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Black Authors, Diversity, & Epic Fantasy: The Bigger Picture

5 Jul

So I was Googling stuff about the difference between epic and high fantasy earlier when I somehow came across this blog post by a black writer named Derek Tyce who asks a poignant question: “Black authors writing fantasy… Where are they?” Naturally, being both black and interested in fantasy, I was intrigued, so I decided to read on to see what he had to say.

…And it got me thinking.

One great example of black authors writing fantasy with diverse characters: N. K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. | The Chandra Tribune

One great example of black authors writing fantasy with diverse characters: N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

First of all, I must note that Derek, of course, does mention a few black writers like N. K. Jemisin and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series, among others (which I read the first book of though wasn’t terribly crazy about it myself; still, I found certain things to admire and appreciate). There are others, which fans have pointed out, but Derek’s point still stands: why aren’t there more black writers tackling epic fantasy? He also points out a lack of diversity among the characters displayed in epic fantasy stories. Granted, his post was written back in 2013 and a lot of new stuff has come out since then, but these are all still relevant topics to consider.

At least, I think so anyway. Continue reading

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Why I Write Fantasy

22 Jan

Quick note: just posted a new short-ish video on YouTube talking about why, and how, I decided to start writing fantasy stories! (It’s 15 minutes long—short for me, anyway.)

Why do you write/read fantasy?

What drew you/continues to draw you to this genre? Or alternatively, what do you like about reading fantasy stories? Let me know in the comments!

Neo-Noir, Dark Themes & Fantasy

12 Nov

As I comb through my finished draft of The Elementalist: Rise of Hara (TEROH from here on out), reading it out loud for awkward sentence structures and flowing cadences, I’ve come to realize that my novel is surprisingly dark—surprising to me only because I never intentionally sat down and told myself, “Hey, I’m gonna write a dark fantasy novel!” All the same, it’s making me seriously consider whether my story is even a bit neo-noir.

It’s very much dieselpunk and fantasy, sure, but that doesn’t describe the tone. Not that a series of labels for a novel has to, per se, but if I want to give people a better idea of what they can expect from TEROH, then I wonder now if I should also be adding “neo-noir” to the mix somewhere. (Depending on what version of my blurb I use, I could see people interpreting the story as a light-hearted, swashbuckling type, which could be misleading. Especially if I use my shorter “under 200 words” version versus my slightly longer “under 300 words” one, the latter currently showing on my site.)

Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain why I suspect my novel may be neo-noir. Continue reading

Dieselpunk, Fantasy & Fiction ‘Grammin’

24 May

Remember how I said I was thinking about starting an Instagram account related to my Element 7/WIP project?

Well, here it is! (I have my Instagram feed on the bottom of my sidebar here, as well.)

Basically, I’ll be posting about anything awesome that’s related to dieselpunk, fantasy novels and elemental magic as well as technology and fashion from the early 1900s.

Now, back to editing. (Hoping to get through another scene by the end of the night.)

I Think I’m In Love (Plus Thoughts on Pioneers & Unassuming Heroines)

3 Aug

No, not in love with a man.  (Or with a woman, for that matter.)  But rather, with a book.

Oh, come on, now, don’t give me that look!  Like it’s never happened to you.

Here, allow me to explain.

Pioneering OSS Agents (need I say more?)

While on vacation I was reading (studying, more like) this super interesting book called Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of World War II’s OSS by Patrick K. O’Donnell…and OMG, it has all sorts of information I haven’t been able to find about technology just before and during WWII.  (It’s the little things in life that make me squeal with delight, simultaneously rousing my muse to an uber happy place.)  This book talks about what kind of training their recruits had to go through, some key operations and also some of the gadgets spies used back then like knives disguised as pens, fairly elegant dart guns, and the “L” (lethal) pill, among other things.  (Whispers: it even has pictures!)

