Okay, so it’s the UK’s National Short Story Week, and I’ve only just snuck in at the end of the week, but still! To celebrate, we’ve started a new page on FableCroft’s site to host free fiction showcasing FableCroft’s publications. Check out what’s there, and come back regularly to see what we’ve added!
As a secondary school teacher librarian by trade, and a passionate lover of YA fiction by heart, I am frequently asked by other library staff and readers for recommendations of young adult fiction that features protagonists who are not necessarily white, straight or able-bodied. So many of our students and reading clientele experience life through a lens that is different to what the majority of YA fiction presents as “normal”, and it’s just heartbreaking to have so little to offer with a protagonist outside of this range.
I read extensively. I have judged for several Australian awards, both within the speculative fiction field and the general Young Adult and Children’s area. It’s far too rarely I come across a protagonist who is disabled, or queer, or mentally ill, or simply not from a white European background, and I even more impressed when the aspect of “difference” (such as it may be) is not THE plot of the book, but rather is simply an aspect of the character.
It’s possible publishing is improving in this area. We do see more lesbian and gay and other non-straight, non-cis gendered characters in our YA fiction, though more frequently as the “best friend” or other secondary role than the protagonist. We are coming across more inclusion of disability (physical and intellectual) or mental illness in stories, though again, less frequently as the main character. Love it or hate it, television shows such as Glee demonstrate to market forces that non-straight, non-white, non-able bodied characters don’t negatively impact on the popularity of a franchise. And the more books like Eon (Alison Goodman), Pantomime (Laura Lam), Guardian of the Dead and The Shattering (Karen Healey), Nightsiders (Sue Isle), Hunger (Jackie Morse Kessler), The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (Ambelin Kwaymullina), Ash (and others, Malindo Lo), Liar (Justine Larbalestier), and Akata Witch (Nnedi Okorafor) that are published and sell well, the more chance there is of more books featuring protagonists other than those who are straight, white able-bodied and mentally well.
And here is a project that aims to do just that. Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy stories. Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios are co-editing the anthology, which has a planned release date of August, 2014. Right now, Alisa and Julia are running a Pozible fundraising campaign to make the project happen. If you want to see more diversity in YOUR Young Adult fantasy and science fiction, I recommend it to you.
Realised I started this post some months ago but somehow forgot to finish it! A few random links that are pertinent to our interests
Kathleen Jennings shares some sketches related to her wonderful story in One Small Step, “Ella and the Flame”.
Zena Shapter interviews editor Tehani Wessely about the editing process.
Joanne Anderton talks about the story behind The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories at Upcoming4Me.
A few days ago, DK Mok (whose excellent story “Morning Star” closes out the One Small Step anthology), wrote a guest post for SF Signal. We have such knowledgeable and talented authors here at FableCroft! DK’s post looks at humour in fantasy, and why it is so tricky to do well but why it’s good to do!
Humour can be a tough sell. It might take a reader several chapters to realise that a dramatic novel isn’t to their taste, but in a light-hearted novel, the first pun can be a dealbreaker. It’s the exquisitely subjective nature of humour that makes it such a tricky element to handle. A reader who loves Hogfather might loathe Red Dwarf. Someone might find Douglas Adams thigh-slappingly hilarious, but Piers Anthony leaves them cringing. Reading a mediocre drama might be boring, but reading a mediocre comedy can be excruciating.
In other news, Dave Versace gave One Small Step a great review on Goodreads – among other things, he says: Smart, heartfelt and a little bit otherworldly. Thanks Dave!
A little while ago, FableCroft author Faith Mudge guest posted at SF Signal on the topic “Feminism in Fairytales”. Faith’s excellent story “Oracle’s Tower” (in To Spin a Darker Stair) is a very clever reworking of a traditional tale, and her beautiful piece in One Small Step also subverts fairytale tropes. Faith blogs frequently on fairytales at her own blog, and she really knows her stuff! From the article:
I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but I’m pretty sure 2012 was the Year of the Fairy Tale. There wasn’t an official announcement or anything, but the nod was clearly given in secret circles and the retellings spread outwards like ripples on the waters of speculative fiction. Novels such as Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, Sophie Masson’s Moonlight and Ashes and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder were released, there were big movie adaptations Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, there was even a TV series. Hell, there were two TV series! I’m a fiend for fairy tales; I was in paradise. And I was seriously impressed by the ingenuity of all these storytellers for finding something new to say about stories that have been retold over so many years.
