Check This Out: Mythos

With me on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. If you’re a follower of his blog, City Jackdaw, you know that he’s a poet who released a collection of poems called Heading North, published by Nordland in December 2015. We talked about that here on the blog. Now, Andy is here to talk about the short stories he contributed to Mythos, the second volume in the Northlore series, published by Nordland in December 2016. (By the way, Andy contributed a short story and a poem to Folklore, the first volume of the series.) Stick around after the interview to learn how you can get your hands on Mythos.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I’m at least six-generation Mancunian. 2. I knew my wife for twenty-six years before we got together. I play the long game. 3. I’m vegetarian. 4. Despite my name, I don’t like tennis!

El Space: What interested you about writing stories for this second volume? When I read the premise, I couldn’t help thinking of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m also reminded of Juliet Marillier’s Bridei Chronicles, in which the author mentions the Picts’ desire to hang on to their religion as Christianity moves forward in the land.
Andy: Well, I knew that the Northlore series was a planned trilogy of books, and being a part of volume one was such a positive experience I wanted to be a part of the succeeding book. Folklore was a great collection of prose and poetry, with something for everyone, and Mythos feels like a step up. They complement each other perfectly.
I’m not familiar with Bridei Chronicles, but I know what you mean about American Gods. The stories in Mythos are arranged in chronological order, in many different locations, and some of them are indeed set in modern America. The premise of the collection is that with the advent of Christianity the old gods knew that their time had come and they withdrew, but they didn’t cease to be. These are their continuing stories.

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El Space: What was the inspiration behind your stories, “Into the Storm” and “Saga”?
Andy: My wife and I used to be foster carers. A private tutor used to visit the house to give extra tuition to a teenage girl who was living with us. Through no fault of her own she had missed out on a lot of schooling and was behind many of the students in her class. In a bid to encourage her English, the tutor decided to set a writing competition for the whole family. My wife was mortified. She stipulated that our stories could be about anything, but had to bear the title ‘Holes’. I came up with a story set in the Somme of the First World War, you know: foxholes, shell holes, etc. But also a depiction of how some people seemed not to be made in the same way as others, as though there were pieces missing from their character and they were riddled with holes. I can’t recall how exactly I put it now, but it was along those lines. Anyway, I had that story lying around, and when I saw the call for submissions for Mythos, I took it and adapted it in a way that fit Nordland’s criteria. ‘Holes became ‘Into The Storm‘.

‘Saga‘ was born on a half hour bus journey from Manchester to my hometown. I was sat on the upstairs deck, daydreaming. This is how I sometimes get lines for my poetry. In my reverie, these spontaneous lines crossed my mind:

She asked me to write a four word love story:
she came home early.
She asked me to write a four word horror story:
she came home early.

I don’t know where this came from. Do we ever, really? But I began to think about it. How ‘she came home early’ could fit both love and horror stories, and what they implied. But, more importantly, I began to wonder about who ‘she’ was who was doing the asking. By the time I reached my destination I had the story finished in my head, but not trusting my memory I jotted down the outline on the Notes part of my mobile phone.

El Space: In a 1957 interview with Truman Capote [photo below] in The Paris Review, Capote said, “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.” How would you respond to this?
Andy: Well, I love Capote, and I know that he was a very disciplined and methodical writer. I’m also reminded of Dylan Thomas referring to ‘my craft or sullen art’. In contrast with these two huge figures, though it may sound simplistic all I can say is that I write the type of fiction and poetry that I would like to read, and endeavour to make them the best that I can.

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El Space: When it comes to short story writing, which comes first for you: a character; a situation/plot; or an image? Any of the above? None of the above? I mentioned image, because C.S. Lewis once explained that the image of a faun with an umbrella came to his mind way before he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Andy: A faun with an umbrella—that’s pretty cool! I wonder if he was on a bus? 🙂 I think for me the gist of the story comes first. I have in mind the kind of thing that I want to say, and in pondering on how to realise this everything else is born.

