A Fantasy Rant

One of the things I’m attempting to do with my current fantasy novel is to stuff it full of animal life–not only because Rhi and Ferrus are naturalists, hunters, and proto-zoo keepers.  But it’s always been a pet peeve (no pun intended) that the fauna is very often lacking in fantasy worlds.

I think it’s a failure of understanding on our parts as writers.  We live in a person-oriented time; we live and write in cities; we live in climate controlled boxes, and wildlife really isn’t much of a daily consideration.  We vastly outnumber animal–or perceive that we do.  And if we’re not looking for them, it’s easy to overlook how many we pass by even in a city: sparrows and pigeons, rats and squirrels, cats and dogs, bats and the insects we never see unless they impinge in our personal space.  But there are so many animals moving around us, living their lives.

And in a fantasy world–which is so often under-populated, agrarian, and rustic (no climate control for these folks!)–the characters would be constantly exposed to or dealing with wildlife.  As small as the weevils infesting the flour and as large as oh, say a stampede of bison.  Mostly what I see in fantasy is the domesticated animal–the horse, the cat, the hound, the message pigeon or the magical versions of those.  I see the dangerous animals–the dragons, the wolves, the serpents.  I see the food animals–chickens and rabbits and fish.  I see human-adjacent animals, basically.  The ones that have uses to humans or the ones who threaten humans.  I don’t see the rest.  The vast array of the rest.

I want to see them.

I crave them.

The lizard skittering across the leaves.  The butterflies that migrate through the hero’s path.  The freaking dung beetles.  The scavengers.  The song birds.  The harmless pests.  The spiders that aren’t poisonous.  The garter snakes.  The alligator sunning on the bank with the anhinga clicking and croaking away.  I want the fantasy world full of animal sounds.  I want cicadas droning away.  I want my characters to be sleeping outside by their firepit and be woken by possums poking around or to have an annoying owl hooting all night over head.

So my challenge to all of us is to just look for the animals in our world then apply that number to our fantasy worlds.  I get up.  I see my pets.  I go outside.  I startle robins on my lawn.  I drive to work.  I see red-tailed hawks on the wires.  I park in the parking garage.  I see sparrows and pigeons.  At night, in warmer weather, there are bats darting around the tall streetlights.  I dig in the garden and turn up worms and cicada grubs–white and unfinished and ghostly–and spiders skitter away from my hands.  A trip to Home Depot brings me more sparrows in the rafters, their wing beats audible even when they’re not.  A flash of movement.  I can smell skunk on the road from a conflict I never saw.  Coyotes run the park and I hear them yipping.  An owl cries “who cooks for you”. Pillbugs wander through my garage.  And my cats kill stinkbugs and wrinkle their noses at the acrid smell.  In the spring, an orb weaver covers my door every night and has to have its web wiped away with my leaving.  My life is FULL of animals.  And I live a sedate life in the city.

So my question is why should our fantasy characters lead a less full life than we do?

If you’re a writer and you’re writing fantasy (or even science fiction–don’t get me started how somehow all the animals have vanished in SF), do that for me.  Look for the “unimportant” animals in your life.  Count them up.  And then, apply that to your characters.

Also, if you know of any good writers who do include the “irrelevant” animals, sing out and let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

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A Fantasy Rant

Miscues and other misadventures in writing

One of my jobs is freelance critiquing through the Odyssey workshop.*  I enjoy it.  There’s something very satisfying about helping writers find a better way to express themselves.  But it does mean that I tend to view all writing–mine, the mss I deal with, and even the books I read for pure pleasure–with an analytical eye.  There are a lot of writing “problems” people struggle with, but I think one of the worst is miscuing the reader.

I was thinking about this at breakfast this morning as I was reading book samples.  I download book samples throughout the week as the fancy takes me, then, on leisurely Sundays, when I’ve forgotten what the books are about, read through them.  Today, one of the books I sampled (not going to name it) began with a simple scene with the protagonist standing on a porch, feeling anxiety.  We’re given the emotional simile, “Character stood on the porch, with as much fear as looking over the edge of a five-hundred-foot drop.”  A little clunky, but harmless, you’d think.

Except.  It’s backward.  Standing on the porch evokes looking over the edge–and I’m primed that this character is afraid to leave the porch, afraid to make that leap into the world.  So at the end of the page, when it turns out he’s afraid to knock on the door… I have this weird rotation of my mental image happen.  Like the entire stage shifts.  The boy is not looking outward; he’s spun about and looking at the door.  He’s coming, not going.  It’s a miscued simile.  Because porches are raised, even if by an inch or so, and because he’s thinking about a drop, we’re cued that the character is going to take that step down.  So obviously, he’s leaving the house.  Not arriving.

