Why Write: Science Fiction with Sarah Paige Berling

sarah paige berlingReaders, welcome Sarah Paige Berling! She writes speculative fiction of all stripes, but she’s here today to talk about sci-fi. She also says some great things about science and how sci-fi affects the world, so check it out!

Hello, Sarah, and welcome!
Thank you for having me, Kristin!

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
Well, primarily I write speculative fiction – science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Recently, I’ve delved into contemporary fiction, but my first love was science fiction. I started reading science fiction in the fifth grade with the Animorphs series and just went from there. I have just finished my contemporary fiction novel and now I’m working on editing my sci-fi/horror novel called Forgive Me If I Sleep, which is a post-apocalyptic tale, similar to World War Z and The Road.

What made you decide to write science fiction?
I have a lot of science in my background. I spent four years studying meteorology and geology, before finally realizing that my true love was creative writing. But because I spent so much time with the physics, math, and chemistry part of college, science remains a fascination of mine.

My favorite sci-fi author, and the one whom I respect the most, is Dan Simmons, who frequently combines hard science fiction with classic literature. My favorite stories of his are his two most recent novels, Ilium and Olympos, which chronicle hard science fiction mixed with Homer, Proust, and Shakespeare. And I believe it takes place in the same universe as his Hyperion Cantos, which makes the story that much more intriguing. I really aim to emulate him. He’s amazing.

What types of stories does science fiction make possible?
Science fiction shows how the world COULD be, if we could just work towards getting our butts in gear and focus on science and space exploration. I had an argument with an acquaintance once, because he believed NASA was obsolete. “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.” That was Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. I explained to him that there was no way humanity could remain on Earth forever, and that we needed to explore space if we were going to survive as a species. And I honestly believe that to be true. We need to leave our cradle and work towards becoming self-sufficient adults – in this case, exploring new planets and expanding our civilizations.

What audience do you think sci-fi attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
Science fiction attracts all types. My sister, who was an opera major in college, has read science fiction, but so has my husband, who is your quintessential nerd. It really depends on the person, I suppose.

I try to write stories aimed at the more scientific aspect of the sci-fi culture. I have a couple of stories in mind revolving around meteorology, one sci-fi and one contemporary fiction. Write what you know, but write what you don’t know about what you know, and also, write about what you’re passionate about. Lots of rules for writing, but those three stick out in my head most of all.

How does science fiction affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke

If we work the science correctly, it leaves the audience guessing: how will they get out of this bind? The majority of your sci-fi audience does not have a PhD in theoretical physics, so you can get away with more, if you need to. But because the majority of your audience doesn’t have a whole lot of science background, the story changes from science to magic.

The characters, for the most part, are aware of the scientific limitations of their world. The audience is not, not entirely.

Why do you think people love to read sci-fi? How do you think the genre at large affects its audience?
Science fiction is definitely an escapist form of literature – and that’s okay. It leads to alternate worlds, and sometimes, that’s just what you need.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
My favorite genre to read is “books.” I will read most anything. My list so far this year has included “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman, “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd, and “The Hyperion Cantos” by Dan Simmons.

Where can readers track you down?
My blogs are http://sarahpaigeberling.com and http://paigejohnsson.com
My facebook is http://www.facebook.com/sarahpaigeberling
and you can follow me on twitter at
@sarahpberling
@paigejohnsson

Thanks for stopping by!

Why Write: Epic Fantasy with Gina Denny

Readers, today we turn to epic fantasy with writer Gina Denny. Gina’s take on telling the inverse side of traditional tales is fascinating, and she has some great things to say about how fantasy breaks the expectations of what stories can do.

Hello, Gina, and welcome! It’s very cool to have you here — epic fantasy is my first loves, and I love talking to fellow fantasy writers. Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I am a homeschooling stay at home mom who has always has a skill for “improving the truth.” Somewhere along the line, I realized what I was doing was storytelling, and I decided to hone that skill. Several years later, here I am, getting ready to query my first novel, SNOW FALLING, a retelling of Snow White’s tale. Except there’s a twist: Snow White is a spoiled brat with an ax to grind, and the “evil queen” is going to great lengths to protect the kingdom.

What made you decide to write epic fantasy?
I wanted to write the villains’ stories: You know, the “other” side to the story, why they did what they did, etc. And in order for these fairy tales to be done properly, I felt high fantasy was really the only acceptable way to go. This isn’t a reimagining of the story, it’s telling the same story from another angle. So it had to be set in a similar setting to the original tale.

What types of stories does epic fantasy make possible?
EVERY STORY. Epic fantasy removes virtually all the constraints of this world: language, social structure, even the laws of physics can be bent and broken. Because magic is often present, and the setting is not Earth (at least not as we know it), everything you know to be true can be turned on its head. Epic fantasy allows you comment on the human condition without “taking sides” and it allows readers to see that commentary objectively. Everything can be seen through a fresh lens, because everything is new.