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El Space: What was your introduction to writing?
Andy: As a child I loved books, and loved writing too. My primary school teacher expressed concern to my mother one parent’s evening about the type of books that I read—James Herbert, Stephen King. But I later learnt that that same teacher used to pass my stories around the staff room for the other teachers to read. On my last day, before leaving for high school, she wrote in my autograph book ‘I hope you manage to get a book published one day‘. I tried to track her down recently to present her with a copy of Heading North, but was unable to find her. I’ve not given up, though.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I’m actually on the second draft of a novel at the moment, provisionally called ‘Seasons On The Hill‘. It is about life on a northern housing estate, as seen through the eyes of different, interacting characters. The estate in question is actually a fictionalised version of where I live. Although none of the characters are based on real people, many of the situations involved really happened. Maybe with a little embellishment. Part humour; part tragedy. The stuff of life, yes?

El Space: Yes! Thanks, Andy, for being my guest!
Andy: Thank you Linda for this opportunity. As I saw someone comment recently upon one of your posts: you’re such an enabler!

El Space: Aw. I’m just glad people want to stop by here. 🙂

If you’re looking for Andy, head to Facebook and his blog.

You can find Mythos at Amazon. But one of you will find it in your mailbox or on your tablet. How? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner TBA on February 4.

Mythos cover from the Northland website. Other book covers from Goodreads. Truman Capote photo from biography.com.

Cover Makeover: A Gift of Wings

Today on the blog is the fabulous Stephanie Stamm, who is here to talk about a cover makeover for her novel, A Gift of Wings. Here is the old cover:

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Now feast your eyes on the new cover by the also fabulous Ravven, who also designed the cover for Kate Sparkes’s Bound.

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Continue to feast away while I talk to Stephanie.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Stephanie: (1) I just got a Smart TV and have recently become a Netflix addict. (2) I’m afraid of spiders and falling off ladders. (3) I don’t have any tattoos. (4) I love avocados and cilantro, which pretty much makes guacamole the perfect food.

El Space: Guacamole is pretty awesome! Tell us about your book, A Gift of Wings. How many books will there be in the Light-Bringer series?
Stephanie: A Gift of Wings is an urban fantasy set in Chicago about a girl named Lucky who, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, starts seeing wings on people and gets drawn into a world of angels, demons, and ancient gods. As she joins what is to her a new world, she also pulls half-angel Aidan back into the life he’d walked away from two years before. The book gives us both their stories as they come to understand who they are and what they are capable of.

I envision the series as a trilogy. But I’ve also thought about writing additional novellas exploring the stories of some of the supporting characters.

El Space: Why angels? What do you find inspiring about them?
Stephanie: (1) I’m fascinated by winged beings. I once created a shadowbox art piece for a charity auction that I called “Luna Venus” where I gave Bouguereau’s Venus Luna moth wings. Wings are an ancient symbol of power. Plus, who doesn’t want to be able to fly? (2) I find something compelling about combining the human with the angelic “other.” Playing with the mythology of the angel-human hybrid Nephilim is great fun, because they are both human and more than human. Different angels have different traits and abilities, so I get to play with those as well. (3) I love mythology and fairy tales, and the Judeo-Christian tradition is the one I know best. I decided to create my fantasy world out of that tradition.

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Luna moth

El Space: How did you come up with Aidan or Lucky? Who are you most like? Least like?
Stephanie: It’s funny, but Aidan (then unnamed) first occurred to me as a joke. I was just contemplating the bare idea of the story, and I thought, Oh, and one of the characters could be the front man for a band called Icarus. You know, because of the whole flaming wings, falling from the sky thing. My next thought was, Yeah. Why not? I ran with it. And then Aidan had his own ideas about where his story should go.

Lucky took her time in coming to me. I knew some of the things I wanted to have happen to her, but I didn’t know who she was or what her overall story was for a while. That came to me in bits and pieces.