Tiny, tiny thing, but jarring.  And in my case, enough for me to delete the sample.

Watch your similes, people.  Watch them.  Make sure they’re not suggesting something else.

It’s not like I’m perfect, either, god no.  I am currently embarked on a drastic revision of the fantasy novel I wrote, because I miscued the reader terribly.

Not even a tiny simile error for me, either.  No, I miscued the entire damn tone of the book.

The first segment is all about my characters trying to escape their home environments–which just happen to be courtly and political.  So I’m cuing the reader to expect a political fantasy, with lots of back-stabbing and infighting and striving for status.  And that’s not what this book is about at all.  No!  It’s an adventure novel!  But because I spent too much detail on their homes and took too long to get them on the road, whoops!  Now it says: expect politics!  Expect courtly intrigues!  Expect battles won by manners and maneuvers.  Not monster fighting.  Not road hardships.  Not wild pursuits.

Yet, each scene stands on its own.  There’s conflict.  There’s character.  There’s event.  It’s just cuing the reader to expect the wrong story.

So yeah, that’s my Sunday thinking: Avoid miscues in your writing.  Look at what you’re saying on the page and what you’re implying, from the micro (on the porch looking out/in) to the macro (ffs, look at the tone of your chapters and see what they’re suggesting your book is about, Robins.).

There are twists you want the reader to experience, but miscues are a totally other beast, and they’re not welcome.

*I swear I am a much better critiquer than I am a blogger.  I have decided to fight my perfectionist tendencies by allowing myself to blither on the blog without obsessing over every word and piece of punctuation.

Miscues and other misadventures in writing

Scenes from the Pet House

The way my mornings go in winter.

Little Dog #1 AKA Jeffrey AKA Mr. J:  My toes are cold.  Can I sit on your lap while you eat breakfast?  I promise not to lick your toast.

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adorable, right?  But I am a cruel person and say “No!” and “Go lie down in the giant dog bed I bought you, you spoiled thing you!”  And I pet his fuzzy head.

Then Little-but-not-quite-as-little Dog #2 AKA  Ursula, AKA U AKA Ursabear says:  What about me?  I will sit on your lap and help you with your breakfast, see how useful I am?

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But my heart is made of flint.  I refuse!  I pet her little head and say, “No, now go eat your breakfast, you still have kibble left.”

Then comes Remy, AKA Cat #3, AKA Noodleshark, AKA psychokitten and he says:  SUCKERS, you ASKED!

Remylaptime
Jeez, this picture is nearly life-sized.  But hey, it just means you get the full force of his SMUG.
Scenes from the Pet House

Library Haul

A quick stop in at the library netted me a collection of things to read.

More Gail Carriger: always readable.  Another Ellery Adams book since I enjoyed The Secret, Book, and Scone Society. A couple of random thriller types.  One graphic novel that I’ve heard fun things about: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. And Godblind, which… is probably not going to be to my taste given the word “grimdark” keeps getting tossed at it.  I have zero qualms with dark.  But grimdark always seems to involve the characters either wallowing in their misery, or a strong undercurrent of tragedy, or nihilism, or drawn-out torture scenes, or all of the above.  Still, it’s a library book!  Costs nothing to try it, and who knows, I might adore it.

Went back to the local bookstore when they called me that the NK Jemisin book was finally back in stock. So How Long ’til Black Future Month came home with me, which I’m excited about.  And then there was a new release Lyndsay Faye book: The Paragon Hotel which I snatched up so quickly I realized that somewhere along the line Lyndsay Faye became an autobuy. The opening was gorgeous; the kind of weirdly confessional prologue that usually leaves me cold.  Here, it really worked.

 

Library Haul

Reading Roundup

So last week or so I brought home the library haul.  Five books, three of which I read completely, one of which I got 2/3rds through, and one that went back without really getting started.  Then I hit the Raven Bookstore with a holiday giftcard for more bookloot.  These are the results.

The Guilty Dead: Monkeewrench #9Not a surprise that I really enjoyed The Guilty Dead, the ninth Monkeewrench outing.  I skipped book 8 somehow, but each of these novels is pretty much standalone.  One of the things I most like about this series is that even as the mysteries build to super high stakes, each step feels plausible.  The characters are believable in their context.  My favorite of the series is still probably The Sixth Idea, but this is a good entry. I understand that PJ Tracy is a solo act now after the death of her mother, but she’s doing her mom proud. Recommended for mystery lovers.