What audience do you think epic fantasy attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
Right now, I think epic fantasy still attracts mostly a stereotypically “nerd” audience. Don’t get me wrong – I AM A NERD. I LOVE NERDS. But this audience does two things. First, it is incredibly freeing, because I don’t have to worry about trying to chase down a mass-market trend. This is a niche, and it’s not subject to the whims and fancies of pop culture quite the same way that, say, urban fantasy is. (Ever heard an agent say “I want more mermaids, fewer vampires.”? That’s the changing winds of a mass-market genre.) Second, though, this audience is also very intimidating. Fantasy readers know their stuff. They live it and breathe it, and you absolutely cannot BS your way through an epic fantasy novel.

How does epic fantasy affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?
As I said before, epic fantasy allows for the rules of our world to be broken. This exponentially increases the tension of the story because danger could come from anywhere. Yes, there are certain rules within the world that you build, of course. But those rules aren’t spelled out for us on the first page. One of the best examples of this, in my opinion, is Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. By the end of the series, some eight thousand pages in, you’re still fully gripped by the battle because Richard’s powers are continually growing and evolving. There’s fidelity and continuity, but it’s completely unlike anything we could experience here in this life, and that’s what makes it so extraordinary.

Why do you think people love to read epic fantasy? How do you think the genre affects its audience?
This particular genre is the ultimate escape. It’s the fulfillment of childhood daydreams. Dragons and elves and a whole other world that feels just enough familiar to be real, but so fantastical that it might also be a dream. I have the utmost respect for people who proudly proclaim their enjoyment of epic fantasy because it says, “I want to believe in something amazing.” And we need more people who are willing to believe in something amazing, if only for a few hours at a time.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
Any genre where the main character puts on a cloak. I read a lot of everything, fiction and non-fiction alike. But I always come back to speculative fiction. Fantasy and science fiction and all their sub-genres. Give me Orson Scott Card over F. Scott Fitzgerald any day of the week. Love it.

How can readers track you down?
I blog at “This is Not Your Blog” (ginadenny.blogspot.com) and tweet as @GinaD129.

Thanks for stopping by! Go check out Gina’s blog or give her a howdy on Twitter. 

Why Write: Women’s Fiction with Summer Heacock

Readers, give a warm welcome to the fabulous Summer Heacock! She’s here to chat with us about women’s fiction and stories intended for the ladies. She has a lot of wonderful things to say, so sit up and pay attention! Or at least, you know, lean closer to your monitor.

Hello, Summer, and welcome! For those of you who don’t know, Summer has a GIF-tastic and hilarious blog, so it’s super-cool to have her here at my humble blog-bode.

Why, thank you for having me! Please picture me curtsying right now.

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Erm. Well. I am a very strange little creature who Tweets spastically, blogs when the blogs beg to be written, and writes manuscripts so that my brain doesn’t explode. Story pressure is serious business.

What made you decide to write women’s fiction?

I write it because I read it. I know it best, I suppose. When stories come falling into my head, they tend to almost always be something along the WF lines. I have other stories I like to toy with, but WF is just sort of my sweet spot. My mind is just sort of engineered to write it easier than other genres. Or, something…

What types of stories does women’s fiction make possible?

Anything! Okay, that isn’t true. If aliens popped into your rom-com, that’d change it out of WF, so I suppose there are some constraints.

Honestly, I’m not sure what stories can and can’t be done. Is that bad? It’s probably bad that I can’t clarify…

I’d say if you write your story and you read it back and it feels like WF is the label for it, then that’s what it is. I try not to get too crazy about labels before I start writing, otherwise I’ll go mad trying to make it fit into what it “should” be.

Aside from the obvious, what audience do you think women’s fic attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

I think while WF is obviously geared toward the ladies, I genuinely believe it’s for anyone. We do have the slight disadvantage in the way that some people wouldn’t go see a Sandra Bullock film to avoid the “chick-flick” stereotype, but really, in the end, a good story is a good story. I’d hate to see someone miss out on a book they’d truly love just because of a genre label.

How does a gal-centric genre affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

While I really do try to not consider the end-game like that when I am writing out a story, I will fully admit that when I toy with the idea of an unhappy ending, or something out of the norm, I do pause for a minute and think, “Wait…Is this riot-worthy?”

But, I read WF, so when I’m writing, I try to think of what I’d like to read. The only way I’m letting anyone see something I’ve written is if I’m sure it’s something I’d want to read myself.

Why do you think people love to read women’s fiction? How do you think the genre affects its audience?

WF is great because it’s identifiable. It’s easy to see yourself in the shoes of the characters. Or see someone that you’d like to be and imagine yourself in their shoes. It’s a great genre to dive into to walk away with feels pouring out of you.

