WorldCon 2016: Mythology as the basis for speculative fiction

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

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Panellists: Ada Palmer, Jeffrey Cook, Sheila Finch (moderator), David Farnell, Katie Daniels

SF: Joseph Campbell said that myth and metaphor are the language of dreams. How important is myth in speculative fiction?

JC: The basis of myth is exploration and explanation.

KD: Myth is what endures.

DF: Myth is the story. Science is the vehicle. Even hard science fiction follows mythic patterns.

SF: It’s easy to see the hero’s journey play out in fantasy.

AP: At one point in Jo Walton’s The Just City, a Platonist explains a spaceship to aliens. Myth helps us conceive of alien concepts and means of communication.

JC: Useful myths are universal. They allow us to understand other cultures.

KD: We may have to define most useful. Are we talking about Prometheus or Jason and the Argonauts?

AP: The most useful myths can invoke craftsmanship, finesse.

DF: Do tropes emerge from myths? If you’re writing about Japanese mythology, it’s helpful to dig into the literature and not restrict yourself to what you see in manga.

SF: Jung said that myth conveys a sense of the numinous. They say something different to each person.

DF: Here’s one Japanese myth: the weaver goddess and a cowbird fall in love and stop doing their respective jobs. The Emperor of Heaven separates them, but allows them to reunite in the rainy season. It’s very Romeo and Juliet.

Q: 2001 and Star Wars are myths in their own rights.

AP: Some myths are devoid of awe. Others are full of it. Myths are the metaphysical reality of a world.

Q: What are some of the main themes of myth?

DF: How to deal with death.

JC: A quest of favours. [Mel’s note: In order to achieve the story goal, the protagonist must provide each character who helps her with something they want or need. Things generally get more complicated, and more humorous, as the story progresses, and the series of favours can even be a chain, with the satisfying of one favour being dependent on all the others before. Sometimes the favours cannot be granted until the ultimate goal is accomplished, and then everything falls into place.]

AP: Look for the big questions. Why is there evil? What is death?

And that was time.

Next week: Oceans, the wettest frontier.

Something awesome and dreaming up new story ideas . . . literally

Earlier in the week, a friend of mine posted to Facebook that he’d received his copy of the Fall 2014 issue of On Spec—with my short story, “Downtime,” in it!

On Spec Fall 2014

Woohoo! See—that’s my actual name on the cover!

Further, my friend (also an SF writer, incidentally) said he liked it 😀

Heck, my mom was enthusiastic about it. You would expect that, but my mom would tell me if she didn’t like it.

I brought one of my precious copies with me to work, and my coworkers said they’d have to buy copies and get me to sign.

I have yet to convince Phil to read it. He will or he won’t and I’m cool with that. I’m just curious to see what Mr. Science makes of my science fiction-y self. To be honest, he hasn’t read anything I’ve written, and he’s only heard my poetry because he was kind of obligated to be at the book launch.

Of course, I read my “love” poems, the ones he’d inspired, and that embarrassed him. Maybe that’s why he’s so gun shy of my fiction . . . Trust me, dear, my fiction is not based in real life to any recognizable extent.

In any case, to any of you who live in Canada and are interested in seeing my story, you should be able to find it at your local Chapters, or your local indie shop.

For those of you outside of Canada, please visit On Spec’s web site to find out how you might be able to get your wee mitts on some of the best SF&F in Canada.

If you like speculative fiction, you might consider a subscription.

Gettin’ dreamy with it

For those of you who haven’t been following me for very long, one of my main answers to the question, where do you get your ideas? is, from my dreams, of course.

Although it doesn’t happen very often now that I’m an adult with a full time job and stress (tends to mess up my sleep), I dream in story. There are ususally one or two really good ones a year, but I’ll dream partly formed stories an additional four to six times a year.

I’m not going to tell you the content of my dream, per se, except that it’s a new adult science fiction romance (didn’t see that coming, did you—I didn’t see it coming) and the working title would be The Reality Bomb.

I’ll probably slot it in for 2015’s NaNoWriMo and let things ruminate for most of the year.

That’s what happened with Marushka. Though her story is a YA urban fantasy/fairy tale retelling, I dreamed her up January 1, 2014. TRB was a dream of January 4, 2015.

There was another dream, which I’ll call Bright and Far Away that was a space opera story with military elements, but that one didn’t grab me as firmly as either Marushka or TRB.

So dreams coming true. It’s a theme.

Tomorrow, I’ll be wooing my soul (more on that in a future post) and Tuesday, I’ll be delivering a workshop. This is a good time for creative Mellie.

How have your creative lives been going?

Challenges become opportunities: The Author Salon Experience

Back in December, I joined Author Salon on the advice of one of the people I consider to be my writing mentors, Barbara Kyle.

Initially, I had no clue what I was getting myself into.

My first mistake was not reading anything before I signed up, so when I was presented with a profile to fill out, I dove right in.  Little did I know that there was an art to this …  I did read the AS step-by-step guide, belatedly, but I still had no clue what I was doing.

