Monday, November 25, 2013

A Writer's Gratitude

I didn't intend to write about Thanksgiving this week. After all, isn't that the big theme trending on twitter and Facebook right now? Aren't we all just sick to death of the trite, "I'm thankful for my Starbucks" posts going up daily? It feels like we've worn out the holiday and we haven't even bought our groceries yet. Even the retailers want us to just skip ahead and focus on what's really important: shopping!

And yet... while some of the items on the thankful lists may seem trite, the larger sentiment is something we don't see enough of these days. Gratitude, as a general principle, seems less and less important. Part of the problem is that we are always in a rush. We are so busy sending emails on our smart phones as we rush from point A to point B that we not only don't say "thank you" to the person holding the door open for us, we didn't even notice someone had done so. A "thanks" to our server, barista, or store clerk is rare. And of course, the everyday little things that make our lives so much easier-- clean running water, washing machines, dishwashers, or even ready access to food on the table-- are completely taken for granted. We assume that these things have and will always be available. We demand and expect, but rarely consider the effort, the demands of time and energy, the wizards behind the curtain that factor into getting us what we need or want, when we want or need.

As writers, we have so many things to be thankful for, and so many people who are instrumental in getting our books from brain, to page, to readers. So, in the spirit of the holiday, it’s time to pull back the curtain and give a little gratitude to a few of those hard-working supporters who make this passion of ours into a reality:

1. First off, we have to thank the muse. Fickle as she may be at times, nothing happens without that spark of inspiration.

2. Friends and family are an essential part of any creative endeavor. They encourage, they cheerlead, they tell us, “no, you don’t suck, your book is great!” or when the book does suck, they tell us how to fix it. Behind every tortured creative soul is a loyal friend or family member willing to pick up all the pieces and tape them back together when necessary. For my part, there isn’t a book or a story I’ve completed without an army of loyal minions at my back.

3. Other writers deserve a shout-out, particularly those in the SFF community. I’ve learned more from my fellow writers about craft, publishing, marketing, and every phase in between than every workshop I’ve attended and book I’ve read combined. These are the people who really get down and dirty, devoting their time to read beta drafts and offer their creative genius in support of others. They are always willing to help a young writer get started or offer praise and support. These are our fellow soldiers in the trenches, without whom we would never survive.

4. I know I personally could not function without my writing group, Lumosliterati, and I know many others feel the same way about their wizards behind the curtain, who pick apart plots and character, nag about word choice, argue about commas and repetitive sentence structures. We laugh, we fight, we cry, and our books are all the better for it.

5. Editors: Terri-Lynne and Eric, I’m looking at you! I can say from experience that it is no fun being an editor and having to tell an author that he or she needs to rethink, revise, rewrite. My books are my babies, and I know all writers feel the same. But without my editors telling me, “this is great!” or “make the pirates work or they have to go!” my books would never hit shelves. Which leads me to…

6. Publishers, the ultimate quality-control guardians, the keepers of the kingdom. I’m a little biased, but my publisher, Eric T. Reynolds of Hadley Rille Books, is the absolute bomb-diggety. He makes sure that our books are beautiful quality, inside and out, before they reach the readers. But what makes me especially thankful for my publisher is his attitude toward the press and his authors. Hadley Rille is his baby; we are his family. Karin and Terri-Lynne are my book-sisters, Mark my brother, and all of us feel connected. Could we make more money as “big-publisher” authors? Probably. But this experience of belonging to something greater than the individual is priceless, and I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world.

7. Last, but definitely not least, we owe a debt of gratitude to our readers. To be able to share our worlds and characters with others is the most wonderful feeling imaginable, and to know that other people love Breyveran, Ki’leah, Britta and Erich as much as I do makes everything worthwhile. I know some of my readers are a little peeved with me at the moment for the long pause in their story (it’s coming, I promise!) but hopefully they will come to love Skerth and Kiri, too, and look forward to their continued stories as much as I do.

I couldn’t end this post without a heartfelt thanks to all of you, our loyal readers of Heroines of Fantasy. I don’t comment as often as I’d like, but I read everything, and cherish our conversations here. I think I speak for all of us here when I say that we are all grateful for your company, and we look forward to many more years of dialogue and adventure to come!

~Kim Vandervort

Monday, November 18, 2013

Shaking off Stagnation...

Hello folks! Mark here with a few thoughts on how I break myself out of the creative doldrums. I've written previously asking about where we find our sources of inspiration. Sometimes, however, inspiration doesn't show and patience wears thin. During those times stuff roils around inside my brain, refusing to congeal enough to frame coherent thoughts. I've gone through more than my fair share of that experience. I don't like it, but I have come to learn there are reasons for such stagnation. I am pretty lazy as a rule, or at least I tend to think I am, but as I contemplated the length and depth of this most recent bout I came to realize a few truths. And reviewing my past bouts with blockage, I realize those truths have been consistent.

I now know that routine can actually work against my creative process. And yet I also know that when I commit to discipline I produce usable stuff. On the surface it might appear paradoxical, but when I look closely I realize certain kinds of routine tend to wear me out physically and intellectually. I shut down. Things gestate. In time stuff begins to come out, and it usually takes the form of verse first before working into prose. This has been true since I first began putting stuff down on paper as a youngster. I was cleaning out some boxes in the basement yesterday, avoiding dealing with a seventeen page edit letter, and I found some of my old notebooks. It was strange getting reacquainted with my sixteen year old self. I found the first reference to Talyior's name. I found the first use of the Harpist of Light, the tag Eleni attaches to Donari in her piece to him from King's Gambit, in a poem and short story in an old spiral notebook. My younger self loved narrative verse. People have said there's poetry within my prose. Some things don't really change.

