Thursday, May 31, 2012

Little Princesses and Dark Horses

Anyone who's been following me at all closely knows that I am currently reading George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series, A Song of Fire and Ice, which includes the first novel entitled Game of Thrones. HBO is currently making this into a series.

Though I'm not a HUGE fan of Martin's writing style, I simply can't get enough of his characters and plot lines!  They're fantastic!

One of my favorite ways to get the creative juices flowing is to take a great phrase, line, or image and try to create a story around it.  When a particular line or image stands out to me while I'm reading, I always have to stop and write it down so I can think about it more later.

So here's my challenge: I'm going to give you an image I recently picked up in my reading.  Everyone tell me what it makes you think of.  You can just give me a line or two.  Or, by all means, give me a whole story.  In a few days, I'll tell you what I came up with.  This doesn't have to be all fleshed out; it's just an exercise.  Have fun with it.

Image: A little princess swaddled in a cowled robe atop a dark horse.

Have fun!

Book Progress! Yea!

So I heard from the cover-art department at my publisher! Yea! It's been nearly a month since anything at all has happened with my book, so I'm glad to be moving forward once again! The cover art and layout phases are concurrent, and once they're done, a firm timeline can be set in place.  So, hopefully by the end of June, or soon after, I'll have a release date.

And yes, this is a picture of a banana by Andy Warhol. I put the phrase 'cover art' into google's image search, hoping to find some image for all you visual learners, but all I got was a MILLION different covers for albums and books.  I went for the most random one, just to pique everyone's interest.  Your welcome! :D

Anyway, wish me luck!  I'll be sure to post a picture of the cover when I have it.

Any tips for me?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rainy Day Mood


So on Sunday afternoon I was sitting in my room writing the next chapter of my story, when something started tapping against my window.  Don't worry, it wasn't creepy.  It was rain.  I happen to be someone who LOVES the rain.  When the thunder rumbled close enough to shake my window in it's frame, I ran to the vertical blinds, twisted them open, and pulled them across so I had an unobstructed view of the window.  The sky was gray, the rain coming down in sheets, and thunder shivered over my house off and on for more than half an hour.  Alas, I didn't actually see an lightning, but I'm sure it was there, skittering behind the clouds.

I really couldn't have asked for more perfect weather right at this moment.  Why you ask?  Two reasons. One, thunderstorms really fire up the creative drama part of my imagination.  If I'm not writing, I definitely want to be.  The second reason is that I actually was writing, and the beautiful, albeit brief thunderstorm was the perfect backdrop to set the mood I needed.  I just happened to be writing a scene where three people were standing on the side of a mountain talking.  One is an enemy to the other two (or at least a perceived enemy) and the two individuals stand around debating the evils of collectivism verses individualism, and trying to win the one collectivist to their way of thinking.  Meanwhile, the wind is blowing and the sky is overcast and threatening and there's all kinds of awesome, high drama dialogue being thrown around, so as I said, the storm was perfect for my mood.

Rain has that effect on me.  I sighed blissfully as I walked my characters through their tortured, conflicted neuroses.  Don't you just love being a writer?

What kinds of weather inspire your writing?  Or just your mood in general?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Storm of Swords Book Review--Awesome

So I finally finished book 3 of George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series, entitled A Storm of Swords.  I read somewhere that book 3 was a fan favorite, and boy now do I know why! It was fantastic! What an amazing book!   There were so many jaw-dropping twists.  Martin is a master at hitting the audience between the eyes with things they never see coming.    
My favorite story line by far is Arya's, and I'll admit to being a bit frustrated with the way her story line ended here.  Not that it was at all bad, and she's definitely headed off to more adventure, but it just wasn't particularly what I wanted her to do (go find Gendry!!!)
Of course Tyrion's story line is not far behind and I can't get enough of Jon and the Wall either.  And any way in which I might have been frustrated serve only to propel me toward volume 4 that much faster.  
This is the kind of book that, by the end, it royally sucks to be every. Single. Character.  You look back at the beginning to where everyone is relatively normal and happy, and it's so sad because by this time, they're all royally screwed up! But you love the characters so much and are routing for them so hard that you can't help but love it and want more.  (Needless to say, the fantastic-ness is not because the story is happy and bubbly.)
Here's to hoping the story stays this good for the next two books and the sixth one, which I understand is expected some time next year.  Hooray for epic fantasy sagas!  They keep me entirely too entertained! Can't wait to read the next one! :D

