Friday, May 27, 2011

Animal Culture

Wednesday I mentioned that I chose to do non-dayjob work rather than write a blog post. Most of that day was devoted to researching and writing this article, now up at Science In My Fiction. I'm always fascinated by how similar animals are to us, especially when it's something to do with intelligence. I hope you have as much fun reading the post as I had writing it.

(Also, here's a video I didn't include in the post, but which is relevant to it.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Well, actually, I do. They're tasty, especially in oatmeal or dipped in cocoa. But I don't have a blog post today. Not a proper, think-ful one, at any rate. I chose to do some non-dayjob work for other people, and may yet do some writing for myself. I didn't want to spend time coming up with, then writing, a blog post on top of everything. I'm actually considering doing that, period—write first, blog when I feel like it. Thoughts? I'd likely blog once a week anyway.

Here's a taste of one of those non-dayjob work projects, my next Science In My Fiction article, coming Friday:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Updatery

I had the idea today to post about how musical harmony is like writing. There's the plot/melody, but the other notes (characters, setting, theme, rhythm, tone, etc.) shore up the piece to create a greater whole. And then I realized that last sentence was my entire thesis, and someone had probably waxed poetic on the subject already, there being only so many metaphors for writing…

I'd love to spend time pondering the universe and coming up with a different subject, but honestly, I don't have the time today. I'm writing this in the wee hours of the morning, even, as I'm getting up early to catch a matinee of POTC4, and I know I won't have a) time to write a long post before I leave and b) a brain with which to write anything. So instead, I'm just going to say, "Going on blog holiday. Be back Wednesday!" and hope nobody kills me for it. You're all nice people, right? You understand that these things happen?

That said, if anyone has questions or topics for me, things you want to know, comment away! I won't guarantee I'll talk about everything or answer any question—"What's your address?" is kind of stalkerish—but I'll answer anything I can. Goodness knows I spend too much time thinking of blog topics these days…

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Year of the Superhero - Masked


Masked is a collection of superhero fiction, mainly by people who write comic books. It's got everything—powered heroes, unpowered heroes, young heroes, old heroes, heroes branded as villains, villains branded as heroes, climactic battles, internal battles, crazy inventions, postmodern deconstruction, straight-up entertainment. Granted, not all of that's in the same story, but it's all in the book. Some of the stories I liked less than others, but in a short story collection, that's always the case.

Most reviews of anthologies do mini-reviews of each story. I'm not, and since this isn't exactly a review, I feel justified in doing so. Instead, I've got some general thoughts I want to share.

Many stories in this book are set in worlds with a plethora of superpowered people. The existence of the powers may or may not be explained, but superheroes and supervillains are everywhere. I saw this in Soon I Will Be Invincible too, and it's an allusion to the comic book universes of Marvel and DC, where people get powers all the time through a variety of methods, and have done so for years. The Wild Cards universe is another example of this. There's often a lot of mad science in these worlds—death rays, killer robots, secret lairs with bubbling chemistry sets. It's good fun, though the over-the-top nature of these worlds can get a little wearing.* Do writers choose those worlds because that's what we're conditioned to think of, after 70-odd years of comic book history? Do they choose them to comment on that 70-year-old tradition? Do they feel that's the only way to get a bunch of superpowered characters?

The stories without whole social classes of heroes and villains tend to give people powers through medical experiments. There's one case of mystical energy, and another case of teenage black belt. For all my complaining in the previous paragraph, I liked these stories least. Fun and compelling they were, yes,  but at the same time, I felt the writers were trying too hard and missing the mark on superheroes. So … apparently I need those crazy universes to feel at home?

I enjoyed the deconstruction in this anthology, as well. The writers aren't afraid to play with the nastier sides of superheroism or have bad guys for protagonists. One of the stories breaks the fourth wall. Several stories deal with various aspects of retirement. And there seems to be more of an attempt to make the characters into real people rather than leaving them as archetypes, even when the archetypes are being played off, for the sake of the story. There's one story with a reporter girlfriend as a side character, and she acts like a Reporter Girlfriend, but feels real all the same.

