Why Write: Contemporary Fantasy with Jason Crawford

Readers, welcome Jason Patrick Crawford, a fantasy writer and one of my very cool Tweeps. He’s here to talk about contemporary fantasy and he has some fantastic things to say about how a contemporary setting gives traditional fantasy a fresh new way for modern readers to relate. Check it out! 

Hello, Jason, and welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I’m a 31-year old veteran who has been married for 9 years this May. I have three sons, aged 6, 3, and 5 months, and I work as a high school chemistry teacher at Pete Knight High School in Palmdale, CA. I’ve always been interested in writing, ever since my own high school experience when I was in gifted English classes and we did creative writing assignments, but I never really made an effort until my sister-in-law decided that she was going to write a book. She, my wife, and I all thought it would be a great idea to have a “writing circle” to support each other, and I found that I enjoyed writing more than…well, more than pretty much anything else I’ve done (besides my family, of course!)

What made you decide to write contemporary fantasy?

It was the first story that popped into my head. Seriously. I’ve had the germs of the ideas for my first two novels, The Drifter and Chains of Prophecy for years, kind of the “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a book about this” thing. I love the idea that there could be magic hidden in our world, where most people can’t see it, don’t recognize it, but are affected by it.

What types of stories does contemporary fantasy make possible?

I think that contemporary fantasy allows an author to tell archetypical stories in a way that make readers comfortable and make the characters more relatable. For instance, while I love epic fantasy and ancient mythology, it is easy for me to look askance at, say, “campfire scenes” where the author writes for pages about the discussions around a campfire simply because I’ve never been on a months-long quest in the wilderness; if, however, a contemporary fantasy author writes about a conversation on an airplane, it’s easy to imagine. Easy to buy into. This lets me tell legends without losing my audience’s interest.

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

I think that contemporary fantasy attracts a few different types of people, but the people that I try to speak to most (because I am one of those) are the ones who think the world would be a better place with a little more magic, a little more mystery, a few more heroes. I like to tell stories about relatively normal people who get thrown into situations they couldn’t have predicted, couldn’t have expected, and yet they decide to do the right thing anyway, even when it’s easier to walk away.

How does contemporary fantasy affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

Contemporary fantasy allows the reader to get truly invested in the characters. It’s easy to imagine yourself in the place of, say, an accountant from California, but it might be harder to visualize being a sword-swinging barbarian from Kaledonia (I have no idea if that’s been used in a novel, any resemblance is coincidental). Of course, epic, sword-and-sorcery fantasy is amazing, and if the writing is good then it’s completely engrossing, but I like to put myself in the character’s shoes when I read, and the more connections I can make with him/her, the better.

As for the characters, they have to deal with the fact that, generally, what they’re doing, what they’re experiencing, is NOT known to society at large. No one would believe Sam, the protagonist in Chains of Prophecy, if he ran to the police to tell them that someone stole his mother’s ancient book of spells and they’re using them to enslave angels. They have to discover what is real, what isn’t, and, usually, they have to figure out how to deal with it by trial and error, which is always fun 🙂

Why do you think people love to read contemporary fantasy? How do you think the genre affects its audience?

Besides the qualities that make anything worth reading, I’d say that contemporary fantasy is popular because it provides an element of escapism and wonder. Just imagine if the world of, say, Harry Potter or Percy Jackson were real; how would that change the way one sees, hears, perceives everything? Imagine knowing that there was magic about, but not knowing where to find it, exactly. You’d see it everywhere! I think that this is a gift given by the authors of contemporary fantasy to their audiences – the banal, everyday monotony of existence can be broken up, just a bit, by magic.

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

I’m a fantasy reader, loving both contemporary and epic. I just finished book one of the Seeker of Truth series by Terry Goodkind, Wizard’s First Rule. It was amazing. I devoured Harry Potter and Percy Jackson – the books, not the people 😉 – and loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I just like stories with heroes that are willing to do what is right, to give of themselves, and to prove that Good triumphs over Evil.

How can readers track you down? 

If you’d like to learn more or follow my process as I try to publish my work, you can reach me at @jnewmanwriting on Twitter, I have an author page on Facebook, and you can read my blog and other cool stuff on my website at http://www.jasonpatrickcrawford.com!

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for having me, Kristin!

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Why Write: Contemporary Fantasy with Marcy L. Peska

marcypeskaHey, gang! Today we have Marcy L. Peska to talk about why she writes contemporary fantasy. She has some really fantastic things to say about contemporary fantasy versus urban fantasy, fantasy in general, and genre-writing in a larger way. Enjoy, and take notes! She has some great stuff to say.

Hello, Marcy, and welcome!
Thank you for having me. I’m tickled to participate in this project and eager to read all the interviews!

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I was born in Grand Rapids, MI but came to Alaska when I was 7 months old, so I’ve always considered myself an Alaskan. I’m very attached to the region of Alaska where I reside and it’s had an enormous impact on who I’ve become, as an individual, and also as a writer. For nine years of my childhood, I lived in a tiny and isolated “bush” community in southern Southeast Alaska called Edna Bay. My experiences living a sort of pioneer/subsistence lifestyle gave me a different perspective on life than many modern Americans and I think that colors my life choices, my writing voice and the general themes in my writing. Early this month (April 2013), I published my short memoir, Head Buckets & Hashtags: An Alaskan Childhood In Tweets on Amazon Kindle and that talks about my childhood in a lot more detail.

