Tag Archives: Noon and Wilder

Favorite Fantasy Reminiscences – Patricia McKillip

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The Riddlemaster of Hed by Patricia McKillip

I have owned my battered copies of Patricia McKillip’s trilogy The Riddlemaster of Hed for over two and a half decades.  I suppose that, more than anything else, is the best recommendation a reader can give an author.  I recently left a very toxic work situation and am remodeling our flat before moving in, all at the same time, and have found myself under rather more stress than is usual.  I turn in such situations to the tried and true methods of solace, which brings me to the Riddlemaster trilogy.

What I admire about Ms. McKillip’s writing is its spare majesty.  She turns simple sentences into lyric descriptions but without a bunch of padding.  While the underlying story is familiar to fantasy readers in that it’s the young apprentice setting out on his quest, losing his mentor then finding him again and achieving ascendancy over evil, in her hands it becomes something beautiful and worth re-reading.  I have lost count how many times I’ve read these books over the years; they have my first-ever bookplates from when I was a teenager.  I open them and I open my memories at the same time.

I have little gift for reviewing books.  I heard today on NPR the review of a new book coming out and wondered at the author’s ability to share the story in such a way as to make the listener want to go read it.  Reading is such a personal experience, after all.  If pressed why I like this trilogy, though, I’d say because it’s well-written – but that’s hardly a specific thing, is it?  What makes it well-written?

Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia McKillip

The story is simple.  Our hero, Morgon, leaves his homeland to claim his bride but is shipwrecked on the journey and loses his memory.  He is rescued by an exiled prince who nurses him back to health.  They are brought before the king and in the king’s house, Morgon finds a harp with three stars that mimic a birthmark on his forehead.  When he plays the harp, his memory returns to him and

he realizes the harp was made centuries before his birth by a man long dead.  Strangers want to kill him because of the stars on his face.  What drives him forward, though, is the knowledge that while he could return home and ignore all of the implications of his own growing power and what his birthright might be, he can never give his betrothed a lie of himself – he must give her his whole truth.

“When you open your heart to the knowing of a thing, there is no room in you for fear.”  Her pacing is masterful.  She balances action with tight conflict and dialog and I find myself awed each time I pick up her books.  They are as familiar to me as the cheekbone of a dear friend and yet I learn something new each time.

Harpist in the Wind by Patricia McKillip

Do you have a favorite series that you turn to over and over, that “stands the test of time,” as it were?  What are your dear book-friends?

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

The Chicagoland Shifters series:

Book 1 BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.

Book 2 TIGER TIGER, available from Samhain Publishing. An All Romance eBooks Bestseller!
The Persis Chronicles:

Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.

Watch for “Seeking Hearts”, coming soon from Torquere Books.

Check out “Taking a Chance“, available from Torquere Books.

Check out COOK LIKE A WRITER , available from Barnes and Noble.

My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora

Knoontime Knitting:  Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Ravelry
Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
The Writer Zen Garden:  The Writers Retreat Blog | Forum | Facebook | Twitter
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Why Fantasy?

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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

My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora

Knoontime Knitting:  Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Ravelry
Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
The Writer Zen Garden:  The Writers Retreat Blog | Forum | Facebook | Twitter
Team Blogs: Nightlight | Nightlight FB Page |  Beyond the Veil | BtV FB Page | LGBT Fantasy Fans and Writers | LGBTFFW FB Page
Publishers: Samhain Publishing | Torquere Press

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.

Check out “Taking a Chance“, available from Torquere Books.

Check out COOK LIKE A WRITER , available from Barnes and Noble.

Watch for TIGER TIGER, coming July 23, 2013, from Samhain Publishing.

Promptly!

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coffeetimeromance_groupsDuring the month of April, join me at Coffee Time Romance for a free workshop, “Using Prompts to Expand Your Creativity“. Over the coming weeks, we will experiment with using all five senses – and maybe even the sixth – to get onto the page and create some new material. Whatever your writing background, I think prompts can be useful as a tool for trying new things and for overcoming blocks.

