Why write about gods in fantasy novels?

Why write about gods in fantasy novels?  I talk about that a little today over at A Book Vacation.

Guest Post with Gwen Perkins, Author of the Artifacts of Empire Fantasy Series–Why Write About Gods in Fantasy?.


The Next Big Thing: The Unwilling

A photograph by Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

I’ve been tagged for “The Next Big Thing,” a series of posts about the projects that authors are working on.  A big thanks to the ever-amazing Peter Giglio, Scott Bradley, and R.S. Hunter for the tags.

This was actually a really hard meme for me to complete.  I’m working on a number of projects right now.  Closest to my heart at the moment is Efimera but to write about that project truly merits a different kind of post than this.  The Jealousy Glass, next novel in the Artifacts of Empire series, comes out this Saturday so I decided that writing about that wouldn’t be as interesting, perhaps, as talking about my far future project.  So that’s where this comes from.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The book that I’m currently working on has the working title The Unwilling.  There’s a specific reference that I pulled the title from (bonus points to anyone who can figure it out!).

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

As a fantasy reader, I’ve noticed that a lot of the tropes with which we’re so familiar come from Tolkien.  I’m intrigued by the stereotypes that seem to have drifted into the common understanding of what cultures and creatures are and wanted to play with that a little myself.  My Artifacts of Empire series is fairly minimal from a fantastic point of view.  While there are magic and certain magical creatures exist, much of that world’s magic was burnt out and you’re never going to see an elf or dwarf walking around Cercia.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

I suspect it will be hard to classify but I’d say dark historical urban crime fantasy with a strong hint of horror.

Let’s just call it… fiction.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This is a tough one and admittedly, I’m bad with naming my characters so I expect that the ones I list here will probably have their names changed by the time The Unwilling is ready to go.  I also don’t always cast people in my head–this story is definitely one of those where I haven’t done (until now).

Liach, a male elven “soldier,” would most definitely be portrayed by Sasha Roiz.  Roiz has done a lot of things but I’ll always remember him best as Sam Adama from Caprica, one of my favorite TV shows.  (And yes, I’m also a huge BSG fan.)  Roiz has a certain clarity and sharpness in his facial expression that would suit this character well.  He could stand to work on the pointy ears but we’ll forgive him that.

Photo by Dorothea Lange. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Daisy, who is the central figure as of this writing, would likely best be portrayed physically by Romola Garai a little older than she appeared in I Capture the Castle.  (Though her emotional and spiritual journey would better be summed up by Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone.)  Another candidate for casting would be the elven leader Iryamil—she’s Kate Winslet from her Mildred Pierce days, all the way.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Oh, the dreaded logline!  Perhaps… “How can you live forever if there’s nothing left to live for?”

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I haven’t yet decided which way I’ll go with the book though I’m inclined not to self-publish at this stage of the game.  My other novels have been published by a small press and I found that to be a positive experience.  I’ll cheerfully admit, however, that I already have a cover artist/illustrator in mind if he’ll take the job (and of course, if I end up having a say in the matter).

At this point, I’m not represented by an agent but I’m very interested in speaking to one about this or my collaborative project.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It is still in progress.  I anticipate I’ll have a first draft finished by the end of next year or the beginning of 2014.  I have other projects going that also require my attention and this novel is complex in terms of scope and plotline.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is The Lord of the Rings meets The Godfather meets The Hellbound Heart.  Which means, of course, that it will feel and act like none of these.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My research on the economic depressions experienced worldwide in the 1930s, my fascination with bizarre facets of history and my curiosity about genre reliance on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

I also give some credit for my attempting to try something like this on my workshopping adventures with R.S. Hunter.  His worldbuilding and outlining abilities are a thing of beauty–I’m incredibly jealous of the way that he develops all of his worlds.  (You can see a great example of this in his Tethys steampunk novels, the first being The Exile’s Violin.)

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Two words: bad elves.

Now, the thing about this meme is that you’re supposed to tag other authors.  So here are a few I read/follow that I’d love to see do it (and I hope that none of you mind the tag):  Matthew Arnold Stern, Melissa Goodman, Michael Turner, M.S. Fowle, and Jack Lewis Baillot.

The Cliffhanger Moment

hanging off a cliffThe hardest thing for me as a writer is starting. Not just that moment at the very beginning of a story or novel where I’m staring at an absolutely blank page but also simply sitting down to write for the first time in a day. Maybe I’m alone here but after I’ve spent 8 hours at work, come home and helped the kids with homework, and finally have that time to write, I’m worn out. The energy is gone, sapped out by everything else I had to think about that day.

How do I get over this problem? The answer is simple: cliffhangers.

I don’t mean this literally–at least not all of the time. When I sat down to think about what motivated me as a writer and how I could keep that energy flowing, it turned into thinking about what hooks me as a reader. At the time, I was on a reread of Game of Thrones and realized that Martin is very, very good at the cliffhanger. While he juggles many points of view, he manages to end each chapter on a dramatic moment. It’s one of the reasons that I think he’s found such success. Not all of these moments are action-packed. Some of them are just emotional revelations or an intriguing statement but all of them are focused on leaving you with a question. They drive you as the reader to want to get to that next moment.

It struck me as I realized this that there was no reason I couldn’t do that as a writer. Not for my audience but for myself.

