Nine Fun Facts about SHAKEN

ShakenCoverSince SHAKEN came out yesterday (and a HUGE thank you to those of you who pre-ordered and ordered yesterday — you guys made my day!), I thought I’d share a few fun facts about its inception and creation. Wheeee!

  1. The San Francisco where Mitzy lives is pretty significantly different than the San Francisco in this world. I won’t go into too much detail about this here, since I wrote about it on Spellbound Scribes last week, but Mitzy’s San Francisco includes some fictional locations and some cemeteries that are no longer in use. Because magic is a part of the physical landscape of Mitzy’s world, I needed to restructure San Francisco to reflect how that might have shaped history.
  2. I worked as a reporter in Berkeley, covering Oakland and a little bit of San Francisco, too, and the Bay Area is one of my favorite places in the world. My very first job out of graduate school was working as a reporter, first as an intern and than as a police-beat reporter, in Berkeley. That job was difficult and fun and exciting and terrifying, and I think it shaped the trajectory of my entire career. I’m not a newspaper reporter anymore, but working as a reporter in Berkeley and elsewhere made me a significantly better writer than I could have been without that time of strict word limits, careful research, and tight deadlines. It also instilled in me a love of that area and its residents that I’ll never get over.
  3. When I first thought of SHAKEN, it wasn’t an urban fantasy: it was a straight-up detective novel. And it didn’t involve a serial killer. Actually, it had almost no resemblance to the book that you can now read. I thought I’d try writing mysteries to get the hang of plot and structure, but I kept getting stuck on the lack of magic and fantasy elements. I didn’t want to be a mystery writer. I wanted to write fantasy. I’ve always wanted to write fantasy, and I don’t think I’ll ever not write fantasy.Somewhere along the way of writing SHAKEN, I got the idea of a world where everyone has magic. Urban fantasy was peaking right around then, and, well, put those elements together and you get the odd little book that is SHAKEN. I’ve since gone on to write a cozy mystery (no magic! really!) and thoroughly enjoyed it, but fantasy will always be where I live.
  4. I set out wanting to write about a female addict. This was a part of my vision for the character of Mitzy from the beginning, pre-magic, pre-urban fantasy. I knew she would be from a privileged background and be forced to deal with letting go of the advantages given to her by birth. The addict-detective trope is actually pretty familiar to anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes, but that character is usually a man, not a woman. Women are addicts, too, and have to face the consequences of the choices they make while under the influence. Mitzy is my exploration of these issues.
  5. I have a Pinterest board where you can see a bit of my vision of the novel. I used it to collect faces and items and locations, and sometimes I like to peek at it and remember back when I was a baby writer and hunting for the perfect pictures of Eva Green and Nestor Carbonell. I never found my Li, sadly, but I’ll bet she’s out there somewhere.
  6. There’s also a Spotify playlist of music I listen to while writing in Mitzy’s world. This list has evolved since I wrote SHAKEN and includes some of the tracks I listened to (on a loop!) while writing DIRTY, book two of the series.
  7. I finished SHAKEN as a NaNoWriMo project. I distinctly remember starting the book in the summer–this was in (gulp) 2011?–and then it languished for a couple of months around the midpoint. I decided to buckle down in November and get it wrapped up. I’m pretty sure it took me a month or so into December, but “cheating” at NaNo and writing 50,000 words on a project I’d already started gave me a HUGE boost. You absolutely can’t beat NaNoWriMo for giving yourself an exciting, encouraging environment in which to write, and I try to at least dip my toe in every year. I suspect I’ll be NaNo-ing again this year with my current work in progress.
  8. SHAKEN isn’t my first novel. Or even, technically, my second. But it is the first book I wrote to completion and recognized as worth editing for readers. The first book I really completed is a 250,000 word monstrosity that takes place in a pseuo-steampunk fantasy world. It’s about a pair of thieves who get mixed up in a political conspiracy. Someday I’d like to rewrite it, but I have too many new projects I want to pursue.
  9. You can get SHAKEN now from Amazon!
Advertisements

Anime and Me: Part 2

Remember how I’ve said I don’t like anime?

Well.

So much for that blanket statement. Like so many sweeping claims of its kind, it has proven completely false. It has taken ten years and a lot (a LOT!) of trial and error, but my husband has finally helped me find some anime I seriously enjoy, and I’ve even branched out into manga. (Me! The girl who used to get confused by comics!)

Note: If you’ve read my post on Spellbound Scribes, you can scroll down through this bit and check out my recommendations at the bottom of this post.

There are a few things I’ve learned along the way to finding anime I love. The first is that saying, “I don’t like anime” is a little akin to saying, “I don’t like animated feature films or television, regardless of content.”

Okay, that’s exactly what it’s saying.

