Just Coasting Along


This kind of goes with what I last posted.

Back in the 90s, I took up inline skating because I thought it looked cool. One day, I up and decided to take a class and—voilà —I learned to skate and loved it!

I really needed these pads though.

I also learned to write a screenplay, because I wanted to learn.

In 2010, I decided to return to a graduate program, having quit one (journalism) many years before that. This time, I switched to writing for children and young adults (fiction/nonfiction) and finished the program two years later.


My hood

In 2018, I wanted more of a career challenge. So, I took on the challenge of developmental editing. Didn’t take a class. I learned by being thrown into the deep end through a freelance assignement given to me by a publisher to work with an author on a manuscript for eight months.

In 2019, I . . .

In 2020, I . . .

In 2021, I . . .

You might wonder how I would finish those statements. I was trying to think of a way to say, “I rested on my laurels” in a way that didn’t make me look like the poster child for the subject of a sermon I recently listened to—complacency. Before you run for the door, thinking I plan to tell you point by point what I heard, I brought that up because of the subject matter (complacency, if that previous sentence was too convoluted). And yes, I know we were in the mniddle of a pandemic. But I had a computer and a wifi connection. What was to stop me from learning anything?

Not that you need this, but let me give you the definition of complacency given in that sermon:

Complacency is a feeling of quiet pleasure or security often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.

I can finally admit that I have been complacent about where I am and what I’ve learned so far. I didn’t think I needed to learn a new skill or improve an old one. Just telling you the state of things. Scold away if you want. But I want that to change. Maybe you feel that way too.

With that in mind, for my annual birthday giveaway—if you are a regular follower of this blog, perhaps you thought I forgot all about that this year—I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card (or whatever equivalent it has in the UK). Why? To stir you to learn something new or make some other change. That’s only if you want to. No judgment here. Maybe life is A-OK for you. If so, great!

Maybe you want to use it to buy a craft book (writing, gardening, needlecraft, art—whatever). Or maybe, because you’re stressed and want to change that, maybe you want to buy spa items or something else to help you relax. Maybe you’ll buy art pencils (which aren’t cheap) to start sketching again. Twenty-five dollars may not be a king’s ransom. But if it helps inspire you to take the next step to where you want to be, I’d call that money well spent. Winner to be announced sometime next week, hopefully. (I had a deadline last week, so I didn’t post.)

Photos by L. Marie.

Characters and Unwise Choices

While reading reviews for Robin Hobb’s Liveship series (you can click here for that series if you like), one review caught my attention. I don’t know the reviewer, so I don’t have permission to cite the review. However, if you click on the link, you’ll see it for yourself. Anyway, the reviewer was appalled by the stupid decisions (that reviewer’s description) the characters made, which led me to write this post.

After having read some books or watched movies or TV shows, I have bemoaned the choices of characters some would describe as too stupid to live. But I have to wonder whether the plots of those books or shows would have suffered had those characters made logical choices.

As you know many conflicts are based on the choices characters make—wise or unwise, leaving the author at the mercy of readers who disagree with said choices. For example, some readers complained about the choice of hobbits to take the ring to be destroyed in Mount Doom (Lord of the Rings). If you’re ready to take umbrage with me, thinking I just gave a spoiler (though the books have been around since 1955 and Oscar-winning movies have been adapted from them), please see the Complaints Department. You’ll have to fill out a form to make a complaint though. Anyway, I have heard a number of critics say. “The eagles could easily have taken the ring.” But the ease of this, in my opinion, would not have made a compelling journey story.

Some people complained about Bella in the Twilight series and how stupid she was (in their opinion). Yet that series sold out the wazoo. Apparently, many people weren’t bothered by her choices. While I didn’t agree with every decision the character made, I found the series enjoyable to read. If that bothers you, again, please see the Complaints Department.

Striking a balance between a realistic decision someone might make versus one made purely to fulfill a plot point is a tough call for an author. It’s easy for an audience to scream, “Don’t go in the basement,” while watching a heroine in a horror movie. But would we still watch the film if said heroine decided, “Nope. Ain’t happening! Zombies and vampires are probably down there” and avoided the basement like the plague?

