are local. And each of us has a genre that they return to, time and time again, that means something special and occupies a place in our hearts.

And, you know, sometimes what we need changes, and it’s okay to change that “home” as well.

From Fanfiction to Publication

There was a discussion question posted in one of my writing communities recently that read something like, “Do you feel that 50 Shades of Gray being published is a victory for fanfiction?”

(In case you’ve been living under a–admittedly lovely–rock, you probably know that 50 Shades started out as Twilight fanfiction.)

Quite honestly? No. If anything, I think it may actually hurt fanfiction a bit. I admittedly have not read the books (and do not plan to), but when I hear other people talk about them, the conversation goes a little like this:

Person 1: Wow, this is terrible writing.
Person 2: Well, it was fanfiction.

(The latter said with a bit of a sneer.)

It’s not as if this is the first bit of fanfiction ever published. People make a living writing stories about other people’s characters, whether it’s Sherlock Holmes, Elizabeth and Darcy, or one of the many, many novels that go along with a multitude of television shows, movies, video games, and roleplaying games.

(I’ve read a lot of Trek novels. If those do not qualify as published fanfiction, nothing does.)

Ignoring those and focusing on thinly-veiled fanfiction, I find it hard to believe that none has ever been published before 50 Shades. I suspect most people just don’t bring it up. And then, there are authors like Cassandra Clare who were huge in fanfiction (I’m pretty sure you don’t get bigger in the fanfiction arena than Cassandra Clare, who wrote as Cassie Claire in the Harry Potter and LOTR fandoms) that have since moved on to have very successful original publishing careers.

So what is the publication of 50 Shades a victory for? Well, the author and the publisher. But fanfiction was fine on its own before it.

What do you think, Squiders? Have you delved into the infamous trilogy? Did you like it? Do you feel like it helps or hinders fanfiction as a whole?

An Endless Font of Inspiration

I think, Squiders, that all creative types, especially writers, sometimes hit a point where they worry that they’ve run out of ideas. That they’ve reached the end of useable ones. That their best work is behind them.

(I admit that I feel this way about this blog sometimes, but here we are, two and a half years later…)

Then, luckily, the feeling passes.

It is, however, always a bit disconcerting to go through. I find it’s best, when the mood hits, to think about where you are, and where you’ve come from. Sure, maybe you’re not getting anything right this second, but how long have you been working on things? The first story I can remember writing, I was 8. It’s been two decades–twenty years–now, and if I haven’t run out of ideas yet, why should I ever?

And if you’re really, truly, not getting anything, look at what you’re doing. Are you reading, experiencing, learning? Inspiration can lurk anywhere, from the latest scientific or archeological find written up in National Geographic to the person you see walking down the street, a haunted look in their eyes. How did they get there? What makes their heart ache? What will the effects on society be because of this new discovery?

Hey, that dream you had last night was kind of funky. Maybe there’s something there. Your friend has posted a photo of a forest on facebook that is so perfect it looks fake. What would live there? What secrets do the trees hide?

The fact is, most creative types are also inquisitive types. So many ideas can come from asking questions, and then making up the answer yourself. What if? What if? What if? And the fact of the matter is, there are always more questions. There are always more answers. Your inspiration is out there, as long as you keep one eye open for it.

(If nothing else, you might try diagramming things you like. This is a free association activity, where you write down things that appeal to you as they come to you. My list includes things like mirrors, hidden portals, old keys, labyrinths, ancient places, overgrown forests, etc. And then you can choose a few and combine them into different story ideas.)

What’s your no-fail source of inspiration, Squiders?

Announcing the Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong

Hoorah! Our first of the year. You’ll notice, Squiders, that we’re changing from re-reads to readalongs. I want people who have never read the particular series we’re working on to feel welcome to join in.

To start ourselves off for the year, we’re going to be reading through Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles which, if you are unfamiliar with them, are fantastic examples of fairy tale satire (and have also been a major influence on my own writing). There’s four books: Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons.

These are YA books, so they read pretty fast.

When we get to Calling we’ll discuss whether or not to add in a related collection of shorts, The Book of Enchantments. There’s at least one in there that is directly related to the series (and involves an enchanted frying pan, if I recall correctly), but I worry that it may be too hard to find. Feel free to let me know here if you’d like it included or not.

Also, as a bonus and to compare fairy tale satires and another of my very favorite authors (and an influence), we’ll read Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle at the end.

(There’s two sequels to Howl’s: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. Right now, I’m leaning towards not including them, but if everyone really likes Howl’s I’m open to it.)

(And yes, Miyazaki made a movie of it–which is also excellent–but not really at all similar unless you count that some characters have the same name and there is a castle. That moves. Miyazaki put an environmental turn on it, which is really not surprising if you look at the rest of his work.)

So! If you want some fun, excellent fantasy once a month for the next however many months, jump on board! We’ll do discussion of Dealing with Dragons on January 31st.

Which is a Thursday.