Archive for July, 2013

The Future of Fantasy

Well, now that we’ve spent six weeks exploring some common fantasy races, we can start to look at fantasy trends instead.

If you guys are familiar with fantasy, you know it goes through trends. We’ve been in an urban fantasy trend in general, lately, but then there are trends within urban fantasy, usually dependent on which race is big at the moment.

Early on in urban fantasy, faeries and related fae were the main race. Then we switched to vampires, and then angels, and there was a bit of a mermaid surge, and it seems like we’re just finishing up a zombie trend. And there’s werewolves in there somewhere.

So I’m a bit interested to see where urban fantasy turns to next. Will it cycle back around? Will we run out of humanoid-esque creatures and head on to even weirder things? Personally, I’m hoping for kracken. Small kracken, lurking in creeks in city parks, waiting for people to wander too close to the edge…

(And then, invariably, one kracken falls in love with an average-looking teenage girl and then the whole thing devolves from there.)

Rumor says, however, that epic fantasy is going to come back into the forefront of the genre. Man, I hope so. I love epic fantasy, and sometimes it’s hard–especially recently, it seems–to find good, original, character-driven epic fantasy. So I love the idea.

Heard anything about upcoming fantasy trends, Squiders? Have anything you’d personally like to see? Anything you don’t want to see?

When the System Breaks Down

We’ve talked in the past about compartmentalization–where you somehow separate what you’re working on from other things you’re working on to train your brain to get into the right frame of mind faster.

Normally this is excellent. But, as you probably know, what works for one person will not work for another, and what works for one story will not work for all of them.

That latter point is normally more true when dealing with research techniques, or trying to get your characters to do what they need to do.

But with this edit, I’ve actually had the compartmentalization break down, which is a first. I set up this great workstation–laptop in the middle, decked out with a mouse and everything, with notes on the right and a copy of the original draft for reference on the left. I had scene cards and post-it notes. It was isolated from the mess and the family, in a nice, quiet corner of the basement.

(Though, admittedly, there are a lot of spiders in the basement.)

It was, in theory, perfect. I’d go downstairs into my little editing corner and immerse myself in my work, and I’d be done in record time.

But it didn’t work. I couldn’t focus down there at all. I tried for weeks.

In the end, I brought everything back upstairs and set it up on my work desk. The same desk I work on my client’s manuscripts and write ghost articles for websites. The same desk where I play computer games and chat with my friends.

Now, as discussed previously, place isn’t the only way you can compartmentalize. You can do time of day, type of music, anything really. But I’m editing at a variety of times, from early morning to late night, listening to the same music whether I’m editing or working for a client, and I only own one pair of wireless gloves. (Well, I own two identical pairs. So.)

I admit I’ve never been a full follower of compartmentalization–I do whatever I need to wherever I happen to be. Sometimes it fights a pattern, sometimes not. But I’ve never had compartmentalization not work before, where just by setting aside someplace special for a project means the project doesn’t get done.

I guess there’s an exception for everything.

Fantasy Race Series: Elves

Wrapping up our fascinating fantasy race series is KD Sarge, here to tell us about elves. Like faeries, elves are an extremely versatile race, with many different interpretations, from tall, ethereal creatures to small, trickster types. They tend to be associated with nature and have pointy ears. But I’m going to turn things over to KD so she can educate us.

Pretty Elves and Pointy Things

I love elves.

There. I said it. I’m that girl. I love elves, with their pretty hair and their pointy ears and their blood-covered swords–

Yeah. Those elves. Eventine Elessedil, old and wounded, trapped with a demon in Elfstones of Shannara. Cutter, taking on Madcoil, or any of the other foes that little elf took down with his little bitty shiny sword in ElfQuest. Rayek in ElfQuest, being a magnificent jerk. Movie-Legolas. I love reading the Lord of the Rings, but I didn’t really love Legolas until the movies. I know many fans complained about his stair-skating and oliphaunt killing, but not me. I loved it.

I guess I just love when pretty and bada$$ coincide. I’d like my butt-kicking with a side of eye-candy, thank you very much. So you can guess that when I write fantasy, I want to toss in elves.

It’s not as easy as it looks. Writing elves well is actually hard as heck. Why? Let’s take a step back—what makes an elf an elf?

I asked on Twitter. “I’m writing a blog post about fantasy genre–when I say “elf” what do you think of?” Answers included “immortal forest Vulcans!” and “Tolkien, ElfQuest, magic, nature, big ears, elegance, beauty, wisdom, forests and big old trees.”