Between Aidan and Lucky, I’m more like Lucky. I’ve lost loved ones—in my case, a much older sister and my mother—to Alzheimer’s, and I lived in Hyde Park—though I was older than Lucky when I did. But her background is different than mine, and she’s braver than I am. Maybe that’s why I found it easier to write the scenes from Aidan’s perspective. The words flowed more easily when I was writing in his voice.

El Space: Now tell us about this beautiful cover and how it came about.
Stephanie: I have you among others to thank for this beautiful cover! 🙂 Awhile back you did a cover reveal for Kate Sparkes’s Bound—an awesome book, by the way—and then later did an interview with Kate. That cover blew me away. It’s just stunning. I had been wanting to get a new cover for A Gift of Wings, because I knew the one I had didn’t really speak to the novel’s genre or target age group. So, I checked out Kate’s cover credit and then contacted the multi-talented Ravven about doing some covers for me as well. She did a gorgeous job with this one and the cover for the sequel, A Gift of Shadows.

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El Space: What brought you to the urban fantasy genre?
Stephanie: Reading Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, and Holly Black, among others. In some ways, my attraction to urban fantasy is the same as my fascination for hybrid beings. It’s that sense of the extraordinary hiding or barely hidden right behind the ordinary, everyday world we inhabit.

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El Space: How would you finish this sentence: “In the urban fantasy genre, I’d like to see more ______________”? Why?
Stephanie: I know it’s a current buzzword, but I’d like to see more diversity—not just in urban fantasy. I tried to include diverse characters in A Gift of Wings, but I know I could do more in future work. No one book or series will ever be able to include all possible variations, but we could do better at avoiding common tropes and learning about other cultures, etc., so we can write outside our comfort zones.

El Space: Amen to that! What books/authors inspire you as an author?
Stephanie: I have a huge writer crush on Neil Gaiman. I love Neverwhere and American Gods. The man knows mythology better than anyone. Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett, is also a favorite—well, it is about angels and demons. I find Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift series—A Madness of Angels, The Midnight Mayor, The Neon Court, and The Minority Council—completely compelling. Talk about urban fantasy. In her novels, the urban is fantastic and the fantastic is urban. I’m in awe. On the YA front, the Harry Potter books, of course, and the Hunger Games, and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

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El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to write urban fantasy?
Stephanie: Read it and read it and read more of it. Then, let your imagination run. What kinds of places and images do you find evocative? And who do you want to people your world? What kind of characters do you love? Mostly, I think, whatever genre we write in, we need to read it. And we need to write what we love. There’s no point in trying to write urban fantasy if cozy mysteries are what light you up. That’s not to say that we can’t explore or write in multiple genres, just that we shouldn’t try to force ourselves into being who we aren’t.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Stephanie: I’m working on the second volume of the Light-Bringer series: A Gift of Shadows. It’s with beta readers now. I’m hoping to be able to release it at the end of the year. My mind is also churning with ideas for the third book.

Thanks, Stephanie, for stopping by the blog!

Looking for Stephanie? You can find her at her blog. A Gift of Wings is available here:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
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In honor of her cover makeover, Stephanie is giving away a paperback and an ebook of A Gift of Wings. Comment below to be entered in the drawing! Winners will be announced on Monday, August 18.

A Gift of Wings cover courtesy of Stephanie Stamm. Other book covers from Goodreads. Luna moth from fwallpapers.com.

Do You Believe in Magic?

I wasn’t going to post today, but the thoughts were fresh in my mind, thanks to a conversation with a friend, and couldn’t be ignored. I’m in a rather soapboxy mood, so feel free to tune in or tune out.