Quite fascinating, really, and I’m simply in awe by the amount of research that went into putting this book together.  Lots of riveting first-hand accounts.  (I haven’t read a book this interesting in ages, so I guess this says something about the fiction I’ve read in that time, eh?)

…And the whole time I’m reading it I’m mentally generating scene ideas for my next novel while meditating on how to improve various details in my current WIP to make them more life-like.

Entertainment, education, inspiration… What more could you possibly ask for in a historical novel?

Why Else This Book Rox My Sox

It’s especially lovely because it almost reads like a genre historical war/espionage thriller yet at the same time is so informative.  (The only big difference is that the author likes to tell you things before he reveals them via storytelling.  “Operation X would be his demise.  This is how it happened.”  He does it more elegantly than this, of course, and in more detail, but that’s pretty much how it goes down.)

Also, when reading the first-hand accounts, you really do get a sense of the character of a lot of these guys and the human aspect of being involved in a pioneer organization.  One of my favorite passages was regarding a mission to gather intelligence in Istanbul; surviving team member Spiro Cappony recalls:

I accepted the mission and was joined by two other team members, A. Georgiades and Mike Angelos, and they said, ‘Gus (they called me Gus), how the hell are we going to get to Istanbul?’  This is how new we were.  ‘Who’s going to meet us?’  ‘A guy by the name of Spurning, he’s a professor from Yale University.’  One of them said, ‘How the hell are we going to know who the guy is?’  I said, ‘Well, my orders say he’s going to show a ruby ring on his finger.’  ‘Man oh man these guys are crazy,’ remarked one of the guys. (107)

I mean this is enough cause and inspiration for me to make parodies of the classic spy story or something.  I love it.

Here’s another brief passage that I just love about an operational group, comprising Greek-American and Greek national recruits, who were to be deployed in Greece:

At [Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia] our boys would march and sing, both in English and Greek, and the entire camp would say, ‘Who are these guys?’  We were dressed smartly, had new experimental clothing including jump boots, and we were the first unit to be assigned the new Eisenhower jacket.  We looked good, acted good, and the biggest thing, we felt good. (110-111)

Yeah, classic cocky guy talk and behavior.  I am just itching to write about more characters like this in my next novel who are new to some experimental endeavor.  (Much like America’s pioneering airmail pilots, who have also been a big inspiration for me; I guess you could say I have a thing for pioneers, heh.)

As it turns out, though, my heroine is more of a “sky spy” than a conventional field agent (kind of playing off those conspiracy stories that claim Amelia Earhart was spying on the Japanese here), so I’ll probably get more mileage out of this historical account after I start writing the next novel…like sometime next year, heh.  Still, it does help.

Learning Along With Your Characters

Sometimes I feel I’m at a big disadvantage in that I don’t have any experience in the types of things I want to write about, so reading books like this really helps to put things in perspective for me.

I remember when I first started doing drafts of my novel how I wanted to write about a heroine who was highly experienced in all of tasks she is hired to do throughout the story but then later decided to go the route of someone who was new to many aspects of her world.  T. S. Bazelli once wrote an article about Lost World Fiction in her Speculative Fiction Genre Glossary Project, and while talking about the Lara Croft adventures I mentioned how originally I wanted to write about an actiony Croft-type character who was not only adventurous and very knowledgeable in her field but could also kick some serious butt.  However, the more my story evolved and the more I learned about my leading character, the more I realized that this approach wasn’t right for her story because I was starting it at a point in her life where she didn’t (yet) have those kinds of qualities.  Instead, she starts off more like Evelyn from The Mummy, with some background in art history and pretty much zero experience as a treasure-seeker or gunfighter–thank you very much, Mr. O’Connell-types.

And as a first-time novelist I think there’s some advantage to not writing about a woman who is super kick-ass heroine right off the bat, but rather an unassuming heroine–one who is clearly not everything her employers need her to be though chooses to undergo transformation in order to become that person.  (This is a perfect place to start with a protagonist if you’re writing epic fantasy, I think, and I suspect my story could actually be classified as epic, though it is not traditionally so.)  For one, as she learns more about her world and is trained to acquire new skill sets, the reader also learns about the world and how things are supposed to work.  Also, as the author, such an approach allows you to learn things as you go along–especially during the editing stage when you’re trying to color in those little particulars you just kind of sketched in before.