But there was also a bitter aftertaste that’s been bothering me for some time. It was so subtle, and so pervasive, that it is difficult to pin down when exactly I first noticed it – in the reviews? The promotional interviews? The posts I read afterwards? What I noticed was this: that when people spoke about a fairy tale adaptation, the assumption was that it would be better than the original. Specifically, that the women would be better.
I highly recommend the post to you, if you’re at all interested in the resurgence of fairytale retellings in all media, and particularly the portrayal of women in these.
Came across this via Marianne de Pierres today – a fledgling movement, but one I support wholeheartedly. In fact, the WA School Library Association is already working towards this goal in some ways. The more people who agitate for speakers and authors to visit our side of the island, the more chance people will listen!
Let’s not forget our local writers either though – we’ve got some great ones!
Tehani asked me if I could post about writing for children and young adults. Though I’ve written a lot of books (27, in fact) and most of them are read by young adults, I’ve never written a book specifically for that age group, so this post will focus more on what I know about writing for children.
I’m best known for a long epic fantasy sequence set in the Three Worlds, though in recent years I’ve also written three quartets for younger readers – the Sorcerer’s Tower, Runcible Jones and Grim and Grimmer series’. However, writing for children covers a vast range of ages, abilities and interests, and each of my children’s quartets has been aimed at a different audience. I always keep the audience in mind while writing, and each series had to be written differently.
The Sorcerer’s Tower books, published in 2008, were part of Scholastic’s illustrated Fantastica series for mid-primary readers (the other quartets in this series were written by Kim Wilkins, Fiona McIntosh and Richard Harland) and were only 10,000 words each. My books were illustrated by DM Cornish, incidentally, and he did a magical job. For such a young audience I restricted the stories to a handful of characters, linear story lines, only one viewpoint, simple language, and of course concepts suitable for this age group.
You might think that such little books would be easy to write, but I found them a real challenge. In one sense they were easier – being much shorter, I could keep the whole story and all the characters in mind while writing each book. This isn’t possible in an epic fantasy quartet which can total 800,000 words or more, and where every editing task, even getting all the inconsistencies out, is a cosmic labour. On the other hand, big fantasy novels offer the writer more freedom, because readers are more tolerant of diversions and many fans love huge, complex plots. For children, however, the writing has to be tight, focused and clear.
Because I was used to writing the epic Three Worlds novels, it wasn’t easy to adjust my writing style to small, simple books. Simple can be surprisingly difficult to write – you have to create engaging characters, with a degree of complexity, and tell an exciting, fast-paced story, within a very small canvas. However reviewers and librarians have said that the Sorcerer’s Tower books are ideal for reluctant readers in primary school, and I’m delighted that they’ve encouraged some children to read who might otherwise have not done so. In doing these books I also learned a tremendous amount about writing economically, and that’s changed the way I’ve written since.
My first children’s series was Runcible Jones (published 2006-2010). These are much longer works, written for 9-14 year olds but also read by YA and adults. Here I could write more complex stories with strongly developed characters, though I still simplified the language, used a single viewpoint character and avoided ‘adult concepts’ such as sex, graphic violence, crude language, and strong crime and horror. These are okay in YA literature (with some limits) but rarely acceptable in children’s books. I spent a long time developing the story world for this series – an Earth where magic is illegal twinned with the world of Iltior where science is banned but magic routine – though in retrospect I think the canvas was too broad, the story world too large. Also, at 105,000 words each, these books were a bit long for the target audience. 60 – 80,000 words is the ideal length for younger readers, because a lot of children are daunted by the size of big books.
Why did I want to take time off from my very successful epic fantasies to write for children anyway? Good question. The eleven books of the Three Worlds sequence run to 2.3 million words and, though I love doing them, they’re mentally and creatively exhausting. At the end of each series I need a writing escape and after the last, The Song of the Tears, was finished in 2008 I longed to write something completely different. And much shorter.
Another reason – if a writer only ever does one kind of book, he or she tends to become typecast by both publisher and readers. Readers are reluctant to read something quite different by that writer, and publishers understandably reluctant to publish it. For this reason, all my writing life I’ve alternated epic fantasy with other kinds of books, to give me the flexibility to write whatever I feel like (within reason).
After finishing Song of the Tears, I wrote a proposal for a series of relatively short, humorous adventure stories called Grim and Grimmer (published by Scholastic in 2010 and 2011). Each book was to be around 25,000 words, and aimed at readers 8-13. This was going to be a real challenge because I’d never written humour before – well, not intentionally! – and wasn’t sure I could do it. It would be highly embarrassing if my attempts were unfunny.
