Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, April 18-24, 2021

Your weekly batch of informal writerly learnings has arrived. Get them while they’re hot!

Jan O’Hara shares a display hack for your story’s outline. Dave King: the non-writing part of writing. Then, Barbara Linn Probst wonders, why was my protagonist so prickly? Juliana Baggott explains when to reject rejection. Yuvi Zalkow wants you to make something terrible (and make it again). Writer Unboxed

Janice Hardy says infighting is a lousy way to create conflict in your novel. Then, Bonnie Randall deconstructs Deadly Illusions to explain what not to do with your manuscript. Fiction University

K.M. Weiland explores the queen’s shadow archetypes in part 11 of her archetypal character arcs series. Helping Writers Become Authors

Shaelin Bishop shares her top 12 writing tips. Shaelin Writes

Becca Puglisi shares tips for landing a guest posting gig. Then Barbara Linn Probst shares ten different writing tricks to make your point. Later in the week, Laurie Schnebly Campbell explains when, why and how to show emotion. Writers in the Storm

Jane Friedman explains how the pandemic is affecting book publishing. Jane Friedman

Princess Weekes wonders, what’s in a (pen) name? It’s Lit | PBS Storied

Adam W. Burgess touts the magic of queer fiction. Gabriela Pereira interviews C.L. Clark about character, conflict, and world building in fantasy. Janelle Hardy wants you to shift creative resistance using your body. Then, LA Bougeois shares five creativity exercises to fire up your writing muse. DIY MFA

Lisa Hall-Wilson offers four tips for writing your characters PTSD and trauma memories. Writers Helping Writers

The actress trope. The Take

Chris Winkle offers five tips for using an arbitrary magic system. Then, Oren Ashkenazi analyzes five novels with bizarre tangents. Mythcreants

Zoraida Córdova explains what it’s like writing Gamora in ‘Women of Marvel’ #1. Marvel

Camonghne Felix interviews Barry Jenkins about bringing The Underground Railroad to TV. Vanity Fair

Thank you for taking the time to visit, and I hope you found something to support your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well and stay safe, my writerly friends.

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Dec 13-19, 2020

Ah! The penultimate tipsday of the year! Time to get your informal writerly learnings 🙂

John J. Kelley helps you stage the scene. Yuvi Zalkow is embracing the I-don’t-know-ness. Porter Anderson hopes you work wonders in 2021. Writer Unboxed

Janice Hardy shares three steps to crafting a stronger first draft. Fiction University

Jenna Moreci shares her top ten tips for writing fantasy.

Lori Freeland lists five things every writer needs to thrive. Then, Barbara Linn Probst considers scene coherence from the reader’s perspective. Writers in the Storm

My name is Inigo Montoya: Princess Bride fight analysis. Jill Bearup

Lucy V. Hay shares ten steps to revise your NaNo novel. Writers Helping Writers

Nathan Bransford explains what to expect when you work with a freelance editor.

The strong female character trope, explained. The Take

Abigail K. Perry demonstrates the importance of internal and external value shifts in characters. Later in the week, Amy Ayers offers five ways to talk about writing with nonwriters. DIY MFA

The funny fat girl trope, explained. The Take

Ken Brosky explains how to effectively manage multiple narrators in your novel. Then, Louise Tondeur asks, is your writer’s block really writer’s indecision? Jane Friedman

Chris Winkle does a narration makeover to create tension. Oren Ashkenazi: what The Black Company teaches us about dark stories. Mythcreants

Emily Zarka considers the Nuckelavee, Scotland’s skinless, evil monstrosity. Monstrum |PBS Storied

Mildred Europa Taylor: Cynthia Erivo to star in and produce film about enslaved Yoruba girl who became a gift to the queen of England. Face 2 Face Africa

Stephanie Cram: Darcie Little Badger’s YA debut Elatsoe landed on Time’s list of the best fantasy novels of all time. CBC’s “Unreserved”

A Poem for All The ‘Old Hags’ // Sarah MacGillivray

Tom Grater reports that Charlie Mackesy, author of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse, teams up with Bad Robot to produce animated short. Deadline

Thanks for dropping by, and I hope you found something to support your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well and stay safe, my writerly friends!

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Oct 11-17, 2020

Another week, another collection of informal writerly goodness.

Black and Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until Black and Indigenous lives matter.

Wear your masks. Maintain physical distance when you can’t. Wash your hands. Get your flu shot as soon as you can.

K. Tempest Bradford: World Fantasy, the convention that keeps on failing. The lack of diversity on panels and lack of a properly enforced anti-harassment policy have been ongoing for the better part of a decade and organizers are reluctant to admit there are problems, let alone take action on them.