Do you have any advice on how to strike a balance or any examples of compelling decisions made that cost a character something? While you’re thinking, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens comes to mind. A number of characters make very costly decisions. Yet I loved the book because of their choices.

What was the last book, show, or movie you engaged in that enraged you in regard to the character(s)? Had you written that piece, what, if anything, would you have done differently?

Book covers either from Goodreads or my library.

Check This Out: Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)

With me on the blog today is the amazing composer/musician/performer Laura Bruno Lilly, who is here to talk about her album Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) and the process of composing.

Cover designed by Rita Moore

First, here is the intro:

El Space: How long was the process from composing the music to this finished product?
Laura: The actual length of time from start (inspiration) to finish (digital/cd music release) took 11 years. However, it took only a month or so to compose Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon. While it was a complete piece in and of itself, it just didn’t feel finished. It wasn’t until after our between-homes journey came to an end that I realized it could be developed further in keeping with the structure of a suite. More accurately, those goats insisted there was more of their musical story to tell!

Photo by Terry Lilly

My Goat Suite (Saga) was composed and written while my husband and I were living on the compound in the desert outside Las Cruces, New Mexico from October 2010 through August 2011. It is a self-contained, yet complimentary slice of a larger project, Swimming with Swans: the music & vignettes of our three-year journey between homes which encompasses two standalone, yet related segments comprised of musical and literary material I created during that time on-the-road from June 2009 through June 2012.

Goats in the Garden naturally morphed into the middle movement within a larger three movement piece. Both the first and third movements were completed within a few months of each other, making the total composition time of the piece about a year from start to finish.

So you see, the composing itself didn’t take all that long. I’m very hands-on. Doodling with multiple parts on different instruments, putting it all together—I love that stuff! Composing is my sandbox where I get to play with all the parts of the piece in the course of creating it.

Next came the technical aspect of setting the music into a readable score for use in recording and later future performances. To that end, I purchased and learned a score notation program that enabled me to write down the parts more quickly than if I continued to write it all by hand. as it is scored for two classical guitars, mandolin, 12-string acoustic guitar and rainstick, I’m sure the wisdom in this time investment is obvious!

Once in final score format, I set it aside. The journey from that to the finished product took a more circuitous route. I applied for and was awarded a small grant from the Puffin Foundation to aid in the financial aspect of recording my Goat Suite (Saga). Around that same time, my 93-year-old Dad in Colorado entered hospice. Already juggling long-distance care-giving for a few years, this catapulted my focus 100% on Dad’s final days, shelving everything else.

After Dad’s passing, while getting his house cleared out and ready to sell, I managed to schedule some recording studio time with two longtime colleagues in the area. This effort yielded a finished mix ready to send elsewhere for mastering.

Once mastered, it was just a matter of finalizing the cover art, designing the physical product, pressing the CDs, registering the music with various agencies, sending it off for distribution on various streaming platforms and setting up an internet storefront.

And here it is. Now. Finished.

El Space: When did you decide to become a musician/composer? How were you encouraged as a child?
Laura: I don’t know that there was ever an actual decision made to become either. Most composers are/were also performing artists, so I view composing as a natural outgrowth of being a working musician.

As far as receiving encouragement as a child, most of my upbringing was taught by example. This quote expresses how my Jazzman Dad influenced my musical journey in general.

Each jazz musician when he takes a horn in his hand—trumpet, bass, saxophone, drums—whatever instrument he plays, each soloist, that is, when he begins to ad lib on a given composition with a title and improvise a new creative melody, this man is taking the place of a composer. He is saying, “Listen, I am going to give you a new complete idea with a new set of chord changes. I am going to give you a new melodic conception on a tune you are familiar with. I am a composer.” That’s what he is saying.
Charles Mingus

El Space: Which composers inspired you on your journey?
Laura:
Beethoven, Vivaldi, Berlioz. John Cage, Philip Glass, Max Richter. Janet Feder, JoAnn Falletta, Joan Tower. John Duarte, Eduardo Falú, H. Villa-Lobos. Mike Oldfield, Herbie Hancock, Ry Cooder. Ennio Morricone, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck. Foday Musa Suso, Billy Strayhorn, Anonymous. And more! Google the names and give them a listen.

