Tag Archives: M/M Romance

Why Fantasy?

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2013-07-08 Pic 1

 

I’ve been asked before, why do you write fantasy?  Why not something more real?  I’ve also been asked why M/M romance, why poly, why Wiccan, why, why, why.  I think it’s a fascinating question, in and of itself, and indicative of the conundrum those of us who like to read fantasy and science-fiction face:  we see more than everyday reality, and we want to read stories about more than everyday reality.

Steven King sums this up nicely.  He writes stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  He twists some element of reality, making it odd or strange, and then throws people into the mix to see what happens.  In an interview about one of his recent projects, a television serial called “Under the Dome,” he remarked that he didn’t make the people unusual; the villain is really the darkness in the people themselves when caged for an extended period of time.  Chilling.

I’ve written before that the trick to writing a good fantasy or science-fiction is in the details, the world-building, if you will.  Ray Bradbury is another one who writes about ordinariness in the extraordinary:  suburban Americana on Mars, for example.  He also writes about the extraordinary in ordinary terms: a painted, tattooed man whose tattoos were done by a woman from the future.  He uses tattoos later, in “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” in more sinister fashion as the tattoos tell the wickedness of the characters and, through them, of mankind itself.

For me, I write fantasy because it allows me to step back and write about things at one remove.  I can pick and choose what “ordinary” elements I want to include and have more control over the world.  I can idealize some elements, as when I added magic to the world of TIGER TIGER, our upcoming release from Samhain Publishing.  As Rachel and I wrote the book, we spent hours roaming Chicago’s north side, looking for the neighborhood where the book takes place, deciding where to put The Factory, the restaurant and BDSM club in the book.  We roamed the lakeshore, exploring where Doc jogged on a regular basis.  All these ordinary details made writing TIGER TIGER feel more real, despite the unreality of weretigers and magic.

What about you?  What are your favorite fantasy stories?

Fantasy and Reality

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One of the challenges of writing fantasy is making it real to the reader.  To do this requires getting the details right.

In our upcoming release, TIGER TIGER, we have a trauma veterinary surgeon who discovers a rogue tiger shifter is killing homeless men in their neighborhood.  If someone with no medical background found a body, the descriptions would be shocked, horrified, even “grossed out”.  Since our main character is a doctor, we have to go with a more calm, clinical attitude.  Rather than describing the body in general terms, he would use the medical terms for things.  And when his friends are injured, he’s going to react as a trauma surgeon and want to fix it, rather than simply worry that they’re hurt, or run away in fear.

Any good fantasy or science fiction story is going to have this emphasis on the details.  In Battlestar Gallactica’s reboot with Edward James Olmos, they first showed paper with the corners cut off as a cosmetic detail indicating the expense of paper.  One of the special effects supervisors said they regretted that since the show had such a long run and they had to cut the corners off everything.  Details.

Even more silly shows that stand the test of time follow this rule.  Star Trek, the original, remained faithful to its own rules throughout its run.  Later, in subsequent, spin-off shows they kept to those same rules.  This made it seem like warp-speed travel is something we’ve already discovered and not something that was made up.

What’s your favorite fantasy or science fiction story that stands up to the details test?

 

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
– E.E. Cummings

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Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
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Watch for TIGER TIGER, coming July 23, 2013, from Samhain Publishing.

If you go down to the woods today…

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October is the month of all things dark and haunted, and for me, there could be only one blog topic. The forest realm. Fantasy literature has long worshipped the forest, from Tolkien’s Mirkwood through to Kenneth Graham’s Wild Wood. Images of woodlands are many and contrasting, as different as slow moving Ents are from Whomping Willows. And like vampires and werewolves and all things ghoulish, stories of the forest realm have a long and fascinating history.

The earliest written accounts of forests construct them as dark,

A water naiad emerges from a woodland brook for some sexy fun with Hylas (J.W.Waterhouse, 1893).

fearful, and often intensely erotic places—much like the ways in which modern western imperialists have described the orient. Following resistance to Roman empire-building in the forests of northern Europe, Tacitus wrote of bestial Germanic Wild Men gnawing the bones of defeated legions, while Julius Caesar and Strabo described the Druids of the British Isles burning sacrificial victims alive in wicker men, images that have resonated through the ages.  Rushing forward to medieval times, the scariest creatures of the forest were the fairies. A far cry from the sparkly wing-wearing, pink-clad kiddies of today, the fair folk embodied the spirits of the dead, feared as child snatchers, shifters, seducers, and even murderers and rapists.

Anne Cain’s interpretation of Herne the Hunter for the cover of my book, Bound to the Beast.