Princess Weekes breaks down true womanhood and black girlhood in media. Melina Pendulum

Jeanette the Writer: yes, there are different types of English. Later in the week, Jeremy Hance explains how he decided to write a memoir about his hilarious mental illness. Then, Ambre Leffler offers five ways to be kind to your eyes. DIY MFA

K.M. Weiland explores the link between the first and second pinch points. Helping Writers Become Authors

Shaelin shares five fantasy tropes to avoid, be careful with, or embrace. Reedsy

Lori Freeland details the five key elements to layering your scene. Later in the week, Jenny Hansen lists the five fears that spook most writers. Writers in the Storm

Janice Hardy explains the difference between a first page that hooks and a novel that hooks. Fiction University

Jim Dempsey wants you to ground your characters with all five senses. Then, Barbara Linn Probst wonders, what is your story about, anyway? Word, phrase, sentence, equation. Later in the week, Anne Greenwood Brown explains how to communicate without words. Writer Unboxed

Alli Sinclair is asking the right questions with character interviews. Writers Helping Writers

Nancy Stohlman extols the benefits of writing flash fiction. Jane Friedman

Chris Winkle shares lessons from the exposition of Crescent City. Then, Oren Ashkenazi lists six signs your story is about the wrong character. Mythcreants

The setting of a story: what is it and how to write it. Reedsy

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you found something to support your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well and stay safe, my writerly friends!

The next chapter: September 2020 update

I blink, and it’s October.

Black and Indigenous lives matter

The good fight goes on despite losses. There was no justice for Breonna Taylor. Joyce Echaquan died after enduring racist abuse from the people who were supposed to be helping her. Two of the staff were fired, but it looks like there won’t be justice for Joyce Echaquan either.

On the positive side, Annamie Paul is the first Black leader of a Canadian political party. I’m watching with interest.

We have to keep educating ourselves (those of us who benefit from white privilege), listening, reading, promoting Black and Indigenous artists and entrepreneurs, and bringing issues affecting Black and Indigenous people to the fore. We need to do better.

Pandemic life

Ten months into this hellacious year and seven months into the pandemic. We’re firmly into the second wave in many areas of the province and country. Pre-reopening restrictions have been institutes again. We all have to do our part to protect each other.

Wear your masks, maintain physical distance, wash your hands, don’t go out unless you need to, and get your flu shots as soon as they’re available.

I’m just boggled that Trump decided to break quarantine to give his supporters a “gift.” What gift is that? The rona? I shake my head and wait to see what happens next.

Work wise, while front line workers have returned to the office (with appropriate protections), the rest of us are teleworking for the foreseeable. So, nothing new there. I’ve adapted to my new work laptop and the shelf Phil made for me to elevate my monitors over my laptop also provides additional storage space.

With respect to the assessment process I was involved in for the new job at work … the manager wanted to proceed with next steps in the informal process. If I was interested. To which I responded with a resounding “YES!” The potential start date has been pushed to November to accommodate any approvals that might need to be obtained. And then I was called for the interview in the formal process. Still nervous about it, but they did proceed to contact my references from there.

And now … we wait. Again. Did I mention these things tend to take a fair amount of time?

The month in writing

Please excuse the block caps, but I think some shouting is in order. THE NEVERENDING DRAFT FINALLY ENDED! Yes, I finished this iteration of Reality Bomb. It was basically 120k and I have to cut around 30k, but I’m optimistic. I’m currently mapping in anticipation of revising later this month.

So, 5,234 words, or 105% of my 5k-word goal.

I finished the short story I started last month and promptly submitted it. It was rejected and so will be added to my pile of revise and resubmit stories, but I feel that it was an accomplishment, nonetheless. Then, I started on another story, not expecting to finish it, let alone submit it, but I did both! I probably won’t hear from that submission process for a while yet. I’m just happy to have done it.

I also submitted a previously published story for consideration in a Canadian reprint special issue of a popular SFF magazine. I’ll definitely let you know if anything comes of that 🙂

2,489 word of short fiction in the month, or 124% of my 2k-word goal.

I blogged 6,815 words of my 3,750-word goal, or a whopping 182%. Whop.

Overall, I wrote 14,538 words. I’d aimed for 10,750 and surpassed my goals on all counts. 135% of my monthly writing goal ain’t bad.

In the poetry arena, “Fire and Ice,” one of the five poems accepted for publication in Polar Borealis was also selected for Stellar Evolutions, an anthology featuring the best of the first 15 issues of PB. The pieces for the anthology were selected by Rhea E. Rose of RainWood Press. Pre-orders start October 15th, and the anthology is officially out on October 31st—my birthday!

Isn’t the cover beautiful?

It’s nice to get some external validation again.

Filling the well

Over Labour Day long weekend, our small family gathered at my sister-in-law’s for what’s probably our last outdoor family gathering of the year (it’s too cold for the moms, now). Chicken wings on the barbeque and fresh-cut fries. The sandhill cranes (AKA dinos) were EVERYWHERE.