Remember in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion discovered the “wizard” hiding behind the curtain? This “wizard” tried to play it off by his warning to them to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

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Too late. He’d already been exposed as a complete sham—a humbug, according to the Scarecrow. He didn’t have a drop of magic within him, and couldn’t really give them what they desired—a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man, courage for the Cowardly Lion, and a trip home for Dorothy—except through nonmagical means. But there was magic in Oz. The witches proved that. Later, even the humbug wizard gained magic. You have to read Baum’s Oz books to learn how. Yet the man-behind-the-curtain notion is still pervasive in our day and age.

We live in a cynical age. We’re used to reality TV and news reports that take us “behind the curtain” by debunking magic acts or exposing as frauds politicians and authors who claim they’re telling a “true” story while making up key facts. We’re tired of the lies, aren’t we? If there’s a man behind the curtain, we want to know!

Sometimes we take this mindset to the books we read. As adults we learn to “put away childish things” like believing there are fairies in our backyard or that dogs can talk in order to embrace reality. That’s why we categorize fairy tales and other such stories as stories of childhood, rather than for adults. If we happen to pick up a fantasy book, the use of magic is severely scrutinized, slapped with a deus ex machina label, or written off as “convenient” if it doesn’t seem “realistic” enough to suit our adult sensibilities.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanYou know what? I for one have had quite enough of the search for the man behind the curtain. This doesn’t mean I plan to bury my head in the sand and totally ignore reality or reality-based fiction. It means I’m going to continue to unabashedly cherish those stories that take me to magical places or to ordinary places that seem magical, and then try my best to offer that kind of journey through my own writing. The stories I loved as a child I still love as an adult. Grimm’s Fairy Tales has a prominent place on my shelf, not hidden underneath the bookcase out of fear that someone will check my bookshelves and ask about what I’m reading. I’m a firm believer in story magic. I love miraculous escapes and magical derring-do. And many of you do too. I wasn’t the only adult reading Harry Potter’s adventures.

I love the fact that authors like J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Holly Black, Juliet Marillier, Jaclyn Moriarty, Charles Yallowitz, Caroline Carlson, K. L. Schwengel and many others are unapologetic in the use of magic in their stories. If you haven’t already, you might check out Moriarty’s Colors of Madeleine series; Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere series; Carlson’s The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series; or K. L. Schwengel’s Darkness & Light series.

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Or consider stories like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, The September books by Catherynne Valente, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and other books that remind you of the magic (and sometimes sadness) of childhood. Be willing to suspend your disbelief and leave your cynicism at the door as you take a journey through these pages.

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Do you believe in magic? I do. I still believe in the power of stories to transform us and transport us to unforgettable places. Do you?

Oz photo from takaiguchi.com. Book covers from Goodreads.

A Public Declaration in Favor of Fantasy

I’m Laura Linney, your host for a new season of Masterpiece Classics. Except I’m not really Laura Linney. But don’t change the channel just because I’m not. I felt the post warranted an authoritative air.

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The real Laura Linney

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time (five seconds will do it), you’ll discern that I’m a fantasy fan. I read fantasy. I write fantasy. I read and appreciate other genres and have written other types of fiction. Nonfiction too. But I gravitate to fantasy like a moth gravitates to a light fixture. I’ve written about my need for fairy tales, now it’s time to go on record that the greater genre umbrella—speculative fiction, specifically fantasy—is my genre of choice.

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You might say I already made that abundantly clear when I wrote about fairy tales. I would say I haven’t, because I’ve run across a few who, based on their suggestions about what my next fiction project should be, still hold out hope that I’ll someday snap out of this fantasy obsession and write something else. Sorry. You’re in for a long wait. . . . But feel free to send chocolate just in case.

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I first declared my commitment to fantasy back in my undergrad days. Those were challenging days, since we often had to hide from marauding dinosaurs. Early in the morning I would grab my trusty club and brave the wilds on my way to my writing core classes. Back then, saying you wrote fantasy usually garnered you the type of look Oliver Twist received when he asked for more gruel at the workhouse. Of course that was before even cuneiform writing was discovered. I was ahead of my time.