Fortunately, forest lore provides us with plenty of brooding heroes too, from Robin Hood to the wonderfully tortured Herne the Hunter, a glowering, alpha male bearing the antlers of a stag and whose dark origins lie in the horned gods of Norse and Anglo-Saxon myth. To my glee, my extensive research into forest lore has also uncovered a plethora of historical bondage. The cliché of being blindfolded, bound, and taken to the hidden camp in the heart of the forest can be traced back at least as far as Roman accounts of the tribes of Germania.

The “otherness” of the forest, it’s exclusion from so-called “civilized” societies, has also resulted in one of its most wonderful manifestations: as a place of sexual liberty. The Greenwood has long been the realm to which lovers escaped to break away from the shackles of social and sexual norms – think Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On more modern note, in E.M.Forster’s novel Maurice (originally written in 1913-14, but not published till 1971) the homosexual hero evokes the romantic image of “Sherwood.” The idealized English Greenwood of the past is the imaginative space in which Maurice and his male lover can exist unfettered, in stark contrast to the homophobic reality in which he struggles to fit in.

The Reconcliation of Titania and Oberon–amid much orgiastic fun! (J.N.Paton, 1847)

So, sod being creepy—here’s to the forests of the world! Let’s hope you survive to keep haunting, inspiring, and liberating us, for the next several thousand years.

*****

Kay Berrisford is the author of the two Greenwood m/m fantasy novels, Bound for the Forest and Bound to the Beast (a tale of Herne the Hunter). A third Greenwood novel is in the works.  Her most recent publications are contemporary fantasies Catching Kit and the forthcoming Sex, Simon, and the Solstice Stone. You can find out more about her writing at kayberrisford.com

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by Kay Berrisford

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Gender Stratification by Surprise

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When Rachel and I set out to write Emerald Fire, our novel from Torquere Press, we wanted to create a culture where male romantic parings aren’t just plausible, but part of the fabric of the society. In order to do that, we considered the age of piracy and the founding of the colonies on Australia, and extrapolated from there. In the process, however, we created a gender-stratified society by accident.

As a feminist, this intrigues me. I used to (and still do, in my heart-of-hearts) spell women with a y – “womyn” – and argue that there is such a thing as a patriarchy. Though some of my ideas of gender relations have mellowed with maturity, not all of them have. It still makes my blood boil that the posters required by the Labor Department in my former employer’s break room stated that in the state of Illinois, women earn $0.71 for every $1.00 a man earns. The fact that this tidbit is posted on a sanitized publication of the government like Minimum Wage requirements and paid time off just makes me ill. It’s not like the gender wars are over; they’ve just gone subterranean, at least for me.

On Persis, we created a class of worker we call “Keepers,” who fulfill the general duties of homecaring traditionally associated with “women’s work”: laundry, cooking, sewing, and tidying. Over the generations, each of the Keeps specialized in certain areas such as music, a particular art, etc. Keepers are only men; women go into the Guilds.

As we developed the world, both for Emerald Keep and for subsequent novels, we continued to focus on the men – mostly because those are our main characters, since the stories are M/M romance. But one day, we woke up and realized that, in effect, we’ve created a strictly stratified society in which men fulfill certain roles that women, by cultural tradition, do not.

Horrors! I immediately found myself wanting to write a novel of a female character who sneaks into a Keep to become a Keeper, or something similar. Rachel got into it too and we developed a character who runs off to become a Hunter and hires her own Keeper, but in a Contract with no intimacy involved. One day, she falls ill and the Keeper receives a shock when he finds out his male Contract is, in fact, not. We may or may not write this story as-is, or we might change it up and vary how we handle it. But I never expected to one day have to gender-bust in my own world that I created myself!

What surprises have you found, if you’re a writer, in your own writing; or as a reader, in your favorite novels?


My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora
Knoontime Knitting: Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Ravelry
Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
Team Blogs: Nightlight | The Writers Retreat Blog | Beyond the Veil | LGBT Fantasy Fans and Writers

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Press.
Watch for Taking a Chance, part of the Charity Sips 2012 Series from Torquere Press, benefitting NOH8.

Worldbuilding, M/M Style

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In the worlds of fantasy and science-fiction, and all the various permutations of them, one of the single most important elements for the writer to get “right” is the worldbuilding. The readers and viewers expect to be immersed in the worlds the author creates and as much time needs to be given to the development of that world as to the characters themselves.

Now, it’s my argument that we do worldbuilding whenever we write, because the “world” of our story has its own distinct rules and cultures. But that’s a minority view, and for now, let’s concentrate on the worlds of fantasy and science fiction and all the many ways they can be combined. In addition, there are some unique challenges when writing GLBT fantasy or science fiction that aren’t necessarily present in heterosexual environments – though that’s not always true.

Let’s start with the basics. What is worldbuilding?

Let’s take a look at a couple quick videos to get an idea. The first is from Star Wars.

