Thursday, May 30, 2013

Amazing Fantasy Round Table: 50 Shades of Fantasy

This month's Amazing Fantasy Round Table examines the question of whether modern fantasy comes in shades other than grim and gritty.

Warren Rochelle: Fantasy: How Many Shades of Grey?
All right.  I’ve been browsing in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. I googled “different kinds of fantasy—and, for the most part, found similar lists and similar terms.  I doubt most of those who write for this blog would be surprised at the terms and definitions I found, such as:  

Ø  high fantasy: immersion, set wholly in the secondary world, “with its own set of rules and physical laws,” (no connections between here and there). Think Middle-earth.
Ø  low fantasy: a sub-genre of fantasy fiction involving nonrational happenings that are without causality or rationality because they occur in the rational world where such things are not supposed to occur. Low fantasy stories are set either in the real world or a fictional but rational world, and are contrasted with high fantasy stories (see above)… The word "low" refers to the level of prominence of traditional fantasy elements within the work, and is not any sort of remark on the work's quality” (Wikipedia contributors. "Low fantasy." (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 2 May. 2013.)  Examples include The Borrowers, Tuck Everlasting, The Five Children and It, Edward Eager’s novels, and so on.

Ø  epic fantasy, which is centered on the quest, relies on a heroic main character, stresses the battle between good and evil, heroes, legendary battles—often called heroic fantasy.  A portal-quest or portal fantasy could be a variant, with a prime example that of the Chronicles of Narnia.

The lists go on to include contemporary/urban fantasy, anthropomorphic, historical, dark, science fantasy—you get the idea. Fantasy, all about good vs. evil, the light versus the dark, heroes and heroines, magic, dragons, and their ilk, comes in many shades of grey. (50? That’s another essay—see the blog on sexuality in fantasy, okay?)  Then, there is immersive vs. intrusive and liminal or estranged and … But instead of defining each and every one, and dredging up examples (which is something I like to do when I teach fantasy lit—English 379, this fall, 3:30-4:45 TTh, come on down), I want to talk about the shade of grey I write and why (and yes, grey, the British spelling, and not the American gray. Grey just looks …. well, grey, and it’s prettier… I digress).

So. What’s my shade of grey?  I have two published fantasy novels, Harvest of Changelings (Golden Gryphon, 2007) and its sequel, The Called (Golden Gryphon, 2010). A third is being edited, The Golden Boy, and a fourth in progress even as I write, The Werewolf and His Boy. They are all, I am thinking, low and intrusive fantasies. True, The Golden Boy is sort of pushing the above definition of low, as it is set in an alternate reality, that of the Columbian Empire. Magic is real, but it is illegal, and the Empire is definitely meant to be a rational country. Magic, does, however, intrude, according to the Columbian political and religious authorities. But, the others: this world (more or less), and then magic returns (thus intruding), or is disclosed in some fashion, voluntarily and otherwise. Harvest and The Called are set in North Carolina; Werewolf, in Virginia. Complications ensue—lots of complications. Bad things happen. The good guys are in serious trouble. Yes, there are forays into Faerie from time to time, but on the whole, things happen here, not there.

The question of the moment is why, to what end. Part of me has always wanted to believe in magic (oh, all right, part of me does believe in magic) and that it is real and if we just knew—the right people, the right words, where to look—we could find it. It’s always been here. There has to be a reason for all these stories. So, I create fictional worlds that satisfy this longing. In these worlds the magical and the mundane intersect, overlap, come into conflict—and I find these encounters fascinating. As do their real-world counterparts (encountering the unexplainable), such meetings pull back the veils and reveal us as who and what we really are. They are meetings in which we are forced to ask the question of what it means to be human. That some of these encounters are fraught with peril is also part of this question.  To be human is, sometimes, to be in danger, to be facing great evil, and to have to confront that evil, albeit the evil is a monster, another human, or a personal darkness. To be human is to undertake the quest. As Le Guin says in her essay, “The Child and the Shadow,” “fantasy is the natural, the appropriate language for the recounting of the spiritual journey and the struggle of good and evil in the soul”(Language of the Night 64).

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ARCHIVES: What We Lose, What We Gain

Some things are worth repeating. This post was originally published in December 2011.