My first exposure to anime was when I was probably twelve years old, and a friend of mine fell in love with Sailor Moon. She watched it, she carried the lunch box, she wrote fan fiction, she tried to turn me on to it. She failed. Again, in high school, a friend loved The Power Puff Girls. I tried it, I scoffed, I moved on. By the time I got to college and landed a roommate who loved anime, my experience was enough to give me a sinking feeling when we met in person. “Oh. She likes anime. Nope.” She tried it on me (I have no idea what we watched), I didn’t like it, she moved out.

Ha. No, she didn’t move out over anime. But it felt that way at times, like my dislike of anime was a dogmatic schism between me and people who could otherwise have been my friends. After that experience, I settled happily into a cozy, sheltered world of disliking anime, with friends who never even gave it a moment’s thought.

Cue meeting my husband. He likes anime, and cartoons of all colors, genres, and levels of satire. While he pretty quickly realized that I’ll never like anything in the Family GuyFuturamaArcher, and, yes, The Simpsons oeuvre (it’s to do with the colors, animation style, and voices), he insisted that there did exist anime I would like. He just needed to find it. It became his quest, and I continued stubbornly stumping along, dismissing most of his suggestions.

Eventually, guilted by his continual efforts, I set three guidelines for finding Kristin-Approved anime:

1. The artwork needs to be pretty.

2. The cast needs to include strong female characters OR, at the least, the male characters can’t all be sexist a-holes.

3. A fantasy or fairy tale element is preferable, but not strictly necessary.

I asked that his suggestions meet two of those three criteria. We’ve crossed the eight-month mark on those guidelines, and we’ve found a handful of anime that I really like (see below).

But I’ve also discovered that anime is not always super heroes, creepy monsters, or giant machines, though I’ve enjoyed series that fall into all of those categories! And watching shojo anime does not in fact make one a connoisseur of creepy schoolgirl things, though there are also anime and manga targeted at older women. In fact, not only are there romance stories, “slice of life” stories, and some pretty serious erotica stories, there are historical stories, folkloric stories, hard-sci fi stories, and mythical stories.

Bottom line: anime cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand and a vague assumption about girls with pink hair. I hereby humbly eat my words. Again.

So if you’re interested in following me down the anime (and even manga) path, here are some of those Kristin-Approved series* I mentioned. Mild spoilers follow.

1. Princess Jellyfish: This is hands-down my favorite anime so far. It spoke to my heart, and I binge-watched it in mere days. It tells the story of a group of otaku women who live in the lone holdout building in a neighborhood targeted for gentrification. The story actually manages to parallel the women’s feelings of awkwardness and isolation with their love for the “retro,” eccentric old building they inhabit, and their push-pull relationship with the outside world is crystallized in their reluctant friendship with a “Stylish” who has acceptance problems (and secrets) of his—I mean, “her”—own.

2. xxxHolic: This one meets the pretty artwork and fantasy criteria, though the relative strength of the female characters is debatable. The show follows the story of Watanuki, a teenager who can see spirits, who agrees to work for a wish-granting witch in exchange for having his powers dampened. I’m not gonna lie, this one and the creatures in it have been an influence on my own fiction.

3. Mushishi: Gorgeously animated (seriously, incomparable artwork), this series is about Ginko, a man who protects people, usually rural villagers, from supernatural creatures/spirits called Mushi.

4. Noragami: Teenage girl Hiyori Iki is transformed into a half-phantom after a near lethal accident, and she works with struggling god Yato to, well, have adventures, fight spirits, stay grounded in the physical realm, and redeem Yato himself. That’s not a great description, but I’ve just started watching/reading this one and it’s fantastic so far.

5. My Little Monster: Scholarly loner “dry ice” girl Shizuku Mizutani becomes involved with “monster” boy Haru Yoshida, and together the two learn how to socialize and even love in a world that seems to neither want nor respect them. Meant for a younger audience, this one I could have loved when I was a shy and awkward pre-teen.

6. Neon Genesis Evangelion: Need I describe this one? Yes, it’s old. Yes, it’s incredibly successful and popular. Yes, I’m a late-bloomer. No, I haven’t watched it all the way through yet. Mecha, teens fighting the apocalypse, kids thrust into grown-up responsibility in a really adult story. I’ll pre-approve this one.

7. Howl’s Moving Castle: Yes, this one is also old(er) and well-known. No, I don’t know if a Japanese adaptation of an English book counts as anime: that’s way beyond the scope of this post. But I freaking LOVED this movie, and I want everyone I know to watch it. A witch’s curse turns a young girl into an old woman, and ends up seeking help from Howl and his cursed-demon friend Calcifer. That description does not do it justice. Go watch it now.