What do we see from this brief excerpt? A desert world surrounds our hero, alien, with strange cars that don’t need wheels. A scary figure in black with harsh breathing threatens a young, beautiful woman. We then see a spaceport, similar to any port with incoming and outgoing craft but with unusual features such as droids and alien figures.

What don’t we see? Dogs, modern fixtures of everyday life, fast food outlets, cars, and other trappings of everyday life. We don’t see tall office buildings, nor do we see billboards. We do see police that look like soldiers (a bit like the German SS, actually), bigots, a teacher, our hero, and pet-like droids that tug at our heart-strings the way good side-kicks are supposed to.

Let’s look at a second scene:

Unfortunately, the scenes I’d like to post aren’t available copyright-free so I can’t, but this gives you a good overview of the world. In quick strokes, Joss Whedon, the creator, paints a picture of a place that is like Star Wars meets the Old West. One of the things I love about this particular series and the movie Serenity is that they got the ships “right” when they’re in space – they have no sound! Sound is a factor of atmosphere and gravity, and in space, there is vacuum and nothing to vibrate to cause sound in our inner ear. However, to my dismay, I watched several trailers and they all added the sound back in!

This actually proves my point, in a way. As we worldbuild, we need to make sure the details we create are meticulous and internally consistent. Firefly was the first space show to get that particular detail “right,” at least that I’m aware of. All the other shows, even Star Trek in its various iterations, add big booming sounds for the spaceship drives.

So, in essence, worldbuilding is creating a plausible environment in which your characters interact with each other and the environment itself. This is why I argue that setting a story anywhere is worldbuilding, because if you interact with the setting then you need to be careful to get the details right – or, at least, consistent. As Mies van der Roh, the architect, said, “God is in the details.”

The unique challenges faced by writing a story with same-sex partners is that the author has the opportunity to create a culture that plausibly accepts, or does not accept, such partnerships. If you want to write a world where two men can have a committed relationship and marry, form family unions with children and a white picket fence, then you need to build a world in which that could plausibly happen. Readers are sophisticated and will be skeptical since, in our everyday reality, being gay is not accepted and is, in some places, punishable by law. (For example, in the Soviet Union, up until its collapse in 1989, being gay was an offense punishable by death.)

In Burning Bright, Rachel and I set it in the world of “now,” but added things like magic and werewolves. But the culture is present-day America, set in Chicago, with all that implies. We didn’t sugar-coat any of the relationships and explore the consequences of being gay in a culture that isn’t openly accepting of it. From the military world the characters come from to the world of present-day Chicago, they must fight for acceptance or hide who they are. This affects each of them differently, according to their personality, just like in everyday life.

Their families, too, are affected by it. Some embrace their sons anyway, others disown them, depending on their own beliefs and desires.

In Emerald Fire, however, we decided to take a completely different tack and create a world where being gay was totally normal and accepted, and necessary for the survival of the people living on Persis. The planet is a desert world, too harsh to live on the surface for one month of the year, called Daymonth, and dangerous the rest of the time. Historically, the settlers protected their women and children and many of the traditional “women’s work” jobs fell to young men. Over time, training academies sprang up to help these young men stay competitive in the workforce and to collectively bargain, provide support, etc.

The most fascinating part of doing this is that we’ve created a gender-stratified society in which women are cloistered and protected. Without intending to at first, we created a situation where women who might want to become Hunters, say, couldn’t because of social norms. This allows us, later, to explore those consequences with our characters, but it was an interesting outgrowth of the worldbuilding.

In classical fantasy, there aren’t many GLBT stories, sadly. My favorite is by Mercedes Lackey, the series of The Last Herald Mage. In the first book, Magic’s Pawn, Vanyel Ashkevron has a secret, in that he’s gay. The story, however, isn’t about a gay boy coming of age – it’s a coming of age story first, and a fantasy epic, and his being gay is merely part of the storytelling. It’s an excellent story on its own merits and shows how worldbuilding, handled by an adept, becomes another character in the story.

One of the best examples of worldbuilding is Anne McCaffrey’s the Dragonriders of Pern. I can’t post the cover paintings here, though I could post a picture of the book itself; however, it’s worth checking out the site’s archives of official and fan art, here. One of the most amazing fantasy artists is Michael Whelan, who did many of the American releases of the Pern books.

What Ms. McCaffrey did, though, is create a world grounded in science and sociology. Settlers found a world in the orbit of a G-type star, just like our own solar system. They landed and interacted with the world in ways that, as we read about them, make sense and are logical and grounded. Rather than a fictional place, these stories become fiction about a place that becomes as real for the reader as the England of Shakespeare. Truly masterful.

There are many other excellent examples in the literature of worldbuilding. What are some of your favorites?