…Which is kind of nice when you know just a little as your protagonist going in!

So Yeah, This Has All Been Extremely Fascinating…

But I really should get back to work now!  (Returning from vacation doesn’t make this easy, heh.)

Though, I do still need a prompt…

What are/were some major sources of inspiration for your current or most recent WIP?

Also, how has learning more about that source shaped the direction you chose to take your story in?

Infodumping: It’s A Multi-Genre Issue

6 Jul

Believe it or not, I’m going to keep this one brief today.

I told myself a few weeks ago that I wasn’t going to read while trying to edit the rest of my novel (ha!) because sometimes it becomes distracting or discouraging.  But sometimes…I want to compare apples to oranges, you know?  See what’s happening in other genres.

Infodumping in Historical Fiction

Despite what I told myself, I’ve been reading a couple of novels on an off (because apparently I don’t just sit down and read novels straight through anymore; I either think too much about them or they bore me before they can get on a roll…100+ pages into the story).  Both are works of historical fiction with espionage elements in them because that’s what I’ve been craving of late, and I find myself getting frustrated because both do something that is highly frowned upon and typically attributed to the science fiction and fantasy genres: giving too much exposition at once.

And it’s not just any kind of exposition; it’s that tediously dry kind that seems to just carry on and on and on…because hey, it’s history-cal fiction and I have to tell you about the history of this setting, doggonit–even if it is done in the most boring/irrelevant manner ever.

Now, when a fantasy writer tries this it’s called “infodumping;” when a writer of historical fiction does it it’s called “lush period detail.”

Okay, maybe I’m just being cynical now.  Or maybe I’ve just become an impatient reader.  Or both.  (Lord, help me.)

Objective Subjectivity

Personally, if I have to sit through more than half a page of information that seemingly has nothing to do with furthering the immediate situation at hand, then I’ll get bored.  “Immediate relevancy” is kind of my litmus test as to whether certain information belongs in a particular scene–something I’m trying to live by in my own writing.

Key word “trying.”  (Sometimes you just want to hold on to bits of info because you’ve somehow managed to make it all nice and shiny.  Sometimes it’s just hard to let go of such golden nuggets.)

However, I’ve also come across longer stretches of information in novels that don’t bore me at all because they are told in a voice or manner that I personally think is interesting.

Anyhow, I get the feeling that labeling anything as an infodump is a partly subjective process because there aren’t a whole lot of quantitative guidelines out there (if any) and people always have different ideas about what’s interesting and what’s not.  I’m curious about what others think of infodumping, so here’s my question(s) to you all:

In your opinion, what qualifies as “infodumping?”

What doesn’t?  Is there a certain length or amount you just won’t put up with?  That you will put up with?

Also, how do you gauge what stays and goes in your own writing when you come across something that just screams, or maybe even just whispers, infoduuuuuuump…?

What Are You Saying?

9 Jun

So I finally finished my line and content edits on my “first” draft in the middle of last week and have been taking some time to really just sit back and think about the deeper aspects of what I’ve written and why.

Yeah…not easy.

(Also, I apologize for not posting on Wednesday, as is supposed to be my habit.  This post was originally going in a different direction, and after much deliberation I decided to cut out and rewrite certain sections, heh.)

Asking Questions & Exploring Themes

In an article on her website, Holly Lisle asks writers to consider questions which they’ve yet to find satisfactory answers to when it comes to unraveling their stories’ themes.