Here’s what to expect:

04/07-13/2013: Week 1 – starting with prompts

04/14-20/2013: Week 2 – generating new prompt ideas

04/21-27/2013: Week 3 – resources for expanding your work

04/28-30/2013: Wrap Party

This week, we’ll talk about what, exactly, is a prompt?  How can one use a prompt to get onto the page? If you have ideas, or even healthy skepticism, I hope you’ll drop in and join the conversation. All you have to lose is your writers block.

Once we get the “what izzits” out of the way, we’ll get into the meat and potatoes of the workshop and start writing prompts.  The first assignment is up for you to play with, and will be joined by others as the week progresses. Do you have a favorite way to get on the page? I hope you’ll share!

Head on over to Coffee Time Romance and join me in the fun!

 

– E.E. Cummings

My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora

Knoontime Knitting:  Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Ravelry
Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
The Writer Zen Garden:  The Writers Retreat Blog | Forum | Facebook | Twitter
Team Blogs: Nightlight | Nightlight FB Page |  Beyond the Veil | BtV FB Page | LGBT Fantasy Fans and Writers | LGBTFFW FB Page
Publishers: Samhain Publishing | Torquere Press

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.

Check out “Taking a Chance“, part of the Charity Sips 2012 to benefit NOH8, available from Torquere Books.
Watch for TIGER TIGER, coming July, 2013, from Samhain Publishing.

Thoughts About World-Building

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TigerTiger72webAs Rachel and I work on the edits for our next book in the Chicagoland Shifters series, TIGER TIGER, I am reminded about the challenges of worldbuilding. BURNING BRIGHT, the first in the series, came out more than 18 months ago.  In the time since then, we’ve written more material in that universe but also others.  As we edit TIGER TIGER, we have to remind ourselves of conventions we developed for our characters and setting.

One of the ways we do that is to write a Concordance, where we keep all the material in one place.  We include a glossary of foreign words we use (plemya for bear shifter clan, for example), conventions we’ve developed (the Factory vs. The Factory), and editing requirements for this particular editor and House.

What are some of your favorite worlds in books?  I think, if you look closely, this sort of attention to detail is what lends the particular world its sense of authenticity.  Mercedes Lackey’s series The Last Herald-Mage establishes the way that characters refer to homosexuality.  One of the cultures he encounters look at homosexual relationships as a normal iteration of human interaction and have a term for it in their language.  Fast-forward to several hundred years in the future of the story and another series (Mage Storms) and the characters use a shortened form of the foreign word to refer to such relationships.  This kind of intrastory consistency is what makes for good worldbuilding and is, frankly, fun to read.

It’s a lot of work, though. ~grin~

What are some of your favorite worldbuilding examples?


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

My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora

Knoontime Knitting:  Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Ravelry
Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
The Writer Zen Garden:  The Writers Retreat Blog | Forum | Facebook | Twitter
Team Blogs: Nightlight | Nightlight FB Page |  Beyond the Veil | BtV FB Page | LGBT Fantasy Fans and Writers | LGBTFFW FB Page
Publishers: Samhain Publishing | Torquere Press

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.

Check out “Taking a Chance“, part of the Charity Sips 2012 to benefit NOH8, available from Torquere Books.
Watch for TIGER TIGER, coming July, 2013, from Samhain Publishing.

Training the Eye

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There’s a common misperception that fantasy is about the imprecise, the ephemeral, the unknowable, and therefore the usual rules of writing and art do not apply.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, in fantasy, one must be more precise in order to create a plausible otherworld.

That’s all well and good, and many, many articles and books talk about worldbuilding with an emphasis on how to create fantasy worlds that capture readers’ imaginations.  But how do we develop that precision?