I’d also noticed that, while there are plenty of humorous books for children, and plenty of adventure fantasy too, there aren’t many books that successfully combine humour with a strong, compelling plot. The really successful series that do both, such as Artemis Fowl, Skulduggery Pleasant and Bartimaeus, are for older readers. A gap in the market, I thought, ha!
I originally planned six of these books though, in the middle of the global financial crisis, my publisher could only commit to four. However when it was time to write them, Scholastic wanted longer books, 40,000 words or more each, and I was happy to make this change because the added length offered more scope for the stories I was developing. Such is the give and take in developing a series.
There’s oodles of fantasy adventure around for this age group and, for the Grim and Grimmers to succeed, I had to find a way to make them stand out. This wasn’t going to be easy, since they’re set in a fairly traditional world of children’s fantasy, with stock characters like goblins, trolls, dwarves and so forth. Don Maass (a top NY agent) wrote, in The Fire in Fiction, that most stories his agency sees fail because they’re too familiar, too bland, and too much the same as all the others. It’s the same with characters – most characters fail not because of too much exaggeration, but too little. And exaggeration and hyperbole is particularly important in writing humour, so I decided to indulge my zany side for once. I also acknowledge the assistance of John Vorhaus’ The Comic Toolbox here. It’s not just the best book on writing humour, it’s better than all the others put together.
To make stereotypical characters fresh, I twisted the stereotypes. My goblins are still greedy and calculating, but in Grim and Grimmer the entire goblin nation is under an enchantment that drives their flaws out of control – they’re so obsessed with gambling that they neglect their homes, children, personal hygiene and even the kingdom itself. The mournful goblin king, Dibblin the Doughty, constantly accepts responsibility for everything that’s gone wrong in his kingdom, then turns back to the gaming table without doing anything. The villainous Aigo bets on whether Useless Ike (the hero of the series) will survive various deadly ordeals he puts him through.
The dwarf Con Glomryt (all the dwarves are named after rock types), who challenges Ike to a contest, isn’t a typical dwarf warrior with an axe and chain mail, but a gold-toothed, smirking conman who resembles the lowest form of TV game show host. The huge, handsome demon Tonsil is as dumb as a doughnut and sweats crude oil by the barrel – he’s a real fire hazard at a party! The apparently kindly old lady, Fluffia Tralalee, who lives in a cave carpeted in pink shag pile, with fluffy bunny wallpaper, turns out to be a bloodthirsty old bat with an armoury big enough to start World War 3. And Tonsil’s sister, the demon Spleen, specialises in psychological pain. She doesn’t just get inside Ike’s head, she actually puts her head inside his head (via another plane), to identify his secret terrors and see how to best torment him. And so on for the entire cast of characters.
But were the books funny, you ask. Well, they had lots of reviews and all the reviewers thought so. Writing these books was the first time I really let go, and it was worth it. Grim and Grimmer is the most fun I’ve ever had writing, and I’m sorry that the series is finished.
However, epic fantasy calls. I’m presently doing the final edits for Vengeance, book one of a brand new series, The Tainted Realm, out in Australia in November and the UK and US in 2012.
Ian Irvine is a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia’s national guidelines for the protection of the marine environment and still works in this field. He has also written 27 novels, including the internationally bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence, an eco-thriller trilogy and twelve books for children. Website: http://www.ian-irvine.com/
On his Facebook author site, Ian is giving away three sets of his trilogies and quartets every week for the whole of 2011, plus other great prizes. To celebrate the publication of Vengeance, there’ll be another iPad2 giveaway later in the year.
To enter any of the comps, go to http://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author.
The thoroughly delightful, ridiculously talented Tansy Rayner Roberts shares her thoughts on the difference between male and female fantasy writers.
Tehani is totally trying to trap me into saying something controversial, by requesting a post about the difference between male and female writing in fantasy.
Since I first started reading Proper Grownup Fantasy at the age of thirteen, I noticed women writers and sought them out. Not necessarily because their writing offered something that male writing didn’t, but because – well. Maybe it did. I find myself drawn to female voices, though a book has to offer me far more than just a female byline to capture my attention.
As a reader, I particularly love deep characterisation and unusual takes on gender roles, and frocks, and humour, and smutty bits, and strange magic, and to be honest I’m far more interested in the stories that happen inside the castle walls than outside of them. None of those things are exclusive to women’s writing, but why shouldn’t I seek it out there? Why shouldn’t I assume that I’m more likely to find what I want in a book by a woman than a book by a man?
