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!
Thoraiya is the only author to appear in every one of FableCroft’s anthologies, and I had the privilege of publishing her very first story with Andromeda Spaceways, and another early one in New Ceres Nights. You might say I like her work Thoraiya has guest blogged at SF Signal on the topic of “Animals in Fantasy” – as a vet, she knows what she’s on about, and it’s an interesting topic!
From the post:
Prevailing wisdom is that fantastic secondary worlds are generic when they contain ravens, horses and hounds, but as soon as you insert a kangaroo, you jolt the reader out of their suspension of disbelief and rudely bring them crashing back to reality.
Read more at SF Signal!
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.
FableCroft welcomes author Rabia Gale to the blog! I discovered Rabia’s amazing writing via a recommendation from Joanne Anderton, and have since devoured as much of her work as I can get my hands on. Rabia breaks fairy tales and fuses fantasy and science fiction. She loves to write about flawed heroes who never give up, transformation and redemption, and things from outer space. Rabia grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and now lives in Northern Virginia. Visit her online at http://www.rabiagale.com. See the end of the post for a teaser from Rabia’s latest work, Rainbird, (which I’ll be reviewing soon!).
Today, Rabia shares her thoughts on balancing family with writing, something which resonates with me strongly.
Balancing Act: On Raising Both a Family and a Writing Career
Juggling parenting, homeschooling, writing, and publishing is a tricky act—and one that often involves dropped balls, shattered plates, and knives falling all over the place. I can’t claim to be an expert at this, and it doesn’t help that as soon as I have one stage figured out, I’m confronted by something new and unexpected. (I can see the parents out there nodding their heads!)
However, a few attitude adjustments have made it possible for me to fit writing and family life together.
Everything comes in seasons.
I might actually be able to have it all–only not at the same time. Raising my children is my top priority at this season of life. However, in fourteen years they’ll all be adults. I’ll be able channel more of my time and energy into writing and publishing then. Right now, I’m content to fit it into an hour or two a day.
There are also cycles in the shorter-term. There are weeks that I’m going to be busy with family activities, and weeks when I have to put more hours into my writing to meet deadlines. There are days I have to devote to housecleaning, and days that I set aside to deal with administrivia. Understanding these cycles keeps me from getting agitated or down on myself for not being productive in all areas every single day.
My routines are flexible
I always get a lot more writing done during the school year than in the summer because we have a routine. I know when we’re doing math and when we’re studying history, when the kids have gymnastics or taekwondo, what we’re having for dinner, and when I can write. Routines prepare my brain for each activity as it comes up, and free me from having to constantly make decisions about what I’m going to do next.
But we all know that Life Happens. So routines have to be flexible. As I write this, Hurricane Sandy is barreling up the east coast of the United States. Today I took stock of the pantry, filled up bottles (and bathtub) with water, did laundry, and mentally prepared myself for the storm.
I haven’t done a lick of fiction writing. But that’s okay. I know I’ll come back to it.
I’m going for the slow build
I want writing fiction to be my fulltime career when my children leave home.
But I’m laying the groundwork for that now.
Earlier this year, I self-published a collection of short stories. I followed that up with another collection, a short story, and a novella. I plan to release more work at a steady rate that fits my current lifestyle. I’m also submitting short stories to anthologies and ’zines.
I don’t expect to make a living wage from writing anytime soon. Instead, I’m working on developing good habits, learning from my mistakes, improving my craft, creating relationships with other people in the industry, and building my readership and my backlist.
I’m focusing on shorter formats
Before this year, I would have told you that I was a novelist to the core. Short stories were only flings; novels were my serious passion. As my life has gotten busier, shorter fiction has become more appealing to me as a reader. This has made me more receptive to writing it.
I’ve especially come to love the novella form. In a print-based world, novellas didn’t make much sense — too slim to stand alone on a bookstore shelf, too long to be part of an anthology (unless written by a Big Name). Now, because of digital publishing, we’re seeing a resurgence of the novella form, which is great for me.
Novellas allow me to develop my characters, setting, and plot while writing fewer words in less time. Much as I’d love to write an epic urban gothic science fantasy with wide-ranging scope, multiple points-of-views and encompassing several volumes, that’s my Someday Project. Considering my limited time right now, short stories, novellas, and short novels make more sense for me.
Thanks, Tehani, for having me as your guest!
She’s a halfbreed in hiding.
Rainbird never belonged. To one race, she’s chattel. To the other, she’s an abomination that should never have existed.
She lives on the sunway.
High above the ground, Rainbird is safe, as long as she does her job, keeps her head down, and never ever draws attention to herself.
But one act of sabotage is about to change everything.
For Rainbird. And for her world.
Rainbird is a fantasy novella of about 31,000 words.
Now available at Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords
Excerpts at Rabia’s site
We are delighted to welcome highly acclaimed Aussie author Ian Irvine to the FableCroft blog, for a guest post on writing for children and young adults. Thanks Ian!
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.
Warrior women photograph Some rights reserved by Ran Yaniv Hartstein
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.
Around the fire photograph Some rights reserved by Jane Starz
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.