        

Ennio Morricone (left), Eduardo Falú

Billy Strayhorn (Photo by Carl Van Vechten)

El Space: What leitmotifs occur in the music? Why?
Laura:
The second movement revolves around the most obvious one, introduced by the solo guitar within the first three measures. This Goat Bleat Motif was inspired by conversations held between Mama Goat and her kids. Based upon the intervals of each goat’s voice pitch, I assigned each goat a note and when bleating all together, their monotones made up a minor seventh chord. Then as a compositional element, a Reverse Goat Bleat Motif was used for further development of the second movement—all in keeping with the flavor of goats in the garden frolicking and dancing about.

El Space: What advice do you have for budding composers?
Laura:
Learn an instrument! It doesn’t matter which one. Noodle around with banging pots and pans, humming tunes or sounding the odd finger harp thing hung on your mother’s front door. Music composition in its most basic form is merely an organization of sound. The best instrument for understanding music theory visually is indeed the piano, but that does not have to be your primary instrument. Use it is a tool in context of understanding the underlying structure of composition. Strive to actively participate in a swirl of musical styles. This will surround you with tonal possibilities, blasting through untold sonic boundaries. Along with all that hands-on sort of stuff, listen, listen, listen to a plethora of musical genres. Explore translating your feelings into a compositional piece. Try your hand at arranging already created music. Hone your craft by taking classes, studying alongside a music teacher/professor/mentor and then, just do it. The more you do, the more your own voice will emerge.

Thanks, Laura, for being my guest.

Looking for Laura? Look on her website.

Looking for Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)? Click here
I’m giving away two copies of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga). Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners to be revealed next week.

Album cover, embedded intro, and photo courtesy of Laura Bruno Lilly. Photo by Terry Lilly. Ennio Morricone and Billy Strayhorn photos from Wikipedia. Eduardo Falú photo from secondhandsongs.com. Music note from wallsave.com.

The Whole Story?

The other day, I discovered on Netflix an interior design show that was new to me. I’m not going to tell you which one. Suffice it to say that in the introduction, a fresh-faced young couple mentioned (in a couple sentences or so) an eleven-year journey from self-trained interior designer to internet sensation to having nearly 100 employees, an affluent clientele, and a we’re-working-on-it-still dream house with over five thousand square feet.

All the while I watched the show, at the back of my mind, I wondered, What’s the whole story? Interior design is not a field that I know anything about outside of watching HGTV shows years ago and a few Netflix shows. I’m someone whose friends, out of pity, came and hung their own pictures on my walls because I didn’t have any. So I don’t know how easy or difficult it is for someone to go from friends admiring his or her taste in decorating to acquiring a huge internet following with paying clients willing to shell out huge amounts of money to redo their rooms. Not when I have family members who have done the same thing in that amount of time who have neither a huge internet following nor wealthy clients.

I often think, What’s the whole story? when I hear success stories of any kind. How many times have we heard a debut author say something along the lines of, “I wrote a book. Two weeks after querying agents, ten agents were interested in my manuscript. Seventeen publishers fought to get it. Once it was published, it hit the NYT bestseller list, where it currently rests after being on it for six years.” Okay, that is a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one. I know publishing journeys that fit this description pretty closely. So for some authors, that might be the whole story. But those situations aren’t the norm, even if they make for a good news story.

I will be the first to tell you I have queried a book that was rejected 91 times. You read that number correctly. By the way, I know an author whose book was rejected three times that amount before an agent and a publisher picked it up. So in her mind, I’m just getting started. You might be thinking, “Why would you query it that many times? Why not give up on it?” I mentioned that fact not to get into whether or not I should have continued querying but to let you know that this is my reality. And yes, I have felt the sour grapes sensation when someone has talked of querying for a couple weeks only to land an agent. Please hear me when I say I don’t begrudge people their agents. The point of this post isn’t to gripe about that but to ask, are we hearing the whole story when we’re told about these things?