I know it’s not literarily correct anymore, but I am a huge fan of the chick-lit that is now housed under WF. I love chick-lit, man. Love it. You’re not going to turn pages and change your whole life, but damn it, there is no better way to spend a rainy Sunday or a day reading on the beach than with some romance, hilarity, and general merriment dancing across the book in your hand.

Sometimes, you just need to step inside something fluffy to keep the real world at bay, and chick-lit is a solid delivery for that.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

If I’m looking for something to take me out of my day for whatever reason, I will head for chick-lit or WF. It’s my happy place. If a book can make me swoon or make me laugh, I’m all over it. But I will read just about anything for any reason. I’m not the biggest sci-fi gal, but I’ve read some good ones over the last year that are bringing me around.

Where can readers track you down?

Blog: http://www.Fizzygrrl.com

Twitter – @Fizzygrrl

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/summerheacock

Why Write: Speculative Fiction with Morgen Rich

Morgen Rich V1Readers, today we greet Morgen Rich, writer of boundary-pushing epics. She has some fantastic things to say (and some great recommendations to make!), so be sure to check out her work when you’re done!

Hi Morgen, and welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

First, I want to thank Kristin McFarland for hosting this series of author interviews from various genres. I think it’s a fascinating study of differences and commonalities among writers and genres, and I will be following it to discover what those are!  I hope others will, too, and that they’ll join in the discussion here on Kristin’s blog.

Why, you’re welcome! I do plan on posting some follow-up analysis to all of these interviews. I’m just finishing a book right now, I swear.

About me?  I’m tempted to use Steve Martin’s line in The Jerk and say, “I was born a poor, Black child,” but that’s because I’m mischievous.  I am a hybrid of Scottish, Irish, Cherokee, and Comanche ancestry.  I was born and spent most of my youth and some of my adulthood in the southwest.  I’ve lived in a lot of places in the U.S. and Western Europe.  I have a background in academia and still teach university courses in English and Communications from time to time, though I consider myself a full-time author and independent publisher now.  I started my literary life as an early reader, and I’ve been writing fiction and poetry for well over 20 years, though I hadn’t considered publishing commercially until about 5 years ago.

Over the years, I’ve written medieval fantasy, poetry, and contemporary literary fiction (mostly short stories, at which I think I truly suck).  My main writing interest is Speculative Fiction with a decidedly feminist slant, and I lean toward epics.  I’m in the process of releasing my current work, the first novel in The Staves of Warrant series, in serial form.  The novel’s parts will be the first released by my independent publishing house, Bookmite Press. I hope to have the company open for submissions by the end of this year.

 You describe your work as speculative fiction. What exactly does that mean?

Laughs.  Let’s just get right to the hard question, shall we?

That’s why they pay me the big bucks. And by “they,” I mean me, and by “big bucks,” I mean nothing at all. *grins*

Speculative fiction is most often an umbrella category for works of fiction that are difficult to categorize in traditional genres.  Speculative Fiction has a lot of sub-genres.  For instance, one sub-genre, science fantasy, is a blend of science fiction and fantasy.  When one tosses in the epic aspect, something like Star Wars or the Pern series would fit into the category.

Although there was political discussion about specific works being speculative in ancient Greece, the term “Speculative Fiction” seems to have been coined in literary circles in 1889 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in an article on Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward.  That short novel is something of a dystopian Rip Van Winkle tale that grows around a science-fiction element—in this case, something akin to (but definitely not) cryosleep.

Since the term was coined, however, the genre has all but refused to be defined, and there are about as many definitions as there are definers.  Nathan E. Lilly at Greententacles, for instance, has an assortment of definitions by a variety of literary types.  For anyone interested in exploring the topic further, I’d say Lilly’s list is a good place to start.  Interestingly enough, the list is housed on a section of the site entitled “Articles That Never Die.” The fact that the definitions were posted in 2002 and are all, without exception, still relevant to the discussion of what constitutes Spec-Fic speaks volumes for the nebulous nature of the genre itself.  Looking backward to Bellamy (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) and the birth of the term in relatively contemporary literary discussion, Spec-Fic definitions have been debated for over 200 years.  I can’t resolve that debate.

Speculative fiction elements in my own work include:

  • More than one genre (epic, fantasy, science fiction = epic science fantasy)
  • Magic in the same narrative space as science and technology
  • The “what-if,” interrogatory nature of the story

 And you write epic fantasy, too?

Without injecting spoilers, I will say The Staves of Warrant trilogy is set in the Shifting Worlds universe, and the first world that readers see is described by characters and appears to function like a medieval fantasy world.  The story is epic in the traditional sense, both in scope and in length.

 What made you decide to write across these genres?

My muse couldn’t resist the imaginative possibilities.  I laughingly say that as an Aquarian, I just can’t resist What Ifs.  I’m sure I drove my parents insane with all of my “But why” or “But why not?” questions as a child.  And maybe because so many of those questions weren’t or couldn’t be answered, playing with boundaries, mixing up the Whys and Why Nots with the What Ifs, feels right to me.  Spec-Fic allows me to keep asking questions, some of which may never have answers.