The main thing I remember, several weeks after closing the book for the last time, is the way a lot of the stories clicked with me. For me, this is what superhero prose should be like. The stories are, by and large, not about superheroes and not about defeating a villain. They're about people who are people first, heroes second, and if a villain is defeated, the battle sums up the other, equally important struggles that have run the course of the story. That's what I'm trying to do with my novel (please may it work) and I'll likely be mentioning Masked as a read-alike, unless I find something better.

So my verdict? Really good anthology, with great stories. Definitely read it, if you're into superheroes, but don't be like me and blitz the book in a week. It's to be sipped between other stories, not gulped.

* Note: I am reading an omnibus of Amazing Spider-Man issues right now, and this is affecting my judgement on these matters. The pulpiness of those is really wearing at times.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When Research Isn't Needed

A lot of research goes into a novel. Especially a genre novel, where the world-building's important. There's the big issues, like the where and when of the setting, the backstory, the characters' jobs, but there's a lot of little things too. For my WIP, I've looked up everything from ion drives, hydroponics, and electrocution, to feng shui, Chinese universities, and the scenery along the I5. There's more research to be done, too, mainly in the realms of Mandarin profanity, Tesla coils, and police procedure. Sometimes it seems like the research will never end, so when my revisions reached the first camping scene yesterday and I didn't have to check on how to pitch a tent, I was shocked. Something I knew already? Amazing!

Now that I think about it, there's a lot I don't have to look up. I read enough science articles online to invent the technology I'm using without more than a Google search or two. I know what lightning looks like. I know Pacific Northwest beaches and forests. I know the local streets well enough to drive them, and well enough to know which areas my hero's most likely to find bad things to happen to him in. I know enough police procedure to fudge things. I can cook basic meals. It turned out I barely needed to research ion drives at all.

I'm betting every writer has portions of their books they haven't had to research, either because they've read the info for something unrelated, because it's part of their daily life, or because they've deliberately included something they know about in the setting or story. And I think every writer should try to remember the things they do know, when the research gets them down. We know a lot more than we think we do, and we need all the encouragement we can get!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Songs for Inspiration

One of the fastest, easiest ways for cheer me up is to play me music. My favourite songs and artists never fail me, especially if the songs are danceable and singable. I have not one, but two iTunes playlists—one full of danceable songs, and one full of songs that say, "Yes, you can write a good book. You can do this." And I thought I'd share that one, or as much of it as I can find on Youtube, because I'm not the only person who ever needs to hear that message. Hope this brightens your Monday!



And yes, I did create a Youtube account just for this playlist, but I've been wanting a professional account for a while. Drop by and say hello!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Year of the Superhero - Thor

When I went to see Thor on Wednesday night, it was the first time since Iron Man that I'd sat down to a superhero movie without awareness of the canon. Okay, so I know the Norse myths, but the comics play with those a little so they don't really count. Not knowing the canon makes for a different viewing experience, but it doesn't make for a worse one. There's simply a lot more, "Oh, that's cool. I see what they did there."

Thor isn't a typical superhero movie, and yet it is. It's an origin story in that we see Thor learn his lesson and become a hero, but we don't see him struggling with his powers or technology the way Spider-Man, to pick a random example, does. He starts with movie with his powers. We get to see how awesome those powers are, and how impetuous he is when he has them. And then he loses them and is sent to Earth, and that's where the origin story begins.

However, the origin story is basically a side plot, which I think is really cool. The main plot, or perhaps the frame story, is about an impending war between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. There are political bargains and backstabbings and outright lies, mostly from Loki, as is expected if you know your mythology. Even the event that shapes Thor into a true hero is a ploy to prevent Thor from messing with Loki's plans. And having the almost-war as the center of the story means that when Thor saves the world, he's not saving Earth so much as he's saving Jotunheim.

One of the problems with adapting Thor (and yes, I'm cadging this from the internet at large), is that the comic canon is … kind of loopy. Thor apparently speaks in aggramatical Ye Olde English all the time. One of the other problems is that Thor is a Norse god, who's magical, but the Marvel universe is largely science fictional. How do you reconcile magic and sci-fi, and explain Thor's language at the same time? Branagh's solution is brilliant in its simplicity.