Sounds like a good checklist to identify elves: magic, nature, big ears, elegance, beauty, wisdom, forests and big old trees.

I think many readers would point to Tolkien when asked about elves. The stories existed long before he came along, but Tolkien is the one who put the “Fair” in the Fair Folk. He made them Good People. He set the standard.

It’s a high standard. Of those who have read LOTR, who can’t close their eyes and picture Lothlorien? A flet, a mallorn, Galadriel? Yet, to me, there’s something missing. Tolkien’s elves are beautiful and mysterious—and hard to love. Though movie-Legolas is very much like book-Legolas, it took movie-Legolas (helped by Orlando Bloom’s face†, yes, but not solely BECAUSE of that face) to make me love him. This was also aided by having a most wonderful Gimli to play off.

And now I’m into “what makes a good elf?”

On the other end of the spectrum from Tolkien’s distant elves, Terry Brooks took readers into the elven city in Elfstones of Shannara and I’m not sure it was a good thing. In their home city his elves seemed awfully…human. Better organized, a good bit “greener” but yeah. Taken out of the forest they lost maybe too much mystery. I liked Ander Elessedil very much, but he never seemed like an elf to me. Eventine, fortunately, I’d met before.

But do you even remember the elf brothers in Sword of Shannara? Neither do I, because I didn’t research for this post. I wanted to talk about what worked and didn’t work for me, and my measurement was what I found memorable. My intensive research for this post was 1) years of reading fantasy and 2) checking if I had a question on how to spell a name or Elvish word.

“Elf” is one area where it’s too easy to rely on stereotypes. The writer says “elf” and the reader knows all they need to know. It’s an easy trap to fall into. Am I the only one who can’t remember the name of a single elf in Raymond E. Feist’s Magician series? I so incredibly loved parts of that series, but the elves, which ought to be a shoo-in for this particular reader, I barely remember existing except around what happened to Tomas. Magic, nature, big ears, elegance, forests—yep, it was all there. Just exactly elvish, so I forgot to pay attention.

Opposite of that, of course, are Wendy Pini’s Wolfriders in ElfQuest. I could spend the rest of this post and a few more days talking about them, because I remember and adore them all. But I’ll just mention that Nightfall is one of my favorite kick-butt ladies of all time, and get back to my point. Checklist. Thing.

You couldn’t call the Wolfriders elegant. And wisdom—well, Cutter spends most of his travels trying to collect a bit of that. His struggles and successes are marvelous, but still, not many would be asking him for advice. Magic—unlike the Sun Folk and to a greater extent the Gliders, the Wolfriders have very little magic. They have pointy ears, yes, but their huge old tree was burned down, and they had to leave the forest.

In ElfQuest, Wendy Pini took everything I knew about elves and gave it a twist. She populated an entire world with different kinds of elves who didn’t always trust each other, who did things differently, who grew and evolved on their own but still had a fundamental connection on a level that humans just don’t seem to get, that kept them all elves…I had to pay attention. And I loved it.

As the saying goes, I’ve got some big shoes to fill, but I think I’m better off taking my own route. When I sat down to write my own elves, I thought about elves I’ve loved, and why I loved them. The goal was to create a culture that was most exquisitely elvish—with a good twist.

It’s not easy, but it sure is fun, walking in my very own pair of elven boots.

 

†Full disclosure: I am very fond of Orlando Bloom’s face.

 

KD Sarge writes fiction in many shapes and sizes. Her Dream’verse novels are available through Turtleduck Press, but they are science fiction. Her elves have not yet been released up on an unsuspecting world, bwahaha. Find her at http://kdsarge.com, or follow her at http://twitter.com/KDSarge.

Death to Writer’s Block!

So, my friends, I am making my way through the edits of an urban fantasy novel of mine that’s being published this December. It’s due to my editor on August 1st.

(Don’t remind me of what day it is. Believe me, I know.)

This particular novel, in its initial form, was missing villain motivation and a logical progression in said villains’ modus operandi (jumping rather staggeringly from “let’s be friends” with the target to violence), so I’m having to insert in some scenes to have everything read more coherently. Luckily, most of these scenes are going well, but every now and then I run into one that just does not want to be written.

Writer’s block at any time is infuriating. When you’ve got less than two weeks to make sure your story is ready to go? Your nerves start to tingle and you seriously consider giving up the whole writing thing to hide under your desk for the rest of the day.