My own personality aside, published authors really shined the light on Spec-Fic for me, particularly female authors who pushed the boundaries of genre in their works.  Mary Shelley, Madeline L’Engle, Zora Neale Hurston, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, Paula Gunn Allen, so many more.  But the main influence was Octavia E. Butler.

The first of Butler’s novels that I read was Dawn, the first book in the Xenogensis Trilogy.  Butler’s depictions of change, language constructions, and a third gender in her trilogy blew me away, particularly when the third gender evolved.  After that, I knew I wanted to explore science fiction.  Fortunately, I was attending a university that houses the Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library, so I started digging up all kinds of information and decided to write a Masters Thesis on Butler’s work.  When I got to Kindred, I was confounded as to why it had been categorized as “fiction.”  A book about involuntary time travel without machines and interaction with one’s own ancestors as fiction without any genre label, not even science fiction or fantasy?  Why was the categorization of Kindred so disconnected from the elements in that novel?  I didn’t realize at the time that science fiction had such a negative connotation in the literary world because so much of what I’d read in the genre had been just as good as the “Classics.”  I suspect, though couldn’t prove, that look down the nose is partly why Butler’s publisher chose fiction as the bookshelf it would sit on at Barnes and Noble and in libraries.  The last time I looked, Kindred had sold well over a million copies, and many of those copies were to students, as the book became quite popular in high-school and college English courses.  I still wonder how much influence the categorization as fiction had on Kindred’s academic use and commercial success.  If I had to label Kindred as anything other than Spec-Fic, I’d call it historical science fiction or historical fantasy or historical science fantasy.  The label fiction just doesn’t do justice to its genre complexity.

Wow, that’s some food for thought: genre labels as either limiting or frontier-opening. I think I’ll throw that idea open to the blog readers.

In the case of The Staves of Warrant trilogy, the story insisted it was science fantasy.  I tried initially writing it as a medieval fantasy with a single point of view, but I discovered that the story of Grainne and other characters couldn’t be told in the confines of a single voice, a single novel, a single world, or a single genre.   The crossovers between culture, magic, myth, science, and technology demanded diversity.  I tossed out the whole lot of drafts (5 novels in total) and started over, this time with a Spec-Fic premise from the beginning, working to reveal that premise little by little.

What types of stories does fantasy/spec-fic/epic fantasy make possible?

Stories that defy boundaries.  Stories of revolution (think Star Wars).  Tales about how we evolve and adapt over time, space, and cultures.  Tales of warning.  That’s not to say that revolutionary, evolutionary, or cautionary tales are unique to fantasy/spec-fic/epic fantasy genres, but Spec-Fic is a fertile breeding ground for them.

What audience do you think your work attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

My work is definitely for readers 18 and older.  Writing for a mature audience gives me the freedom to explore gritty, unjust situations without fear of scarring some unwitting child’s innocence.  I can create characters who are absolute scum and who do awful things to others.  Writing for adults means laying the responsibility of choosing to read and think about issues like human trafficking, rape, and other social violence and injustices at the feet of those best-prepared to handle them emotionally and psychologically.

My beta readers are fans of Speculative Fiction, Feminist Fiction, Fantasy, and Science Fiction.  Throughout the trilogy, neither Fantasy nor Science Fiction is absent, though readers may not realize that fact immediately.  My hope is that my particular blend of those two genres will appeal to readers of both genres, as well as readers who enjoy stories with strong, yet flawed,  female protagonists.

How does an epic scope affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

In epics, the stakes for characters are high and challenges not easily overcome, though those elements are not unique to epics.  Progress and failure are interdependent, and in an epic tale, take time to unravel.  The epic hero/ine, for instance, usually travels away from home to learn the lessons that s/he brings back.  Depending on the complexity of what s/he must do and learn, the story can take a substantial amount of time and pages to unfold, particularly in the context of sub-plots.

From the sheer standpoint of the amount of time it takes to read an epic story, readers set off on a journey in which their time is a tangible stake.  I am painfully conscious of that commitment and stake.  Yet, a story that spans a broad distance (time, space, culture, etc.) also gives readers a chance to see characters develop in a multitude of environments and circumstances.  That’s something of a trade-off, and I hope readers feel the investment was worth it in the end.

