Damsels and Dragons and Wizards, Oh My!

DRAGONS AND DAMSELS AND WIZARDS, OH MY!

Let’s imagine that this posted on Wednesday this week, shall we? Just to keep up the illusion that we’re doing something on a schedule.

Illusions, magic, swords, and quests, fantasy is a broad range of fiction, but I’m going to limit our discussion today to old-school sword and sorcery style fantasy. Urban fantasy is a different topic to be dealt with on a different day.

There’s been a resurgence in what we used to call sword & sorcery in my day. Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones, fantasy is back with a vengeance. It died for a little bit in the nineties, but it never went away. It mutated into vampire novels and urban settings with elves, and a bit of steampunk veneer for spice, but there were still stories about knights and wizards hiding in the corners.

I was lucky enough that my mother read to me for ages. We started with Lord of the Rings and The Black Cauldron series; then went on to hit the Spellsinger series and The Circle of Light. When we finished those we swam into the comedic fantasies of Myth, INC and A Malady of Magicks.

I have loved fantasy from when I was a kid, and even now I love nothing more than being able to lose myself in the depths of a good fantasy novel. Build me a world with consistent magical laws, throw in a dragon for good measure, and give me a party to follow and I am ready to follow.

However, I am also old school enough to tell you this: writing up your old D&D adventures? That’s not going to sell unless you happen to be the folks on Critical Role. I’m not saying that people should ignore simple quests. If they’re done right, a quest is a traditional tale told well. If they’re done wrong, it’s the Dungeons and Dragons movie with Jeremy Irons chewing on the set. (Bless him for that though. It made the rest of it less painful.)

If you want to stand out in the fantasy genre, tell me the story from a different angle. Heroes are a dime a dozen, give me a female priestess like in Martha Wells The Wheel of the Infinite. Or maybe you could build up a new society from a long-con like in Mistborn by Brian Sanderson. (Okay, so this post wants to digress into a “read these awesome stories” post, so deep breath and let’s press on.)

The elements a fantasy story needs: some form of magic, a McGuffin to pursue, compelling characters to root for, and some fighting and/or diplomacy in the way of the pursuit.

What it does not need: an all-white all-male formulaic cast, slavery, or to be set in a European forest.

Build the setting. Build the rules of the world. Give me characters that have actual motivation. Remember, fantasy is the setting, characters make the story.

And go read some awesome books:

The Wheel of the Infinite – Martha Wells

The Hawk & Fisher Series – Simon R. Green

Mistborn  – Brian Sanderson

And whatever people suggest in the comments below. 🙂

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What the heck is the YA market?

When I was a kid — yes, I’m going there — there was nothing called YA. There were kids books and there were adult books.

Yes, books were sort of grouped in the kids section by age range, but there was no separate place for books aimed at what we now call young adults.

YA is now a market and so now we have to figure out how to define that market. From my perspective, YA contains books aimed at people aged 12 to 18. (Which does not in any way mean that you have to be that age to read them.)

The rule of thumb when I was a baby-author and getting the hang of this publishing thing was that a book for kids was grouped by the age of its protagonist. For example, books aimed at tweens would have a protagonist who was approximately fifteen/ in high school. Books aimed at high school students generally featured seniors in high school or kids just entering college.

That’s not exactly how it works anymore.

YA features protagonists who are the same age as the readers, or just above them. Right now, they’re chosen ones fighting in dystopias, or quietly desperate high school struggles, or soul-shattering stories written by John Green. Now, as a reader, you don’t have to decide if something is YA, it’s right there in the section of the bookstore labeled YA.

I don’t have that luxury. I’m over here on the publisher side. I have to decide if it belongs in that section of the bookstore.

How do I do that? I fall back on what I know. If the protagonist is between fifteen and twenty-five, check-box one is achieved. If the story is something that follows a general pattern of what’s in the market right now for YA, check-box two is achieved. If the writing is over-blown and annoyingly pedantic… erm… no.

I have nothing against poetry. I have nothing against using multi-syllabic words or facing difficult concepts in a story. Let’s face it, Harry Potter has racism, fascism, class warfare, prisoners of war, torture, and death. Hunger Games is children literally hunting each other. Difficult storylines, difficult words, none of that is a problem. Sex, violence, cursing, none of those things are deal-breakers anymore.

Talking down to the audience is. Pretending to be hip is. (What is it you whipersnappers say? “on fleek”?) Don’t do that, please.

Still, bottom line, when I’m looking for a YA book (and let’s face it, our line does need some), I’m looking for a book that hits the sweet spot in terms of age, reads quickly, and doesn’t make me question whether or not I’ll need to talk to the FBI about the author.