But, of course, that’s not an option, but it’s still not fun to stare at the same page for three hours.

I have two main courses of action for dealing with writer’s block, and the one I tend to use the most is to just push through it until it’s finished, no matter how long it takes. (The other is to go do something else and see if things percolate in the back of my mind. I find if something doesn’t percolate within a few hours, it’s probably not going to, and then it’s back to pushing through it.)

So, Squiders, in the interest of timeliness, do you have any other techniques that you find help you break through your block? Or, if you’re not a writer yourself, have you heard of techniques that creative-type people have told you work?

Time is, alas, of the essence.

Fantasy Race Series: Faeries

Moving away from the mysteries of the deep, this week we travel into another element and take a look at faeries. Fairies, fae, nature spirits, trickster spirits…faeries go by many names and more guises. They can be tiny, mischievous creatures, belong to rival courts, steal and replace children, blend in with humanity, etc. Faeries are one of the most versatile of fantasy races because the legends linked to them are so varied. Here to tell us a little bit about the fae is Erin Zarro.

The Magic of Fae

I’ve always been fascinated with the Fae.  They’re immortal, they can be tricksters, and they can glamour themselves to look like anyone, even a loved one.  (That part is a bit scary).  Some have wings, and some are monsters. They live in a magical, mystical place called Faerie.   I’ve been reading novels with Fae in them for years.  My first ever Fae book? Laurell K. Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series book one, A Kiss of Shadows.
 
My favorite Fae books?  Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series.  They are beautiful, dark, and just plain amazing.
 
I began writing about the Fae in 2005, when I began my yet-unpublished novel, Pirouette, which features a Fae princess who can communicate with the dead through dance.  In the Pirouette world, female Fae get their wings when they are grown by their true mate.  They also can do glamour and are, naturally, immortal.  They have a magic called vitae which is the magic of life.  The Fae in Pirouette have no court affiliation, except there are highborn, aristocratic, common, and of course, royal Fae.  The Fae have a Queen and a King, and live in a parallel world called the Varshella, which is roughly equivalent to Faerie.  Why did I give it a different name?  Because Faerie just seemed too common, and the Varshella is a parallel world to Earth (Erta, in the Varsi old language).  It isn’t in Faerie mounds.  It just is.  (Interesting tidbit about the name: the original name, waay back in 2005 when I was building the world, was Vehella.  I did some poking around online and discovered Valhalla, the place were Norse warriors go when they die.  I realized then that the names were too close and played with the letters a bit.  I finally arrived at Varshella, and the people are called the Varsi.  (It was either that or Varshellan, and I liked the look and sound of Varsi better).  But I digress.
 
My Fae also have specific rituals that they observe for various things.  There’s a mating ritual, betrothal ritual, a death ritual, and a ritual that honors their beloved fallen Queen Resanna, which is called Resanna’s Day.  And I suppose the growing wings ritual counts, too. 
 
Royal Fae can shapeshift into leopards, too, to defend themselves.
 
So the Fae of Pirouette are somewhat close to the mythical Fae you read about.  My other Fae, the Fey in my debut novel, Fey Touched, are completely different.
 
When I set out to write Fey Touched, I was working with a book I’d written in 2003 for NanoWriMo called The Sacrifice, which had vampires, vampire slayers, and guardian angels in it.  It was my first finished book ever, and it was when vampires were still cool.  Now, nine years later, not so much.  So I set out to change them into something better (and more unique).  My first thought was the Fae, but even Fae are getting overdone (although I still love reading about them!).  So I was stumped as to how to make it different.
 
I remember the exact moment it hit me.  I was at work, doing something tedious, when I had this thought: what if my Fae were not mythical, but based in science?
 
Since I’m a huge science buff, this really appealed to me.  I decided that the Fey (note the spelling change) were genetically engineered humans, made to be immortal, faster, smarter, and healthier than their human counterparts.  I also decided, since I needed a regulatory force (Hunters!), they wouldn’t have souls because the scientists couldn’t replicate them.  So my Fey would need to feed from legal donors, but some of them turn into monsters who kill and drain the sousl from the humans.  These are called rogue, and the ones who hunt them are called Fey Touched.  This is because they have some of the enhanced genes of the Fey, but not all.  They also have souls. 
 
There is no Faerie in the Fey Touched world, but there is the hereafter.
 
The Fey have clans and a Breeding Queen for each one.  The Breeding Queen is like a queen bee.  She mates with many males and needs to produce a new Queen, who in turn kills her for her position.  They also have a royal clan with a First Breeding Queen who rules over them all. 
 