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A typical day at school . . .

Over the years, I’ve heard people complain about fantasy and cite the unpronounceable names, weird animals, and “fantastic” situations as reasons why they “can’t get into fantasy.” One of my ex-coworkers from years back said, “The stories are too made up.”

28876Last time I checked, all fiction stories are “made up.” Otherwise, they would be nonfiction. But I take the meaning. Fantasy stories are a clarion call to the imagination. A skilled fantasy writer snatches you off to an imaginary world and makes you believe this world is as real as your own. Or perhaps the writer skews our world a little differently by the addition of a fantastic element. (For example, dragons in the Napoleonic era ala Naomi Novik’s series.)

If you read Andra Watkins’s April 18 post on the effects of sustained reading on the brain, you came across this article: “How Reading Lights Up Your Mind” by Christy Matta. The article cites two fantasy realms: C. S. Lewis’s Narnia and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. If you’ve read these authors’ series, I don’t have to say much to get you to picture in your mind some aspect of these worlds. You’re already there, aren’t you, roaming the roads in search of Aslan, Mr. Tumnus, hobbits, or elves. Perhaps you’re thinking of ways to dodge or defeat orcs. This is the type of mental firing the article discusses.

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C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien

If you’re not a fan of fantasy, I get it. You don’t want to be proselytized any more than I want to be told what I should be writing. You don’t care that George R. R. Martin, Catherynne Valente, Brandon Sanderson, N. K. Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin, Patricia A. McKillip, and others are critically acclaimed, award-winning fantasy authors. (And let’s not forget a writer named J. K. Rowling. You may have heard of her.) Maybe for you, even science fiction is more palatable because its roots in science point to a semblance of rules and measurable boundaries. Even if the action takes place “in a galaxy far, far away,” a galaxy entirely made up, the story seems believable to you because our solar system is situated in a galaxy (the Milky Way) and men and rovers have traveled to the moon and Mars respectively. Maybe you have a cousin at Cal Tech studying jet propulsion who helps you wrap your head around the possibilities of warp speed.

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I’ve made peace with the fact that if you think fantasy is icky poo, maybe you wouldn’t crack open a book of mine out of fear that you’ll find some unpronounceable name or a weird creature—a justifiable fear, since you will find both. If so, you’ll miss all the fun I’m having, because fantasy writing is mind-blowingly fun. It’s like being a kid watching clouds and imagining that she sees all kinds of things. But beyond the whimsical aspect of writing, there’s also the need to ground the story, to provide frames of reference to help readers understand the world and relate aspects to what they know. That’s the hard part.

So knowing that, maybe our paths will cross someday on the pages once I finish the book and send it out into the world. See? I’m truly a fantasy writer if I believe that maybe someone who dislikes fantasy will look my way. I can dream, can’t I?

A good post on the fantasy genre: http://childliterature.net/childlit/fantasy/

Laura Linney photo from celebs.com. Tolkien photo from the-hobbitmovie.com. Lewis photo from pjcockrell.wordpress.com. N. K. Jemisin photo from opionator.wordpress.com. T-rex from animaltheory.blogspot.com. Chocolate truffles from thefoodsite.net. Fantasy creature from findwallpaper.info.

Check This Out: 52 Dates for Writers

Once again, I am interrupting the Space Series, this time to bring you this awesome author: Claire Wingfield. Claire’s book is 52 Dates for Writers. For those of you who will participate in NaNoWriMo, you’ll find this a great way to stay inspired. One of you will have a chance to win this Kindle ebook. But first, let’s talk to Claire.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Claire: I live in the great literary city of Edinburgh—the first UNESCO City of Literature—with my husband and book-loving toddler. I work as an editor and writing consultant, supporting writers at different stages in completing their manuscripts and developing their craft. I studied English Literature at Cambridge University’s Downing College, where writer P. D. James also studied. She kindly submitted an article to a student magazine I launched. One of my first jobs in publishing was as a reader for a book production company, and I remain painfully aware of how mistakes can creep in right until the end of the publishing process!

