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!

Why Write: Urban Fantasy with Emmie Mears

Said familiar face; Photograph by Colleen Barrett of Blue Tree Photography.

Said familiar face; Photograph by Colleen Barrett of Blue Tree Photography.

Hey readers! As promised, here is the very first Why Write interview! Because Emmie Mears is my critique partner, query-trenches comrade, and generally buddy, she gets to open this (hopefully) entertaining and enlightening series and set the bar for the rest of us. Plus she’s a fantastic writer and keeper of a fabulous blog, so you should listen to what she has to say.

Hello, Emmie, and welcome! You’re a familiar face around these parts, but go ahead and tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I was that kid who moved around all the time. No, we weren’t military. No, I can’t give any great reason for it, other than that we were excessively poor and usually searching for better economic climes. Because of all the moves, I was a child with a painstaking level of shyness, and I escaped into books more often than not. I fell in love with fantasy and horror first — R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike practically raised me to be this nuts. Sprinkle in a bunch of teen babysitters and L.J. Smith’s Night World series, and I can pretty much see my writing preferences forming in front of my eyes.

I first attempted writing sci-fi, then gave up because I really had no idea about space (I was 9). After that I tried epic fantasy, but found my own work so naive that I almost threw it into the woodstove. Finally, I settled into urban fantasy, and I’ve made a nest there. I love grit and darkness with a healthy addition of quirk and humor. I adore writing female characters who rise above their circumstances in some way and who are more concerned with saving the world than finding a boyfriend.

What made you decide to write urban fantasy?

I don’t remember hearing the name of the genre when I was growing up, but a lot of L.J. Smith’s books would probably fit into that genre (though an argument can also be posed for paranormal romance). I love both the ideas of worlds within our own and the supernatural among us, and I’m lazy, so this way the basic structure of our world remains intact (usually).

What types of stories does urban fantasy make possible?

I think that this genre has a very interesting ability to allow for human stories to be told through a supernatural lens. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a perfect example — many of the episodes use demons and apocalypses to personify the struggle of reaching adulthood and beyond. That’s not to say the same isn’t possible in other genres, but there’s a candor to urban fantasy that I like. It’s not afraid to get messy, and it gives me the freedom to explore all sorts of “what if” scenarios. What if you drank a serum that was supposed to cure your boss’s daughter of terminal cancer? What if that boss already had it in for you? What if she was involved in a political conspiracy against your country?

See? FUN.

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

I think urban fantasy readers (like most fantasy readers) want an escape. There tends to be a common element of “chosen-ness” within the fantasy genre as a whole. A protagonist is the only one who can fight XYZ Evil. I think growing up it attracted me because I (the painfully shy) desperately wanted to be chosen for something majestic and terrible and awesome. At the same time, these characters are often deeply flawed, which is something I think people relate to. Most humans don’t like themselves all the time.

I try to write urban fantasy with that in mind, because I don’t think I’m alone in that mindset. If people want an easy escape, they’ll read something less gritty. But urban fantasy readers want that darkness, that gray area. I try to let that breathe in my characters and like to give them problems that challenge what they’ve thought in the past and push them into territory that makes them uncomfortable — and that makes them have to face their flaws head-on.

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

As you know, *laughs* I tried to write a magical realism novel this winter. I’m so used to the stakes being primarily physical (if you don’t succeed, you and a bunch of other poor sods will DIE HORRIBLY!) that I struggled writing something where most of the stakes were emotional. In urban fantasy, the stakes tend to be very physical AND emotional, but the physical stakes usually drive the plot. When there are literally creatures that want to eat you, well. Stakes. You’ve got them. And you might become them. Or become steaks, anyway.

Why do you think people love to read urban fantasy? How do you think urban fantasy affects its audience?

I think there’s a certain amount of wish fulfillment involved. Urban fantasy protagonists tend to be badasses in larger-than-life conflicts. And who doesn’t want to be a badass hero from the safety of your living room?

I think urban fantasy as a genre can really allow readers to question themselves in a healthy way. I still remember the effect Buffy had on me when I first watched it, or how I felt about Anita Blake’s development and how it challenged how I thought about my own power and my sexuality, or how I could empathize with Rachel Morgan as she discovered things about herself that made her squirm. I’ve grown up in a lot of ways as a direct result of my imagination coming into contact with these characters and these stories. I think other people feel the same.

For funsies, what is your favorite genre to read?

Erm…urban fantasy. Well, any fantasy. Give me magic and creatures and gray areas, and I’m a happy Emmie.

Thanks so much for having me around today, Kristin! *waves to readers*

If you want to track Emmie down, you can reach her via the following links!
Blog: http://www.emmiemears.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/emmiemears
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/emmiemears

Student of history. Gamer. Language nerd. Displaced Celt.

Emmie spends at least an hour a day preparing for or thinking about the zombie apocalypse.

Future calamity notwithstanding, Emmie hunts stories in dark alleys and in stone circles and spends most nights listening for something that goes bump.

Emmie lives outside D.C. with her husband, a husky puppy who talks too much, and a tabby who thinks she’s a tiger.

She is currently mucking up the lives of demon-hunters and mythology professors for her current projects. Emmie is represented by Jessica Negrón of Talcott Notch Literary Services.