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT with either the link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your ‘teasers’ in a comment here (if you don’t have a blog). Thanks!

My teaser: (Just one 'cause it's kinda long)

From George R.R. Martin's A Feast for Crows:

   "Do you fear death?"
   She bit her lip.  "No."
   "Let us see."  The priest lowered his cowl.  Beneath he had no face; only a yellowed skull with a few scraps of skin still clinging to the cheeks and a white worm wriggling from one empty eye socket.  "Kiss me child," he croaked, in a voice as dry and husky as a death rattle.
   Does he think to scare me?  Arya kissed him where his nose should be and plucked the grave worm from his eye to eat it, but it melted like a shadow in her hand.
   The yellow skull was melting too, and the kindliest old man that she had ever seen was smiling down on her.  "No one has ever tried to eat my worm before," he said.  "Are you hungry child?"
   Yes, she thought, but not for food.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dystopia: the Next Vampire Craze?

So I've been seeing a lot of discussion on the internet over the last few weeks about how many dystopian fantasies are coming out.  There are many who believe this genre (especially YA dystopian fantasies) are going to be the next vampire-like craze.  Many believe that over the next few years the market will get saturated with this genre.

I'm not sure what my opinion on this debate is.  It's definitely possible, and anyone can see how many books of this genre are slated for publication over the next year or so.  I myself am authoring a dystopian fantasy which will be out at the end of the summer, but it's not YA.

All I can say is that if this genre is destined to be the next market saturation, it's best to get in now on the ground floor.  Just as with vampire stories, if you wait until the market is already brimming, no one will want to buy your awesome dystopian story.  So, if you're working on one, now, might I strongly suggest that you hurry it up?

So what's the allure of dystopian fantasy?

I thought about this for a long time and came to the conclusion that it's not much different than most fantasy's allure.  Fantasy tends to have very clear cut right vs. wrong.  Not that there aren't complicated plots and compelling conflicts (if there weren't, they wouldn't be worth reading, would they?) but there is generally a very tangible antagonist involved.  It can be a person, group of people, entity, or idea.  Sometimes it's society itself.  No matter what form it takes, there tends to be a very tangible thing for the characters to fight against.  This thing's "badness" is generally pretty obvious to the audience, if not to the characters.  Whether the characters will against this evil force or simply break themselves against it is for the author to know and the reader to find out, but it tends to make for very compelling fiction.

I think in a world of so many gray areas, it's nice to have very cut-and-dried lines in fiction.  We can totally relate to the characters' dichotomy and indecisiveness, but we also know beyond a shadow of a doubt how the story is supposed to end.  When our favorite characters triumph, there's something both intensely satisfying and deeply cathartic about it.  It gives us the courage and drive to go back to reality and face our own, less-easily-defeated problems.

So why is dystopian all the buzz now?

I think the growing popularity of this genre speaks both to traditional ideas and religious dogmas that are branded deeply into our collective cultural identity, as well as to deep-seated fears our society pretends not to have.  But is there anything wrong with that?  Of course not!  Art has affected positive change in society since time immemorial.  How do you rouse people against slavery?  Create anti-slavery and anti-racist art.  Make people feel something about it!  So what's my point?  Just this: maybe the best way to prevent our society from becoming a bonafide post-apocalyptic mess is by telling these stories and making sure people feel them keenly enough to take steps to prevent them.  Or at the very least, to give us more courage and efficiency in dealing with these epic problems as they appear.  If dystopian fantasy can do that, I say bring on the market saturation.