Later in the month, I went out with Torvi a couple of times for walks in the fields.

In September, I attended Jane Friedman’s workshop on Researching Agents and Publishers like a Pro, a Word on the Street event with Michael Christie (Greenwood), Kerri Sakamoto (Floating City), and Doreen Vanderstoop (Watershed), the Writing Excuses Retreat fall reunion, How to Astronaut with Mary Robinette Kowal and Terry Virts, a NaNoWriMo session on How to Unlock the Key to Your Novel (adaptation to screen) with Jenny Han (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give), Nancy Springer (Enola Holmes), and Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah), a world building tutorial with Mary Robinette Kowal, and a presentation on The Inner Workings of Spacesuit Design with Adam Savage, Cady Coleman, and (again) Mary Robinette Kowal.

Whew! That was a lot of virtual events.

I also attended several meetings for the Canadian Authors Association and the AGM for CIRA as well as several learning events at work (virtual facilitation, Orange Shirt Day, anti-racism, and mental health). What can I say? I’m a learning mutt.

What I’m watching and reading

Because many series stopped filming and/or production because of covid-19, there hasn’t been a lot on cable these days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m kind of grateful. I get more writing done of an evening if I don’t have regular series to watch. I’m actually catching up on my streaming viewing, but I haven’t finished any more series/seasons that way, either.

I watched the first six episodes of Wynona Earp. It’s the usual wacky shenanigans, but we didn’t get much of anywhere before covid intervened. Apparently, the rest of the season should start coming out in January. I’ll reserve full judgement until then.

Phil and I endured Cursed. It’s okay to envision a new interpretation of traditional myths and legends, but you have to have some kind of cohesive story going in. This was just stuff happening, just to have stuff happen. Pirates and Vikings and fairies, oh my? In what timescape do these all coexist with Arthurian legend (the fairies, okay, but the rest)? It’s fiction. I get it. But it all felt contrived, like, oh yeah, now we have the Inquisition (nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition)!

By all means, let Nimue be the one true queen, but she should act like one (some of the time, please?). She can have (indeed should have) conflicting goals and desires, but she’s running away with Arthur one minute and then making deals with Uther to save her people the next? Everyone was changing allegiances, left, right, and centre, again, apparently for no reason.

In short, nothing came together for us. We’ve watched and enjoyed shows that have done truly bizarre things with Arthurian legend, but they worked because there was a cohesive story to wrap all the crazy in. Someone let their idea monkey out of its cage and the poor dear just started flinging poop everywhere.

The rest of my viewing was long form, that is movies.

I watched Birds of Prey (and the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn) and it was fabulous. I think it’s the best DCEU film I’ve seen yet. It was all style and fun and it had a legit story. Margot Robbie was *chef’s kiss.* Nice to see strong women coming together to kick some ass and save each other.

Then, I saw Knives Out. Hilarious and clever, though I did wonder how Benoit Blanc, master detective, missed the distinct scent of vomit when he got into the car. You know the scene I’m talking about. This movie isn’t a whodunnit, but a who-woulda-dunnit-if-the-intended-victim-hadn’t-dunnit-first … and committed murder, extortion, and arson to cover their tracks. It’s about true friendship and kindness and a suspect who vomits every time she lies. A feelgood movie. Yeah, that’s what I’m going with.

Finally, Phil and I watched Enola Holmes. Another feelgood movie. It’s a plot wrapped in a mystery. Millie Bobbie Brown was perfect and got to use her own accent (sort of). Henry Cavill and Helena Bonham Carter were lovely. There were a few key differences from the book as I understand it, but I think I’m going to pick it up. I’ve always enjoyed Nancy Springer’s novels 🙂

In terms of reading, I have four offerings, two short story collections and two novels.

The first collection was Lynn Coady’s Hell Going. This collection won the Giller in 2013. I enjoyed the stories, but they all seemed to revolve around absences, and how people only end up hurting themselves by not communicating.

Daniel José Older’s Salsa Nocturna is a collection of stories featuring the characters from the first two novels in his Bone Street Rumba series. Humans who can see the dead, half-dead ghost hunters, witches who trap the souls of their victims in dolls, mammoth ghosts (not big ghosts, but the ghosts of woolly mammoths), and regular folks who get caught up in the world of the NY Council of the Dead.

Then, I read Justina Ireland’s Deathless Divide, the sequel to Dread Nation. As dark as the first novel was, DD is darker. You have to read them both to get the full effect, and I’m not going to spoil it.  The metaphoric nature of the story is killer (pun intended).

Finally, I read Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler. Well, I listened to it. Audible offered Giller prize winning novels for free back in the spring and I got a bunch. I didn’t expect to like this novel, but I did. The twist in the final pages is perfect. The narrator … I’m not as impressed with. He persisted in pronouncing yarmulke (yah-muhl-kah) as yarmuckel—that’s not even how it’s written—gah! I would think a professional voice actor would care enough to look up these things before he began narration … but I’ll leave it there.