Isn’t that why people write creatively in the first place?  Not because they already have all the answers but because they don’t, or because the answers they have been given do not make sense to them or just aren’t enough to quench some deeply rooted thirst for knowledge.  People, in general, aren’t creative because they are satisfied with what already exists; they are creative because they believe there are better ways to accomplish certain things in the world or see a niche in which some segment of the population is not being served.  Creativity is problem solving at its best–coming up with solutions to various problems in a novel or innovative way.  “Scissors are meant to be used with the right hand?  Says who!  Let’s make some for the lefties, eh?” (Universal design is a great place for creative people to exercise their creativity.)

Some cases of problem solving save lives (the, albeit accidental, discovery of penicillin); some make life more convenient (the invention of the wheel); and some are more fanciful because they question or speculate on the direction of an unverifiable future (what would life on Mars be like?).  Some problems even seem to be generated for purely whimsical reasons (imagining a world in which magic were an accepted part of everyday life)–and don’t even get started on the solutions to those kinds of problems.

The Role of Fantasy

Fantasy seems to sit at the bottom of the totem pole, if you know what I mean; it is the most difficult to reconcile with “life as we know it” and is typically regarded as mere “escapism.”  I feel there’s a lingering notion that if what you are doing isn’t saving lives, making lives easier or tangibly contributing to the betterment of the future of mankind then it isn’t relevant or isn’t taken as seriously.  So I guess that’s the thing: Does fantasy accomplish any of this?  (Fantasy author Mark Charan Newton recently went into this in “Relevant Fantasy,” with an emphasis on the cultural value of fantasy.)

I think where fantasy has shined in the past is in its ability to explore human values and mores but also the unknown with only the constraints of the imagination, and this is something that goes back to old mythology.  Even though we tend to understand and go about things differently today, I think fantasy is still good for the same reasons.  By stepping outside of reality as we know–or rather as we think we know–it, I believe we allow ourselves to be distanced from the familiar so that we may better examine the nature and problems of humanity.  By placing characters in exotic situations, it makes for a much more contrasting, dramatic backdrop against the more mundane themes of humanity.  You can take the ordinary and wonder if things wouldn’t be different for mankind were our situation just a little bit different.  In a fantastical setting, you can freely explore the answers to questions such as:

Why is mankind so dysfunctional?  (I mean really, we just seem incapable of staying out of trouble.)  Why do people do horrible things even when they mean to do good?  Why did I, of all people, survive a terrible car crash when so many others in similar situations have not?  What happens to people when they die, anyway?

Also, would we be any different if we encountered the divine, the paranormal or magical?  And how can such things improve us as a people?

Lots of people won’t turn to science for answers to these kinds of questions; they turn, instead, to the divine, paranormal and/or magical–areas they don’t fully understand in hopes that these mysterious realms hold the answers to the more elusive aspects of life.  (Because they obviously aren’t finding satisfactory answers within the reality they know.)

I think that fantasy writers are mythmakers, in a way, and for whatever reasons what we say still potentially holds power.  Living in modern times, however, it almost seems out of place to explore questions through mythology and fantasy when mankind is so steadily striving for knowledge accrued in such a tangible, scientific way.  Yet and still, we do it anyway.

Ask Some, Answer Some

As far as writing goes, I think you can choose to write something that sets out to answer all of its questions, but you can also leave some questions unanswered–especially when they deal with particularly esoteric concepts.  (In fantasy this approach is a plus because it already lends itself well to forms of magic, the paranormal or the divine.)  I guess it’s like having an open-ended versus a closed-ended story.  Are you declaring a definitive message, or are you inviting others to consider the possibilities?  (Or perhaps some hybrid of both?)

I recently went to see X-men: First Class last Friday (which was really good, btw) and realized that in my story I am exploring a lot of the same questions and themes as that movie and in similar ways.  This made me a bit paranoid, to be honest, so you can be sure I am deeply considering the themes in my story and how I choose to answer my questions.  (Am I just saying the same things?)