After all, it seems pretty clear that there are a huge number of readers who only seek out what they think they want in a novel from books with a male name on the cover. And I think that’s very depressing. Also, as a woman who occasionally reviews books, I do think it’s very important for me to single out and discuss books by women – or rather, as someone who reads a lot of women, I think it’s important that I keep reviewing books, as my small attempt to be part of the solution rather than the problem.
The truth is that we all filter our reading, before we even pick up a book. We use all manner of filters: what we know of that author already, what we’ve heard about their work, what we think of the cover. Gender bias often plays a part in that too. I do tend to assume that with a male fantasy author, I’m more likely to get an abundance of fight scenes, and not enough chatting over breakfast scenes, but that’s a completely unfair assumption. (look at David Eddings, his books were PRACTICALLY ALL BREAKFAST CHATTING, remember Breakfast of Magicians? It was between Queen of Elevenses and Tower of Gossip and Stew).
Some of my favourite books ever involving swords are by women: Jennifer Roberson, Ellen Kushner, Tamora Pierce. Some of my favourite books involving witty dialogue, smutty bits and pretty clothes are written by men: Simon R Green, Kim Newman, Neil Gaiman. Some books (the best books ever) have both of these things! I certainly don’t assume that a woman is going to automatically produce all the things I love best in books.
But on the other hand: female voices, I am drawn to them. I seek them out, I tend to enjoy books which have them far more than books which don’t, and I choose not to feel guilty about that.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of Power and Majesty (Creature Court Book One) and The Shattered City (Creature Court Book Two, April 2011) with
Reign of Beasts (Creature Court Book Three, coming in November 2011) hot on its tail. Her short story collection Love and Romanpunk will be published as part of the Twelfth Planet Press “Twelve Planets” series in May.
This post comes to you as part of Tansy’s Mighty Slapdash Blog Tour, and comes with a cookie fragment of new release The Shattered City:
Roast goat. Someone had said something about roast goat. Velody followed her nose to the spit, where two lads were slashing strips off the beast, layering them up on platters for the crowd. She found a dish of the rarest slices, oozing blood, and ate ravenously, licking her fingers. “Love a demme with an appetite,” leered one of the goat lads.
Velody wiped a smear of blood from her chin. “Don’t we all?”
Fresh meat was a rare extravagance, and her body thrummed with it as she turned back to face the crowd. The music slid under her skin, and she could feel Ashiol’s presence nearby. She could not see him in the crowd, but his animor sparked against her own, bringing mixed sensations of security and lust. You don’t want him, she told herself sternly. It’s the meat making you crazy.
FableCroft has been able to donate books to two fundraising initiatives besides our own After the Rain ebook fundraiser. The first is the Authors for Queensland auction (which closes tonight!) and the second is the QLD Writers Centre “Writers on Rafts” raffle. More details!
About Writers on Rafts
Writers on Rafts is an initiative of Queensland Writers Centre and author Rebecca Sparrow to raise money for the Queensland Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal. More than 150 Australian authors, including you, have pledged prizes.
- To enter Writers on Rafts go to http://www.writersonrafts.com
- Purchase as many tickets as you like in as many categories as you want!
- Every ticket is one chance to win for a lucky person in every state and territory.
- very dollar goes directly to the Queensland Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal to help victims of the Queensland floods.
- QWC’s goal is to raise $10,000 through Writers On Rafts.
- We will be conducting the draw on Friday, 25 February.
What you can do to help? Shout about it!
Tweet about it, spread the word on Facebook, your website, your email networks. If every author who has pledged support for Writers on Rafts inspires just 10 of their readers and fans to enter, we will be well on our way to our fundraising target.
We will be taking advantage of both social media and traditional media channels to promote Writers on Rafts.
Where can I get more info?
The initiative is being coordinated by Queensland Writers Centre, but because our own building (the State Library of Queensland) has been affected by flood, we are currently not able to access our offices to answer the phone, so please use email for now.
On Wednesday November 10, 2010, I was invited to speak to a group of NaNoWriMo participants as part of three Rockingham City Council sponsored NaNo Cafes. It was a great pleasure to be able to chat with local NaNo nuts. I’ve reproduced below some of the topics we talked about.
Know your market
If you have never read a book by a publisher you want to sign with, or an anthology by an editor you’d like to submit to, how can you possibly know what sort of thing they are looking for? What standard of work they are publishing? What quirks they may have as an editor that you could work to? Subscribe to a magazine you aspire to, buy an anthology by an editor you’re interested in, read novels from interesting publishers. While you’re at it, check out reputable awards in the genre you write, both Australian and international, and see the standard of the very best being published.