In learning to draw, the phrase “training the eye” refers to learning how to see so that one can reproduce what one sees.  The student learns concepts such as negative space (it is sometimes easier to draw the outlines of what isn’t there in order to get at what is there) as well as light and shadow.  In writing, we can learn to hone our descriptive skills in much the same way.

Close your eyes and imagine a room in your home.  It matters less which room, than that the room actually exists.  Now, imagine you are standing in the doorway of your room and look to the left.  In slow motion, look around the room in clockwise direction, slowly enough that you see everything in your mind’s eye.  Then look up at the ceiling, then down at the floor.

Set a digital timer or the one on your cell phone for five minutes.  Now, take out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and quickly, working off the top of your head, write down a list of everything you see.  Keep going until the timer stops; if you forget anything, just jump forward from where your eyes are currently and write down the next thing you do remember.  Try to keep the pen moving for the entire five minutes.

Try this same exercise tomorrow.  See what’s different about your memory the 2nd time around.  Then try a different room.

Next, write a one page narrative using this room.  Write it from the point of view of a character entering it for the first time.  Maybe they’re there to buy the house.  Maybe they’re an alien or a foreign creature who happened on the house.  Maybe they’re a dog or cat.  Whatever the case, use details from your list to salt and pepper your description.

The more realistic details you can put into your scenes, the more real they’ll feel to the reader.  This exercise segues well into creating a world that doesn’t really exist.  The more clearly you can see the otherworld in your mind, the more details you can put down on paper, the better able to season your description you will be.


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

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
Publishers: Samhain Publishing | Torquere Press

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.

Check out “Taking a Chance“, part of the Charity Sips 2012 to benefit NOH8, available from Torquere Books.
Watch for COOK LIKE A WRITER, coming February 2013 from the Guerrilla Chicks.
Watch for TIGER TIGER, coming July, 2013, from Samhain Publishing.

Fantasy Holiday Worldbuilding

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I think one of the harder parts of worldbuilding is the development of a distinct cosmogony. George Lucas talked about that in reference to the philosophy in Star Wars. While it was based on Taoism, he said, it wasn’t enough of a philosophy to guide life. I can see what he means, from having written a couple new worlds. It’s difficult to create a fully-formed philosophy for a new culture, just as it’s a challenge to understand our current cultures and their varied expressions of religion.

On Persis, the planet where our novel Emerald Fire takes place, Rachel and I talked a lot about whether or not to have religion play a part and, if so, how large of one. For example, what does a funeral look like? Funerals and weddings are visible expressions of religion and their traditions are as varied as there are cultures on the planet. Did we want to do that on our planet? What religions did the settlers follow?

In the case of Persis, we decided to sidestep the whole issue and make them mostly Unitarian Universalist, with a visible similarity to Zen practices. This allowed us to have a priesthood that is under the radar and discrete. We do have Fundamentalists, in the Diggertowns, but their religion is more about being secretive than being religious. Other than that, we don’t have religion playing a large part in our world at all.

In a piece we’re working on, called Fear Not, we developed an entire cosmogony that is central to the plot. The creation myth has a direct effect on the plot because our characters were given their shifter forms by the goddess. Two goddesses, sisters, met two gods, brothers. The sisters both fell in love with the same brother and the one sister grew jealous of her sister’s love. The creatures they created started to war with each other, driven to it by the anger of their deity. The heroes were given their powerful animal shifter shapes by their patron deity in order to make more effective war. Religion is central to the culture in this story.

Each author resolves the situation in their own way for their stories. What are your favorite stories involving mythology? If you could create a world, what religion(s) would you give your characters?

Resources

“Philosophy and Religion in Star Wars,” Wikipedia entry, Accessed 12/09/2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_and_religion_in_Star_Wars

 


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

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
Publishers: Samhain Publishing | Torquere Press

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.

Check out “Taking a Chance“, part of the Charity Sips 2012 to benefit NOH8, available from Torquere Books.
Watch for TIGER TIGER, coming July, 2013, from Samhain Publishing.