Some years ago - like maybe a decade - most of my jewelry was stolen. None of it was very valuable, although there were some pearls and jade and a little amber, and a lovely pair of moonstone stud earrings. But, as is the way of things, each piece had a story that was part of my life. That was the real value, and hence the deepest loss. I'd had some of them since my childhood, and some had been gifts from loved ones who've since died. Some of it was my mother's.

I went through the expected rage and frenzy, scouring local flea markets in the forlorn hope that I might spot a piece or two. Of course, I did not. When that stage had run its course, the police report filed (and, doubtless, forgotten), anger turned to grief, and grief to acceptance, and acceptance to looking in a new way at what I'd lost.

I wrote in my journal that the thieves had taken bits of minerals, crystals, shells, and fossilized tree sap, but they could not steal:

the stories in my mind
the books I've written
my children
the redwoods
my dreams
my friends
their kindness and generosity to me
my capacity for joy...

Monday, May 27, 2013

Baycon Day 3 - World-Building and Sex in Space

Sunday was a day of panels and networking for me. The first was a schedule panel, Sex in Space. I asked to be on it because (a) sex is interesting and fun to talk about; (b) I know a little about it, having attended Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop in 2011and read various materials from NASA -- not about sex; they aren't confirming any direct knowledge -- but social psychology stuff. You can read my previous discussion here:

Sex in Space:Part One: How Do We Manage To Do It?
Sex in Space: Part Two - Things That Can Go Wrong
Sex in Space: Part Three: No Babies, Please

People Are Sexual, Even In Space

Of course, I was moderator. The panel was a challenge, given the tension between "dirty old man" prurience oh-how-hot-to-screw-in-zero-gee and plodding, overly technical scientific details about the inner-ear birth defects mice develop when gestated in a space station.All in all, the panel went splendidly, with each panelist contributing -- and listening to one another. I think one of the most difficult things about a panel like this is not the subject material, but how hard it is to really listen to one another. So many people are guarded in one way or another about sexuality, all too often retreating into off-color jokes or clinical detachment. Is it possible to talk about sex in space without it turning into an R-rated peep show? How do we include emotions and relationships in our discussion? And leave egos -- our need to appear hip and experienced and oh-so-suave -- aside?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Baycon 2013 Day 2 - Connections

At some conventions, I'm so heavily scheduled for panels, I don't get to actually attend any and listen to the discussions. Sometimes that's frustrating, other times, it's just the way things roll. Typically, panels and other events are an hour or an hour and a half long, wrapping up 5 minutes before closing to give everyone barely enough time to scramble to the next one. This time, Baycon scheduled 2 hours slots with 1 1/2 hour panels, which had the dual effect of ample discussion time, leisurely transitions, and far fewer panels. I think this is a worthwhile experiment. People, both pro writers/artists and fans, attend conventions for many different reasons. I doubt it's possible to create a programming schedule that fits everyone's needs, but trying different things is a good way to find the best balance.

So yesterday was mostly a schmoozing day, connecting with other members of Book View Cafe, as well as friends. I tend not to include Lists of Notable Names in my convention reports, and I won't do so now. Suffice it to say that it's a delight to meet in person fellow writers with whom I've been working with online. The internet creates its own kind of community. Well, many kinds, but mostly mediated through text -- emails, forums, groups, blogs, etc. Occasionally phone conferences and even less frequently video conferences. None of these substitute for face-to-face conversations. When the members of a community (in this case, Book View Cafe) are scattered not only across the US, but over the world, getting more than two or three of us together at the same time in the same place is nigh impossible. This is where conventions come in, because as pro writers, we often attend these anyway, so we seize upon the opportunity to "meet-up."

Despite the fact that a number of us specifically requested that we be on the panel on the Future of E-Publishing, none of us were. So a bunch of us went. The panelists included various writers, editors, and publishers, and I have no complaint about the discussion...except that BVC is on the leading edge of innovative epublishing. To the best of my knowledge, we're the first online author's cooperative, we have over 40 members, we've published work that made it to the New York Times Bestseller list, we sell our ebooks to libraries internationally, we include a wide range of genres (sf/f, Romance, historical fiction, YA, nonfiction, mystery, thriller, horror, etc.), and we are actively developing new models of cooperative publishing. Surely such a panel might make some slight reference to what we're doing?