Looking back on my WIP, I’m realizing that some of my “questions” are fairly prominent while others are less obvious.  These questions include but are not limited to:

  • What does it mean to be human?
  • What is the value of being human?
  • What qualifies one as, or disqualifies one from, being human?
  • Why are certain rights that are generally accepted as universal withheld from some humans though not others?
  • What if those with inherently less power found a way to control those with inherently more power?
  • What if identifying “the evil ones” was not such a black-and-white endeavor?
  • What if one’s ideas about good and evil are incorrect?
  • Where do the notions of good and evil come from, anyway?
  • Is this source the same one that controls the universe?
  • Is this source sentient?
  • Is this source knowable and through what means?
  • Does this source actively influence/shape the lives of individuals (human beings) in a way that temporal beings can identify?
  • What connection is there between that which is human and that which is not?

(I didn’t think I was asking that many questions!  Haha.  No wonder why this has been such a long ride.)

Not necessarily original questions, but there they are.  I can very well see where and how each pops up in my story, though I continue to shape it into its final form.  To understand what a human is, for one, you have to first be exposed to something that is not–be it other forms of organic life, the inorganic, the supernatural, or the divine.  In my case, I’m choosing to focus mostly on the second and third (the elements or the natural world as well as the idea of there being an all-pervading energy source) and somewhat hint at the last (an omnipresent, all-knowing being), for the purpose of leaving myself a few (bigger) things to explore in subsequent books as I become a better and more mature writer.

By a conscious, and probably through a largely subconscious, effort I have been exploring these questions within the framework of fabricated mythology (fantasy), and I suppose that the resulting story/stories will be my answer, though a few of those answers might still just turn out to be, “I have NO IDEA.”

I guess the question after all of this, then, is what do you do when you come up with answers to your questions, or even when you don’t come up with answers?  What do you make of it?

What Are You Saying?

What questions are you asking in your fiction?  Are you finding the same answers as other authors or storytellers you read?

Also, why do you think that people continue to write fantasy?  And, if you’re feeling adventurous, what do you think is the role or purpose of fantasy in an age teeming with so much (digital) information?

Minorities, Race & Ethnicity in Fantasy

28 Apr

I was perusing the blog over at The Speculative Salon earlier and started to write a response to Stacie Carver’s latest post, World Building Questions, in which she talks a little about “the status of women and minorities,” among other things, in speculative fiction.  As usual, my response turned out to be long.  However, this time it was exceptionally long–so much that I thought posting it on the blog would be more of a nuisance than a contribution that could be quickly read and easily digested–you know, like fast food (not).

So instead of littering the Salon with my long-winded musings, I thought I’d just go ahead and blog about it here.  Yay!  Lucky you, reader.

(Originally I wasn’t going to blog at all today because I’m down to the last wire with my uber important Senior Project, which is turning out to be great so far but is far from being finished.  I’ve got to present it next Wednesday to an actual designer–eek!–so I’ll mostly be absent from the blogging arena between now and then.

However, since I couldn’t resist reading a few blogs today and have already begun crafting a ginormous response, I figured I might as well post it here.)

So, without further ado, the following are my thoughts on minorities in the fantasy genre.

First: What I Mean by “Minority”

Obviously the first thing that comes to mind when you bring up the word “minority” is the ethnic kind–the white people vs. all the rest.  And that’s mostly what I’m going to talk about today.  However, there are many other ways to be the “minority” in a society.

I should know; I am a minority in many respects.

How to Be a Minority: Oh, Let Me Count The Ways…

First is the obvious thing, for those that know me: I’m not white, and I’m not male.

Growing up and going to school, most of the kids were white where I was, and a lot were Latino.  What made my case more unusual is that I was an honors student, so the odds of me encountering another black/African American student in class dropped significantly.  As such, I was among the “minority” in school.

In my prospective field of interior design, the black designer is fairly rare.  Out of my five years of college I think I’ve maybe encountered one other black student that was also studying interior design.  Need I say more?

But these are the obvious, boring ways of looking at the majority versus the minority, so let’s look at some other ways.