The nature of an epic is tragic, though not always in the sense of “and the main character dies,” and there is a fine line between tragedy that bums out a reader and tragedy that is situated in a more satisfying conclusion.  So, readers have a stake in the endings of epic stories.  The risk that the story won’t turn out the way they’d expected or a beloved character will die, are stakes.  Readers are savvy.  If they invest time and emotional energy in a story, they expect satisfying fruition.  Bilbo Baggins survives, but is he happy after his own adventures have ended?  Is the end of Tolkien’s epic satisfying to the reader?  I can’t speak for all readers.  For me, it was satisfying despite the element of tragedy with Frodo.  As a reader, I expect an epic to tell a big story with a lot of smaller stories inside of it.  By using smaller stories to ameliorate the tragedy in his tale, Tolkien was able to bring his story to satisfying fruition for me.  He proved to me that I’d invested my time wisely.  My stakes in his story paid off, despite the cost of my emotional tie to an endearing, heroic character who doesn’t survive.

Why do you think people love to read speculative fiction? How do you think the genre affects its audience?

I hate to speak for readers other than myself, but I’d guess readers who love Spec-Fic do so partly because they are drawn to the worlds of possibility the genre delivers.  Spec-Fic lets readers’ imaginations soar in directions they might not have otherwise—beyond the realms of reality, plausibility, and probability to cohesive possibility.  Consider China Miéville’s Railsea or Perdido Street Station.  They contain settings and characters that are unreal and both implausible and improbable, but within the stories’ plots, settings, and characterizations lie cohesive possibilities—someones, sometimes, somethings, and somewheres that readers can accept as what Miéville molds them into, as well as what they may represent to readers.

I think Spec-Fic readers enjoy flights of fancy, too.  Because Spec-Fic has no boundaries except those the author inserts or readers interpret, it is fluid, and fluidity is a desirable trait in flights of fancy.

Speculative fiction draws readers into the story, prompting them to ask themselves the same questions the author and the characters are asking. What would happen if . . . ?  How would this change culture, relationships, perspectives, me?  Could something like this really happen? Has it happened already?

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

That’s a tough one because I’ll read anything that’s well-written.  In addition to fantasy, science fiction, and spec-fic, I have been known to pick up a detective novel or dozen, a horror story, a romance, historical fiction, non-fiction, and “Classic literary fiction.”  As a child, books and reading were my windows into worlds that interested me more than the one I lived in.  I guess I’ve never gotten over that entirely, though I now also see them as windows into a world more complex than my child-mind could comprehend.  I read all genres because I’m compelled to stare out into the world through every sliver in the stained-glass window of literature.

incorrigible-finalD smallHow can readers get in touch with you?

I love to connect with readers and other writers and just about anyone interested in writing, publishing, or Speculative Fiction.  I adore hooking up with people who love gardening, architecture, and animals, especially big dogs!  News about my work is always posted on the sites listed below:

World Enough and Time is my Website and blog, which includes book reviews of works by other authors, articles on various topics I’m interested in or that readers and friends have asked me to discuss, links to my interviews, and coming in the very near future, author interviews and posts by some of my writer friends!

I also hang out on FacebookTwitter, and Google+.

For occasional e-mails with news about releases, sales, and giveaways, I have a mailing list that people can subscribe to (and unsubscribe from at any time).

Thanks, Morgen, for spending some time here! I definitely want to throw some of these topics open to blog-readers; what do you guys think about genres that are every genre and no genre at all? Are genre labels limiting? What shelves do you shop in the store?

What’s in an Audience?

Well, I’ve been promising this post for over a month now, and here I am, writing it.

You may have noted that in every Why Write interview, I ask about audience: What audience does this genre attract? What impact does this genre have on that audience? How do you tailor your story for your audience?

Answers to the audience-tailoring question have ranged from, “I don’t, not at all,” to, “I think about what readers of X/Y age group can handle, and I try to work within those parameters.”

I’m gonna confess something here: I think about audience quite a bit. As much as I’d like to be an artistic slave to my characters, I know my role as deity of the work, and I think a lot about how my choices will affect the people who read my books.

Some of you may have heard me say that I’m not a fan of identity politics. I am a woman, for example, but that is not my defining trait. I don’t like to admit that I do, occasionally, vote my body-rights. I don’t want to choose authors to read or characters to like based on my gender/sexual/political identity. I hate it when I’m forced to choose my behavior based on some perceived biological or social role.

People in all positions do it, even when they’re not aware. White, middle-class men have a privilege I, as white, middle-class woman will never have—and even so, I have privileges a poor, black woman will never have. It goes on and and on down the chain, and, unfortunately, we can’t be blind to those differences. We all read with our own, unique biases, and most of those biases come from our place—our identity—in the society we currently inhabit.

It sucks, but it happens. Despite our best efforts, we don’t live in a post-sexist, post-racist, post-homophobic, post-anything world. All of those things still exist. They’re all rampant and appalling, and a lot of us aren’t even aware of what’s happening. We are occasionally blind to the needs of a political/social/racial/gender/sexual identity not our own.