So we made our presence known. At least, one of us went up and spoke to the moderator and got added to the panel. The usual result is that afterwards, panelists and audience members want to know more about us. Some of these conversations get as far as, How do I join? and a few of those go farther. Sometimes we as individual BVC members make contact with other groups of authors and we're still trying to figure out ways of supporting one another. BVC has an organic, consensus-based decision-making process that drives many people nuts and often results in very slow changes.

You meet people, you chat, you plant ideas on one another's minds. Maybe hearing how we do things will inspire other authors to group themselves together in ways that best serve them. Maybe some of the other seeds that are scattered bear unexpected and innovative fruit. Most will likely come to nothing other than a pleasant chat. But you never know...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Baycon - the Extremely Abbreviated Commuter's Version

Baycon is my local science fiction convention. It's in San Jose and I'm an hour's drive up in the mountains, and it always seems to be me a good (not to mention thrifty) idea to commute from home. Actually, it's an excellent idea to sleep in my own bed, surrounded by my own cats, and have time every day to get some work done. (Of course, many writers, including myself, bring laptops or netbooks to conventions -- you'll find us in odd corners or up in our rooms when everyone else is partying, pounding out our daily quota of words.)

Commuting from home has its price. It eats up 1 1/2 - 2 hours from my day, and it means a fairly firm departure time and no alcohol. (Twisty mountain roads at night are not a good setting for excessive fatigue.) I've never been much of a party-goer, being (a) a morning person; (b) happily married; (c ) not at all interested in getting drunk. There are parties and then there are parties, however. I've made some wonderful connections, mostly at publisher's parties and early enough so actual conversation was possible. By commuting, I pretty much rule those out. And most concerts, some of which I'd really like to attend.

Speaking of connections, here's a mini report of yesterday, along with The Highlight Of The Day. I had 2 panels -- Women in SF (with Ann Wilkes, Sandra Saidak and Sarah Stegall) and YA Fiction: More Than Blanking-out the Sex (with newly-published YA author Ingrid Paulson, Sarah Stegall, editor Daniel Hope, and Irene Radford). Both had lovely moments and genuine give-and-take conversation. And good moderators. The first panel asked questions like: what is a strong woman character? What is strength? Is it easier for women to be masculine than for men to be feminine? Can we envision sfnal societies without gender bias? One of the first things we did on the YA panel was to dispel the notion that you can't have sex/sexual-thoughts/sexual-feelings in a YA novel. What's the difference between a YA novel and an adult novel with a teen character or protagonist? Will you lose sales if you depict your teen characters using four-letter words? How has literature for tweens/teens/college age kids changed? What's the effect of social media on how YA readers hear about books and how have the ways they're reading changed?

Now for the highlight. After my second panel, I sat down at one of the tables in the mezzanine, where fan tables  are set up -- the area itself has tables and chairs and is a general hang-out  place. One of the people from the audience, a bright and earnest young woman, was there, and we struck up a conversation. The topic quickly switched from the panel itself to writing and then became one of those magical interactions, a chance to pay forward for all the support and advice I've received over the years. She'd taken time off from her day job to concentrate on writing; I told her how I managed to write either when I had an infant at home or when I held a full-time job as a single working mom. What writing issues she was struggling with; some different ways of looking at them; what makes a good critique group and what she needs from her beta-readers (and how to connect with good critiquers). Books and blogs that have helped me. Connecting with a fellowship of writers.

It was the High Point for me because I love teaching and the conversation was exactly the right one at the right time. Yes, it's ego-boosting to meet hordes of fans (although I have yet to experience hordes) but it's in many ways far more satisfying to have these one-on-one talks where both people are fully present, there's a give-and-take, and I walk away with the certainty that it has been meaningful to both of us. I need to remember that I too was once a beginner trying to figure out this writing business. I've made my share of mistakes, but I've figured out what works for me and I've heard a lot of stories about what works for other people, too. We don't have to re-invent the wheel if we're willing to be generous with our knowledge.