As far as glamour is concerned, my Fey have a form of it.  They use mana (life energy, or souls) to weave illusions.  The Fey Touched cannot.  Also, the Fey Touched have wings from having a bit of avian DNA.
 
There are rituals that the Fey and Fey Touched observe.  The Fey Touched burn their dead and do an aerial dance to honor them.  The Fey Touched worship Artemis, and believe that the falcon, their animal companion who is called during the ritual, carries the soul home to Artemis. 
 
The Fey have a mating ritual of a sort, where the Breeding Queen must marry all males of the clan. 
 
So that’s how I write my Fae.  They are distinctly different, but similar.  I enjoy playing with established stuff and making it my own.  I’m not done with the Fae yet!  They are so much fun to work with.

Erin Zarro is an indie novelist and poet living in Michigan. She’s married to her Prince Charming, and she has a feline child named Hailey who she’s convinced is part vampire. She loves all things scary and spooky, and is on a mission to scare herself, as nothing lately has scared her. She writes in the genres of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Her first published novel, Fey Touched, is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy. She is currently working on Book 2, Grave Touched, and is trying to stay out of trouble. Mostly. Her website is at http://erinzarro.com.

The Evolution of Social Media

You get this post thanks to Tumblr eating my morning. I don’t even have a Tumblr.

These days, everyone says you need to have a social media presence. Twitter! Facebook! A blog! It’s enough to drive a person crazy, and suck all your time away. (I’ve heard more reasonable marketing people say to pick one or two platforms, and focus your attention there so you can connect with people on a meaningful level without going insane.)

Tumblr is the new social media darling. Everyone I know has one. I was on Diane Duane’s earlier today. You can save anything that catches your fancy by tumbling it, adding your own commentary, or not. Obviously people out there post original content, and then you can see how many other people re-tumble (or whatever the proper term is) through the number of notes something gets. I know writers who put up ficlets, comic artists who preview comics or enhanced panels, and fan artists who post their work directly. But I admit Tumblr is beyond me. I don’t really get it. It might be because I don’t have one myself, but I have to wonder, does following someone’s Tumblr help you to get to know someone? Can you have a connection? Because, quite honestly, I use it for Star Trek macros, when I venture on at all.

(Feel free to explain Tumblr to me if you understand it, Squiders.)

But it got me to thinking about the evolution of social media, and how Tumblr is kind of the peak of said evolution, where you can share things with the click of a button, whether it’s your own content or somebody else’s. It’s the ultimate in stream of consciousness. A single person’s Tumblr can contain thoughts about sexual harassment in genre fiction next to a cute gif of a kitten next to Avengers fanart next to a bit of an interview with an author they like. Anything that appeals to that person can instantly be added in with little more than a thought. And the result is kind of an impression of a person without knowing anything about him/her.

I’ve been on the internet for almost 20 years now, Squiders (oh, God), and I can remember that the closest you had to modern “social media” then was either your own website or a mailing list. (My first website had a black background with neon green text–because there was some sort of movement happening to “save the electrons,” with the theory that dark backgrounds were somehow better for them but was no doubt a huge conspiracy someone thought up, along with the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide.) And then LiveJournal came along, and I spent a good many years there (and am kind of sad now, because it seems like, in the last year or so, everyone has left for Tumblr, though I admittedly hardly ever use mine anymore myself). LJ was kind of the first “blog” website.

And there was really two sorts of social media–connection sites, like MySpace or Facebook, and blogging sites, like Blogger or LJ or a gazillion others that I’ve forgotten. And then Twitter came along, and now everyone’s trying to integrate aspects of each other into themselves, whether it be games or hashtags or gifts or what have you.

It’s interesting, to remember a time before all that, before AOL offered unlimited time and when instant messaging was a big deal, and then look at where we are now, where we can share a thought before we’re even done thinking it.

(Seriously, though, Squiders, explain Tumblr to me.)

Fantasy Race Series: Mermaids

This week we veer away from the undead and the angelic and look into a race with that generates more of a splash. Ah, mermaids, temptresses of the sea. Sometimes they frolick through the waves, sometimes they lead sailors to their deaths. Here to tell us all about the children of the sea is Anne Marie, who is a lovely person and provided her own media to go with this post. This is a woman who knows what she’s talking about.