I set up my profile to the best of my ability, sounded off in the Shout Out Forum, and then posted a call for peers in the In Production I Forum group that seemed to suit me best: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Horror, and Speculative Fiction.

The initial group that formed was small, but dedicated.  We started off by critiquing each other’s profiles.

Now, this may not seem particularly important work, but part of the AS process is that professional editors and agents peruse the site from time to time.  Ultimately, the author’s profile will be a marketing tool to those same agents and editors, so it is a critical piece of the AS puzzle.

It’s as important as perfecting your “pitch” or logline, as important as writing a knock-their-socks-off query letter, in short, the AS profile is as important as it gets.

I’ve been at a bit of a disadvantage because I’ve not yet attended a conference where I’ve had the opportunity to “pitch” my concept to agents.  I haven’t started shopping my novel yet, and so I really don’t have any experience crafting a query or synopsis.  I really don’t have an idea about what a hook line should be and how it differs from a conflict statement.  But I’m learning …  and I have to learn fast.

I thought I knew at least one thing going in: even if you have a series planned, the novel must function as a stand-alone, but it seems that everyone else in my critique group is using the fact that they have a series planned as a selling point.  So now I’m fairly convinced that I know nothing, and am approaching the whole process tabula rasa.

One question posed to me was, “why mention your day-job?”  The point was that the information should only be included in the event that it lends to the topic you write about, like a retired police officer writing mysteries/police procedurals.  I’d like to address that here.

As a learning and development professional, I write courses.  Certainly, it’s a completely different beast than a novel, but writing is writing and any practice reinforces skill.  It develops my rhetorical skills to direct my writing to a particular audience with a particular purpose in mind.

Also, as a corporate trainer, I have presentation skills.  It’s a good marketing point and while it may not be on the top of every agent’s list of skills an author must have, it may be an asset that tips the scales in my favour.

I’m more likely to be comfortable in an interview situation, doing public readings, and participating in workshops or conferences on a panel.  I’m tech-friendly, if not tech-savvy, as the result of my work.  I could easily put out YouTube videos or podcasts regarding craft, or reading of my work (in fact, it’s something on my list of things to do for my platform).  I could even parlay my skills into delivering Webinars or tutorials.

Finally, it was my learning and development day-job that got me back into learning-as-lifestyle.  Mutant learning, social learning, independent research, call it what you want, it’s what I need to ramp up my profile and my writing as presented on AS and attract the attention of agents and editors.  I started developing my online platform as a writer thanks to my work in L&D.

What I learned about Initiate of Stone in the first go-round:

  • It was too long;
  • It was too complex:
  • I’m too wordy; and
  • I’m not very good at seeing the redundancies in my own work.

Then, in January, all of my critique partners left In Production I and were promoted to Editor Suite.  Most of them had attended an Algonkian Conference which acted as their respective invitations to AS.  They all received personal notification to move along.  I thought I was left behind.

So I started over with a new call for peers and waited.  Eventually the administrators realized that there was some kind of miscommunication and offered a clarification.  I was promoted to Editor Suite after all!  My relief was immense.

My new critique group in Editor Suite included all of my old friends, plus a couple new ones.

The first order of business was to start over with the profile critiques, and when that was done, we moved onto critique our first acts.  AS calls them the first 50 pages, but I prefer to call it the first act because it’s actually the first 50 -100 pp, depending on where your first major plot point falls.

What I’ve learned from the critique of the first act:

  • My first major plot point takes too long to arrive;
  • The story line for my protagonist needs to be seriously amped up;
  • I still suck at the profile stuff (that’s part of what I’m working on next);
  • I may be wordy, but given my chosen genre, epic fantasy, it works, overall.

Along the way, there was this thing called the Showcase.  AS reps would be showing a foreshortened version of our profile to industry experts and seeing if they could get any interest.  The call went out about the time that the former version of this blog was hacked and there was a little confusion while I reordered my electronic life.  The server on which my blog was hosted at the time was also my email server …

Got that mess sorted, but even though the Showcase went on until May, IoS did not get a single nod.  Almost everyone else in my critique group, however, got at least one, and many received multiple expressions of interest.  I’m very happy for my peers, but really disappointed in/for myself.  This just speaks, once again, to the importance of the AS profile in the overall process.

What I’ve done or am doing as a result of all this:

  1. Cut my novel in half.  The former mid-way point is now the climax and I still have to cut about 40k words.  I don’t know how this will turn out, but I’m willing to work at it until it’s fabulous 🙂 ;
  2. Rewriting Ferathainn’s story/plot line;
  3. Revamping my profile;
  4. I’ve applied for, was accepted to, and have registered for Algonkian’s New York Comes to Niagara conference in October.  If nothing else, I’ll learn how to get my profile together there.

So we’ll see where this all takes me.  The AS journey has been fraught and fun and incredibly hard work so far.

That’s it for this week bubbies!  Gotta get working on my WIP!

For my science fiction writer friends, I want to post links to Robert Sawyer’s two-part January interview with William Gibson:

Also check out Robert’s TedXManitoba lecture:

Are you part of an online critique group?  What have you learned from the process?  How is it changing your creative life?