First, don't take Thor seriously but play it straight. This makes for realistic humor and a genuinely charismatic Thor, rather than a pompous or omnipotent one. Second, invoke Clarke's third law on screen: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I'm not sure if the comic does this too, but it's brilliant. Thor is an alien who was worshiped by medieval Scandinavians, and his people use advanced technology that's never fully explained. Bifrost, the rainbow bridge connecting the worlds, is a wormhole generator. The 'world tree' is a series of connected wormholes, rather than an actual tree. This sits well with my "it's a metaphor" approach to most mythologies. This also lets Thor get away with using big words and outdated mannerisms: he's grown up in a Viking-based alien culture. Of course he'll be a little weird.

Like I said, Thor's a charmer. I buy the character as Hemsworth portrays him—hotheaded, gentlemanly, a little egotistical. Sounds like the Thor of myth, as I read him there. He's totally the sort to decide that the best way to get rid of anger is to hit things with a hammer, which of course is his preferred fighting technique. I also buy the other Asgardian characters as they're portrayed. Loki is a great two-faced character—kind, concerned, and honest one moment, and mischievous and selfish the next. He's like that in the myths as well. And Sif, the Norse warrior goddess? If you're going to write a badass woman in armor, Sif would be a good model. She's a dominant woman who's good with a sword and knows it, but is so utterly a warrior that none of the main cast, including Thor and the all-male Warriors Three, appear to even think of her as attractive, though she is. Go equality! I would also watch the heck of out of a Sif movie.

Speaking of women, we need to talk Jane for a second. I understand she was a nurse in the comics? I approve of Branagh's decision to make her an astrophysicist, though I've some quibbles there. 1) Not to slag on female astrophysicists or anything, but I found Jane non-geeky enough to be slightly unbelievable. 2) What the heck is her research, anyway, that she's trying to find aurora in New Mexico? Minor quibbles, though, because hey, you kind of have to go with the flow, with Hollywood. Overall, though, I really liked Jane. She was a believable person. She's wrestling with physical attraction to Thor and what to do about it, rather than falling in love at first sight. She's not deliberately imperiled by the bad guys. She's smart and keeps her head in crises. She's helping Thor as much because she likes him as because she wants her research back. And Thor's relationship with her is the same—tentative attraction, but most camaraderie and respect. Again, go equality and empowerment! It's nice seeing women who aren't helpless.

So yes, I liked Thor, and I'm interested in seeing how he fits into the Avengers next summer. I predict personality clashes galore, but that's okay. They're fun. I don't think Thor's my favourite superhero ever, but like all Marvel heroes I've encountered, I'll gladly dip toes into his fandom.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Danger! Danger!

A lot of urban fantasy imperils protagonists through violence. A vampire jumps them in the safety of their own home. A mastermind traps them in a cage with a werewolf just before the full moon. Someone at an "animal" research facility takes potshots as they're trying to gather incriminating evidence. They run into a blood bank heist only to discover it's demons, not vampires. The looming threat of the book, what's worked towards and is resolved in the climax, is also often violent—serial murders, hostages, kidnappings, curses, summonings.

Not that I'm complaining, exactly. Violence in plots means lots of action, lots of sleuthing, lots of heart-in-throat reading when we're not sure of a fight's outcome. It's fun. It's exciting. It's … easy and predictable. At least the way I'm thinking this week, it is.

See, there are ways to imperil, or at least stress out, protagonists that don't involve crime show-esque plot points, and I think those ways can be just as exciting and tense if done well. (Just like how fights can be boring if done poorly.) At the very least, looking further than crime-of-the-week ideas will spice up stories and make them fresher for readers. Of course, a number of these are going to be background to the crime of the week and won't constitute plot points on their own, but they'll add to the ambience and definitely make things harder for the protagonist.