Why Write: A Kristinish Kick-Off

As the responses to the Why Write genre questions have trickled and poured in, I’ve been thinking a lot about genre and why I define myself as a fantasy writer.

And of course, if I ask other writers to torture themselves with difficult questions, it’s only fair that I try to do the same. But since I’m queen of this little corner of the internet, I get to take a slightly different approach to the process.

I can’t quite remember how my love affair with fantasy started.

I embrace my own nerdiness.

Actually, that’s not true. I remember exactly how it started, but I can’t remember which particular book kicked it off. It was either Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, first of the Harper Hall of Pern trilogy,  or Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragons of Autumn Twilight, first in the Dragonlance series—yes, novels based on Dungeons and Dragons modules. I was a nerd in the womb, I suspect.

I was between eight and ten years old.

Barbarians are sexy.

I don’t actually remember which of these books I read first, but I vividly remember coming across Dragonsong in the library of my gifted program. I read it in a couple of days, and then, completely book hungover, wandered down to my fantasy-loving older brother’s room in search of other dragon-filled reading material.

There, on his crowded bookshelves, I found the entire Harper Hall trilogy.

I was a goner after that. I think Dragonlance must have come next; Pern was my gateway drug. From that time on, I read mostly fantasy. I went through that long dragon phase, and after that it was King Arthur, and for awhile it was epics, and lately it’s been urban fantasy.

In discussing Why Write shenanigans on Twitter, I found myself saying, “The need to write is a part of me, like my blood type. I couldn’t not write. But what genre to write—that was more like choosing a friend or a lover. It’s part of me, but it could change.”

For me, that’s true. Maybe some day I’ll write historical fiction. I’ve always thought I might like to try. Or perhaps someday my fantasy tales will cross into horror. But for now, I want to write all across fantasy: epic, urban, romantic.

And in the coming weeks, I’ll tell you why.

Look for a Why Write post from Emmie Mears on Wednesday!

Gettin’ Nerdy With It: RPGs

My husband and I reached a whole new level of nerdy yesterday—and for the couple known as ‘the Doctor Who people’ among our local friends, that’s really saying something.

A degrading Changeling: who doesn't want to pretend to be a creepy horny fairy thing?

A degrading Changeling: who doesn’t want to pretend to be a creepy horny fairy thing?

We dug ourselves deep into the land of Storytelling RPGs, specifically Changeling: the Lost, one of the spin-offs of Vampire: the Requiem, and a sort of grandchild to the 1990s game Vampire: the Masquerade.

Whoa. That’s a whole lotta nerdy right up front there, so let me explain a little more for you muggles in the audience. (You muggles know you’re probably way cooler than me in real life, right?)

A Storytelling RPG, to simplify it vastly, is a game for two or more people based on made-up characters engaging in imaginary adventures: it’s not unlike when you and your childhood best friend pretended to gypsy princesses in a fantasy land, but you sit at a table instead of frolicking around the backyard. (Just me? Awkward.) The designated storyteller guides the characters through their quest, and each player rolls dies to determine the success or failure of their actions.

In White Wolf Publishing’s World of Darkness, everything is similar to ours but just slightly askew. Vampires, ghosts, goblins, and fairies are real. Quests generally involve chasing a magical item, seeking spells, and fighting the forces of darkness—or light, depending on your character preference. There are intricate backstories for every breed of character and every aspect of this universe. Game plots make for fantastic reading, as does the world-building.

It’s… an urban fantasy universe!

So let’s pause a moment here. This is a game that involves making up stories about imaginary characters and spinning out the tension in their adventures for as long as possible.

Why the hell aren’t all fantasy writers already playing this?!

Well, there are a few reasons.

1. It’s super-nerdy, and requires nerdy friends. People already think fantasy writers are crazy; we don’t need to give them more reasons to not hang out with us.

2. It’s time-consuming. You have to make up your character, spend ages learning minute rules, and then spend hours on game play… because we all have so much free time to kill.

3. It can lead to excessive nerdiness, like LARPing, which involves dressing up like your characters and pretending to be them in real life. *shiver*

This history of LARPing goes way back to… wait, no, that’s not history. It’s an old-time fauxtograph of people LARPing as Victorians. (Image via Wikipedia.)

Spouse and I started checking it (Changeling, not LARPing!) out because, well, we’re already super-nerdy, and because we want a new game to play with some of our friends.

Now the real question is… how do we convince our friends to play with us?

Being me, I have listed a few reasons why it’ll be fun:

1. We can pretend to be fairies with specific magical powers! They can look like unicorns if we want them to! We can draw pictures and make up back-stories! (This may not work on the menfolk.)

2. It’ll be hilarious. Come on, grown-ups sitting around a table arguing over why Person A’s vampire is a way better candidate to take on that NPC-troll than Person B’s darkling fae? That’s comedy gold.

3. It’s not that different than historical re-enacting, really. (Our friends used to re-enact.) Actually, it’s just like it, but without the real history or the trips to cool places. And we’d rather not start doing the costumes.

4. It involves some theater! We can turn down the lights and pretend my husband (designated Storyteller because only he actually understands the rules) is telling us a scary choose-your-own-adventure story. And when we need sound effects, like gunshots or ghosts moaning, we can totally add them in!

5. There will be alcohol involved!

What do you think, readers? Would you play with us? How would you convince someone to try an RPG?