My fantasy novel, Magic All Around (5/12/13 release date at Amazon Kindle) is set right here in Juneau, the capital city of Alaska and this setting is central to who my characters are. This is a good place for me to explain why I consider Magic All Around to be a work of contemporary fantasy instead of one of urban fantasy. These two sub-genres overlap and there aren’t any universal definitions but urban fantasies are generally set in a city that is real and recognizable. My novel meets those two criteria but few people would describe Juneau, Alaska as urban. The U.S. Census Bureau considers any community with a population of 50,000 or more to be urban but Juneau has only about 30,000 people. Although it’s located on the mainland, the only transportation in or out of Juneau is by air or water and it’s a community defined more by its breathtaking landscape of ice fields, mountains and ocean, than its structures or streets. Juneau just doesn’t have that gritty, urban feel to it and neither do my characters. If there were such a category as rural fantasy, Magic All Around would fall tidily into that, but there isn’t and so contemporary fantasy is the best fit.

What made you decide to write in contemporary fantasy?
I read many genres but fantasy has been my favorite since I was about ten or eleven. I don’t think I’ve ever made a deliberate choice to write fantasy, I’ve just always known that fantasy is what I would write. The sub-genre of contemporary fantasy provides the framework, (the real-world setting and current cultural milieu) at the foundation of my novel. Nonetheless, my process was story first, sort out and define genre after. I think genre intentionality is terrific; it just hasn’t been part of my writing process yet.

What types of stories does contemporary fantasy make possible?
One of my favorite things about fantasy is how a deft author can use it to hold a mirror up to reality and help us examine various aspects of life. High fantasy and some of the other sub-genres lend themselves especially well to the examination of culture, mores and taboos. I like to think of those sub-genres as taking an anthropological or sociological approach to fantasy. Contemporary fantasy seems to lend itself particularly well to a more narrow focus: to exploring how an individual character makes decisions and interacts with his or her world and I think of this as more of a psychological approach to fantasy.

The other thing that I think is useful in contemporary fantasy is that it can be a gateway genre. Folks new to fantasy or those who usually read other types of fiction sometimes feel confused or off-put by the foreignness of high fantasy and other sub-genres that utilize extensive world building or require a greater suspension of disbelief. It’s not quite as big a leap, for these readers
to sample contemporary fantasy, where we all start with a common reality quite similar to the one we live in on a day-to-day basis. Then, once a reader has begun to enjoy a dally in the shallow end of the pool, so to speak, that reader is more likely to venture into deeper water.

What audience do you think contemporary fantasy attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
I think contemporary fantasy attracts and accommodates folks from across the age spectrum and readers with a lot of different genre preferences because it frequently crosses genre boundaries with contemporary fiction, science fiction, historical fiction, romance, mystery, chick-lit, you name it. As I touched on earlier, my approach to fiction writing is to share the story I have inside of me rather than to create a story that meets a particular set of criteria for a specific genre or audience. Then, once the story is complete, I can define genre and audience and learn to market to the right folks.

How does contemporary fantasy affect the stakes for your characters and your
audience?
First, I want to say that you ask great questions and you’re making me think more deeply about genre than I have since I was in college back in the early 90’s. I hope you won’t be grading my answers!

Definitely no grades here! I actually worried more about writers grading my questions than grading their answers in any way!

I don’t think any genre, or sub-genre, has an exclusive license on low, medium or high-stakes situations. The more research and/or world building an author does, however, the further up the stakes continuum they tend write; there’s a level of investment on the part of the author and the reader that must be paid off. The opposite, however, certainly isn’t true. In other words, plenty of authors write high-stakes stories in genres that require little to no research or world building.

I consider contemporary fantasy to be low on the research and world building scale but I’ve read novels in this sub-genre from across the stakes continuum. As a reader and a writer, I often prefer low to medium stakes stories. Again, there are exceptions to this, but as a rule, I have little tolerance for anxiety, suspense, tension and large-scale carnage. In my life, and in my writing, I’m more concerned with personal, family and community level challenges than I am with impending doom or grand battles of good versus evil.

Why do you think people love to read contemporary fantasy? How do you think the genre affects its audience?
I believe that reframing the way we view our environment and our experiences has the potential to change our thoughts, feelings and reactions to those things. All genres…no, all art, has the potential to catalyze this kind of transformation, but the proximity of contemporary fantasy to consensus reality (not too close and not too far) makes it a brilliant vehicle for stories that may inspire readers to generalize what they learn from characters and transfer that knowledge to real-world scenarios to reframe their own views.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
Fantasy has always spoken to me most deeply and most comfortingly, with science fiction in a close second place. I suppose this has a lot to do with growing up among people who valued questioning reality, questioning mainstream culture, questioning authority…questioning everything really! I internalized those values and, for me at least, this is what a good fantasy does, it takes the characters and the reader (maybe even the author) on a journey where they’re forced to reevaluate the nature of reality and how they respond to it. That being said, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that fantasy and science-fiction make up the bulk of my reading diet. (It totally makes up a large portion of my reading diet, so no judgment here!) I read widely and enjoy a variety of fiction and non-fiction
genres, especially things related to psychology/mental health, dogs and Alaska.

Wow, Marcy, you gave some great answers and got me thinking about still more genre-related blog topics. Thanks for stopping by and chatting with us!
This was fun; thank you for interviewing me and getting me thinking more about genre.

Readers, if you want to track Marcy down, you can find her at…

Amazon Author Page

Webpage

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

E-mail: marcylpeskaATgmailDOTcom