Category: fantasy (page 1 of 4)

The Golden Age of Geekdom

thI decided to set my series, Merlin’s Last Magic, in the 1980s because, for me, the 1980s were the “golden age” of fantasy-related stuff: Conan. Red Sonja. Labyrinth. The Dark Crystal. The Last Unicorn. The Neverending Story. Ladyhawke. Dragonslayer. Legend. The Dragonlance Chronicles. HeroQuest.

I grew up in the 80s, and because fantasy seemed to be everywhere during that decade, my imagination was fertilized by all of these movies, books, and board games. In writing Merlin’s Last Magic, I wanted to give a little nod to the decade that nurtured me.

But as I was preparing to write this post, I realized that perhaps the 1980s weren’t really the golden age. Or, if they were the golden age, then perhaps they’ve given birth to an even more exciting and fertile age for fantasy genre stuff: Right now.

I contend that perhaps it wasn’t the 80s at all that were THE decade for fantasy lovers; perhaps that time is now. Perhaps we are living in the true golden age at this very moment (the Platinum Age, perhaps). Just look around: fantasy and science fiction have never been more mainstream or popular, from HBO’s Game of Thrones to the Marvel movies to fantastic writers like Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Neil Gaiman (all of whom are being courted by Hollywood for big-budget adaptations of their work).

Being “Geek” is cool. Nerds no longer hide their obsessions but display them proudly. San Diego Comic-Con (not to mention the dozens of other conventions that have gained prominence in the last decade) has become Mecca not just for comics nerds and sci-fi geeks but for big-name celebrities and the mass media at large. When I was twelve, I tried to hide my love for J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-Earth; when I turned twenty, Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring was debuting in theaters, and suddenly, I didn’t have to hide anymore.

I think this new geek renaissance can be credited to both Jackson’s films and the Harry Potter phenomenon. Without either of these two creations, my fellows geeks and I would most likely still be part of a niche genre, something that the “wider world” looks down on with slight disdain. But because Jackson’s movies were incredible international hits, and because Harry Potter continues to be a straight-up juggernaut in the film and literature worlds, suddenly being “geeky” was cool. The media at large (and the people who consume it) are always gravitating towards what makes money, what sells. And starting with Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings movies, fantasy started to sell, and sell hard.

The success of the Game of Thrones TV show has cemented fantasy as a genre that adults can and should enjoy. Now we have TV shows like The Magicians, Vikings, and American Gods, (not to mention the Marvel and DC superhero shows), and no one is hiding their fandom for these SFF stories anymore. We are allowed to like (and even love) fantasy and science fiction in a way that was just not possible in the 1980s.

But we can’t dismiss the decade of my childhood. The golden age of geekdom that we are experiencing now is a direct result of the fantasy and sci-fi of the Reagan Decade. What do so many of today’s popular novelists, showrunners, and screenwriters have in common? We came of age in the 1980s (or at least, many of us did). We grew up soaking in the realms of Krynn and Fantasia and Thra. Our heroes were Conan and Molly Grue. We played endless hours of D&D and HeroQuest and Warhammer and turned all of those adventures into our first, fumbling stories and novels. Without the incubation of the 1980s, the golden age of today wouldn’t have happened.

For my own part, The Thirteen Treasures of Britain and the Merlin’s Last Magic series wouldn’t exist without the countless hours I spent reading Rosemary Suttcliffe’s Arthurian books, watching Excalibur when I was probably too young to be watching it, and playing Pendragon role-playing game (which, technically, I first discovered in 1990, but who’s counting). I learned to tell stories — and I learned to love telling stories — from playing MERP for summers on end. I fell in love with the realms of heroes by devouring books by Raymond E. Feist and Tracy Hickman & Margaret Weis. I became lost in the kingdoms of Faerie by watching Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, and  like they were on a never-ending loop.

The stories I write now are the children of the stories I wandered in during my childhood. We are in an incredibly fertile age for fantasy and science fiction. But we cannot discount the debt we owe to the 80s. The cheesy special effects, the cliche story lines, the underground and misfit-like nature of these movies and books are there for us to see, in the hindsight of 30+ years. But these things do not diminish the magic and sway these stories still hold over us. If the future looks bright for SFF, it’s only because our destinies were forged in the fires of the gloriously geeky 80s.

Paperback Writer

20170518_082308I am ridiculously excited about The Thirteen Treasures of Britain being available in paperback. Inordinately excited. Irrationally excited.

But holding it in my hands — feeling its heft and thumbing through its pages — makes being an author somehow more “real.”

Obviously, ebooks are real. I’ve read countless stories on my kindle, and they were all as absorbing and wonderfully mesmerizing as any physical book I’ve picked up.