Besides, it's really fun! :D

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Formulaic Fantasy

When I was in college, I had a particular professor who taught a particular class on novel writing.  I actually really liked the professor's teaching style, and her class was one of my favorites.  However, this professor was also, shall we say, an academic reader.  She didn't put much stock in scifi/fantasy literature.  She went around saying that it all fantasy is formulaic.

I was always mildly offended by this.  (Or maybe not so mildly.) It seems to me that the only people who would seriously believe this to be true are those who've never actually read fantasy (enter Professor Pretentious).  Of course there's your basic good vs evil conflicts, but they exist to a greater or lesser extent in every story and every genre.  If not, your story SUCKS! (Or, you know, something less harsh than that.)  Anyway, the only difference with scifi/fantasy is that the conflicts tend to be more tangible, but not preachy.

So how do you avoid writing formulaic stories, and is it really all that important?

While we writers should always strive to be creative and tell unique stories, I can't help but feel like the comment about fantasy being formulaic is the kind of excuse people use to bash on something they've never tried to understand. (Like the kind of thing people who've never heard a Garth Brooks song in their lives say about country music).  While I'm all about everyone having their own opinions, most people who make these kinds of broad over-generalizations have never given the thing they're bashing on a chance to work on them.  And (brace for a shock) most people who claim with a sniff that they don't like scifi/fantasy novels find that when they actually read one, they enjoy it in spite of themselves.

Truth be told, all fiction is somewhat formulaic by nature.  If you write for any amount of time, it becomes clear that there are only so many types of conflicts that your characters can face.  One obscure philosopher (maybe you've heard of him; his name was Aristotle) said there were only three: man vs man, man vs nature, man vs himself.  Of course you can always bring emotional words into it like love, hope, courage, etc.  No matter how many categories and subcategories you go with, there's still a finite number, so fiction by definition is somewhat formulaic.

So why do people continue to read new fiction (much less get excited about it) if all the conflicts have been explored before?  Because we learn to avoid true formulaic fiction.  The answer, it seems to me, is in the details.  New and interesting characters, new angles on age-old conflicts, and a surprising twist every so often to give the reader a swift shock in the pants keeps them coming back for more.  Let's use Katniss Everdeen as an example.  The Hunger Games presents all three of the classic conflicts at various times, but we (as vicarious readers) are facing them in an unpredictable arena that terrifies us, from the point of view of a stubborn, independent girl whose family is on the line.  Anyone who's ever felt protective of a younger sibling can identify with that, so we feel compassion for Katniss and want to see how it all turns out.

By exploring conflicts from different angles and the POVs of different kinds of people (i.e. characters) we continually better our understanding of the human experience.  And there is nothing formulaic about that.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, May 7, 2012

POV


I thought today I'd say a few words about point of view (POV).  Point of view is the voice or vehicle you use to tell your story.  You can tell it first person, which means one of the characters is actually tell the story, using 'I,' 'my, 'we,' etc.  Or you can use third person, which uses 'he/she,' 'they,' etc., as though another narrator is standing nearby observing.  Either one works, just depending on what you want to accomplish and how strong a connection you want your reader to feel to the story.

Between the two, first person will establish the strongest bond for the reader.  This is because they are actually in the head of the character telling the story.  They are right there, in the moment, with that character, so they feel a powerful bond to connection to what's happening as it's happening.  The downside is that you are stuck in the head of one character and can't really venture anywhere else.  On the flip side, third person allows for multiple narrators and POVs, but won't establish as strong a link between the reader and the story.

Personally, I've never written a novel in first person.  I've done a few short stories, but that's all.  I prefer to be able to use multiple narrators because it gives me the most complete storytelling power.  That said, I think my work might be stronger in first person, but I have yet to write a story that I felt I could tell from exclusively one POV, so I haven't used it.

