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

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.Read More »


The Time In Between

Last time I posted I said I was going to share my thoughts on a novel I’d just finished reading.  I’ll try and keep this brief, though, ’cause I already talked some about it before.

The Time In Between

The Time In Between is an international bestselling novel (historical fiction) by Spanish author María Dueñas.  Written in first person, the story is set in 1930s Spain (initially) and follows Sira Quiroga, daughter and apprentice to a seamstress.  By her twenties she’s learned a great deal about the business which, unbeknownst to her, will help her immensely in the near future.

The novel opens splendidly: “A typewriter shattered my destiny.”  Immediately you want to know how this could possibly be.  From there the story is completely engaging.

Sira is already engaged to a government clerk at the beginning, but things go terribly awry when she meets a particularly charming salesman.  Unfortunately, she decides to leave her fiance for Señor Suave and her life is completely turned upside down.  She later ends up stranded in Morocco with her father’s inheritance in the hands of the conniving salesman, who’s gone off to God knows where.  Though, perhaps this was a blessing in disguise; back home there’s a civil war a-brewing, and WWII is just around the corner…

With no means of leaving Morocco, fate has left Sira with no other choice but to depend on the one thing she knows well: how to sew clothes.  With the help of a weary commissioner and a landlady of questionable repute, Sira decides to reinvent herself and open her own haute couture studio.  Word starts to spread about her work, and before she knows it she’s developed quite the reputation.

What she wasn’t expecting by now was to become a target of a British intelligence recruiter.  And that’s where things get really interesting…

Why I Love This Novel

First off, Dueñas really knows how to keep you turning the pages.  There were several times throughout the story where I simply did not want to put my e-reader down.  Interested writers could learn a thing or two on where to end their scenes and chapters from this author.

Another thing I mentioned before that was done well was the characters.  Sira doesn’t especially grab me until the latter half of the book–which is, btw, over 600 pages long–but initially the secondary characters were what really caught my interest.  Some are smoldering, some are quirky, and some are suspiciously plucky.  In any case, these characters add a lot of spice to Sira’s adventures.

Something else I liked was the way Dueñas tied in the whole espionage thread.  It developed slowly over time so that when it finally came it made sense.  Sira’s skills as a seamstress were brilliantly incorporated into the plot, both in the methods she passed on coded messages and her cover story for relocating to Spain in order to spy on a certain businessman.  Overall, I thought this was done well.

There were very few things I did not like about this novel.

The Nit-Picky Cons

Genre writers are forever encouraged to “show, don’t tell”; put the reader in the center of the story rather than making them watch.  It’s practically been drilled into our brains.  But The Time In Between is historical fiction–and to be honest I’m not sure if that’s really under “genre fiction”.  In any case, historical fiction tends to follow different rules than, say, fantasy does.  I tend to see a lot more telling with historical and for some reason it seems a bit more acceptable there than it would in sf/f.  (But maybe that’s just my skewed opinion.)  In any case, I think The Time In Between does a lot of telling, but you know what?  I actually didn’t mind it, for the most part.  At first I was aware of it, but over time it didn’t matter because Dueñas tells the parts that need to be told, never more.  And she does it interestingly.

This is really comparing apples to oranges, I realize, so it’s not so much a criticism as it is pointing out an observation.

The only real “con” I can think of with this novel is that sometimes Dueñas makes unnecessary long lists of things that have already happened–I presume for the purpose of reminding the reader.  But we really don’t need to be reminded of all the details, just the major ones.  And even then not all that often.  I guess it’s just a matter of balance, is all.

…And maybe Sira could have been more interesting in the first half, as the secondary characters fairly out-shined her.

Though, besides that, I pretty much loved everything else about this novel and would give it 5/5 stars.  Or how about hearts.

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

(Ha!  So much for “brief”…)

Has anyone else read this novel?

If so, what did you think?  Or, if you haven’t, does this sound like something you might read?

Style in Literary & Genre Fiction

For the love of brevity, why can’t I ever blog about something that can be addressed in under 500 words?  Maybe I should just blog about comic books and YouTube videos, heh.

In any case, I think today’s post was partly inspired by one of T.S. Bazelli’s.

Literary Technique & Snobbery

I’d like some perspective on this because I think it directly affects my work and has been on my mind recently.

I have this notion in my head that literary fiction is still somewhat regarded as “snob” fiction today, and also that the use of literary techniques such as metaphor, allusion, alliteration, etc. is something that’s paid more attention to in literary fiction than it is in genre.