  • natural disasters - We've seen a number in the news lately. Earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, floods, fires. Imagine having to cross the city but being unable to because of cracked asphalt and fallen buildings. Imagine learning about a clue-heavy office moments before its contents are strewn across three states. Imagine having constant smoke or ash in your lungs as you're trying to track a demon, not to mention lowered visibility. Imagine losing everything in a flood, tornado, or earthquake, but still getting up, leaving the Red Cross shelter, and finding the vampire. Imagine being in the Red Cross shelter with a vampire, or being contacted by the ghost of a disaster victim.
  • diseases - This can be something as mild as "MC has to solve the case—with food poisoning!", as dramatic as "MC has to solve the case—with cancer! or AIDS!", or as modern as, "MC has to solve a case in a city panicking over an epidemic." Everyone remember the swine flu and SARS scares? How everyone was worrying, and wearing masks on the streets, and causing vaccine shortages, and trapped in airports? (Or so the news had us believe.) If the disease is scary enough, a protagonist worrying whether they have it over the course of the novel, or a protagonist trying to avoid contracting it, could be very potent. Heck, it could be a magical disease and finding the cure could be the climax.
  • culture shock - People travel a lot these days, for work, for pleasure, for necessity. As a result, we occasionally find ourselves in communities that are vastly different from our own. A small town girl comes to the big city and struggles with the crowds and anonymity. A woman from Boston finds herself in Austin, surrounded by cowboys, rednecks, and Southern belles. A working class ex-con working as a bounty hunter has to find a renegade professor and spend time at a university. A young man from Mumbai moves to Berlin, or Chicago, or Johannesburg. A couple vacationing in Cancun get caught up in a plot to wake the Mayan gods, and are hit by how different life is outside of the tourist areas. You get the idea. It's scary, being out of place like that, not understanding the customs or the language.
  • racism - Also an unfortunately reality. I'd love to live in a world without stereotypes, where anyone of any culture and skin color could go anywhere and not have to worry about their safety, about attracting verbal abuse, about bias, about feeling second-class. But I don't. I can't speak from experience so much—I've felt sexism, not racism—but I know that hispanics, blacks, Jews, semitic Muslims, Chinese, Japanese, and other South-East Asians are all stereotyped in Western culture, as are a number of European nationalities. Germans are uptight and anal, for instance. The French are fond of sex and wine. Brits have bad teeth and can't cook. According to an Asian friend, there are some places in my own city where you don't want to go, if you've got brown skin and epicanthic folds—and this is Vancouver, where people of Asian decent outnumber Caucasians, and some Chinese families have been here for four or five generations. I don't think enough protagonists have to fight against racist attitudes. They should. We're all about reality in our fiction, right? (See also: sexism, able-ism, homophobia.)
  • debt - UF protagonists are perennially broke, or so the trope goes. Often the reasons given revolve around living expenses, weapons purchases, and home repairs. While those aren't bad reasons, the protagonists tend to accept them as facts of life. They're minor stressors, not major ones. But debt can be a major stressor. If you're fighting demons on a regular basis, you're going to have medical bills unless you know a guy or have magical healing powers. You've withdrawn nearly everything from your bank account to pay an informant or ransom a client, turn your back for five minutes in your own home, and wham, the money's gone! Your account could be frozen or depleted because of identity theft, which will also force you to wait for new credit cards. Your home could be slated for foreclosure.
  • relationship problems - I'm not going to delve into this one, because so much urban fantasy already uses this. Controlling boyfriends, controlling girlfriends, prolonged break-ups, divorces, stalker exes, interfering emotional hangups, jealousy… It's all there, and all wonderfully stressful.  
  • relatives - This one's not quite done so much, apart from the 'nagging parents' trope and the 'living up to expectations' trope. Also the 'sibling in danger' trope. But what about a protagonist with a chronically ill parent? A senile grandparent who lives with her? A brother who may have gotten a succubus pregnant? A mentally-challenged sister? An orphaned, preteen half-sibling? Any of these would take time and energy to look after, and because of proximity to the protagonist, they'd also be targets for the bad guys.
Have I missed anything? I'm sure I have. Tell me in the comments?

Monday, May 9, 2011

More Research Pics

One of the nice things about setting your novel where you live, is that you get excuses to play tourist and/or run around doing silly things with a camera. I do this occasionally, as it gets me out of my basement lair and does something constructive at the same time. Most of my jaunts are to take pictures of houses and street signs so I have references for the neighbourhoods I'm using without calling up Google Earth all the time, but sometimes I do funner things. I've yet to climb to the top of a really high building and look down, but I did manage to check one thing off my list last week—the local Chinese garden. I even took the tour!

Why the Chinese garden, you ask? Because I'm writing a heavily Chinese world and wanted to make sure my ideas about the aesthetics were accurate. They were, kind of, and they were kind of not. I've got some cool ideas to play with now, mostly in the realms of symbology and rock sculptures. Did you know that in China, bats are lucky? Brings a whole new meaning to Batman.