Barney is the ultimate unreliable narrator. He’s starting to forget things and eventually dies from complications related to Alzheimer’s. So, basically, the reader can’t trust a word he’s written. He’s writing his memoir, such as it is, in response to former friend turned rival, Terry MacIvor’s fictional expose.

The problem is that Barney readily admits his faults and he does terrible things, but he’s adamant on one point: he did not kill his best friend as everyone thinks he did.

And that was the month in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, July 12-18, 2020

Black Lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until Black and Indigenous lives matter. I believe this more than ever. I’m not going to stop putting this important message out there until it’s true.

Regardless of whether your area of the world has never closed, is reopening, or is still under some degree of lockdown, please, for the love of all you hold dear, wear a mask.

As for schools, I sincerely believe the safest way forward is to keep all classes virtual. I know this isn’t a popular stance, but we know how quickly a common cold, or the flu proliferates in a classroom. And this is covid. We still don’t know the long-term effects of this virus.

I also know that virtual learning presents its own challenges. This will require a sea change for parents, teachers, schoolboards, employers, and governments and I think leaving these important discussions to this late date was naïve on the part of many. Ignoring the issue is not going to make it go away.

Having said that, Sudbury hasn’t had any new cases reported since about June 22 or so. We’ve only had 67 conformed cases and two deaths. It might be more reasonable to consider modified, in-person classes here, but I’d like to wait on the possible impact of phase three of reopening before we go there. Those numbers have yet to be publicized.

Now, onto the informal writerly learnings!

Kris Maze shares seven unstoppable YA plot ideas to make your novel fabulous. Barbara Linn Probst is editing for theme: search and employ. Writers in the Storm

Elizabeth A. Harvey explores a writer’s sense of place: where I ought to be. Jim Dempsey is writing and napping. Sophie Masson shares what she’s learned about presenting online workshops. Then, Juliet Marillier tells a tale about finding resilience: a dog story. Writer Unboxed

Gender and Jurassic Park. Cold Crash Pictures

Janice Hardy explains some story rulez: the two things every novel needs to do. Later in the week, Angela Ackerman stopps by: how emotional wounds can steer a character’s job choice. Fiction University

The female friendship revolution. The Take

Peter von Stackelberg shares an intuitive four-step process for creating vibrant scene structure. Helping Writers Become Authors

Andrew Noakes offers six principles for writing historical fiction. Jane Friedman

Lindsay Ellis looks at Tolkien’s constructed languages. It’s Lit | PBS Storied

Leanne Sowul wants you to commit to self-education about racism and anti-racism. And here’s my latest Speculations: ten Black science fiction and fantasy authors to read now. Then, Gabriela interviews Django Wexler: using fantasy to “literalize” the metaphor. DIY MFA

Chris Winkle explains why storytellers fail at grimdark and how to fix it. Then Bunny and Oren Ashkenazi team up: five reasons your story shouldn’t deny that it’s a story. Mythcreants

Deborah Ahenkora is slaying the dragons of hate with words. CBC Books

Aya de Léon: crime fiction is complicit in police violence, but it’s not too late to change. Electric Literature

Jeana Jorgensen describes what happens when fairyland is not for you: on escapism, fantasy, and survival. The Wrangler

Paula Findlen explores Petrarch’s plague: love, death, and friendship in a time of pandemic. The Public Domain Review

Thanks for visiting, and I hope that you found something to support your current work in progress (whatever stage it’s in).

Until Thursday, be well and stay safe, my writerly friends!

Tipsday2019

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, April 12-18, 2020

I hope everyone is staying safe and keeping well. Here’s your weekly dose of informal writerly learnings to help fill some of your time (I know you’re all doing what you can to keep yourselves occupied).

Helen J. Darling says that if you’re finding it hard to write, try keeping a pandemic journal. Sara Farmer considers fiction from Daphne du Maurier to Megan Abbott: the gothic horror of womanhood. Later in the week, Gabriela Pereira interviews Jeff Garvin about dismantling the stigma of mental illness. DIY MFA

Lori Freeland helps you understand point of view: P-O-What? Writers in the Storm

K.M. Weiland explains how to get some writing done: discipline vs. enthusiasm. Helping Writers Become Authors

Jim Dempsey offers a simple guide to symbolism in stories. Kathleen McCleary wants you to fuel your writing with feeling. Barbara Linn Probst shares five ways to light the spark of a novel. Writer Unboxed

Sacha Black wants you to breathe life into your prose with the sense of touch. Writers Helping Writers

Specificity and concrete language. Shaelin Writes

Susan DeFreitas shares part three of her developing a writing practice series: important.  Then, Mathina Calliope reveals the easy-to-fix tense problem that might be tripping up your readers. Jane Friedman

Jami Gold explains the difference between passive and active voice: was and not was. Later in the week, she wonders if pandemic anxiety is forcing everyone to count their spoons.