Why am I asking that? Because many, many people over the years have come to me asking me how they can get into publishing. Many had the idea that they could easily get an agent or a publishing deal because they saw such-and-such a news story describing what seems to be the instant success of someone.

During a school visit years ago, a group of kids asked me if I made as much money as J. K. Rowling, because that was their frame of reference. None of them seemed to know that she had received many rejections. This article tells how many.

I’ve heard several speakers say there are no overnight sensations. One person in particular (Person A) mentioned that someone said to her, “Where did you come from? What an overnight sensation!” because she had been invited to speak in a huge arena. But Person A explained that for twenty years she had been doing what she was doing in obscurity before stepping into the limelight. Twenty years of faithfulness.

Those are the stories I appreciate. I love when authors mention how they toiled at it for years before getting the visibility they later acquired. Like Jill Weatherholt who has posted numerous times of the multiple rejections she received, but persevered through. I’m not suggesting that people have to toil for years, sweating and suffering. But I remember their stories more because I haven’t had an easy road either.

This is not to say that authors who quickly get agents or publishing deals have had an easy road. Somewhere along their road they had to have hit a snag somewhere. But often we only get a quick soundbite, rather than the full account.

Spotlight from clipartix.com. Rejected imaged from clker.com.

What Is “Real”?

Awhile ago, I talked to someone about movies and stories in general. This person mentioned (and I’m paraphrasing), “I take seriously movies like The Hurt Locker (2008) [as opposed to fantasy movies] because they are real.” In other words, works based on real-life events have more relevance for this person.

I’ve heard sentiments like this before in regard to speculative fiction—fantasy mostly—which I’ve mentioned in blog posts from time to time. But as I thought about what was said this time, a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco came to mind.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

I’m sure you’ve seen that quote before. If you haven’t, you can find the whole story here. I resonate with the rabbit’s question, because every time someone tells me he or she wouldn’t read a fantasy story because it’s not “real,” I wonder what “real” means. I don’t have to tell you that every fictional story is fiction, even those based on true events, because that is the nature of fiction. Otherwise, it would be nonfiction. But my guess is that the speculative nature of the story is the turn off, though science fiction falls under the speculative fiction umbrella.

An author who gives careful attention to worldbuilding makes his or her world seem real to me. I never enter Middle-earth without feeling like I’m in a real place, wandering roads that don’t exist in life, and eavesdropping on the conversations of beings who are works of the imagination. When I love a story, it becomes real.

But I’m not proselytizing for fantasy. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I wrote this post, because of a conversation about the stories people relate to more than others.

What are the stories you relate to most?

Book cover from Goodreads. Hurt Locker poster from The Movie Database.

It’s a Matter of Perspective

Before I get into this post on perspective in fiction, I will start with this: You do you. I am not the literary police here. Also, since I did not invent fiction writing, I am not an expert on what should or should not be done. But, if I have been paid by your publisher to edit your manuscript and a perspective issue comes up, I will call you on it, because that is my job.

The following is not an exhaustive treatise on perspective in fiction. People have written books on the subject. I have gone the route of brevity.

The perspective you choose for a piece of fiction is part of the voice of the story. I do not have to tell you this, but here it is. Authors write in first person, close third, distant third (often omniscient), and even second person. I also don’t have to tell you this, but here I go anyway: when you’re in first person, you’re following the perspective of the narrating character. Unless you’re writing sci-fi/fantasy fiction and your character is Professor Xavier who can read minds, you are presenting only the thoughts and motivation of the “I” character. In close third, the author still follows the perspective of one character at a time in a scene or possibly a whole book. The Harry Potter novels were written in close third. We follow Harry’s perspective for the most part, though there are times when J.K. Rowling :provides a perspective that is not Harry’s (chapter one of the first and fourth books, for example).

Omniscient narration has an unseen narrator who is privy to the thoughts and motivations of all of the characters. Many of Terry Pratchett’s (photo below) Discworld novels have this sort of narration. Chronicles of Narnia author C. S. Lewis also went the narrator route.