El Space: Please tell us how you came to write 52 Dates for Writers. How did your background make you uniquely suited to write it?
Claire: The ideas in 52 Dates for Writers: Ride a Tandem, Assume an Alias and 50 Other Ways to Improve Your Novel Draft stem from my one-to-one work with writers over many years. Many of the exercises are those I devised to help writers solve real problems in their manuscripts. I decided to bring the material into book format during a period of maternity leave, and following the suggestion of one of my writers.

10569El Space: At this post about Stephen King’s craft book On Writing (“Stephen King’s 20 Tips for Becoming a Frighteningly Good Writer”), we learn:

Where other writing books are focused on the mechanics of the written word, King shows you how to capture the joy of the craft. You’ll find yourself wanting to write, not because of fame or fortune, but because it’s fun, and there’s nothing else you would rather do.

How does your book encourage the joy of writing?
Claire: 52 Dates for Writers is all about encouraging writers to be playful. Play is so important to creativity, but increasingly there can be so much pressure in day-to-day life that I found even the writers I worked with needed an antidote to this. Each writing date is almost like a workshop environment—giving writers the chance to experiment with different facets of their writing—from voice and style to the format and structure of their piece—away from the screen or written draft, and then return to work with new ideas, a refreshed approach, or simply the desire to keep writing.

The experiences themselves are designed to be fun—from completing a hi-tech treasure hunt to help readers think about the order of revelation in their novel, to climbing a hill or riding a ferris wheel in order to experiment with perspective. There are plenty of simple tasks like cooking a luxurious meal to work on refreshment scenes, which can often suffer from underwriting, as well as many which encourage the reader to try something entirely new.

6867The dates are an invitation to writers to escape their desks and engage in challenging and enjoyable tasks, often bringing new light on an area of their writing. They each provide space away from the daily grind to workshop a particular area of a draft, plus fresh and unexpected inspiration, all backed with rigorous theory in the form of a series of mini essays on the craft of writing. There are also fun examples from well-known novels to accompany the dates, such as the plot of Atonement laid out as a maze.

Those who are new to writing will find plenty of prompts and inspiration, showing there are as many different ways into a fresh piece of writing as there are those of us willing to write.

El Space: What author or authors have you read recently who seem to capture the joy of writing? How so?
Claire: I read a lot with my son right now, and am really enjoying revisiting the stories of Dr. Seuss. So inventive and playful with language. We’ve also just acquired a book by Neil Gaiman called Chu’s Day—about a panda with a very big sneeze, which has my son in fits of laughter, so certainly captures the joy of reading for both of us.

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El Space: What are you working on now?
Claire: I’m currently working on the second in the series—52 Missions for Children’s Writers—Learn a Circus Skill, Go out in Disguise, and 50 other Ways to Inspire your Children’s Novel whilst continuing to have the pleasure of working with a host of talented and committed writers. I’m working on a section called “Eat Jelly for Breakfast” right now—which is proving very enjoyable!

El Space: What writing tip would you offer a writer going through writer’s block?
Claire: 52 Dates for Writers is all about preventing writer’s block, but for starters, try to recall what first sparked your passion for what you are writing, and incorporate something from that into your writing life. If it was a place you haven’t visited for a while, pay it a fresh visit, or if it is a place you visit every day, try varying your journey. If it was a strong opinion that motivated you, try embracing the opposite point of view for a week—the clash of ideas may just get your project moving again. Or take your writing outside and tackle the part of the novel you’re most afraid of—that niggling problem you’ve not got around to fixing, but know you must. Be playful in your solutions—push your story further than you or your reader ever expected.

Thanks, Claire, for being my guest!