Is this true?

Admittedly, I don’t read a whole lot of literary fiction these days.  I still cherish certain classics I had to read in high school and have come to appreciate them way more than I could have at that age, but really I haven’t read much more of that stuff since then.  Though, I distinctly recall that the literary techniques used in those novels were a distinguishing feature in what made them so special (along with their characters’ stories).  But maybe this is only because that’s what we focused on in class!

It’s strange…ever since it’s been suggested to me that I’m working on a character-driven story, I’ve been thinking more about what, exactly, makes literary fiction literary (and genre fiction genre).  I’ve been wondering if my own perception of it is skewed.  I’ve also wondered whether I’m writing something that straddles the border between genre and literary because character-driven stories and literary fiction are so often linked together, and plot also gets some prominent stage time in my WIP, mostly in the second half.

Didn’t you just write a couple of posts on the difference between genre and literary fiction when you talked about plot- and character-driven stories?  I thought we’ve been over this before.

Yes, I have, but I still feel the need to contemplate on this.  I originally wrote those posts because I wasn’t sure which one I was writing.  To be honest, I feel like I may be writing both.  (Of course, it’s hard for someone else gauge these things if you’ve only shown your work to one person, heh.)  I like to focus on character and use literary techniques–not because it’s been ingrained in our brains in school to look out for these things but because that is naturally what I do.  The more I edit and get past plot inconsistencies, the more I seem to pay attention to my writing style.

At first, it was all about getting the story right–the plot and characters and whatnot; now, I feel it’s more about getting the execution of that story right aesthetically–paying attention to things like rhythm and cadence (sometimes I will switch out a word simply because it doesn’t fit the “rhythm” of a line as I hear it in my head).

Anyway, all of this makes me wonder whether my developing writing style is more fitting to genre or literary fiction.

What does it matter whether your work is more “genre-ish” or “literary?”

It doesn’t really, per se; I’m just not sure where I stand.

Naturally, I don’t like to pigeonhole myself into categories, but you kind of have to know how to explain your work to other people if you plan on selling it eventually, right?  If you tell people you’re writing fantasy and you give them something that reads like The Puttermesser Papers (not comparing myself here, just pulling out a crazy example), then is “fantasy” really an appropriate genre description?  (The same goes for the flip side, too.)

Essentially, I’m writing fantasy because there’s a fantastical element.  I just wonder why it seems like mostly literary fiction uses literary devices more prominently than genre fiction does.  I’m not saying this is good or bad, but when I read something like Grimspace by Ann Aguirre, or Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder, the use of literary techniques doesn’t exactly pop out at me.  They may be in there every now and then, but they don’t really stand out (which, to me, seems is what happens in literary fiction).  I don’t remember these books because of their literary style but rather the plot/adventure and worldbuilding.

Which is fine.

I guess I just want to learn to write fiction that has both sides to it–memorable worlds and adventures as well as a distinctive style (and memorable characters.)  Maybe that’s why it’s taking me longer to finish my WIP?  Heh.

I know there’s more and more crossover fiction being written these days that traverses genre and literary, and I really should read more of them.  I think this would give me a better idea of what I’m trying to explore/understand.  (I suspect Neil Gaiman fits this bill, though I haven’t read him yet–don’t stone me!–and I’m currently reading Susanna Clarke now.  After reading Windup Girl, I think Paolo Bacigalupi might fit into this category, too, but I’m not all that sure.)

Am I making any sense today?

I find all of this hard to sort out and express clearly.  I just feel like there’s a lot of greyness in my understanding of these things.  (And maybe that writer’s/blogger’s “identity crisis”  I mentioned the other day has something to do with this.)

So…am I asking a question here?  Hm, I don’t know.  Let me see…

All right, so here’s my question to you: What do you make of the role of style in genre and literary fiction?  Does that matter to you?  Also, would you say your style seems to be a better fit for genre or literary fiction?  How come?

I’ve read plenty of articles on the old genre vs. literary fiction debate, but really I’m more interested in the general public’s perception of this issue.  I wonder how well that perception lines up with everything that’s been written about it.  Sometimes, I wonder why the distinction is even necessary, and if people even care.  (And by the way, I don’t want to seem like I’m getting overly caught-up on this stuff.  I’m just trying to get some perspective.)

Okay, break time’s over for me.  Back to work. ~