And not just in your preferred genre, although that’s important too. Side note: I know of authors who say they never read in the genre they write in, which I find unfathomable – how can you know as a writer what tropes are being done to death if you never read your contemporaries, and how can you write successfully without knowing the roots of your genre? Back to the point. Read widely in other genres too. Some of the very best stories draw on influences from a wide variety of literature.
Make time to write
Once thing that NaNoWriMo does for authors is make them find time to write. The most frequent excuse I hear from (people who want to be) writers is “But I just don’t have time to write!” Here’s a scoop for you – no-one “has” time to write. People MAKE time to write. I know authors who get up at 4am to write, before they start their “real” day. Others disappear on writing retreats with no internet, no phones, no distractions, taking their holidays to write. If you WANT to write, you have to find the time to, and sometimes that means making choices about what you give up in order to get that time. Give up television, wake up an hour early each day, turn off the internet for an hour a day – find your “disposable time” and use it better.
Research your work
You don’t always have to write what you know but make sure you know what you write! Side note: don’t make the Bryce Courtenay mistake of making fiction sound like non fiction. Fact should underpin the story, not dominate it. And yes, fact applies to spec fic too. Back to the point. If you’re writing about horses but the closest you’ve come to a horse is the carousel at the park, first hand experience can’t be topped. Visit stables, farms, take some riding lessons if you can. If that’s not practical, talk to someone who has worked with horses. If you can’t manage that, at the very least, extensively research your topic! Don’t rely on the work of other fiction writers to inform your information – maybe THEY didn’t know a horse from a sheep either!
Give manuscripts time before revising
It’s amazing how many changes you’ll make if you let a manuscript sit for a few weeks or months before pulling it out and giving it a polish. You’ll find errors you’d missed, ways to tighten the story, places where the dialogue clunks and so much more. Time really gives you an opportunity to distance yourself from your baby before giving it another going over.
And speaking of polishing…
Draft. When you NaNo, the 50,000 words you produce are a draft. They are not, and never should be, a finished product. No-one writes perfectly the first time round and many great writers do three, four, five or more COMPLETE revisions of works before them deem them good enough to send out to a publisher. And then they wait for the revisions and edits suggested by the editor, should the manuscript be accepted.
Okay, this one is a more for short stories; I don’t know many novellists who do it! Reading your work aloud forces you to read what is actually on the page, rather than what you THINK is on the page. There is a difference. You’ll find typos, incorrect punctuation, clunky prose and, most especially, dodgy dialogue. Well worth the time.
Read submission guidelines
They are there for a reason. Submission guidelines tell you what the editor/publisher is looking for. If they call for urban fantasy, don’t send hard scifi. If it’s a romance publisher, don’t send them a paranormal. Check length restrictions/requirements. Double check reading periods and put them in your calendar. Accept the fact that some markets won’t be suitable for your manuscript and look for ones that are. And related to this…
Keep track of your submissions
Check market/agent websites for usual submission times and query after that period – subs do go astray, but editors are busy people and don’t want to be answering your query two days after submissions close when the information about the reading process is easily accessible on their website.
And a final few points
* Good stories are part idea, part talent and mostly sheer hard work. Writing isn’t easy, and it’s not always rewarding, but if you’re a writer, you’ll do it anyway.
* Get used to rejection – very very few stories or manuscripts are accepted first go and many never find a home. Don’t take rejection personally – sometimes it’s not actually anything wrong with the story, but it’s just not a good fit for the market. If you’re a writer, you’ll keep revising and submitting. And writing.
* Accept that sometimes your published work will receive bad reviews. Everyone is different and likes different things. Sometimes that means other people won’t like your baby. If you’re a writer, you’ll keep writing.
* Understand that you are your own best publicist … but you can also be your own greatest downfall. Twelfth Planet Press’s Alisa Krasnostein said it better than I could on a post about the perils and positives of social networking and an online presence here. If you’re a writer, you need to keep in mind you have an audience, and continue writing.
A writer is someone who writes, not necessarily for publication. If you find these notes useful, I’m glad. If you disagree with everything I’ve said, I’m okay with that too! Every single writer is different and has different journeys. Some writers are published on their first attempt, others never are (and might not want to be). Each person’s writing process is unique to them, and what works for some may not for others, so these notes may be useful for some, but won’t be for all. I had a great time at the NaNo Cafe, and want to thank Lee Battersby for organising them and thinking of me as one of his speakers.