Chris Winkle breaks down act 3 of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Then, Oren Ashkenazi looks at six magic systems that need stricter limits. Mythcreants

Writing fight scenes. Hello, Future Me

Chuck Wendig writes about being broken in half but wanting to be whole. Terribleminds

Steve Toase confronts the default: portraying homelessness in fantasy and science fiction. Tor.com

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you take away something that will support your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, stay safe and well, my writerly friends.

Tipsday2019

Ad Astra 2016, day 1: The influence of Shakespeare on science fiction and fantasy

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that needs correction or clarification, please let me know: melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Kate Heartfield, Arlene F. Marks, Kate Story

ShakespearePanel

AFM: Shakespeare’s plays were, in his time, entertainment and education. They’re lessons in history, then and now. They also were some of the earliest examples of genre. Hamlet is, in part, a ghost story. MacBeth can be seen as urban legend. A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream is fantasy.

KS: Shakespeare needed to make a living. That’s why he wrote. He was a great enabler of public discourse.

KH: You don’t have to go far to find gender queer characters in Shakespeare.

AFM: The Hogarth Shakespeare series from Penguin Random House is asking well-known authors, like Margaret Atwood, to re-imagine his plays. That’s the brilliance of Shakespeare. You can put any one of his plays into any era or milleu.

KH: A lot of adaptations of his work are coming out because it’s the 400th anniversary of his death.

KS: My father was a scholar in Newfoundland. We had a cultural renaissance in the 60’s and 70’s and we started to make some connections. Maybe we have something to offer to the tradition. I think the spirit of Shakespeare’s time was close to Newfoundland’s now. Shakespeare has always been there and has always been an influence. Shakespeare’s women were far more realistic than the women characters of many modern playwrights.

[Kate then performed the monologue from her story in Carbide Tipped Pens, edited by Ben Bova and Eric Choi. It was a variation of Romeo and Juliet, set in space. She’s currently working on the stage play. I just sat back and enjoyed 🙂 ]

Ian McKellan said in an interview, “Where in the modern world would it be so wrong for two people to fall in love?” It resulted in a 70’s production of Romeo and Juliet set in Belfast.

AFM: In Shakespearean times, it was forbidden for women to go in stage. All women’s roles were played by men, or, more often, boys. The audience was very demanding. If they didn’t like a play, or the actors, they brought rotten vegetables to throw.

KS: He was asking the audience to be clever, to know it’s a man playing a women, pretending to be a man. It engaged the audience, drew them in.

AFM: It’s the fiction of the people. The only publisher that approaches this today is Harlequin, who would hold regular “reader appreciation” luncheons to meet their most popular authors. In Shakespeare’s day, there would be nobles and prostitutes in the same audience. It was whoever had the money to pay.

KS: It was nuts for the theatre. A sixth of the population of London would attend the performances.

KH: The culture of fandom/fanfic has a lot in common with the culture of Shakespeare. There’s nothing more Shakespearean than fanfic. Most of Shakespeare’s plays were drawn from earlier works. He borrowed liberally from Ovid.

Q: Shakespeare’s plays address universal themes. The more popular ones get done. Some might say overdone, but the historical plays are ignored.

KS: My theatre did a gender-swapped Taming of the Shrew.

KH: The film industry has done a better job. My Own Private Idaho, The Hollow Ground series, Looking for Richard.

AFM: A Thousand Acres was the story of King Lear. Shakespeare was brilliant of using every member of the company. There were often comic actors. Characters like Falstaff were written for them. If there were acrobats, he’d give them something to do. They had to be very practical in terms of costuming for these reasons.

KH: Titus Andronicus and Troilus and Cressida were essentially horror. Shakespeare was a great worldbuilder. He was consistent in terms of how fairies, spirits, and witches behaved. His idea of Titania was dark, but comic. Fairies had an alien sense of good and evil.

AFM: He built on the motivations of all his characters.

And that was time.

Next week: The do’s and don’ts of writing erotica (oh, my!).

WWC 2014, day 2: Blending science fiction and fantasy

Panellists: Stacy Dooks, Nina Munteanu, Greg Bechtel, and Ian Alexander Martin

Nina MunteanugregbechtelIan Alexander MartinSD: Genres are breaking down. Clarke’s third law states: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

NM: Why do we have genres and should we still?

GB: Yes. It’s for the reader. How else will we know what to buy and read?

NM: Publishers and imprints have the genre printed right on the spine, though.

IAM: I say I don’t like categories and genres, but when I go to my publisher, I use them. I may not like it, but I have to use them.