Mermaidswaterhouse56

“Far out in the ocean the water is as blue as the petals of the loveliest cornflower, and as clear as the purest glass. But it is very deep too. It goes down deeper than any anchor rope will go, and many, many steeples would have to be stacked one on top of another to reach from the bottom to the surface of the sea. It is down there that the sea folk live.”

~ Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid, 1836

And so begins the first story about mermaids that I ever read, but certainly not the first time I’d heard of such mythical beasts. The truth is, I can’t remember how old I was when I learned how to swim. The truth is, since that day — whenever it was — I’ve wanted to be a mermaid, so when Kit asked me to write a post about mermaids I thought it would write itself. But how do you extricate yourself from something you’ve wanted to turn into? (I’m a grown ass woman, and to this day the first thing I do when I jump into the water is hold my breath, dolphin kick, and pretend. And every time I take a bath I imagine the scene from Splash with Daryl Hannah and that gorgeous orange fishtail.)

The first written account of a mermaid comes from Assyria more than three thousand years ago. The goddess Atargatis (she’s like if Stargate and Atlantis had a baby — ha) fell in love with a lowly mortal and killed her lover by accident. She fled to the water and turned herself into a fish. This transformative property is part of why I fell for the myth, and I’ll discuss this in more depth.

It’s interesting to note that almost every culture has mermaid lore. The Irish have merrows. In Slavic mythology, she’s known as a rusalka (terrifying and undead!). The Chinese have a golden mermaid. The list goes on and on. This doesn’t even touch on the mermaid lore in comics. He doesn’t have a tale, but Aquaman was always a favorite of mine as a kid. Telepathy with dolphins? Yes, please!

Mermaids in YA literature are popular, but I wouldn’t say they’re really trending. Their appeal is supported by programs on Animal Planet like Mermaids. The idea might be hokey for some viewers, but it’s possible that a simian gave up on land and returned to the ocean. After all, there is strong scientific evidence that leads us to believe that’s how whales, dolphins, etc. evolved.

As a side note: A mermaid is not a siren. A siren is a half-bird, half-human woman that lured sailors to their deaths in Greek mythos. A number of popular “mermaid” YA books are actually about sirens. In fact, the word for mermaid in French is “la sirène” and in Spanish it’s “la sirena”, which appear to be interchangeable terms, but don’t confuse the two types of creatures. They’re not the same thing at all, well, except for the fact that they’re always depicted as beautiful half-women.

Why do millions of viewers and readers find themselves inexplicably drawn to these creatures? For me, it’s the otherness. It’s the idea of transforming from something as sea clumsy as a human into something sleek and able to breath underwater. In Han Christian Andersen’s pinnacle fairy tale about mermaids, the littlest one longed to be human. I believe the reverse to be true, especially in our teenage years. We want to be in control. To be free. What a better way to be free than the transformative properties of gills and fins?

No matter the creature, so many YA fantasy books are filled with “ordinary” teens who discover they’re supernatural creatures, or fall in love with supernatural creatures, or have to hunt supernatural creatures. Who wouldn’t want to learn on their sixteenth birthday that they’re special? I hoped I’d grow up and have powers like an X-Man. Or a mermaid. Or be able to fly. I’m still hoping flight is a latent power I’ll tap into someday.

The popular trend of turning mermaids from beautiful half-fish-women into ugly monsters that bite and drown pleases me. Films like “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” depict these darker creatures with aplomb. The horror fan in me responds to anything with teeth and claws. In fact, my only mermaid story to date, La Belle Dame sans Merci, has a taste of just such mermaids. Also, Nazis and Keats.

Kit asked me to include some mermaid books, but the problem is that I haven’t read that many. I’ve been avoiding them so I can work on my own spin on this popular “tail”. However, everyone needs to read Han Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”! You might also enjoy The Mermaid’s Mirror by L. K. Madigan. It’s a lower-YA with a nice twist.

What are your favorite tales about mermaids from myths?

AM2

Anne Marie was born in Denver, Colorado and grew up in Aurora. She attended the University of Colorado for a BA in English Literature, where she fell in love with folklore and myths from around the world. She adores languages, great white sharks, and the impossible. Her work usually includes two of those three things. She currently lives in Aurora with Brody (her beloved and mischievous beagle). She posts themed short stories at Cimmerian Tales. Follow her on Twitter @annemariewrites.

Her most recent short story, La Dame à La Licorne, was published by Euterpe YA, an imprint of Musa Publishing. Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Musa Publishing.

Mermaid picture above is “A Mermaid” by John William Waterhouse, 1901.