Anyway, photos! 

From the paid-for Chinese garden to the free Chinese garden. Circular doorways force people to go through one at a time. Also, they balance the square doorways elsewhere.

There are four elements in a Ming Dynasty garden: water, plants, stone, and buildings. The architecture's there to symbolize the harmony of and place of man in nature.

Water-worn stones are important, and highly prized. They show different images depending on light and angle, and are meant to be contemplated year round.

The patterns and colors of the stone 'tiles' are part of the ying and yang aspects of feng shui. There must always be balance between shadow and light. Notice the dappled pattern of plant shadows as well.

There are no screws in this roof. It's all mortice and tenon. Also, camphor wood! Natural bug repellant!

And no Ming garden is complete without a pine tree of longevity.
So that was my trip. I took more photos than this, of course, but they're largely boring or blurry. Plus I didn't want this post to get too image-heavy. Hope you enjoyed it!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Year of the Superhero - Megamind

What do you get when you mix the Hollywood trend towards animated films that aren't solely for kids, the Hollywood trend to have at least 3 superhero movies a year, and the cultural trend to be as postmodern and self-referential as possible?

Megamind. The story of a conniving blue-skinned alien who gets his kicks out of being a supervillain—until he defeats his archnemesis and gains ultimate control over Metro City. Turns out that ultimate control is kind of boring, so Megamind creates a superhero to balance the power vacuum, at which point Things Go Wrong. There is, naturally, a Sassy Reporter Girlfriend as well.

SPOILERS BELOW

I'm not generally a fan of Will Ferrell movies. His humor tends to fall flat for me, and a number of the plots tend to be … juvenile, let us say. So when I heard he was going to be voicing a supervillain 'hero', I was nervous. Was this going to be another instance of him overacting? Was there going to be a plot, or just superpowered hijinks for two hours? I'd nearly resolved not to go, and then I saw the trailers.



Turns out that Megamind is not only story about a supervillain, and not only a Shrek-like send-up of superhero films, but it's also a commentary on what it means to be a villain and a hero, and a story of redemption. There's a clear message that "There's good in all of us."

Let's dissect it, shall we?

Megamind and Metro Man are sent to Earth by alien parents from planets that are being destroyed. Metro Man ends up in a wealthy, all-American family. Megamind ends up raised by convicts. They wind up in the same school, where Metro Man bullies Megamind and Their Rivalry Is Born™. Megamind turns to a life of crime because so many other avenues are closed to him because his creativity gets him into trouble and nobody cares for his skin color.

So far, so standard, except notice that Megamind is not only a geek, but he's also a person of color? It's easy to say, "Yes, I get it, Hollywood. He's a bad guy because he isn't white, and he's kind of weird to boot." But then Megamind has a change of heart, and he gets the girl, and at the end of the film, he's kind of a hero. It's a message of hope, and a surprisingly enlightened character arc. The dark-skinned weirdo can be a good person, accepted into society? Who knew?!

The Rivalry™ is very much a game for our villain and hero. It's sparring matches, competition, a challenge. When Megamind defeats Metro Man, he's excited, yes, but there's also a big undertone of "That actually worked? I actually won? How is that possible?" It's bittersweet. Megamind goes on his crime spree anyway, but it quickly gets boring. He realizes that the fights were never about control, they were about competition, and he needs someone to compete with again. Unfortunately, he ends up giving powers to a schlub, and the second act of the film kicks off.

So, this schlub? He reacts to superpowers in a pretty realistic manner. His 'space parents', Megamind and Minion the sidekick, train him up, drill him on justice, and give him a snazzy costume, and he's cool with that because he's so in awe of having superpowers and being someone for the first time in his life. But then he realizes that it's so much easier to have fame and wealth if you steal it. Yep, he turns into a supervillain himself, right on the eve of the unveiling Megamind's planned for him. This leads to a genuinely nerve-wracking climactic fight scene, even if kooky weapons and kid-targetted hijinks show up as well. Titan, the superhero-villain, is just too powerful, and too corrupted by that power. Also, he's decided it's his right to have Sassy Reporter Girlfriend Roxie as his girlfriend, when Megamind's genuinely in love with her. One more reason for Megamind to defeat him.