SD: Genre is your navigational touchstone, your compass point. You can get tricked into reading a genre you weren’t expecting. Stephen King is known primarily for horror, but then he published the Dark Tower series.

IAM: Using categories to restrict authors or stories is bogus.

NM: Do we need to re-educate our readers, then?

GB: Word of mouth is how you find out about books. Now it’s moved online.

NM: It started with Amazon. People are finding their books in new ways now.

IAM: Chapters is its own competition. If you buy online you save 20% over the bookstore prices.

NM: Is it still germane to categorize books?

IAM: Categories in bookstores is an American invention. In the 50’s or 60’s it migrated to Canada. Before that, everything was alphabetical by author, regardless of genre or category.

NM: It’s a different way of looking for a book. When you look for a book, do you look for an author, or do you look for a genre?

Q: People who are already published can bend the rules. What about someone who’s writing?

SD: It’s important to establish the ground rules for your universe. Don’t get derailed. Take Star Wars, for instance. It’s the biggest blend of science fiction and fantasy out there. Don’t try to explain the fantasy elements, like midichlorians. Don’t let anything come out of left field.

GB: We all seem to be agreeing that blending science fiction and fantasy can be done and has been done successfully. What advice do we have for the writers in our audience?

NM: To me, it’s all about the reader. When you read my books, you know what you’re getting. It’s about consistency.

SD: You make a covenant with your reader.

NM: As soon as another writer takes over a franchise, the reader can tell.

GB: You can break your rules if you set it up. Foreshadow. (Mel’s note: Kelley Armstrong said much the same thing in her workshop on writing fantasy at CanWrite!)

IAM: You should trust your reader to “get it.”

NM: You can be subtle.

Q: Blending is one thing, but what is genre? Is it the trappings, or are there other criteria?

NM: I teach how to write science fiction at the University of Toronto. That’s one of the first things my students have to learn is how to define the genre. In science fiction, science is the premise, the ‘what if?’ Fantasy doesn’t have to have magic, but it’s based more on myth and folklore.

SD: In Star Wars, you have all the trappings of science fiction, but at its core the story is a mythic one.

NM: Even if there’s something inexplicable about it. Sometimes, it’s better not to explain.

Q: So is it the fantasy element that enables the story?

NM: Take a look at Diana Gabaldon. Her books defy categorization, but when Outlander was first published, it was stuffed in the romance section of bookstores, even though the author insisted on the more general ‘fiction’ category. Sometimes trying to pigeon-hole your novel can backfire. I wrote what I called a romantic science fiction story. An artificial intelligence ran society, but romance was the main thread. It was dark though. Both partners died. It bombed with romance readers. It was well-reviewed, but romance readers hated it (where was the happy ending?) and science fiction readers loved it.

GB: Margaret Atwood is another example. You don’t want to disappoint your readers’ expectations.

Q: Is genre mainly the concern of publishers and marketing departments? Do you need to focus on it when you’re writing?

NM: You need to understand genre and how that’s going to affect where your novel is placed. New writers who blend are not as marketable.

IAM: Not during the creative process, though. Afterward, yes.

Q: Before the 50’s fantasy had to be disguised as science fiction.

Q: As a new author, how should you present your blended novel?

IAM: I’d be more interested in your mix. Do your research. Approach those publishers that have a track record with blended fiction.

GB: Find a publisher that produces novels you like to read and approach them.

NM: Books used to be marketed by genre. Identify what your book is and sell it for what it actually is.

IAM: Online recommendations may not be accurate. Genre is important for retail, library, and the marketing department. It’s not so relevant to the end user/reader anymore. Social interaction is the key to discoverability.

Q: I didn’t understand that Star Wars was a blend. Now that I think of blending in this light, Final Fantasy nailed it. How much does the visual element contribute?

SD: Science fiction and fantasy is a marginalized genre.

IAM: The general reaction is, “You’re reading that? Read [the classics] instead (Asimov, Clark, etc.).”

NM: The visual element enables blending.

GB: Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a wonderful cross-pollination of horror and action-adventure wrapped in a coming-of-age story.

Q: Fantasy is magic-based. It doesn’t necessarily track for me. Can you make a science-based magic system?

IAM: Absolutely. You can do it if you do it well.

NM: Ultimately, fiction is story. Serve the story.

Next week: When words collide day two continues with Mark Leslie.

CanWrite! 2014: Writing fantasy with Kelley Armstrong, June 20

I took a little break last week because of the blog tour and interview with Mat, but I’m back and ready to proceed with moar CanWrite! 2014 reportage.

I’ve been interested in Kelley for years, ever since I first heard Brian Henry’s story of how he helped hook Kelley up with her agent, effectively launching her career. Kelley’s version of the tale appears later in the workshop, so I won’t spoil it.