If while describing what Harry sees, feels, and thinks Rowling were to suddenly tell us what Cho Chang or Hermione thought (outside of dialogue), we would call that head hopping. Author and former agent Nathan Bransford describes it this way:

Sometimes people try to create an omniscient perspective through an assemblage of third person limited perspectives. . . . We see what this character is thinking, then we see what this character is thinking, then we see what this character is thinking.

Now, many authors with multiple third-person limited narrators might switch narrators from scene to scene as Bransford mentions in his article, which you can read by clicking here. That’s common. But Bransford is referring to a sudden switch of perspective within the same scene. The perspective is muddied when we know we’re following Sally’s close third perspective in a scene but we’re suddenly told what another character  thinks—information Sally couldn’t possibly know (but the author knows). Here’s what I mean:

Sally darted into the elevator. She heaved a sigh of relief as the doors closed, then glanced at the elevator’s only other occupant—a man whose gaze seemed fixed on his shoes. What was his name again? Phil? Frank? She knew him from Accounting.

The man glanced up, noticing her gaze in his direction.

Aside from the hasty writing, you might wonder, what’s the big deal? Seems pretty straightforward. But I would call your attention to the word noticing. That tells me we are now in the man’s head, rather than Sally’s. Why? Because only he would know what he noticed.

I have looked at someone sometimes but my thoughts were completely elsewhere. So while I was seeing the person in theory, I wasn’t really seeing him or her. Authors slip up in perspective when they assign an exact motivation or action to someone outside of the perspective of the point-of-view character (i.e., telling us what the man noticed).

This post is a bit long, so I will stop here. For a good craft book on perspective, you might check out The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley (Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2008).

Terry Pratchett photo from Wikipedia. Other photos by L. Marie.

To Read or Not to Read

The other day, an article by Lincoln Michel (“Why You Need to Read Fiction To Write Fiction”—please don’t come at me because of the inconsistency of to/To—this is the way the title is on the site) was brought to my attention. You can read it by clicking here. Anyway, if you don’t feel like reading the article, the author wrote it in response to a question posed somewhere on Twitter about whether or not reading is necessary, though I am surprised that question was asked. He mentioned

But there was something that stuck out to me in the tweets, which was the number of aspiring writers saying something along the lines of: “I can get all the ideas I need from TV and video games.”

When I read that, a light bulb clicked on in my head concerning a podcast I clicked off weeks ago before completing it. The podcast was dedicated to a discussion of Dune (2021). The group that produced the podcast had seen the movie but none had read the book nor seemed to have a desire to do so. (And no, I will not post a link to that podcast.) One person mentioned that someone explained the contents of the book to him, which I guess was good enough for him.

While I realize that a film adaptation needs to be its own animal, I stopped listening to the podcast, because having read the book, I wanted to hear thoughts on the effectiveness of translating the book to the screen. None of the people on the podcast could share that information. That’s why I couldn’t help thinking back to this podcast as I read the article mentioned above.

I’m not saying people HAVE TO read anything. But writing is hard work. So while I can understand the desire to gain inspiration from something you would prefer to do (watch a show or play a videogame), I resonate with what the film’s director, Denis Villeneuve, said in his forward to The Art and Soul of Dune by the film’s executive producer, Tanya Lapointe:

I kept Frank Herbert’s words very close to me as I designed and filmed this movie. Without his words, I would never have found my way through these scorched visions.

 

Before you yell at me for writing “something you would prefer to do,” this is the point of the debate on Twitter (from what I gather after reading the article). Those who voiced their opinions preferred not to read. Reading is something you have to slow down to do. Television shows and videogames are faster paced visual media that people used to high-speed internet can access quicker.

I play videogames, but don’t have a TV. However, the limitation of only using videogames or TV shows (as the article mentioned) to inform your writing quickly becomes apparent. You’re limited to the scope of what those creators have produced, which is why I have seen the same statements, ideas, and visual descriptions parroted all over the internet.

To read or not to read? Ultimately, that’s up to you. “As for me and my house” (that quote comes from a book by the way), I will read a book.

Books image from onkaparingacity.com. Denis Villeneuve photo from IMDb. Other photo by L. Marie.