It is real love, by the way, between Roxie and Megamind, not the bog-standard lust-as-love, we're-adding-a-girl-because-we-need-a-love-interest Hollywood model. They flirt. They commiserate. They like the same things. They have great conversations. They share a sense of humor. They team up to 'take down' Megamind. They're cute, and we get to watch them fall in love on screen. And then Roxie finds out that the guy she's hooked up with is really Megamind in disguise, and there's a horrible break-up which reinforces Megamind's opinion of himself as the hard-done-by geek/villain who will never get the girl. Luckily, Roxie sees the light during the climax and ends up fighting alongside Megamind, rather than playing damsel-in-distress the whole time. Girl power is go! Contrast this with Lois Lane, who may be tough but stays on the edges of fights, and who's more in like or lust with Superman than she's in love with him, in most forms of canon.

It's also notable that Metro Man is not the antagonist, the way Captain Hammer is Doctor Horrible's. The antagonist of the story is … Megamind's hubris, I guess, and to an extent his lack of confidence. Metro Man's there to be a foil, to be the nominal superhero in a story about villains, and to make a comment about power and fame not being everything—also a cool, positive thing for a Hollywood film to be saying.

Megamind's a surprisingly intelligent superhero film, in other words, right up there with The Incredibles. It has a lot to say about heroism, surface judgements, and human nature. It has positive messages that hit adults as well as kids. It's smart, funny, and original. Obviously, I really liked it, and I'm betting most superhero fans will too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fictional Vacation Homes

One argument against fantasy and science fiction is that they're escapist. They have no real bearing on reality. They don't teach us anything. The characters are stereotypes and caricatures, and the only sci-fi/fantasy readers are emotionally stunted adults, or children. Of course, this is all patently false, except for the escapism claim. There's much more to science fiction and fantasy than the alternate worlds and the sensawunda, but it's a draw for many people, myself include. When I want to enjoy myself, when I want my reading experience to maximize on the fun, I'll pick up a genre novel.

So it should surprise no one that the day of the Canadian election, I picked up Masked. I'm enjoy it quite a bit. For whole chunks of my day, I don't have to be in a world where the Progressive Conservatives are in power again!

But I'm not here to talk about Masked today, since that's a future Year of the Superhero post. Instead, I wanted to list a couple other of my favourite worlds. I'm not sure I'd want to live in very many of them, because there are downsides to most of them, but I certainly love visiting them in my head.

  • the Wormhole Nexus (Lois McMaster Bujold) - Since Miles Vorkosigan spends most of the series away from his home planet, Barrayar, I'm fingering the whole slice of the galaxy. Every setting is vivid, real, and well thought-out, and I enjoy the whole lot of them. I think of all the planets in the Nexus, I'd want to live on Bujold's future Earth the most. They seem to have things figured out best, and they seem not to have major environmental issues to contend with, unlike Beta Colony or Jackson's Whole.
  • Middle Earth, especially Hobbiton (J.R.R. Tolkien) - Mostly because Tolkien designed it largely as a utopia. Every race seems to live in harmony with itself and others, apart from the orcs and goblins, who also keep to themselves unless harassed or assembled into armies by Dark Lords. Everyone seems to have their place in society. Nearly everyone seems to like their place. And while the elves have a beautiful, poetic, elegant culture, I think I'd want to live in the Shire. Why? They're fond of eating, drinking, parties, and comfort. They like mushrooms. They go around barefoot. They tolerate eccentricity and bold women. Sounds good to me! 
  • San Francisco/Summerlands (Seanan McGuire) - I know I keep bringing McGuire up but I really am enamoured of the world she's created. I only know the basics of the lore surrounding the fae, and I've never been to 'Cisco, but I'm perfectly willing to believe that the two can co-exist. Each part of the world feels real (or surreal, depending), and internally consistent, and best of all, it's getting bigger every book! I probably wouldn't mind living in San Francisco some day, but due to the large number of Things That Can Kill You in the fae parts of the city, I think I'll pass on knowing whether it's there or not. Even if that means I can't visit Shadowed Hills, which sounds incredible.
  • Fictional Britain (too many authors to name) - I have a Thing for British novelists, British genre novelists especially. They all seem to have this particular way of speaking, a lovely, evocative way of describing everything, and a fabulous wit. British novels also have a phenomenal love of the country that can't not be picked up by the reader. Everything they write seems so steeped in the culture, compared to many of the novels coming out of North America. Some writers who've helped create Fictional Britain for me include: Geoffrey Chaucer, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, Susanna Clarke, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, William Shakespeare, Arthur Ransom, Douglas Adams, Russell T. Davies, Stephen Moffat, Susan Cooper, C.S. Lewis, Ariana Franklin, Diana Wynne Jones, and the non-Brits O.R. Melling, Gail Carriger, and Neal Stephenson.
  • Discworld (Terry Pratchett) - Because how can I not mention Discworld? It's as vast and fully realized as the other worlds I've mentioned, and fun. By Io, and Anoia, and Om, and the rest of the Discworld pantheons, it's fun. Genius satire, one could even say. I'd like to travel it, if I had the chance, though knowing how narritivium works, I'd probably arrive in Ankh Morpork and end up staying there. Pratchett's also contributed greatly to Fictional Britain, but since his stories aren't really set in Britain proper and Discworld deserved its own bullet, I didn't mention him above.
  • Breakersverse - Which really needs a better name but I haven't come up with one yet. This is the world of my WIP and the host of sequels I mentioned in my previous post. One of the reasons I have so many sequels and scenes and characters I want to include is that I'll drop into this world during downtime—I'm on a bus, I'm walking to the grocery store, it's a slow night at work, etc. I've met several superheroes who are only passing references in Resisting Capacity this way. I've been to cities that my hero will probably never get to. I've travelled in time. And even though it's my world, I keep learning new things about it. How cool is that? (Okay, really, who thought I wouldn't mention my creation here?)
Anyway, I've talked enough about where I go when I want to escape reality for a while. Where are your favourite vacation spots, and why them?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sequelitis