Everybody loves a good origin story 🙂

Kelley ArmstrongKelley was a dynamic speaker, hardly ever keeping still long enough for me to snap a decent picture. I won’t torture either you or her with my attempts. Suffice it to say that by the time my phone camera took the shot, she was in mid-speech. So here, instead, is the promo pic she gave the CAA to post on the conference page.

 

Kelley also likes to sit on desks as she holds forth.

Overall, I found her workshop a fascinating one. She frequently asked a question of the class and had us share our expertise, as a good facilitator should (corporate trainer kudos, Kelley!).

Without further ado, here are my notes from the workshop.


 

What is fantasy?

Set in an alternate reality; featuring non-human characters; plausible impossibility (Mel’s note: this was my offering. It’s from Brian Aldiss’s Trillion Year Spree.); mystical elements.

What about sub-genres of fantasy?

Steampunk (think Gail Carriger); urban fantasy (what Kelley writes); epic or high fantasy (Tolkien); contemporary; paranormal romance; speculative fiction; magical realism (Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic).

On writing rules.

There are rules for grammar, spelling, syntax, etc., but with regard to writing a fantasy novel, there are no rules, only guidelines. Following them can definitely improve your chances of being published, but we worry too much about rules.

Don’t worry about the market. Let’s look at an example of a sub-genre that has long been considered flooded.

Current market research reveals that with regard to vampire novels in the last eighteen months there have been:

  • Eighteen deals for new series or standalone titles;
  • Fourteen extensions of current series;
  • Three novels from established novelists in other genres; and
  • One debut.

The “Big Five” are still buying vampire novels. Movies and television series are still being made from these books as well.

Who are the Big Five?

  • Penguin Random House (imprint – DAW)
  • MacMillian
  • Simon & Schuster
  • HarperCollins
  • Hachette (imprints – Little Brown, Hyperion)

All of the Big Five have their imprints. You can publish different books with different imprints.

<Kelley took a few minutes to review her most recently published novels and which imprint and parent publisher each was produced by.>

Bitten was the fourth novel I’d written. The three previous were, a novel about a private investigator (Mel’s note: my notes indicate PI, but it could be something else. My apologies to Kelley if I got this wrong), a traditional fantasy, and a Harlequin Romance, written for their Intrigue line.

Never write to the market. Write what you want to write. If it’s good, it will find an audience.

It takes, on average, about two years for a novel to be published.

Research is important, even in fantasy. Research your setting, history, weapons and armour, etc. Even if your world is a created one, there’s probably something in the real one it was based on.

Here’s how I define a few terms:

Myths have to do with the gods, demigods, avatars, or other similar beings. Folklore relates to fairies and other fantastic races of creatures. Each culture has its own. Legends are real people doing amazing things, generally blown out of proportion after years of retelling.

Can you “break” a myth and retell it in an original way?

Worldbuilding is all about research. You have to have rules and you have to be consistent with them. Or you have to create a convincing “in-world” reason for the rule to be broken.

Part of my research for one of my novels was In the Sleep Room by Anne Collins, a book about sleep deprivation experiments. I also looked into MK Ultra and other military experiments as well. For those who don’t know, MK Ultra was a program that attempted to create an assassin like The Manchurian Candidate.

Urban fantasy usually deals with some form of sub-culture.

How to write your way out of a corner (A.K.A. break your own rules).

First, you have to acknowledge the issue. Then, there are four ways out of your bind:

  • The magical whatnot – a mystical device that will supersede the rules.
  • The lost spell, ritual, or other knowledge – ditto.
  • A new or expanded power – caution: do not use often.
  • Mea culpa – just take responsibility for the “mistake.”

Be careful with these. If the solution to your magical bind sticks around, it can cause trouble for your story in the future (think the transporter as used in Star Trek: The Next Generation). You also don’t want your protagonist becoming too god-like. The easy fix can become a crutch.

Do not give any unnecessary details. If you explain too much, you are bound by the new rules you’ve created. Cover your ass.

How do I know another writer hasn’t already done “this”?

Don’t worry about it. There are no new stories, only new ways of telling them.

What’s the difference between high concept and low concept?

Every agent and editor will have a different definition of this. Sometimes it’s a matter of originality. It’s all in the execution. High concept usually involves global stakes. Low concept is more personal.

<We were then assigned the task of coming up with a concept statement, or logline, for our current works-in-progress. We shared them and critiqued them. Kelley came up with some very inventive ways to rewrite these offerings for greater impact.

The floor was then opened to questions.>

Q: How are you so prolific?

When I got my first deal, my novel was accepted on the condition that I could produce the second novel in the series—as of that time not written—in a very short timeframe. The publisher wanted to release them one after the other.

I was working in the IT field at the time, and though it was a big deal financially, I talked it over with my husband and he said go for it. I also had one young child and was expecting my second. It was a very scary time.

