Why Write: Contemporary Fantasy with Jason Crawford

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

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

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

What made you decide to write contemporary fantasy?

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

What types of stories does contemporary fantasy make possible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can readers track you down? 

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

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for having me, Kristin!

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Why Write: Contemporary Romance with Liv Rancourt

Liv #2Today we have the lovely Liv Rancourt here to talk about contemporary romance! She’s been ’round these parts before to discuss the Southern Vampire Mysteries and steampunk (though not at the same time), so I’m always glad to have her back!

Hello, Liv, and welcome back! You’re a familiar face around these parts, but I think we’ll talk about contemporary romance instead of sexy vampires this time.

Thanks so much, Kristin. It’s great to be back, especially because your topic – writing – is something I love so much.

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I was always a great reader and love telling stories, and writing down my own stories has been part of a natural progression. I write romance because of the happy endings. If I want messy, complicated drama, I’ll go work at my day job as a nurse practitioner. I also enjoy a good joke, so while my stuff isn’t slapstick romantic comedy, I do try to keep it light. I’d love to be Janet Evanovich when I grow up, you know?

Me, too! She was a big influence on the voice of Mitzy Morgan, one of my protagonists!

What made you decide to write contemporary romance?

Last year I wrote a couple short stories that (gasp!) didn’t involve vampires in any way, and found I had fun trying to work out how people love in the real world. Now I’m easing my way into contemporary novellas and novels. For me, the biggest challenge in contemporary romance is coming up with interesting conflict. I mean, you drop in a vampire, and there’s an automatic life-or-death factor. I find it harder to make the risks compelling when neither of the main characters is a potentially murderous entity and the Big Bad is a cranky boss, not an Evil Genius Who’s Trying To Take Over The World. Challenge is a good thing, though, so I’m sticking with it.

What types of stories does contemporary romance make possible?

By definition, contemporary romance stories are set after 1945. There are a number of standard tropes (friends become lovers; enemies turn into lovers; a couple gets reunited after a long separation; a marriage of necessity becomes something more) that all pose the same basic questions. Are both the heroine and the hero willing to risk opening themselves up to pain by falling in love? And when they do fall in love, do they have what it takes to keep it going, and what are they willing to do to make it work? The fun is in how you dress those ideas up. You can tweak the plot in all kinds of different ways, as long as you get at the heart of it, which is the relationship between the hero and heroine.

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

Hard question, and one I should have a better answer for. In general, romance is growing faster than any other genre in publishing, and contemporary romance is the biggest subgenre of romance. Romance readers come from all across society, and there are enough sub-subgenres in contemporary romance (gazillionaires and the women who love them, hospital/medical stories, vacation love that turns into more) that there’s pretty much something for everyone.

Given that background, I think it’s important to write what you love, because readers can tell if you’re just phoning it in. There are some basic requirements for the genre, like the ending MUST involve a happily-ever-after or happily-for-now, the love story MUST be the main storyline, and the hero CANNOT mix it up with any other woman except the heroine. There’s a safety factor at work here. If a reader chooses a novel with a half-naked guy with six-pack abs on the cover, they have certain expectations. If you vary too far from the standard framework you’ll hear about it (or you won’t because you won’t get published). But there’s a lot of room to color within the lines, and a huge audience for your work.

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

The romance is the heart of the story, and while the stakes might not be life-or-death, like in paranormal or urban fantasy, it should feel that way for the characters. They have to be completely invested in the relationship in order for readers to be invested in them. This isn’t a place to explore the grey areas (thank you, Emmie Mears).

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

I think the majority of people who read romance do so because it’s fun. They’re not looking to dive into the existential vortex that we all know is there – that’s for black-clad twentysomethings with literary pretentions. They like knowing there’ll be a happy ending, they like living vicariously through a heroine who gets to do stuff they never would, and quite a few of them also like the naughty bits. I’m just sayin’…

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

Hmm…does she practice what she preaches? Yes! I read urban fantasy, paranormal romance, contemporary romance, and some erotic romance (don’t tell my mother). I also love mysteries, and hope someday to have the chops to write one. It’s a good thing you didn’t ask for a list of my favorite authors, because I could probably fill the whole page with it.

How can readers track you down?

I can be found on-line at my website & blog (www.livrancourt.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt), or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LivRancourt).

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you, Kristin. It’s always fun to be here…

Why Write: Science Fiction with Sarah Paige Berling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for stopping by!

Why Write: Epic Fantasy with Gina Denny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Write: Women’s Fiction with Summer Heacock

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

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

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

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

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

What made you decide to write women’s fiction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where can readers track you down?

Blog: http://www.Fizzygrrl.com

Twitter – @Fizzygrrl

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

Why Write: Speculative Fiction with Morgen Rich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speculative fiction elements in my own work include:

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

 And you write epic fantasy, too?

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

 What made you decide to write across these genres?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also hang out on FacebookTwitter, and Google+.

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

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

Why Write: Paranormal Romance with Ana Blaze

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

Hello, Ana, and welcome!

Hi. Thanks for having me.

 Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling in love makes everything feel more intense.

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

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

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

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

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

You can find me online at:

http://anablaze.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/AnaBlazeLove

https://twitter.com/ana_blaze

http://www.goodreads.com/AnaBlaze

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

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

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

Thanks again for having me.