If you're going to take on something daring like a first-person-present tense POV, you must know what you're doing.  I've seen some writers try to do this and end up shooting themselves in the foot because they slide between tenses or try to tell too much.  Make sure you know what you're doing and that if you're going to do it, you do it well!

I suppose this could be said of any tense, though.  If you're going to play it safe and use third person (like yours truly) you have to make sure that you give the reader enough of a connection to keep them in the story, even without the added advantage of a first person narrator.  So I suppose in that light, the POV you use may depennd as much on your writing ability as on what kind of story you want to tell.

The real reason I wanted to talk about this is that I've been criticized before for using multiple narrators to tell my stories.  Those who've given me this critique are agents, publishers and others who are concerned with actually selling stories to audiences.  They've told me that using multiple narrators can confuse the audience, even if the different narrators are obvious and well-written.  This surprised me because many of my favorite stories are written from multiple POVs.  This is especially prevalent in epic fantasy sagas.

Now, I completely understand not wanting to overwhelm your audience with seventy-five narrators or anything (Wheel of Time, anyone?) but I also think that most people who are willing to sit down and read your book are willing to trust you and follow your lead.  As long as it makes sense and the writing is good, I don't see the difficulty with multiple narrators.  But perhaps that's just me.

What does everyone else think?  Are multiple narrators, in and of themselves, a problem for you?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Wheel of Time

All right, can I just give a big shout out to Robert Jordan and his stunning, epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time?  The cover art for the forthcoming final installment, A Memory of Light, co-written by Brandon Sanderson, was just released.  It's all over Facebook and twitter.  I am SO excited for this!  Despite the fact that it won't be released until January of next year, I can't help but wax nostalgic.  Mr. Jordan and his epic saga are a big part of the reason I am where I am today.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I happened to be in the (now defunct) store Media Play.  I went in several times over several weeks for various reasons, and I kept noticing a ginormous display of books.  The picture on the front showed a young man on a horse at the head of a huge army.  He had a crown on his head, banners at his back, and a sword pointed out in front of him toward something the picture didn't show.  The book was entitled The Path of Daggers.  I thought it looked like the coolest story EVER!  When I picked it up to look closer, I noticed a small caption in the corner that read "Book 8 of The Wheel of Time."

Book 8?! I thought.  What the...


I went to the scifi/fantasy section and found book 1.  I figured it couldn't hurt to try it out.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  I read the first two books in under two weeks.  Then school started and I was pissed that I could no longer sit around reading all day every day.  By the time I'd read the first seven books, the eighth had come out in paperback, which, being a poor 17-year-old, made me very happy.  But after that I was "caught up" and had to wait 1-2 years in between each installment.  Dah!  What misery!

And then came the day when I heard the tragic news that the beloved Robert Jordan had lost his battle with terminal illness.  I remember feeling sick.  Brandon Sanderson stepped in to finish the series, lucky for us.  No matter what you think of Sanderson's writing style or how well he's done, it was a monumental undertaking and I think he's done quite well, all things considered.  His style isn't Jordan's but for me, it's more important to finally finish something I started more than a decade ago than to nitpick about how different the narrative details are.

This post is getting long, but in a nut shell I must say that Robert Jordan may have done more to influence me as a writer than any other single person or force.  I couldn't stop reading this series and I always wanted to write something that someone, somewhere would love even half that much.

His characters were well rounded and oh so human.  You couldn't help but route for them.  (In the case of the Forsaken and Darkfriends you were routing for their opportunity to be kissed by balefire, but still.)  He loved his irony, his tragedy, and his embroidery descriptions.  (Don't get me started).

So here's to the final installment of an unmatched fantasy world.  May it live up to his elevated but unassuming standards.  I, for one, am in love with his writing, his characters, and this story.  His plots were epic; his humor, sidesplitting; his characters, relatable; his justice, poetic; his tragedy, astonishing; his legacy; unequaled.