8. A Bride’s Story: Psych! This one’s not an anime. It is, however, my very first manga, and I love it. Set in central Asia in the late 1800s, this historical romance tells the story of an arranged marriage between a 20-year-old woman and a 12-year-old boy. Yes it does. And it’s not even a little creepy. Instead, it’s a nuanced exploration of cultural norms in an often unrepresented time and place, and it follows lovable, thoughtful characters in their personal journeys. The books focus as much on the side characters as they do the bride and her young husband, and every volume is worth a read. Check it out if you’re at all into historical fiction. (P.S. This one is also N. K. Jemisin-approved!)

So there you have it. Consider these series Kristin-stamped, and I highly recommend you try them out. Have you seen any of these? Based on this list, do you have any more recommendations for me?

*Most of these are manga as well as anime, but, except where mentioned, in this list I’m really referring to the anime. I plan to read Princess Jellyfish and NoragamiHowl’s Moving Castle is a different beast altogether.

Friends and Heroes

I have been gently mocked—and more harshly mocked by some—for my abiding love of George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. But for better or worse, our heroes are our heroes, and we cannot shake their influence or absolve our love for them.

I picked up A Game of Thrones in (approximately) 1999. I’m guessing, here, because I really don’t recall. I was with my parents at a Barnes and Noble in Waco, Texas, visiting my older brother at Baylor University. I think it must have been 1999 because it was an early visit to Waco and because A Storm of Swords came out in 2000 and my copy is a first edition. (And now signed!)

Actually, I picked up A Clash of Kings first, because of its attractive cover. The golden cover, the woman in red, the description of the book itself pulled me in. I mean, look at it. It’s pretty.

But because I’m an OCD soul, I had to go for the first book first. I picked up A Game of Thrones, despite its less attractive cover (I own the infamous Harlequin Jon Snow version, which is, these days, hard to find: see image above), and took it home with me.

I’m not going to lie to you, readers. It was boring. I fell asleep on our couch reading it. But after a few false starts, I was intrigued. And when (SPOILER ALERT – have you been living under a rock??) Ned Stark died, I was hooked. HOOKED. Here was a writer who could create a nuanced, sympathetic, enjoyable character, and kill him off without compunction. Here was a writer I needed to know.

So I read the gorgeous A Clash of Kings, and received my copy of A Storm of Swords for Christmas the next year. I read it, enjoyed it, was shocked by it, then patiently settled in to read the next installment. How little I knew.

Fast forward eight years to a small apartment in Hayward, California. I decided the story bouncing around in my head during my commute from Hayward to Berkeley for my reporting job deserved some more attention. I said to my (now) husband that I wanted to focus on fiction, and I did just that. I began my first (trunk) novel, a huge epic about a pair of thieves who get embroiled in a political conspiracy to return magic and science to their stagnated nation. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning rereading Martin’s books, learning about point of view and narration from his chapters.

Fast forward another three years to 2011. I met the wonderful Emmie Mears through WordPress and a shared experience of familial tragedy. We discovered a mutual love of Buffy and all things fantastic, and suddenly we were fast friends who had never met in person.

Now, in 2013, I had the great privilege of flying out to Maryland and meeting Emmie in real life.

e and k

Bosom friends meet at last.

Aww.

In case you haven’t noticed ’round these parts, Emmie has been a huge part of my life in the last two years. We’ve commiserated, celebrated, even long-distance watched movies together. Though it started as an Anne of Green Gables joke, she IS a bosom friend, and one I’m so very grateful to have in my life. My sanity would have suffered much more in the last 18-months without her supportive, bosom-friendy presence.

So what does my abiding love for Emmie have to do with my abiding love for GRRM?

Well, come Capclave and our time together, we encountered guest of honor, George R. R. Martin himself. Emmie sat beside me in the front row while he did his first reading and I blushed every time he looked toward us.

Then, at nearly one a.m. after a Scotch-tasting party, when I gushingly said I wanted to tell him that I used to stay up late rereading A Game of Thrones to learn about perspective and how much that helped me, Emmie said four simple words:

“You should tell him.”

So I did. I fanned out so hard. I told him how he was a huge influence on me, how his writing gave me the courage and the inspiration to try writing a ridiculously huge novel with multiple point of view characters. And then, because there was an awkward pause, I said it must have helped, since I now have an agent.

And because he’s awesome and kind enough to hang out with his fans, George R. R. Martin asked about my agent. And our writing. And our process. And told us about his own childhood.

We got to take a photo with him, too.

Photo does not include mental squeeing.

Photo does not include mental squeeing. Also, yes, I am this short.

Lifetime achievement: unlocked.

Since this photo, people have teased me. Said I should have it framed and hung in my bedroom. Above my desk. Treasure it forever.

And you know what? I’m totally going to do it. These two writers have influenced me more than I can say. I would be honored to hang them above my workspace.

Friends and heroes. What’s the difference?

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!

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: 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?

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!