What I think I mean is I don't tend to worry too much anymore about not finding the words. When verse starts to ooze out on the backs of essays or onto blank screens, I know something useful and substantial is on the way. I'm an old style percolating coffee pot. I can help the process along by making a few changes in my routine. 

I've done the same sort of thing in my teaching. I'm a veteran; I know all about routine. When I sense my students and I getting a little stagnant, I throw in a curve to shake things up. Over the years my favorite method has been to join in with my class in a unique writing exercise. Young writers struggle with thinking too literally. I want them to push to metaphor and meaning. To that end I have everyone write down 4-5 unrelated terms or phrases, wad them up and toss them into a hat for a blind draw. No one gets to keep the one they wrote. The goal for the assignment is to compose an essay making use of those terms in such a way as to make a commentary about the human condition. I place several stipulations on the composition: 1) None of the terms/phrases and be taken or used literally. We have to change their meaning, turn them into concepts or ideas and develop prose that explains them clearly. 2) They have to develop each term as a chunk in the essay with balanced development. 3) They have to weave the "term-chunks" into a humanistic essay with a central focus.

Once the howls of dismay fade away, everyone realizes they have complete freedom to frame whatever truth they wish. Usually, a goodly handful surprise themselves by reaching some surprising insights. Historically, this essay has always been the most fun to read out loud. They get to experience discursive thinking and intellectual freedom--heady stuff in this era of standardized testing. What they get usually goes far, far beyond what ever grade they might receive. In fact, we grade the papers as a class.

I still recall the first set of terms I had to deal with when I first started doing this assignment with my students. A couple of my more precocious intellects came up with the following: Snotty nose hairs, Uhhhhh..., Under water kites, and Skittleosis. One of these days I'll post what I came up with--perhaps in the comments thread if anyone is interested.

So that is one way I shake things up. It helps break the routines in my teaching life, which in turn helps break up the blockages in my writing life. What do you do?

Mark Nelson

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Holidays Are Upon Us

It starts with Halloween, and just careeeeeens straight through until New Year's Day--holiday chaos. I have been seeing Christmas decorations in Costco since September. Gads, I miss when the holiday season started the day after Thanksgiving. By the time Thanksgiving comes, tis the season a month already. I love the stretch of days between August's first cool nights and New Year's Eve's champagne toast; not as one long mishmash holiday season, but letting them each come into their own. The wheel of the year turns quickly enough, thanks. No need to rush.
Holidays are holy days. How an author uses such days in their work has always intrigued me. I've rarely seen one that doesn't mimic our own seasonal holidays. The events in our world tend to revolve around that turning wheel of the year, whatever the culture. It doesn't matter if one is north of the equator or south, autumn holidays center around the harvest. Winter, the triumph of light over dark, or the long sleep. Spring, rebirth. Summer, abundance. The Christianization of many parts of the world kind of throws that off balance--Christmas is still celebrated on December 25th in Australia, even though it's the height of summer there--but let's not put that kettle of fish on the fire. Now, how about in fantasy fiction?

In Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings, the winter holiday was called Yule. It mimicked every winter holiday celebration I can think of from Christmas to Hannukah to the Feast of St. Lucia. In Guy Gavriel Kay's, Tigana, the annual Ember Days of Autumn feast celebrates the deicide of the God Adaon, and mimics the Dionysus myth.

There--I gave you two. Now, I am very curious to see what you come up with. Winter, spring, summer or fall--or none of the above! What seasonal festivals, national holidays, or any other event of that sort can you tell me about whether one you've read, or written yourself.

Terri-Lynne DeFino

Monday, November 4, 2013

On the Art vs. the Artist

This weekend I went to see ENDER'S GAME, the long-awaited film interpretation of Orson Scott Card's classic science fiction novel. 

I've made it no secret how much I've been looking forward to this movie, and how much I enjoyed reading the novel. The story relates how the boy genius Ender is psychologically manipulated by the war machine of his time to become a weapon of mass destruction. 

The movie is very well done, though like all screen adaptations it falls short of the subtlety and depth of the novel itself.  Still, Asa Butterfield is perfectly cast as Ender, and while I had doubts about seeing Harrison Ford in this movie, he did a good job too. The special effects are phenomenal, and it was especially interesting to see the three-dimensional weightless battle games come to life on screen.

When we got home after the show, I wanted to share some thoughts about the movie via Facebook.  Upon logging in, I came across a posted comment by a person who had decided they would never read ENDER'S GAME or see the movie because of Orson Scott Card's personal beliefs. 

Not really sure what the post was referring to, I did a Google search and discovered that Orson Scott Card is a fairly controversial figure because, among other issues, he disapproves of same-sex relationships and has campaigned against same-sex marriage.  This has cost him in his following, and has led to a movement to boycott the book and the movie. 

As much as I agree with those who criticize Orson Scott Card's attitudes toward homosexuality, I was a little taken aback by the boycott movement.  The situation reminded me at once of THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman. 

One of the best YA fantasy stories I've ever read, THE GOLDEN COMPASS features a wonderful, complex, intelligent, and feisty heroine in the person of Lyra Silvertongue. It was adapted to the screen and released in 2007. Though extremely well done, the movie got nowhere in the market place.

Why?  In part because Pullman is an atheist. Because of this campaigns were run to boycott his books and his movie.  When returns on the movie were less than ideal, the option of filming the sequels was quietly dropped. 

Now, many would argue that homophobia is much more objectionable than atheism. Personally, I would have to agree, but that is not the debate I am interested in having today.

What I really want to ask is this:

When we reject an author's work because of his or her personal beliefs, does that put us on a higher moral ground than them?  Or does it merely bring us down to the same level of intolerance? 

Have at it, friends and followers of Heroines of Fantasy.  I'm very curious to hear your thoughts. 

-Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich