No, no-one else could’ve written that story…

The other day on my favorite site another member said something that made them seem a bit like a, for complete lack of better phrasing and no desire to censor myself, a pompous jackass. They made a comparison between more literary novels like Buddha’s Little Finger and more popular commercial novels like Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and said that anyone could’ve written the commercial novels had things been different. That would’ve been all well and good, not that I would agree with that sentiment. However, they then went on to say that only the actual writer of the literary novels could’ve written those novels.

Had I been in the same room as this guy, well, I don’t think it would’ve been pretty. I’m not much for this type of pure foolishness.

I love literary stories, wrote a Literary SF short myself and have plans for a Literary novel with a contemporary setting, one that is Lit Paranormal, and one that is Literary SF. I read both straight Lit and Lit-Genre crosses whenever I can get my hands on them, not caring whether the story is short or novel, adult or Young Adult/ Middle Grade.

But there’s simply nothing to what this guy was saying. There’s nothing special, better about Literary fiction in any objective sense. Maybe I don’t like Twilight or another popular novel for my own reasons entirely, but that doesn’t make the novels I do like, commercial and literary alike, more unique and what I don’t like less so. Because each came from the mind of a unique person, and what we write is often tied to who we are as people. We have themes, genres, styles, and ideas that call to us when we write; I tend to love vampires and other supernatural creatures, write characters that are POC ( People of Color. i.e. people who aren’t White.), and characters that are in some way LGBT+. Sure, lesbian characters are my normal choice, but that’s not the extent of my ideas. Nor are the supernatural elements of a lot of my Speculative Fiction that isn’t Science Fiction/Scifi.

Yes. Maybe there are people with similar ideas to mine. But, you know what? An idea isn’t what makes something unique, though it sometimes does when the idea is rare, that’s the execution of the story. A story is as unique as the person who wrote it regardless of genre and with proper effort by the writer, because characters are people no matter how alien they may be. My fan-fiction background has taught me that someone not the creator can’t predict fully how another person’s characters would react to something. They can certainly make educated guesses that make sense to even the creator, but they can’t say for sure how someone else’s characters would act.

So at the end of the day my opinion is this: anyone telling you that only literary works require a specific author is talking out of their ass.

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The Muse

It’s hard to describe what goes on in the head of a writer. Things are varied, as diverse as the writers themselves. Then you have the concept of the muse, an artist’s source of inspiration and where their work comes from, which also varied. Some don’t feel they have a muse and some see their muse as a personification of their subconscious who comes complete with a personality of its own.

I belong to the later group. My muse, who doesn’t have a name because I would probably just end up cursing it, is a personification of my writer’s brain. She’s the part of me that comes up with all the ideas, my creative side.

The following is how muse moments normally go for me.

Me: *Looks through story ideas and wonders about what to write* Nope. Nope. Oh, that’s almost ready to be worked with. Nope. That’s ready but I don’t wanna work with it yet. That needs more research and an idea revision.

Muse: Write about vampire, sexually and emotionally satisfying cannibalism, and a descent into darkness arc filtered through a romantic tragedy type plot. Oh, and Lesbians.

Me: *glares at muse* What the fuck am I supposed to do with that! Why can’t you give helpful opinions?!

Muse: Not part of the job description. I supply the plot bunnies and give the occasional nudge in the right direction when it’s needed. YOU are the one that makes sense of what the hell I meant by that.

Me: Well, do you at least have an opinion on which idea that’s already developed enough to outline and write that I SHOULD focus on?

Muse: *shrugs* Not at the moment.

Me: I hate you.

Muse: You love me.

Me: Yeah, I do. You fucker.

It’s not the most intellectually stimulating type of talk. There’s often longer and in-depth arguments with my muse in which I insult it in every way imaginable. But I’m ok with it. Things being the way they are work for me.

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Review: Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

David Henry Friston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Carmilla Illustration by David Henry Friston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu is one of those stories that makes it hard for me to understand why more people have seemed to not read it than those that have, especially if they’re fans of the vampire story already. It can be considered one of the seminal works of the, for complete and utter lack of another word to describe vampire stories with any accuracy, genre. Along with Dracula, which was published in a 1897 as opposed to Carmilla’s 1871, The Vampyre by John Williams Polidori (1819), and Varney The Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer (1845-1847) Carmilla is among the oldest stories in this genre. Despite this Carmilla has more in common with The Vampyre than the others in regards to the length of the story itself, being a novella or long example of short fiction.

It’s also the origin of the lesbian vampire trope, due mostly to the nature of ambiguous relationship between Carmilla’s choice of victim in this Gothic Fiction novella and the links to sexual orientation many modern scholars have found in the choice of a vampire’s victims in other early vampire stories, but also because of how the narrator Laura presents things. Laura shows a typical Victorian form of attraction to Carmilla, which was quite shocking and subversive for the time in which the story was written and published. I loved both the horror at her attraction and resignation to that attraction Laura feels, because it is something so wonderfully convey and timeless. Many a budding member of the LGBT+ community has felt this at one point or another, particularly when coming out or if they’re raised in a less than accepting environment. Thankfully, I wasn’t one of them, but the feeling is still a timeless one. I feel for Laura and for Carmilla.

On top of that, the prose are dense and lush. It’s not for everyone, some modern readers will wish that Le Fanu would get to the point. But I enjoyed the older style of writing and the feeling of connection to a time long since passed that it, in my opinion, produces in open minded modern readers. I did wish he would stop and move on at times, but not as much as I do in some other older works. The style of writing and the story, though clearly of its time, held up extremely well for me.

All in all, I give it 4.5 out of 5 bats!

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Taking Responsibility For YOUR Insecurities

I recently had the displeasure of someone trying to foist their writing insecurities onto me and other writers who use Fantasy as a touchstone example on my favorite writing forum, and it really drives me bonkers. But believe it or not, this isn’t about that post. This other doing this made me think. A lot.

Us writers are insecure people and quite a lot of us, especially aspiring novelist, have trouble owning up to our fears when it comes to writing. I don’t want to be like that and hope that I’m not for the most part. I like to think that I got over that while writing fan-fiction and freaking out when I added a new chapter to something or uploaded a fandom related essay like I’ve been doing lately instead of fan-fiction.

There is, however, something that does eat away at me as a writer.

I often feel like I take more chances than is reasonable with my writing. I don’t cater to the majority of readers because my stories almost invariably include aspects of race, gender, and sexual orientation in some way or another. I also tend to bend genres. One of my flash pieces that I could probably turn it to a short, is a Slice of Life Horror story about a lesbian couple, one of whom is a flesh-eating demon and the other a human serial killer, who are trying to wean their half-demon daughter off of the demon mom’s flesh. That’s not exactly your typical Horror fare, and I’m a Horror reader. I’ve seen some really out there things when it comes to stories.

I’ve got a lot of other stuff that fits well into out there territory like that which isn’t Horror, including shorts and novel ideas that are all over the map. And the thing is that I know other writers write about these topics too, but very few write about the combination of topic I do when it comes to genre writing or Lit/Genre crosses. I get afraid I’m going to be labeled that Black woman writer who writes about Black Lesbians even though I try to branch out and question everything about my work.

But that’s my cross to bear, and I’m working on dealing with it.

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High Fantasy vs Epic Fantasy

A lot of people think that High Fantasy and Epic Fantasy are one and the same. They even use the words to mean the same thing. This isn’t for nothing. Both take place in secondary worlds as a matter of course, tend to contain magic and deal with quests of some nature, and both tend to deal with good vs evil in some way. But there’s one major difference between Epic Fantasy and High Fantasy: scope.

Epic Fantasy, as is inherent in the name, has an epic scope. This means the fate of the world is at stake. If the writer’s Frodo-alike character doesn’t cast their own metaphorical ring into Mount Doom, the world will be consumed by evil and life as they know it will never be the same again. Epic Fantasy deals with fighting to keep the world a place where good may not always win, but still wins out more often than not. Where good has a real chance of winning when the good guys put their minds and effort into making it happen.

High Fantasy is much more about the personal instead of the epic. It’s trying to save the village or the kingdom instead of the entire world. It’s going on a quest to slay the dragon and capture the princess who was kidnapped. It’s some young magic user growing into their powers and having to bring down another for the sake of their village. A story about an Elf and an orc-like creature being forced to marry because of a treat, discovering someone is working against the treaty and they’re the ones who have to stop them, and falling in love along the way. It’s the story about elvish society that deals with courtly intrigue and espionage, or their experiences during the course of a war.

To use Tolkien, because the man quite frankly was a master of both. High Fantasy is The Hobbit, with the quest to reclaim Erebor being the main thrust of the story. Epic Fantasy is Lord of The Rings, where the quest to defeat Sauron and destroy the one ring is main focus of the story.

 

Posted in Genre Talk, On Writing | 3 Comments

Research Basics: Historical Fiction

Hi readers! I hope you’ve been well since my last post. Today where going to talk about the basics of researching Historical Fiction, a genre of writing that I really love. Let’s get started!

What is Historical Fiction?

Historical Fiction is an overarching genre, covering everything from just straight Historical to Alternate History and Historical Romances. It’s all about the setting and the plots of the stories taking place in a different time than where we live. It can use made up events that fit seamlessly into history or actual events that took place like a famous battle.

What are some useful terms to know when researching Historical Fiction?

There are two terms you will want to know when researching for a Historical short, novella, or novel. Primary sources and Secondary sources. Primary sources are things like newspaper articles from the time; artifacts such as cookware, weaponry, and clothing; photographs and portraits; diaries and journals. What’s you’ll notice they all have in common is that they were created in the time past, when the historical event as still going on. Letters sent home during the American Civil War, or WW2 would be primary sources.

Secondary sources are things like the internet (Reliable websites only!) and history books. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but a book I’m reading called Between Women by Sharon Marcus would be considered a secondary source. Secondary sources take some of the research pressure away from you, because the author of the book has already narrowed down the topic and compiled the data. They’re great when it comes to in depth overviews of a topic, really great in fact. The only drawback is that they can be colored by the author’s opinion on whatever the topic is.

How do you pick an Era or event?

I suggest making lists of the five to ten most interesting events/periods in history to you. You can also just brows through overview type books if you prefer and see what jumps out at you. I like lists better though, they’re easier and you can cross off whichever ones aren’t as interesting to you as the rest.

Sometimes you have periods in history that interest you already. When I was small I loved Ancient Egypt, King Tut especially. One day I will probably set a story in Egypt, when the right concept comes along. Also of interest to me are the Regency & Victorian Eras, as well as the American Revolution and the Mughal Empire. I find everything about those times in history interesting. But I will admit, I do like a couple more than the others. Lists are great for when you already have a few periods/events that interest you and helping to narrow down interests for those who are more eclectic in their historical tastes.

What sort of information do you need know to write Historical Fiction? 

Everything. From what a religious service was like, to what people of different classes ate, to how they dressed. It sounds small and nit-picky I know, but say you’re character is a slave. She would’ve dressed differently depending on if she was a field or house slave, the fabrics used for her clothing would’ve been different. What she ate would be slightly different as well, and she would be more or less subject to the whims of the family. In general, though a slave, her life wouldn’t be the same just because she was a slave.

That’s why knowing all these seemingly small details is important, so you can record the story in a way that makes it seem as if it could really have happened. Verisimilitude is important in all fiction, but even more so in Historical Fiction or Contemporary Fiction where you’re recreating the real world or in this case, the past.

Where is the best place to start your research?

This is where I think some will be frustrated about this post, that is, if they’re not already. Why? Because this part is entirely up to the writer. Some people like to read first hand accounts first to get the feel for the events, and some prefer the reading the events before getting the context. My personal preference is for books that provide some of both. An overview with first hand accounts dispersed throughout. I’ve found it such books provide something others don’t. It’s a more grounded sort of quality than you can get in something that’s purely academic in nature, more human. But it is less flawed by human perceptions than books that are pure firsthand accounts of an event. You’ll have to find what you prefer on your own.

Till next time!

 

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Octavia Butler and I

We’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of the death of the Grand Dame of SF and first well-loved female African-American SF writer, Octavia Estelle Butler. A writer beloved by SFF readers and the inspiration for many Black SF writers since the 70’s, including me.

I wouldn’t call her my only inspiration or the first, but I would certainly claim her as a major influence. I started out with her the first book in her Xenogensis/Lillith’s Brood series, Dawn (1987).  And for a book that’s almost 30 years old it has more than held up. I understand that some people don’t like it and don’t like her work because of the uncomfortable “truths” she reveals, but I love a book that makes me think. Whether I’m comfortable with the conclusions a writer comes to, which I often wasn’t in the Xenogensis series, isn’t a factor for me when reading SF, Fantasy, and anything not being billed as a Romance.

Reading Butler is like taking a masterclass on how to unflinchingly integrate matters of race and gender and still be focused on story, how to let the narrative itself tell readers what you think and feel about things that matter to you. There’s just something awe-inspiring about it. But perhaps my favorite part of her storytelling is the unflinching way she looks at the intersection of race and gender in most of her novels and a great deal of her shorter work as well. It’s something I aspire to do with matters of race, gender, and sexuality myself and she was the master of this type of thing. To forge a path and allow myself to talk about what matters to me through my stories because I’m unafraid others won’t get it.

Butler also has a certain amount of sparseness to her writing, which is great for me as an inspirational source. I’m a naturally sparse writer, so being inspired by someone like Frank Herbert of Tolkien when it comes to writing style is a disaster in the making. I couldn’t write the long and involved type of stuff that they or Anne Rice write to save my life, it just isn’t possible for me and we all have to play to our strengths. So I’m glad I found a source of inspiration that gels with me and my writing style.

If you haven’t found yours yet, don’t worry. These things take time and no one is going to call the writing police on you for not having one or having many.

Until next time!

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