PS: GOLDEN FLEECE PRESS IS ACTIVELY LOOKING FOR YA BOOKS.

HERSTORY: Miss Cora M. Strayer’s Private Detective Agency

Okay, so, I’ve been really sucky at writing anything on a regular basis here.

But that’s because the world has been… insane.

Let’s focus on the past for a little while okay? This is from Paul Reda. And I just love the fact that not only is the ad awesome, the history is pretty cool too.

I am really into old ads and Chicago history, and the ad copy filled me with joy. I loved the idea of a female PI working the South Side of Chicago during the Progressive Era. My mind almost immediately started concocting stories and cases for her (historical fanfic? Is that a thing?). Cheating husbands, missing daughters, crooked alderman, maybe even a murder in the Stockyards. I was sure she had an affair with Upton Sinclair and her nemesis must have been H.H. Holmes.

I resolved to find out as much about her as I could. I never would have guessed that I would find so much and that she completely lived up to my expectations. So here is a timeline and documentation of everything I could find out about her (or at least as much as I could while spending no money and “researching” from the comfort of my couch). I HIGHLY recommend you click the links and read the articles. They’re amazing.

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Make your own Golden Fleeced Sheep

So, we have a wonderful mascot named Nugget. He’s adorable. But obviously, he didn’t come glittery and golden as he should be for a golden fleeced sheep. We made him glitter.

nugget 6

After five attempts.

You can make your own. With the best method, not the first five, which involved varying types of fabric paint.

Materials:nugget 5

  • 1 Stuffed sheep

  • Spray adhesive

  • Fine gold glitter

  • Painter’s tape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 1: Acquire a stuffed sheep. Our Nugget was saved from a thrift shop in Delaware.

Step 2: Use painter’s tape to mask the parts you don’t want to glitter.

nugget 4

Step 3: Open the spray adhesive. Then, throw out the vintage spray adhesive that you’ve had since high school; run to the store and buy a new bottle of adhesive.

nugget 3

Step 4: Spray the sheep in sections and cover with glitter. Be aware that spray adhesive is what Spiderman uses to web criminals. Wear latex/nitrile gloves or be prepared to pick that stuff off your hands for the rest of the night. Oh, and glitter? Yeah, glitter is evil. It will get everywhere. Forever.

nugget

Step 5: Allow the glue to dry.

Step 6: Remove the tape.

nugget 6

Step 7: Enjoy the wonderful and glittery shine that makes your sheep pictures look like JJ Abrams filmed your sheep.

nugget 2

Sometimes You Have to Say “No”

“Creative people say ‘yes’ until they have enough work that they can say ‘no.’”

Austin Kleon (Austin has several wonderful/amusing form letters about saying ‘no’ on his tumblr.)

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, you have to say no to something. That might be not watching TV with the family after dinner. It might be bowing out of a night of drinking and debauchery. (Why not try a write in, instead? A lot more coffee, but random conversations that will make you wonder what’s *in* that coffee. And you get some writing done.)

But even if you aren’t, the holiday seasons are upon us. They’ve pounced with the ferocity of a reporter on a Donald Trump quote. This season, more than any other, is when you need to think about your own sanity. You will have a lot of people who believe you have unlimited time to devote to them. This might be family. This might be friends. This might be a boss who has fourteen new projects that need to be pushed out by the beginning of January.

You need to take care of you. So, you need to be able to say “no” to things. “No, I’m sorry, I can’t make sixteen dozen cupcakes for tomorrow.” Or “Sorry, I won’t be able to make your party on the 16th! Have a wonderful time and eat a slice of pie for me.”

And here’s the nasty little secret people always forget: You are not required to explain why you are saying “no” to an event. “I’m sorry. I won’t be able to make it. Thank you for inviting me.” Feel free to copy and paste that sucker whenever you want.

When it comes to projects? Remember that quality trumps quantity. Can you take on 3 freelance projects and get them done on time and make enough to live on/pay the bill you need to pay? Take on 3 projects. But remember to start truly evaluating when the next possible project comes down the road. Will taking on a 4th project result in all 4 of them going off the rails? Say “I’m afraid I won’t be able to take this project on until [Date]. Will that work for you?”

And right here and now is when I point out that I am a total hypocrite about this. I almost always take on enough to push me to the edge.

But I have learned my lesson. 50 pies I’ve never made before? Sure, I can do them. Just not tomorrow. I’m going to need some notice for that sort of thing.