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 »


Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

Not long ago, I decided to sit down and finally watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I was ambivalent about watching it because (1) I was never really a hardcore Harry Poter fan (mainly because I just didn’t catch the wave of Potter Pandemonium when it first rippled through America), (2) the previews didn’t get me very excited and, (3) call me a Debbie Downer, but I thought the premise was a bit silly. I mean a foreign wizard irresponsibly loses his magical beasts, adding trouble to an already magically-troubled America? (Great! Let’s give that man a visa!)

Despite these things, I understand that Rowling is a very clever writer, which I both appreciate and admire. That being said, I had to give it a try. So today, I’m sharing some of my thoughts about Fantastic Beasts, though I don’t intend this to be a full-blown review or summarize the plot in any way.

(Want a video version of this post? Check this out!)

Read More »

Why I Write Fantasy

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!

Story Excerpt – The Elementalist: Rise of Hara, Chapter 1

Hello, everyone! So I’m still in Summerlin and had a really, really long night (pulled a 13.5 hour shift). Regardless, it’s been a while since I posted a new video for my YouTube channel, so I decided to record an excerpt of my WIP, The Elementalist: Rise of Hara. I actually read it out loud.

Just like I’ve been doing during my edits!

This one starts not at the very beginning of the story but in the protagonist’s first chapter. The story is setup in “parts,” and Part I is told from another main character’s POV to introduce what’s going on elsewhere in the world, leading up to the protagonist’s role–which I introduce in Part II.

I may record the second chapter sometime, as well, as it introduces the shady government agent who approaches the protagonist, Voi. But we’ll see.

I return home in 3 days, after which I’ll be able to get back to my read-out-loud edits. (I’m not doing it during this trip only because I think differently at night and tend to miss things after 10+ hour shifts…)

What did you think?

Do you like the story so far?  Is it something you would be interested in continuing reading?  I have a few people who’ve volunteered to be beta readers already (yay!), whom I’ll be sending out my manuscript to early next year, so it could change based on their feedback. We’ll see.  But that’s what I have for now.

Anyway, thanks for watching/reading/listening!

Neo-Noir, Dark Themes & Fantasy

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.Read More »

Life Aboard an Airship

“USS Akron (ZRS-4) approaches the mooring mast, while landing at Sunnyvale, California (USA), 13 May 1932.” Source: By USN [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
I was researching a technical point in my novel (for verisimilitude’s sake), realizing I was making some assumptions about technology during the 1930s and ’40s that I actually hadn’t researched–like whether or not airships had any hydraulic systems in place (a minor plot point in my WIP).  Anyhow, I came across a comment by a man named “Stu” on an article at about the Hindenburg, and I thought it was very interesting.  He was responding to another reader’s questions about airship rudders and elevators.

Here’s what he said:Read More »

Dieselpunk, Fantasy & Fiction ‘Grammin’

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)

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

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?

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?