You can find Claire at her Goodreads author page here. Claire’s book is available right now at Amazon. One of you, however, will win a copy just by commenting. Since I’m hosting two giveaways this week, the winners will be announced on Saturday, November 1. Thanks to all who stopped by!

Book covers from Goodreads.

Hopelessly Devoted

If you’re an Olivia Newton-John fan, you recognized that the title is part of the title of a song she sang on the Grease soundtrack—“Hopelessly Devoted to You.” And perhaps right now, that song is going through your head like it’s going through mine. If that bugs you, I’m sorry. Let’s move on. (Unless you really want to hear the song. Here’s a link to a video.)

A fairweather-fan isn’t exactly brimming with hopeless devotion. More than likely, you know a fair-weather fan or two. They come out in droves when a team is winning and readily buy the T-shirts and bumper stickers. But when a team is in a slump, they’re nowhere to be found.

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That’s why I have to admire fans of the Chicago Cubs. In the past years, when the team failed to bring home a championship, the fans still cheered.

In 2005, when the White Sox won the World Series, a Chicago Cubs fan admitted to me that he still couldn’t cheer for the Sox. After all, he was a Cubs fan. Though a Sox fan, I understood his dedication to the Cubs. I also understood my need to gloat.

Recently author Robin LaFevers wrote an article entitled, “On Discipline, Dedication, and Devotion” for Writer Unboxed. It was kind of her to write it, since I had planned to write this post on the subject. Now I can be lazy and piggyback off what she wrote. Thank you, Robin. You might read Robin’s post here, especially since she explains the difference between discipline, dedication, and devotion to writing.

I can’t help latching on to this quote from that post:

When we are devoted to something, there simply are few things on earth we’d rather do or spend our time with. It’s not just about what you want to say or create, but involves the very act of creating itself.

Lately, I’ve been evaluating whether I’m disciplined, dedicated, or devoted in my writing. If I’m devoted, to what exactly am I devoted? Though I’ve read and loved many kinds of fiction, I’ve generally felt a pull toward fantasy writing. I’ve never been to LeakyCon (the Harry Potter convention), the Discworld convention, or Comic-Con though. Some devoted fans might say I’m not devoted enough to fantasy. (I try to go to the Bristol Renaissance Faire each year, however.)

Those devoted to a team, a person, or to something else they consider dear sometimes test the devotion of others who profess a similar interest. If you’re truly devoted, you’ll hit all of the benchmarks of devotion. This is very true of fantasy fans.

Whenever I mention a love for fantasy, I’m generally asked, “Have you read George R. R. Martin’s series? Tolkien’s books? Tad Williams’s books? Robert Jordan’s/Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time? Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series? Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series? Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind or The Wise Man’s Fear? Harry Potter? [No one ever asks, “Have you read J. K. Rowling’s series?” It’s always, “Have you read Harry Potter?”] Kristin Cashore’s series? Rick Riordan’s series? Any of Jasper Fforde’s series? Anything by Neil Gaiman, Patricia McKillip, Lois McMaster Bujold, George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, or Juliet Marillier?” These are “benchmark” fantasy authors and series. And there are many others, of course (like Raymond Feist, Sharon Shinn, and Garth Nix for example). Though I’ve read books by all of the above (um, I quit at book 7 for Wheel of Time; I’ll probably return to it at some point), I still have to question whether I’m dedicated or devoted in light of Robin’s definition. After all, I’m not just a reader of fantasy. I’m a writer of it.

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I look at a writer like Charles Yallowitz, and I see devotion. He has his Legends of Windemere site and series (two of his books are shown below) and poetry, and already planned several other books in the series. On his blog, he regularly talks about his characters and magic and includes excerpts from his books and character sketches. He writes guest posts for other blogs as well. See? That’s devotion.

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And then there are the participants in the WIPpet Wednesdays, hosted by K. L. Schwengel. Many post excerpts from more than one fantasy novel.