Everyone pitched in to make sure my life didn’t fall apart while I was taking this risk. My sister, who was conveniently in search of a job, became my business manager. When I had enough money, I paid for a housekeeper.

Value your time. Would you rather be doing laundry, or writing your next novel?

Now my kids are helping out too. It’s a family affair.

Q: How did you get your agent?

I’d been writing for a while, in the evenings and on weekends, while I worked. I took a workshop with a man named Brian Henry, and I asked him where I should submit my latest novel (Bitten). He read it for me and called me up one evening to discuss options.

He said, “Helen Heller would love this.” I gulped. Helen Heller? And then Brian continued, “I just can’t tell her what it’s about.”

Later, Brian told me about his conversation with Helen. He’d known her from his work in the publishing industry and he called her up.

“Helen, I have this fabulous new novel that you would just love.”

“What’s it about?”

“Werewolves.”

“Werewolves? If it was anyone but you, Brian . . .”

She read it, however reluctantly, but she loved it and she agreed to sign me as a client.

<The rest, as they say, is history.>

Review of Finding Meara by Lara Schiffbauer

Once again, I finished Lara’s book a while ago and am just catching up on some overdue reviews.

The Amazon blurb:

FindingMearaCoverTo keep her safe, twenty-six-year-old Hazel Michelli’s parents never told her she was adopted, or that her birthplace was in an alternative land where magic and monsters exist. She found out the truth the day a ferocious winged creature stole her from her Denver apartment and delivered her to Lucian, the sadistic Lifeforce magician who happens to be Hazel’s biological father.

“Dysfunctional family” takes on new meaning when she learns Lucian must sacrifice a daughter to maintain immortality and take over the Realm. When Hazel’s younger half-sister disappears just days before the Rite, Lucian moves Hazel to the top of the sacrificial short list.

Afraid, yet compelled to protect her four-year-old half-sister, Hazel races between both worlds, searching for Meara while being hunted by Lucian. Their lives, and the future of the Realm, leave her no room for failure.

My thoughts:

At the outset of the novel, Hazel (love the name, by the way, unusual and old-fashioned, but made quirky by the character) only knows that she’s lucky, so dependably lucky that she makes a comfortable living by gambling. Then something huge and hulking bursts through the door of her apartment, calls her “Meara,” grabs Hazel, and leaps off the balcony, spreading its wings to fly her to a place she never suspected existed.

The action doesn’t relent as Hazel is taken prisoner by someone named Lucian, escapes (with the help of a talking bird and a flaming cat), finds her way back to Colorado, and reluctantly enlists her friend’s help.  When an insect-like monster attacks them on the road, it is both a validation of Hazel’s bizarre story and a warning: Lucian isn’t finished with her yet.

Though unwilling to involve her parents in this strange series of events, Hazel has questions only they can answer.  Those answers change Hazel’s life forever and send her on a worlds-spanning adventure, teaching her that her luck is only the tip of her magical iceberg, and that family is worth killing for, and dying for, if it comes to that.

The author weaves a great story, with just enough quirk to please the trope-weary reader.  She moves between Boulder, Denver, and the Realm deftly, and has created a unique and charming world that both recalls childhood favourites, and provides enough romance and danger to satisfy the New Adult audience.

I also appreciate that despite the romantic potentials (small spoiler alert!), Hazel remains happily independent at the end of the novel.  The denouement felt a little rushed, but was satisfying nonetheless.

Am eagerly awaiting Lara’s next novel 🙂

My rating:

4 out of 5 stars.  Really, I wanted to give her 4.5, but I had to give her some room to grow as an author 🙂

About the Author:

Lara Schiffbauer was born and raised in the Western United States. As a child she got in Lara Schiffbauertrouble at school for talking too much and daydreaming. She believed in Santa Claus until she was in the third grade, and thought she saw angels at the Catholic school she attended.

Unwilling to lose the magic of childhood, as a teenager she spent her years reading novels that let her live in fantasy worlds where she could vicariously experience the romance and adventure sadly lacking in her everyday life. Piers Anthony, Victoria Holt, and David Eddings were some of her favorite authors.

Many years later, after obtaining a Masters of Social Work degree and growing a family, Lara decided to recapture some of the magic found in creativity. In 2010, her horror flash fiction story “The Copier” was published in the anthology Daily Bites of Flesh 2011: 365 Days of Flash Fiction. In 2011, her erotic horror story “Phantom Deposit” was published in the anthology Steamy Screams, and in February 2012 her urban fantasy short story “Bear Hug” was published online at Hogglepot. She then turned to writing novels, and her first contemporary fantasy novel, Finding Meara, was released in March, 2013.

Lara loves connecting with others! Besides spending time on Twitter and Facebook, Lara also has accounts on Pinterest and Goodreads. All social media links can be found at her website, www.laraschiffbauer.com.