Hello, my name is Anassa, and I have benign sequelitis. I'm taking this as a good sign—I won't run out of ideas, and my WIP's world is rich enough to have multiple stories in it. Just yesterday I came up with a scene for Book 3, which will be added to the ongoing list of scenarios, plot points, hijinks, twists, and character interactions. At this point, I need to write at least four books, maybe five, to deal with them all. (Book Four will be especially fun.) I have two other series I'd like to write, one that I briefly started on last year, and one that I think about with trepidation because of how much research is going to be involved.

I suspect a lot of writers, or at least a lot of genre writers, have some form of sequelitis. After all, so many genre novels are parts of series. Benign sequelitis, like I have, has got to be the best kind, for the reasons I mentioned, and because it keeps any sequels fresh and exciting. But there's also

  • induced sequelitis — Publisher: Your book's selling great! Can we have three more by Christmas? Hollywood has an epidemic of this at the moment. 
  • malignant sequelitis — Writer: I'm writing urban fantasy, therefore I must create series. Often leads to overstuffed worlds or writer's block.
  • galloping sequelitis — Writer: I have such a following for my book, I really owe everyone a sequel. Christopher Tolkien and Brian Herbert have had this, I think, with a milder form of induced sequelitis as well.
And yes, you can argue that I'm biased towards the benign form because I've seen too many books (and films) produced by induced, malignant, and galloping strains of sequelitis that have been subpar or rushed. I'm sure a writer who really knows their game can craft excellent demanded sequels and not fall into the trap of repetition. I'm sure I've read some of those books. Can I name them after being up till 3 last night? Nope. Not the writers' fault, though. Totally mine.

But really, I think that's the cure, that's how to turn the negative forms of sequelitis back into the benign one—step back, think, take your time, look at good sequels and ask what they did differently from bad sequels. One of the big reasons I see at work for people stopping series is that the books "got to be all the same," and of course, it's common knowledge that when Hollywood makes a sequel, it's not going to be as good.* Lack of audience interest can never be a good thing.

Bear in mind that this is merely the opinion of an unpublished, unsequelled writer who hasn't had time to read as widely as someone twice her age. I could be entirely wrong about all of this. I certainly don't have medical training, so I may have misdiagnosed the types, or missed a type entirely. But I've enough of an ego to say, "I think I'm right." I think that a lot of writers want to write sequels, for various reasons, and I think a lot of those times, those reasons don't exactly help the story they want to tell.

Thoughts?

* With several exceptions, of course.