But.

A real book. A tangible, physical, glossy-covered real book. It’s got me giddy.

I highly recommend you buy a copy (but then again, I am highly biased). I’ve set it at a reasonable price ($10.99). GO HERE if you’d like to pick it up.

Then when it comes, you can bask in its glossy glory.

The Thirteen Treasures of Britain Is Now Live!

BUY IT NOW ON AMAZON

BUY IT NOW ON APPLE, B&N, AND MORE

BUY IT OR READ IT NOW ON KOBO

THE THIRTEEN TREASURES OF BRITAIN_Kindle72dpi

The Things That Shaped Me: Lone Wolf RPG Adventure Books

IMG_20160418_171337_829I’m an incredibly nostalgic person.

It also seems I’m not alone, judging by the popularity of stuff like Stranger Things and Ready Player One.

In order to feed my ever-ravenous nostalgia, I’ve spent many an afternoon on eBay tracking down copies of the old tabletop role-playing games I used to own as a kid: MERP, the TMNT role-playing game, Pendragon.

I loved RPGs as a kid. Every time I went to Waldenbooks, I seemed to leave with another game tucked under my arm. But buying and reading a role-playing game is very different from actually playing one. I learned early on that RPGs only work when there are other people interested in playing them with you.

This became a problem for me. Occasionally, I could rope my brother or some of my cousins into a game. Other times, my brother and his friends down the street would play Battletech and I’d try to shoehorn my way in (unsuccessfully). Most of the time though, I just sat in my bedroom and re-read the rule books. I made up various adventures, characters, and campaigns that I never got to play.

Then, on a day I cannot remember with any clarity, I stumbled upon the Lone Wolf Adventure books. It must’ve been in a Waldenbooks, but honestly, I can’t remember.

IMG_20160418_171607_374The Lone Wolf books were perfect: Choose Your Own Adventure meets solo-RPGing.

Unlike a typical Choose Your Own Adventure, I got to make choices even before the page-flipping began. I could “create” my character: choose his skills, his items, his weapons.

Perhaps best of all, there was a method for combat. The Random Number table served the same function as the twenty-and-twelve-and-ten-sided dice of normal tabletop role-playing. It was far more interactive than a typical CYOA, and it was high fantasy with a dark, D&D-kinda feel. I felt very grown-up playing the Lone Wolf books; almost like I was a teenager. They helped satisfy my desire to play a “real” role-playing game. I still longed to find someone willing to play RuneQuest with me, but Lone Wolf was enough to keep me happy.

IMG_20160418_172037_031Unfortunately, in the pre-Internet age, it was hard to find many Lone Wolf books. I’m not sure I ever found more than two. Just as quickly as I had found them and loved them, I had met a dead-end.

Flash-forward to today: I had completely forgotten about the Lone Wolf books.

Then my husband came home from work carrying three rough-edged mass market paperbacks on top of his stack of paperwork. (Important note: my husband works for a charity that runs a bunch of resale stores.)

“Found these in one of the thrift stores today,” he said. “Thought you’d like them.”

I looked at the books. The dawning realization that I’d seen them before — somewhere in the distant reaches of my childhood — overwhelmed me.

“I know those books,” I said, awed.

They were the Lone Wolf Adventure books.

IMG_20160418_171112_623Then I laughed almost hysterically. It was like seeing a long-lost best friend while standing in line at the DMV.

Books 3, 14, and 17.

IMG_20160418_171826_890I started with Book 3. Every page was dripping with nostalgic memories: the map at the front, the “Action Chart,” the “Combat Results Table.” I resisted the urge to look up anything on the Internet about how to “win” the adventure. I wanted my experience to be fresh, untainted.

I started the adventure on a Saturday afternoon, and by Saturday evening I had fought with ice barbarians, survived the attack of a crystal frostwyrm, made my way through the underground depths of Kalte, and defeated the evil wizard Vonotar without once having to start over. I was stoked. I immediately went to Amazon.com and ordered Books 4 & 5.

Even though I had scoured the interwebs to find copies of the old RPGs I used to own, I still hadn’t been able to find anyone else to play them with me (the story of my life, alas). That’s the trouble with tabletop RPGs: they aren’t made for solos. But the Lone Wolf Adventure books are the antidote for the lonely RPG-enthusiast. They fed my need for role-playing as a kid, and now as an adult, they’ve nourished my ever-hungry nostalgia.

I’ve got Book 4, The Chasm of Doom all queued up, and frankly, I can’t wait.