Writing Emotion


Charles Yallowitz’s great tips on balancing humor and heavy topics (you can access it here:
https://legendsofwindemere.com/2022/01/24/2-post-of-2021-7-tips-to-balancing-the-humor-and-the-heavy/) got me to thinking about posting on the subject of writing emotion. Obviously, I’m not an expert. Yet as a freelance book editor, the emotional aspects of a story are what gain the most comments from me. That and perspective issues. Maybe that is the subject for another post. Anyway, take anything I say with a grain of salt.

Back in grad school days, I gave my advisor some pages of a manuscript for feedback. The note she provided was short and sweet: I hate it.

Lest you think she was unduly harsh, let me explain. I had written a scene I thought was beautiful and emotional. I dressed the prose in all of the figurative language I could—similes and metaphors galore. But the problem was that my goal was to prove to her that I could write well. A rookie mistake, as they say. I didn’t factor in a reader’s reaction—whether or not the scene would resonate with a reader’s emotion. It did, but in a negative way. My advisor added that she felt emotionally manipulated with all of the figurative language.

I was angry and hurt, because I didn’t understand her reaction. Understanding didn’t come until years later, when I was hired by some publishers to help authors revise their manuscripts before editing them. In regard to writing emotion, here are a couple issues I noticed (there are others, but this post is already very long):

An Overabundance of Tears. Many authors use tears to show emotion in a character. But tears often are a short-cut to emotional depth. They also have a cumulative effect. The more a character cries, the less effective those tears become. If a character bursts into tears at the drop of a hat every ten to twenty pages, usually by the second or third crying bout, I’m irritated, rather than moved with sadness on that character’s behalf. I have had some hard emotional blows but didn’t shed a tear. Yet I have had excruciating physical pain that caused me to shed them. Tears do not always equal real emotion,

Shallow Emotion. In many manuscripts a character has been dealt a harsh blow in one scene. I mean something that would take a person in real life multiple counseling sessions and months, or even years, to work through. Events like this take a toll on a person. Yet in the very next scene the character is mostly or even completely over what occurred in the previous scene. This lack of emotional carryover always raises a red flag within me. If the character is over the event so easily, the emotional depth seems questionable.

Now I totally understand that if your story takes place over a two-week period, you’re pressed for time. If you’re trying to get through a certain amount of plot points, maybe you just want to move on, even if it means a quick emotional reaction. Keep in mind also that I’m not talking about a two-hour movie where characters move about on the screen and you’re seeing snippets of their lives.

In The Emotional Craft of Fiction author/agent Donald Maass discusses the emotional turmoil many of us face through life’s difficult events. (Anyone alive during a pandemic can relate.) He writes

Let’s look at the emotions [these events] evoke, for these are strong feelings and the ones you’d like readers to feel as they read your fiction. . . . However, there’s a problem with that: Big emotions often fall flat on the page. (35)

Note that he mentions the emotions you want readers to feel. So what does he suggest?

Creating big feelings in readers requires laying a foundation on top of which readers build their own towering experience. . . . Details have the power of suggestion. Suggestion evokes feelings in readers, drawing them out rather than pounding them with emotional hammer blows. (36)

In other words, instead of having your character fall out on the floor in tears (which does nothing for me, to be honest) do something to help your reader connect to his or her own emotion.

Here’s a snippet from All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a story taking place before and during WWII. A French young woman is one of the protagonists.

Marie-Laure hesitates at the window in her stocking feet, her bedroom behind her, seashells arranged along the top of the armoire, pebbles along the baseboards. Her cane stands in the corner; her big Braille novel waits facedown on the bed. The drone of the airplanes grows. (6)

 

All the Light We Cannot See I felt a mounting sense of dread as I read that paragraph, thinking about the oncoming Nazi occupation of France and what that could mean to a blind young woman. This kind of writing might look simple yet is difficult to achieve. It takes some restraint on the author’s part and trust that the reader is savvy enough to understand and connect without hand holding.

Writing scenes with emotional depth takes some bleeding on the page. Many of us don’t want to go there, because we don’t want to feel that emotion. But if we’re writing a scene with any sort of emotional authenticity, we can’t really escape going there.