That’s why I think about my audience. How, I wonder, will this piece of violence affect such-and-such reader in some place I’ve never been, who was hurt in a way I couldn’t imagine? What will this bad character’s appearance say to readers about my own racial blindness or lack thereof? Are there too many male villains in this novel about a female protagonist? Or are there too many male heroes in this novel? If a teenager reads this book, how will he feel about the homeless young man my protagonist takes under her wing? If someone reads it who has physical challenges I can’t understand, will she resent me for not including someone like her? Are the blank spaces in my cast of characters caused by blindness, ignorance, or indifference?

Those are big, hairy, important questions, and they come up every single day in my fiction writing. They make me uncomfortable sometimes, and they make my job more difficult, but I would rather suffer some replotting or fuzzy introspection than offend or mortify some innocent bystander down the road.

I’m not trying to say that my approach is better than those who hold story sacred, and don’t diverge from plot in favor of audience understanding—their way may be more honest, and quite possibly much easier, than my method of considering the ramifications of each fictional choice.

I’m also not saying I’m better than anyone who doesn’t spend so much time worrying about these issues. I’m sure I’ll step in it, probably unintentionally, at some point in my writing career. Perhaps this process comes more naturally to others.

But regardless of judgment values, I’d argue that we must consider our audience.*

Fiction does not exist in a bubble, even if we write it in one. Every reader will bring his or her own biases and sensitivities to your world, even if you haven’t accommodated those special needs. Once our fiction is out in the world, it belongs to the world: audience shapes a reading as much as the writer’s intent, whether you’re a fan of New Criticism or not.

What do you think, readers? If you’re a writer, how do you take audience sensitivities into account? As a reader, how does your own identity shape your reading? What do you think is the audience’s role in fiction?

 

*Please note: I’m not accusing any Why Write author of offending their readers or showing callousness. Everyone I interviewed was a thoughtful, caring writer who I’m sure adores the people who read their books.

Why Write: Paranormal Romance with Ana Blaze

Ana BlazeOn today’s episode of Why Write, we talk to Ana Blaze about paranormal romance! This is a fun topic for me, since I write contemporary fantasy that often strays into romantic territory: paranormal romance is the flip side of the contemporary fantasy coin, I think. Be sure to check Ana out after you’ve read what she has to say!

Hello, Ana, and welcome!

Hi. Thanks for having me.

 Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I live just outside of Washington DC with my husband and three cats. When I’m not vacuuming up cat hair, I like to cook, watch TV, read and, of course, write. I write romance, both contemporary and paranormal. I’m also a teacher.

 What made you decide to write romance? Why paranormal romance in particular?

I love a happy ending. I married my best friend and I just want to give everyone that perfect happy moment. I’ve always been attracted to paranormal stories and elements so they naturally made their way into some of my writing. And, let’s be frank here, vampires are really sexy.

Haha, I definitely agree there. Vampires aren’t played out for me!

What types of stories does romance/paranormal romance make possible?

I think the paranormal element can add a lot of humor to a story and also raise the odds a bit. The characters can have incredibly bizarre obstacles to overcome before they earn their happy ending and that makes for some wonderful stories.

What audience do you think paranormal romance attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

I think the audience is clever and often led busy lives and they are looking for a little fun in their reading. They want the stakes to feel real, but they pick up the romance knowing that they will be satisfied with the ending. I think the key is writing a story that feels honest, regardless of whether it is a contemporary or paranormal romance the characters need to make choices that seem reasonable. They face obstacles, but those obstacles shouldn’t seem arbitrary. I hope to give my readers characters that they want to root for, a few giggles and steamy scene or two.

How does romance affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

Falling in love makes everything feel more intense.

Why do you think people love to read paranormal romance? How do you think the genre affects its audience?

It’s fun to escape some of the more mundane real life problems for a bit. Maybe you’re annoyed with a co-worker or stuck waiting all day for a plumber, but at least your boyfriend isn’t turning into a werewolf every full moon. You get to imagine how you would handle the crazy situations a heroine in a paranormal romance gets herself into and what you’d do if your hunky crush turned out to be an out of time Scottish Warrior. I mean who doesn’t want to at least consider that? I’ve been thinking lately about the overall message of paranormal romance, because I thinktime and again, the point is that people are people whether they are people with fangs or fur or the ability to cast spells, or your next door neighbor they share more in common than not. It’s a nice message. I think that all those stories about shifters and ghosts and guardian angels makes readers a bit more open in their own hearts.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

I read a lot of romance myself, all subgenres and I love urban fantasy. I also read a lot of YA and NA. Basically, I like stories with quirky characters and rich worlds.

The Best Man By Ana BlazeHow can readers track you down?

You can find me online at:

http://anablaze.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/AnaBlazeLove

https://twitter.com/ana_blaze

http://www.goodreads.com/AnaBlaze

My new contemporary romance novella, The Best Man, is out on April 29, 2013! You can read more about it here:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17233507-the-best-man

Thanks for stopping by and telling us a little about why you write!

Thanks again for having me.