This is how I do it. I sit down and I write until I find that cliffhanger moment. It might be in the middle of a scene, it might be at the end of a chapter. But when I hit it, I force myself to stop. I stop, put away the laptop (or put down the pen), and walk away from the manuscript, telling myself “you get to go back to that tomorrow.”

What that moment is, varies. Sometimes, it’s a pulse-pounding action scene. Sometimes, it’s just a conversation or dialogue I know will be fun to write. But either way, I know that it’s something I’m going to be really excited about. I’m going to have it in the back of my head the next day. I’m going to write it mentally in spare moments and when I sit down and finally have a chance to type, instead of being exhausted, I’m going to be excited because I’ve been anticipating–rather than dreading–this time all day.

Does it work all the time? No. Is it frustrating? Oh, yes, especially if I can’t actually get to write that day and I have to hold on to the thoughts. Sometimes, I end up scribbling bits out on post-its because I just can’t wait.

But it works for me a lot of the time and perhaps it’ll work for you too. Try it and see.

One world… a few thoughts on GLBT characters in fiction

marriage - courtesy morguefile.com

Courtesy of morguefile.com

One of the articles that has been traveling through my corner of the internet this week is this Genreville post about how Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith tried to find representation for a YA novel featuring a gay character. The reaction to it is, as I’d expect, furious but both the subject and how people have reacted has raised some interesting discussions in my own household.

In the interest of full disclosure, I identify as gay and live openly with my intersexed partner who presents as female. I work at a very supportive institution who’s never made me or my family feel any lesser because of my sexuality or my partner’s gender ambiguity (and yes, we’re open about that too). We (and our three children) live in Tacoma which is definitely a “live and let live” kind of city. We don’t get harassed in public, our children have never been bullied at school.

In short, I operate from a position of gay privilege. While yes, I’ve experienced difficulties in my life due to my sexuality, I’ve managed to deal with many of them. I feel that this informs this post in part and thus I wanted to say it.

As a lesbian author, the Brown-Smith situation was distressing to hear. However, it made me consider what I’ve read in GLBT YA and what I’d like to see more of in GLBT characters in fiction in general, as well as how my own desires informed the novel that I completed this year, The Universal Mirror.

GLBT characters in fiction are too often driven by their sexualities. One of my friends talks about being tired of seeing “the coming-out story” and I completely relate to that. It’s an important story, yes, but it tends to be a constant and consistent theme of GLBT fiction. It’s very rare to see a story in which there is a GLBT character who’s comfortable with their sexuality before the book even begins. I’d love to read more books with young lesbian protagonists who know they likes girls from the outset and have even had relationships. (Okay, I’d love to see more books with a young lesbian protagonist. But that’s a whole different issue and one not to be addressed in this post but rather by writing my own book.)

The other aspect that drives me a little nuts here is that so many of these characters are their sexuality and in a more prominent way than straight characters are. A lot of that feeling is personal bias–when I tell people what I like, it tends to be things like “lampworking” and “history” and “George R.R. Martin,” rather than “women.” (Okay, so “redheads” may slip in from time to time but we all have our foibles.) I’m not sure I think of my sexuality as a defining part of my personality–it just is. My toes don’t define my personality either–they’re just part of the bigger picture of me.

And so in my own novel, while I have a gay character, I don’t think that he’s defined by his sexuality despite the fact that the society he lives in isn’t particularly open to or conducive towards it. I was much more concerned about what his family life was like, why he carried a sword constantly, and what he had to do with the Council that he serves. His sexuality informed some of those decisions but it doesn’t define the character. To me, Felix was interesting because of who he was–not that he happened to be gay. Nor is his sexuality the driver of the main plot–in fact, it’s peripheral at best.

An author who did this beautifully (and is a better example than a novel that’s currently under negotiation) is Lynn Flewelling. Her book, Stalking Darkness, presents gay characters without throwing a ton of focus on their sexuality. The plot is involved and intriguing and the characters have a lot of interesting traits. For me, where that series actually started to fall down, was when the characters began a relationship and proceeded to spend the next books angsting about the whole thing. (But that is the point where it became a coming-out story which, as I noted above, I’ve lost some patience for.)

Other authors/books that deal with GLBT characters in a way that I admire include Octavia Butler, Karen Lowachee, and Maureen F. McHugh. Each one of them deserves a post of their own in regards to what they write. I wish that I had male authors on this list as I look at it–clearly, I need to reexamine my own reading choices somewhat. 🙂

To jump subjects slightly, another aspect of the Brown-Smith situation that bothered me was in how people in my associated internet circles reacted to it or rather, felt that they needed to react. I noticed that most of what I read of people’s feelings on this came in locked or filtered posts and I found that troubling.

The fact that authors felt that they themselves had to ally with Brown and Smith by sharing their feelings but not openly is disturbing. It validates that situation. Am I myself jeopardizing my own hopes of a novel contract by sharing these thoughts publicly on a site that is clearly mine?

Yet, I can’t help but wonder if it doesn’t exacerbate the problem. If publishers don’t see how many of us are writing about it–writing long blog screeds, in fact–how will they know that we want to see GLBT characters? And as I’ve said before in conversations of race and SF, maybe we all need to make more effort to put more of these characters in our own works, even just in the background, and encourage others to do the same. And by “encourage,” I mean, in part, nuture and coach for those trying to write about people that they aren’t rather than to tear them down for doing so.

Our world is not one race, one gender, or one sexuality. Let’s make it so in our fiction as well.