Swords, Dragons, and the Iconography of Fantasy

DragonsofAutumnTwilight_1984originalI am in the midst of reforging my relationship with fantasy literature. As a youngster, I read a lot of fantasy but fell out of the habit until I hit college. In college, I rediscovered Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, as well as myth and folklore, but it wasn’t until I read G.R.R.M.’s Game of Thrones and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind that I finally got back into reading fantasy that had been published within the last forty years.

Since beginning this blog and restarting my writing career, I’ve been thinking a lot about fantasy as a genre and why we as readers are attracted to it. In one respect, my interest in this question is born out of insecurity. When I was a kid, fantasy lit was decidedly uncool. Being into fantasy lit was the kiss of social death, and for a girl it was even worse. “Female Geek Culture” was not a thing when I was younger. The stigma I experienced from being into “knights and stuff” has carried itself with me even into adulthood. I embrace my fantasy love now and proudly proclaim it to any who care to listen, but I’m still obsessed with legitimizing the genre. I still need my love for fantasy to be  validated.

I also see trends happening in the genre that I’m not entirely sure I like. Not for any larger social/cultural reasons, but simply because my personal tastes seem to be out-of-step with some (but definitely not all) of what’s happening in the genre. To be a little less cryptic: I like my fantasy to be a little more wondrous and a little less mundane. More on that in posts to come.

For now, I want to focus on the “old school” fantasy that I experienced in the 80s and early 90s, and what that fantasy had to offer for me as a bookish kid who for some inexplicable reason had a passion for swords and dragons. Because swords and dragons (and knights, wizards, orcs, giants, castles…) are the very things I want to expound upon.

“Fantasy” as a genre is hard to pin down. On the one hand, the word evokes images of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, of the standard medieval-ish high fantasy that involves quests and monsters. But on the other hand, fantasy can also include a classic film like It’s a Wonderful Life. After all, It’s a Wonderful Life has “magic” in it (Clarence the angel and his ability to erase George Bailey from existence). There is no scientific or realistic explanation for how George gets erased from everyone’s lives; the angel grants George’s wish, and suddenly the film enters this alternate-universe where everything has gone terribly wrong. This is fantasy.

Fantasy can also include contemporary and urban settings — worlds where things of magic (fairies, goblins, werewolves, etc.) exist alongside contemporary things like cars, skyscrapers, and guns. This too is fantasy.

And yet, when I feel the desire to experience a “fantasy story,” I don’t gravitate towards the It’s a Wonderful Life or I Married a Witch variety of fantasy, but instead seek out the Tolkienesque. Occasionally, I’ll seek out urban fantasy, like Lost Girl or the Dresden Files. Sometimes I’ll look for wizard schools like Hogwarts, or hidden worlds like Fantastica. When I want fantasy, I go looking for dragons, not Bewitched.

What I’m proposing is this: The official definition of “fantasy” is not necessarily what fans of the genre are looking for. I would contend that what fantasy fans want is both a certain kind of feeling and a certain kind of iconography.

In other words, we want dragons and swords.

Things can stray from dragons and swords a bit, but the further they stray, the less they satisfy that pure desire for other-ness that fantasy promises. An urban fantasy can still scratch the itch for a fantasy fan because even if the hero fights with a gun, she’s still fighting red caps and giants and ghouls, and Baba Yaga lurks in the shadows of the dark, garbage-filled alleyway. But even when fantasy combines with another sub-genre, it still needs the things of fantasy. A reluctant hero may find a sword  stuck in a tree or he may find a revolver hidden in a suitcase, but only one of these images holds within it the allure of fantasy.

We might complain about “too many elves” in the thousands of Tolkien-ish knockoffs that litter the fantasy shelves, but nevertheless, we still want something… elvish. Call them the Fey or the Tuatha or the Fair Folk, but we want human-like, immortal otherbeings who possess a naturalistic kind of magic and a haunting power over those of us who hail from the world of men. We might complain about “another f***ing orc,” but we still want monsters who come from the same deep recesses of human imagination as Grendel and his kin. We might gripe about the glut of fantasy that is too Euro-centric, but the heroes and creatures and monsters of ALL cultures share in the inexplicable qualities of strangeness, of mystery, of “other-ness,” that fantasy fans crave. The djinn and the leprechaun may be worlds apart, but they both spring from the same well of human imagination that seeks to conjure up something beyond the ordinary world.

This entry into something beyond the ordinary — this desire for fairies and their magic — is what I’ve been seeking lately. I want to go back to the classic tropes, to the skies filled with dragons and the dusty roads traveled by surly dwarves. I’m reading the Pern books for the first time. I’m going to be rereading The Lord of the Rings. I’m making my way through the Dark Is Rising sequence. I’ve got A Wizard of Earthsea on my to-read queue. I’m currently on the hunt for original editions of the Dragonlance Chronicles. I’m re-reading some old copies of the Lone Wolf role-playing adventure books. I finally picked up and read The Neverending Story — a book I’ve wanted to read since I was twelve.