Why Write: YA Fantasy with Trevor Green

Readers, today we welcome fantasy writer Trevor Green! Trevor’s a Twitter-buddy of mine, but this is his first time on the blog. He has some great things to say about audience age and content, so check it out!

Hello, Trevor, and welcome!
Thanks for having me!
Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
 
Hi, I’m Trevor Green, and I’m one of those idiots you’ve heard about who thinks they’ll actually sell a novel someday. That’s right, I’m a writer. Look up “naive” in the dictionary and you’ll see my photo there, smiling up at you from the page with a grin the size of Milwaukee. I don’t know when or how I developed the idea that I was somehow skilled enough to write a novel, but it can be argued that every writer has an ego as big as a dinosaur-sized peacock, so it’s not entirely outrageous. And yes, despite crushing self-doubt and bouts of depression that have my lips dragging on the ground as I shuffle around my apartment, I still feel like I have something worthwhile to say to the world. If that combination is confusing to you, you might not be a writer.
 
Luckily, I happen to live in Utah where a surprisingly amazing writing community exists, so I may have a shot after all.
 
As for my work, I’m currently querying two books simultaneously (get at me, agents), one a MG urban fantasy titled ONLY GINGERS CAN BE WITCHES, the other a YA fantasy called THE WITCKE IN THE RUINS. I love them both equally (even the ginger one), and hope you’ll all get a chance to read them one day. I’ve written/begun many other fantasies that have been shelved for the time being. As for what I’m currently working on, I’ve decided to take a whack at an Adult sci-fi tentatively titled THIRD MIND.
What made you decide to write YA fantasy?
 
For me, there wasn’t much of a decision involved. Because I started writing novels at the relatively young age of 23, the books I’d been reading in the previous several years informed everything I sat down to write. I grew up reading YA and MG, almost exclusively fantasy (throw in a ton of the Star Wars EU novels and you have a real geek on your hands), and right out of the gate, YA fantasy was my go-to genre.
As to why I continue to write YA fantasy, that bears a little examination. In my opinion, there are three stages of reading (obviously with exceptions, and out of order):
  1. Early Childhood – This is where a child first learns to read, begins to understand the concept of written stories, and string the meaning of one sentence to another–creating a complete thought. Most books are simple, exciting or funny, and don’t leave a lasting impression beyond nostalgia later in life.
  2. Adulthood – Reading for adults seems to exist mostly as a way to entertain and keep one’s mind sharp. Lots of books are complicated either in subject matter, sentence structure, or theme. I love a great many Adult books.
  3. Middle Grade and Young Adult – I list these two age groups together because they share a similar purpose. From the preteen years to late high school, kids really start to find a sense of “self.” Their developing brains are forging new, more advanced pathways, their bodies are changing, and the seeds of who they will eventually become are planted. This is the only stage of reading that I would say is crucial to get right. (And this where an exception pops up: early childhood is super important to laying out the framework for a kid’s reading skills and habits. Let’s just consider that a given.) With such fertile brain-soil in their skulls, reading should be the number one thing teen kids are encouraged to engage in. YA and MG books will introduce them to new ideas, call up questions of right and wrong, and help them understand the importance of working through difficulties and obtaining solutions. That isn’t to say YA and MG books should preach to their audience–seriously, heaven forbid–rather, these books have the opportunity to bring new thoughts to the table, allowing a kid to examine and make choices about their own life. As I said before, the books a kid reads from say, twelve to nineteen years-old can be one of the defining aspects of who they will become in their late twenties until their deathbed. As a writer, being a part of that is a very exciting prospect.
You know what, scratch all that; the real reason I write MG and YA fantasy is because I owe it to the universe. I was a pretty lonely kid in school: overweight, terrible hair parted down the middle, never allowed to watch the popular TV shows or movies. Books like Brian Jacques’s Redwall series, Lloyd Alexander’s The Prydain Chronicles, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings (Yeah, I’d say this counts as the perfect reading for a young adult) provided my only friends for years. I knew those characters better than anyone else in my life, and without them, who knows if I would be here today. So despite the analysis of age groups and brain development, the only reason I write YA and MG is to perhaps give some other lonely kid a reason to keep going, no matter how hard life gets. If I could ever do that, I would die happy.
What types of stories does the YA/fantasy combo make possible?
 