Do I have that level of devotion? If I allow myself to be stopped by rejections, procrastination, or anything else, I can’t say that I do. Take for instance the other day. Instead of continuing to work on the magic system for my novel—a necessary activity—I sat and played Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns. Why? Because I had a moment of self-doubt. Finally, disgusted with myself, I quit procrastinating and returned to the world building. And you know what? I felt better.

That incident prompts me to ask myself: Am I dedicated or devoted to my own series? Or, am I content to be entertained by the hard efforts of other people (like Charles or Lois or J. K. Rowling)? What about you? Are you disciplined, dedicated, or devoted? To what? How do you show it?

Book covers from Goodreads.

Let’s Get Graphic

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In the comments section of my last post, I threatened to write a post about graphic novels. Here it is. If graphic novels aren’t your thing, I’ll save you the trouble and give you the punch line: It fits the theme of the last post.

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I grew up reading comic books. But I have my father to thank for my love of comics in general. He always read the comics in the newspaper. Following in his footsteps, I read them too. So, it’s only natural that I would gravitate to the graphic novel. I haven’t written one, though I’m a fan of the form. If you saw my bookshelves and living room floor, you’d believe that instantly.

Years ago, while searching on Amazon for graphic novels, I was surprised at how appalled some individuals were that authors like Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs wrote graphic novels for their urban fantasy series for adults. (I have one of Jim Butcher’s graphic novels on my shelf—Welcome to the Jungle, illustrated by Ardian Syaf.) Some individuals voiced their complaints, which boiled down to “graphic novels are just comics” or “graphic novels are for kids.” Expressions of disdain.

Because I grew up in a house with an adult who loved comics, I’ve never understood the prejudice against them. I admit I’m biased about them, since at one point I wanted to be an illustrator. But I’ve never thought of comic books or graphic novels as solely “for kids.”

6493842I’m not certain what age range is meant when commenters talk of kids and graphic novels. Middle grade kids or younger? Many graphic novels were written for kids, including
• Jeff Smith’s Bone series
• The Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon
• The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (He’s the illustrator of the new covers for the Harry Potter series.)
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel—an adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, illustrated by Hope Larson
Sidekicks by Dan Santat
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis
Cardboard by Doug Tennapel

And there are many others. By the way, the Bone series won 10 Eisners, which Wikipedia describes as “the Comics Industry’s equivalent of the Oscar Awards.” It also won 11 Harvey Awards. I had to look those up:

The Harveys recognize outstanding achievements in over 20 categories, ranging from Best Artist to the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame. They are the only industry awards both nominated by and selected by the full body of comic book professionals.

Telgemeier also was nominated for an Eisner, but for another of her graphic novels—Smile.

118944Perhaps teens are the audience some would assign to graphic novels. Many graphic novels were written for young adults, including
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

And there are many others. 472331But I can’t believe anyone with the “graphic novels are just for kids” belief has ever cracked open Watchmen written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons (or basically any other graphic novel by Alan Moore); Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series; Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli or any other Frank Miller graphic novel; Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi; Blankets or Habibi by Craig Thompson; or the Fables series by Bill Willingham. And I certainly can’t believe anyone who would sneer at graphic novels as if they were a lower life-form has ever read Watchmen, which appears on some best novels lists, or American Born Chinese, which won the Printz Award in 2007—the award for best young adult novel.

Perhaps the graphic novels’ position in the library leads some to conclude that they’re “just for kids.” At the library close to me, graphic novels are shelved in the teen section.

Anyway, I can understand that graphic novels are an acquired taste. Either you like them or you don’t. But why put down a hard-working author/illustrator team simply because they elected to add another form to broaden the appeal of a series? Is the belief that graphic novels add to the “dumbing down” factor of this country (and I’ve heard that opinion expressed in regard to some colleges which have courses on graphic novels) at the root of the prejudice toward them? I’m not really sure. So, I’m asking you. Have you heard anyone voice this opinion? What’s your belief?

Book covers from Goodreads