Here’s one: most people are naturally going to be right-handed.  Guess what?  I’m not.  (Now, for some reason the people I used to work with thought I was ambidextrous.  I can accomplish a lot of things with both hands, but writing isn’t one of them unless I’m really trying.  I generally view my left hand as the dominate one.  In any case, if you play piano, as I do sometimes, then you kind of have to learn how to use both hands anyway.)

If you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, then you’ll know that there are some personality types which are more prominent in the world than others.  The INTP personality is one of the rarest among women, according to this site–and what do you know, I just so happen to be this type.

Okay, so I think it’s obvious I made my point: I am, in every way that matters, a minority.

I have been all my life and am pretty used to it by now; the thing is I don’t get caught up on it.  I really don’t.

Great, fantastic!  What does that mean, exactly?

Nothing, really.  Basically I think it just means I see and process things differently than “the majority,” whoever they are.  And so what?  Just because I am aware of the ways I am a minority doesn’t mean I actually think of myself on daily basis as “a minority.”  In the end, I don’t think it gives me any special edge in life.  And as I continue in my journey to become a published author, I don’t ever intend to make my status as a minority a selling point, ethnic- or personality-wise.

On another note, I think there are many ways to explore the “minority” in a fantasy novel, but one of the more popular ways is probably going to be through race and/or ethnicity–if not someone with rare abilities.

If I’m a minority, does that mean my main characters should be, too?

I thought it was interesting that Stacie brought up the issue of minorities in speculative fiction.  Also being in the ethnic minority, like her, it is something I’ve taken into careful consideration.  Just because I’m black, does that mean my main characters need to be?  Will I encounter crazy people who think I’m racist if I don’t?  I’m almost certain I would.  (I’ve run into them before, unfortunately; playing fair and balanced can apparently be considered racist if you don’t freely cater to “your people”—aka the “hook me up” mentality—for the simple reason that your skin colors are basically the same.)

Ultimately, though, it’s about doing the story that’s in your heart justice.  (And I’m coming from the viewpoint of a fantasy writer here, so keep that in mind.)  Should your world dictate that the same minorities in the real world also be the minorities in your made-up one?  Are you trying to make a bold racial or political statement by choosing to do otherwise?  Personally, in my current fantasy project I’m not looking to be bold like that and tend to distance myself from ethnocentric attitudes if I can help it, so while I do have black characters and other minority races, I do not write primarily from their perspective.  (I am writing from the perspective of someone who is in some way a minority, though, as she has a condition which the vast majority of individuals do not share.)

As I see it, I’ve been black all my life; why would I want to write about a black character?  I see my first novel as an opportunity to put myself in someone else’s shoes, see things from a different perspective.  As it stands, I’ve pretty much made the minorities and cultures in my storyworld pretty similar to those we are already used to because my goal is to use the fantasy element of magic to portray a world that is unique yet still feels somewhat familiar to potential readers.

However, in my next project I am looking forward to exploring the cultures of those “minority” parties in my storyworld because it will mostly take place in their homeland, not the (current) setting they’ve been migrating to in more recent history.  I imagine I’ll need to ask myself a few new questions such as, “How are the ‘majority’ races of my previous setting treated in a location where they are suddenly surrounded by the ‘minority?’”  Or more interesting, “Despite their racial and cultural differences, will my characters be able to come together and cooperate when it counts, now that their dire situation demands it?”

Ethnicity and race are the themes of humanity and are capable of transcending fantasy because they are based first and foremost on reality.  My goal as a fantasy writer, then, is to figure out a way to use fantastical elements to represent these themes in an entertaining, larger-than-life manner.  (That’s what people look for in fantasy, right?  Entertainment and the larger-than-life.  No mundane fluff-stuff here.)

How about you?

We could talk about how minorities, race and ethnicity are treated in existing works of fantasy and speculative fiction in general, but I’m more interested in how other aspiring writers are handling these issues in their projects.  Are any of these things important in your current WIP?  If so, could you say why?  Does it come from a personal place?