Anthony Doerr. All the Light We Cannot See. New York: Scribner, 2014.

Donald Mass. The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2016.

Book covers from Goodreads. Crying man from clipground.com.

Are You Hungry in 2022?

 

This is not a Snickers commercial, assessing your physical hunger level. (Actually, I could go for one of those, right about now.) Let me back up. I was thinking today of my own hunger level in regard to writing. From a young age, I wanted to write anything I could write: stories, novels, play scripts, movie scripts, poetry, graphic novels, essays. I attempted any and all forms of writing. But as I grew older and rejections happened, my hunger slackened. In other words, I played it safe.

But who was I hurting by doing that? Me. So in 2022, I’m tired of avoiding an activity just because of the fear that someone else might not like what results when I try it.

Maybe you feel the same in this dawning of a new year. So with that in mind, my new year’s giveaway is a $50 gift card to Amazon/Amazon UK or some other source that will inspire you in your goal to advance in your writing or illustration, your artistic endeavors in needlework, or your whatever is legal. Maybe you want to purchase a craft book to boost your skill. Or, if you’re like me, you want to buy a coffee table behind-the-scenes book featuring a movie you enjoyed because you’re fascinated by the process of the filmmakers. (The Art and Soul of Dune, anyone?) Or maybe you want to buy a book from a trusted source (like Bookshop.org) or some crafting supplies (Hello, Michaels or JOANN) to inspire you to greater heights.

   

Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Be sure to name the place where you would want to spend the money. I hope to post the winner sometime next week after my next deadline.

Happy New Year!

Does Fantasy Seem Less Fantastic These Days?

I recently overheard a conversation between these doughnuts that got me to thinking about the question posed in the title of this post.


“What’s that?” you say. “Doughnuts can’t talk. That’s unrealistic.” Herein lies the issue that some people seem to have with fantasy.

Let me back up. I had a conversation with an actual person about a fantasy novel we both read, the title of which I am withholding. We came to the conclusion that the fantasy elements seemed downplayed in favor of a social injustice message. This is not to say that social injustice is a bad theme. But when a book blurb touts that a book is “full of magic,” I expect something along the lines of the Harry Potter series, the Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend, Charles Yallowitz’s books, or the Oz books. You know—dragons, flying cars, lunch pails growing on trees, huge cats, inventing gnomes, and fantastic hotels. But that’s not what I found. Instead, I found rich people indifferent to the plight of the poor and magical healings that weren’t called magical healings—just healings.

   Cover art by Jason Pedersen 

This is not the first book I’ve read where the fantasy elements seemed a little scarce. As I pondered that, I couldn’t help recalling what the son of a friend once told me: “If a story isn’t realistic (The Hurt Locker as opposed to The Lord of the Rings), it isn’t real to me.” I’ve heard similar sentiments from others, most of whom would never crack open a fantasy book. As if stories of imagined worlds are inferior somehow. But imagination has been the key to so many breakthroughs in our world. Ask any trailblazing inventor who dreamed of a new way of doing something.

“That’s for kids,” someone else said to me about fantasy stories. Yet the Harry Potter series, a fantasy series “for kids” in that person’s estimation, has sold the most copies of a fiction series worldwide than any other series. When each book in the series was released, I remember seeing more eager adults standing in line waiting to pick up their books than kids. But I digress.

This is not a knock against anyone who dislikes fantasy stories. It’s all a matter of preference, isn’t it? And for the record, I love many realistic stories too. This is just an observation from someone who never really grew up; who never really stopped loving fairy tales with dragons and knights and princesses.

You see, I read or watch movies to escape. I love diving into fantasy worlds and learning about the people and creatures who inhabit these worlds. I want to escape from the horrors of the current news stories. So I wouldn’t purposely search for a book because I need to know more about social injustice. You can call that burying my head in the sand all you want. I call it saving my sanity.

Just my two cents. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.

The Merchant of Nevra Coil photo courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Deathly Hallows from Goodreads. Dragon from en.gtwallpaper.com. Other photos by L. Marie.