Here's a possibility. See if it works for you. I've heard it said that writing cannot be taught, but it can be learned. That learning does not have to occur in isolation. After all, when I encourage and educate a new writer, I contribute to there being more wonderful books for me to read!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Nebula Banquet thoughts

You can read all about who won what award. Robert Silverberg's comments as Toastmaster were worth the price of admission. As were my dinner companions. I Shall Not Name-Drop.

Two gems from the evening: Upon accepting the Solstice Award (to non-writers, living or dead, who have contributed to the field) for his late father, Nick Sagan quoted Carl as saying, "Our lives are made significant by the courage of our questions."

And... there is no truth to the rumor that Connie Willis plans to renounce her Grand Master Award in order to become eligible for the Solstice Award. None whatsoever.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Deborah’s Excellent Nebula Awards Weekend Adventure Continues

Saturday did not begin auspiciously. The Nebula Awards hotel is in downtown San Jose, which is not noteworthy for the adequacy of its public parking. After visiting one full public lot after another and having various adventures which left the paint of my car considerably worse for wear, I surrendered to the inevitability of having to pay a significant fraction of the national debt in order to leave my car somewhere. However, with the sympathetic reception of my tale of aggravation, I determined to leave that particular episode safely ensconced in the past…at least until I have to get my car out of hock.

As a consequence, I caught only the last part of the SFWA Business Meeting, and I wouldn’t have been able to report on what transpired anyway, it being SFWA-Sekrit. However, during the discussion of pirate websites, a couple of points arose that bear repeating and are nonspecific enough that nobody is going to track me down for indiscretion. If your traditionally-published books appear on a pirate site, notify your publisher, who are, after all, adversely financially affected and often have the legal departments, etc., to deal with it. Also, some of these sites do not actually sell pirated copies of books – they are scams for collecting credit card numbers. This latter notion boggles the mind with its likelihood.

Fast forward through lunch and various conversations to the panel on Writing For Young Adults (with Leah Bobet, Sarah Beth Durst, Steven Gould, and E.C. Myers). Herewith my notes:
Don’t be boring (especially for kids). Write well if the subject matter is difficult, and make sure every element is there for a reason. This advice strikes me as being rue for all fiction.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nebulas, first day, afterthoughts

I didn't take a lot of notes during the panel on Shared Worlds that I was on, for which I expect to be forgiven. It seemed more important to pay attention to what everyone was saying. However, I did scribble down something Robert Silverberg said about collaborations, and it strikes me that every writer who is considering this and aims to build a professional career needs to consider it. When you sell a collaboration (to a publisher, remember this is old-school writing career model) you need to get an advance that is at least twice what you would have gotten individually.

(My own thoughts) -- There are many reasons for embarking on a collaboration (as opposed to a novel that's basically ghost-written, with the senior author's name added for sales shiny-ness). Saving time isn't one of them. A good collaboration is not half the work of a solo novel. It's at least twice.

It behooves us all to pay attention to whether we are good collaborators and if so, under what conditions. Sometimes, what makes us good writers (we're visionaries, we answer only to our inner muses, we are pig-headed and recalcitrant, much like our cats) can make it challenging to Play Nicely With Others. Others of us find inspiration and creative nourishment in the process of working together. With some people -- but not others. Pay attention. Play to your strengths.

Tomorrow, the second day (with better notes, I promise!)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Deborah Waves Hi From The Nebula Weekend

The 2013 Nebula Awards Weekend began rather spectacularly for me with a panel (typically, if you get to be on a panel at all at the Nebs, it's only one -- and it's a big deal, at least for me, because the audience is professional writers). My panel was Writing in Someone Else's Universe: What are the rules? How can you push the boundaries?

My co-panelists were (takes a deep breath) Robert Silverberg, John Scalzi, Terry Bisson, and William C. Dietz. The discussion was amazing, ranging from writing in established universes (whether literary, film, or games) to shared-worlds that are created by a group of authors to collaborations to fanfic. Silverberg shared about working with Randall Garrett in the days of John Campbell's Astounding magazine, when he (Silverberg) was a "youngster" and still a student, and with Asimov at the very end of Asimov's life. Dietz writes not only his original fiction but video game tie-ins; he talked about what it's like working with a committee of mostly very avid but very young game designers. We veered into a discussion of copyright with John Scalzi's adventure in a modern take on H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy stories (the first of which is in the public domain, but he asked for the approval of Piper's estate anyway). Terry Bisson has done an amazing range of writing, including novelizations (as opposed to tie-ins, which he has also written). One of the points that emerged over and over was the importance of your own creative vision, that some writers have the temperament and ability to Play Nicely according to a pre-set list of rules, but others will take the rules as a challenge and "do their own thing." Silverberg said that for a shared-world or sequential anthology, he preferred to write either the first story (the set-up) or the last (the wrap-up). And I held forth with my usual brilliance about both my Star Wars story and my Darkover collaborations. A great time was had by all.

After that, I entered decompression mode for lunch, attended a panel on What Happens to Your Novel After You Turn It In? which could have been about book production but kept veering into what the author can do for publicity, as several of the panelists had major chops in this area. The cool thing, for me anyway, was that this was not the "Publicity 101 For Beginners" but a serious discussion of changing role of publishers/distributors/wholesalers.

The evening's event was a mass autographing. Authors Of Note were assigned strategically-placed spots and the rest of us set up our tent cards anywhere we liked. So I hobnobbed with friends and was pleasantly surprised when a number of people brought books for me to sign. Signings, like readings, are impossible to predict. I see both as "paying my publicity dues" and a chance to meet my readers. Or reader. And in this case to also cheer the long lines for the better-known authors -- the fans waiting so patiently are buying books! and reading them!

And surely that's a good thing for everyone.

Needless to say, if you ever have a chance to attend SFWA's Nebula Awards Weekend, grab it. You don't have to be a member to attend (you just can't attend the SFWA Business Meeting, but the panels and awards ceremony are open to registered peeps).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Where's Deborah?

I haven't dropped off the face of the Earth, despite the long absences. I've been wrestling with some physical problems that severely limit my computer time, and here's how I've been spending that limited time:

Getting ready for the launch of Collaborators (as Deborah Wheeler) from Dragon Moon Press, including a series of blog posts about world-building and creating a gender fluid race. I'll post a link once it's available, along with snippets.

Editorial revisions for Shannivar, the second book in The Seven-Petaled Shield trilogy. The first one, by that name, is coming out next month. You can pre-order the first one here.

Description: Eons ago, a great king used a magical device—the Seven-Petaled Shield—to defeat the forces of primal chaos, but now few remember that secret knowledge. When an ambitious emperor conquers the city that safeguards the Shield, the newly-widowed young Queen, guardian of the heart-stone of the Shield, flees for her life, along with her adolescent son. And much adventure ensues...

Putting together a collection of short stories, Azkhantian Tales, which will be released from Book View Cafe June 11. These stories, originally published in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword & Sorceress formed the foundation for the world of The Seven-Petaled Shield and its cultures. There's a new Introduction about the process of exploring that world, as well as a sneak peek at The Seven-Petaled Shield.

Putting together a proposal for my agent to do magical things with. News will follow when I have it.

Working on editing 2 anthologies. News will follow as release dates approach.

Friday, May 10, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Steven Harper on Havoc In The Family

Can you keep a secret?  I totally based one of the characters from THE HAVOC MACHINE on a real person.  Truth!

They tell you at Author School never to do that.  It results in hurt feelings or even lawsuits.  Kathryn Stockett, author of THE HELP, was embroiled in a legal battle over this very issue, in fact.  But me--I'll get away with it.

The character in question is Nikolai, a boy of about nine years, and the person he's based on is my son Maksim.

I first met Maksim at an orphanage in Ukraine nearly nine years ago.  He was three, but looked two.  My wife and I talked to him and played with him every day for two weeks, and he always cried silently when it was time for us to leave.  That soundless weeping was a dagger in my heart every time.  One of the greatest joys of my life was when we told him he was saying good-bye to everyone else and coming home with us.

Maksim did everything firmly.  When you asked him a yes-no question, he nodded his head once, firmly, or shook his head once, firmly.  He ran firmly.  He pointed firmly.  When he learned enough English to make himself understood, he had firm ideas about what a family should be like, and he voiced them firmly.

"We need to do a family activity," he would say.  "We have to go to the park."  Or, "A papa is supposed to show his son how to ride a bike," or "Brothers are supposed to help each other."