I think there are two kinds of fantasy (aside from the many genre classifications): fantasy that focuses on the setting and plot, and fantasy that focuses on character. Everything else fits under those two categories. YA and MG fiction definitely have the character aspect down pat. They own it. After all, that’s why they exists in the first place: to bring a person who never really existed to life, dump them in a bum situation, then follow them through it. The fantasy aspects of a YA or MG story are just the icing to the cake. Delicious icing, to be sure, but still only a garnish to enhance enjoyment. The test of a good YA or MG fantasy is how well it would hold up if stripped of its magic and worldbuilding. Will it still tell a great character piece? Can the characters’ motivations and decisions still win the day? Does the book still contain a message for its readers?
Honestly, these are all things that also make YA so extremely hard to do well. Ask any YA writer. And nothing gets my goat as quickly as a person (usually unfamiliar with the genre in question) insults YA/MG or its readers. Okay, there might not be as much sex or violence (though you’d be surprised) as Adult genres, but you can still find the whole of the human developmental experience in the pages of a good YA or MG. There’s meaning inside that many times doesn’t exist in Adult genres. YA and MG have the luxury of exploring specific aspects of the human experience, focusing on things that speak directly to select members of its readership. Troubled friendships, tragedy, young romance, parental strife, death: all these can be found in YA/MG. Important stuff.
Kate Forsyth has been quoted as saying:
 
“Fantasy fiction does not deny or diminish the existence of sorrow and pain, as so many people seem to think. The possibility of failure is absolutely necessary for the ‘piercing sense of joy’ one feels when victory is finally and with difficulty won. Like a candle-flame, fantasy casts a shadow at the same time that it illuminates. Yet it is the illumination that is important. Fairy-tales all offer the hope that a happy ending is possible and we need to believe this. Fantasy denies ultimate despair. It holds out the hope for a better world, and signposts the way”.
 
Apply that to the YA and MG age groups, and I definitely think we have our answer as to why it’s so important to have our kids read these sorts of stories.
Aside from the obvious, what audience do you think YA attracts? Lots of adults love to read YA — what do you think the reasoning is there? How does the audience alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
 
I’m gonna quote Stephen Donaldson here in response to the question regarding why adults read YA fantasy:
 
“One of the oldest and most enduring forms of literature in all languages is fantasy. We need metaphors of magic and monsters to understand the human condition. It’s only in modern times that we have suddenly decided this narrative language isn’t serious, that it’s for children; grown-ups don’t believe these things… We’ve reached the point in our sophistication of our self-perceptions when it no longer seems possible to make epic statements about the meaning of life. You get laughed at for doing it, and epics ceased to be written. But in order for us to have this type of heroism, beauty, glory, magic and power we have to get away from real life.” 
 
Spot on. I absolutely love this quote and I throw it around at every opportunity. The question is not so much a matter of age or genre, rather the sorts of stories we feel ourselves needing. Who cares how old the protagonist is when we really need to heal a little with some sweet romance? Or if we’re dealing with a difficult home life, why not read about a kid who obtains personal triumph despite parents who treat him/her badly? There’s a book for every problem, and we can all benefit. When it comes down to it, YA and MG books simply provide a better choice of learning experiences for anyone, of any age.
 
As for my own writing, I don’t pay attention to audience beyond initial parameters before I start (gotta be smart to sell books). I write from my heart, I write what I feel is important. If a teen picks it up–or a ninety year-old man–it doesn’t matter. It should be relevant no matter what, and it can be.
How does the YA age affect the stakes for your characters and your audience? How about fantasy?
 
The teen/young adult years have some defining moments within them that you won’t find elsewhere: the first true friends, struggles to gain independence, the first kiss, the first breakup, etc. What other age group can you examine the effects and problems surrounding such pivotal moments in a person’s life? Most people would say that their young adult years defined who they are in the present. Why can’t YA books continue to define what they read long into adulthood?
As to how fantasy affects the stakes of a given book, I personally believe its simply a matter of upping the contrast. When a photographer takes a photo, they’ve hopefully framed it correctly and paid attention to the lighting. But when the photo turns out gray and washed out regardless, a trip to Photoshop or Lightroom can fix that by adjusting the contrast, levels, and midtones, bringing out the highlights and making the image pop. The same goes for books. Fantasy elements can highlight and contrast the best and worst parts of a story, drawing the mind to the right conclusions, or hiding what shouldn’t be revealed. To repeat Donaldson above: “…in order for us to have this type of heroism, beauty, glory, magic and power we have to get away from real life.”
How do you think fantasy affects its audience?
 
It makes them better people. Period.
For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
 
You may have guessed by now: I love fantasy. The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, and the Redwall Series by the late Brain Jacques. I can’t even begin to list the many other writers and books within fantasy that have influenced me–I owe so much to them. I also enjoy sci-fi (I should, I’m writing one now!) and some darker stuff, the kind Chuck Wendig writes.
For a more in depth examination of why I love fantasy, you can find an essay I wrote in college here. http://tinyurl.com/ce3m2vr
How can readers reach you?
My blog can be found at beyonddragonsandwizards.blogspot.com, where I post a lot of drivel and the occasional short story. Be sure to check out some author interviews I’ve done myself!
I’m quite active on Twitter: @TrevorJGreen
You can also like my writing page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/trevorgreenwriter
Thanks for stopping by! 
It’s been fun, thanks for having me!