As much as I want the fantasy genre to expand and to refresh itself (simply so that it doesn’t stagnate and calcify into something boring), I don’t want to see the classic iconography of the genre disappear either. I still want warriors on horseback, wielding swords and spears, fighting dragons and goblins in dark forests and ancient castles. The things of fantasy matter. They are the blood and guts of the genre, even if we often dress them up in different skins. These are the things I’ve been craving lately; I want dark lords and even darker crystals. I want dragons. And perhaps, most of all, I want a sword of my very own — a sword with spells woven into the blade, with powers from the otherworld, with an ancient history beyond the mists of time. A sword to vanquish a dragon, or to enchant one.

Revision Process, Phase 1

I’m in the midst of revising my second draft of The Thirteen Treasures of Britain.

Confession time: I’m not going to pay a professional editor. The reason I’m not is because I can’t afford it. Perhaps in time, once I’m selling oodles of books a day, then I can hire a professional copy editor. For now, I must rely upon my own skills.

(Side Note: I’m a high school English teacher during the day — and have been for five years — so I spend most of my time offering revision and editing suggestions to student-writers. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on critiquing other peoples’ writing. Hopefully, I can transfer this skill to my own writing.)

But even if I were paying a professional copy writer, I’d still do a lot of revision myself. Copy editors are going to help with cleaning up the prose and the continuity of the text, but they can’t help with the structure or characterization. Of course, a structural/developmental editor may help with those things, but that kind of editor is even more expensive than a copy editor, and I think at this point in my writing life, I know what needs to be done structurally to make a story work. I’ve had a lot of training in screenwriting, and my teachers hammered structure, characterization, and dialogue into me with repeated force.

Maybe I will hire a copy editor for this book, who knows. The more I think about it, the more I think I could scrounge up $500 for one. But if I can’t manage that amount, then I’ll just make sure to go over my manuscript with incredible attention to detail. It can be done; it just takes a lot of patience.

Right now I’m in the “quick read-through” phase of the revision process: I set the manuscript aside for a couple of weeks, then I pick it up and read it on my kindle just as I would any book. While I read, I make super-quick notes in a separate notebook. I use symbols instead of writing anything lengthy because the symbols are quicker to write down and don’t interfere with the quick read-through process. (N.B.: I stole this idea from James Scott Bell in his excellent book Plot & Structure).

The symbols I use are as follows (again, heavily borrowed from Bell’s book):

Checkmark: Dragging
Star: Sentence-level revision needed (in other words, the prose is wonky or I need to work on paragraphing)
Circle: Need to add material
X: Cuts (either because I’m over-explaining, something’s not working, or I’m telling and not showing)
?: Plot hole/inconsistency

That’s it. I don’t write lengthy notes while I’m doing the quick read-through. The idea is to get an overall sense of the story. One of the reasons for this is that sometimes when I’m doing a read-through, I see a “flaw” and immediately start revising. Then I get lost in the rabbit hole of “tinkering” which is not really revision but just endless shifting of commas and clauses. The quick read-through and symbol system help me avoid getting sucked into this trap.

The other reason for the quick read-through is because I don’t believe a fundamentally flawed book can be fixed in revision. Not to be too gross, but trying to fix a fundamentally flawed book is like trying to polish a turd. Better to just flush that thing and move on.

If the quick read-through reveals that my story isn’t working — that on a structural level, something is off — then I need to start over. Dean Wesley Smith calls this the “redraft.”

When I wrote the first draft of Thirteen Treasures, I didn’t like it. It had some good moments, but overall, I found it to be fatally flawed. So I put it in a drawer and started over. My second draft for Thirteen Treasures is a completely new story. I’ve kept most of the main characters and a few of the settings, but the structure is new, the themes are new, and the overall energy and tone are new. I’m in the midst of the quick read-through now, and I can already say that I enjoy this new story so much better than the old one. It would’ve been a waste of my time to try and fix the problems of the first draft. With this second “redraft,” I’ve got something inherently solid that I know I can work with to make better.

It’s a bit daunting to do a “redraft” because it feels like the time spent with the previous draft was all just wasted time. But honestly, writing a new draft is a lot more fun than struggling to edit something that is fundamentally not good. Sometimes we as writers need to exhale some garbage and clear our creative heads before we can get to writing the good stuff. My first draft of Thirteen Treasures was the stuff I needed to exhale. The second draft was the story I really wanted to write. The quick read-through that I’m in the midst of now has shown me that this second draft is revision-worthy.

After the quick read-through, I’ll move on to Phase 2 of the revision process. More on that later…

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