Creatures of Want and Ruin

 

I went back and forth on whether I was enjoying Creatures of Want & Ruin, by Molly Tanzer and in the end, the exceptional and out of the ordinary, characterization, demonology, and setting made this a win.  Her books aren’t always paced the way I’d like, but they always make me feel rewarded for reading them. I’m looking forward to more in this world. Recommended.

 

Pop the Clutch! This is an anthology I picked up on a whim, despite not having any particular Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horrorinterest in Rockabilly culture.  And the book had some formatting/editing issues that really irked me–splash pages of art left blank with <IMAGE PENDING> left behind; stories that repeated a sentence twice, the constant misspelling of “altar”.  But crankiness aside, there were some gems of stories in here.  I really enjoyed “Tremble” by Kasey and Joe Lansdale about a singer with a grudge; “Dr. Morbismo’s InsaniTERRORium Horror Show” by Lisa Morton about schlock horror shows running into a real ghost; and “I Was a Teenage Shroom Fiend” by Brian Hodge which has them all beat for pleasantly weird.

Priest of Bones by Peter McLean.  How many times am I going to check this book out before I Priest of Bones (War for the Rose Throne Book 1)finally finish it?!?  At least one more.  The deal is that somehow, despite McLean’s great writing, and treading the sweet spot between “gritty” and “nihilistic”, and me being invested in the characters, I just keep hitting a wall. This time, I got through the entire first act, much of the second, and well… I’m not as interested in the turn the book makes toward politics.  Add in the fact that it’s not a stand-alone, and I lose momentum.  I’m still going to recommend it though because it’s really well-written!  And really compelling!  And I’m going to check it out again. Recommended.

Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep.  A DNF.  Really, more of a DNStart.  I blame the blurb.  It told Kill the Queen (A Crown of Shards Novel Book 1)me too much of the exciting event to happen, so that I started the book on a mental timer, waiting for the slaughter to begin.  And instead, I got a slow build, where the heroine notes all these “odd” things going on in the palace, but doesn’t draw any conclusion–which annoyed me, because I already knew what the conclusion was: SLAUGHTER!!!  I was impatient and not in the mood.  I sent it back to the library.  It looks like it might be a lot of fun for the right reader.  That’s apparently not me.

 

Picked up two mysteries at the local bookstore, one of which I disliked immensely because I thought the heroine and her family were horrible stuck-up snobs.  Her sister met her fiance… ON THE INTERNET!!!! The Horror!!! And it tried really hard for quirky cast of characters but mostly just felt crowded and full of people I would hate to be around.  Not going to name it.  But it was one of those cozies that require the mystery to stop while the “gimmick” is run through.  In this case, every meal involved a long description of the cooking process.  Which, really, was maybe my favorite part?  But… if I want to read about cooking, there are other books with that as the actual focus.

The Secret, Book & Scone Society

 

The Secret, Book, & Scone Society by Ellery Adams on the other hand was pretty good.  It’s a little artsy for my taste in some places–the four women sharing their “dreadful” secrets and handing out secret keys, and the like–but in the end, I really liked these characters and would gladly read another book in the series.

 

Though I never read A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue, that didn’t stop me from picking up the second book in the series, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats & Piracy.  I felt comfortable The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracydoing this since it revolved around a secondary character from the first book as this book’s protagonist.  And I’m always up for reading about a determined girl trying to break down the rules of society that get in her way.  Things I really appreciated about this book?  Multiple female characters, all fighting for their futures in their own ways, and learning to respect each other’s choices.  That’s before you get to having an Ace protagonist, which is always refreshing.  My only hiccup was that I was reading along assuming this was pretty much basic historical YA and suddenly there were magical dragon scales.  So that sort of took me aback.  Not badly, just a bit of blinking and wondering how MacKenzi Lee managed to convince the publishers to go for that!

And a personal fail.  I bought a book I already owned.  God, I hate that.  A lot.  At least it was a good book!  A Treacherous Curse, book 3 of the Veronica Speedwell mysteries by Deanna Raybourn.  I would recommend this series for anyone who loved the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters.

Reading Roundup

Library Haul!

It’s that awkward time of the year where we’re careening between holidays and the dreaded LIBRARY CLOSURES.  It’s not like I’m not surfeited with books in my house, but the very idea of a holiday without any library books to hand is… alarming.

So I zoomed in today after work and picked up:

The Guilty Dead: Monkeewrench #9Creatures of Want and RuinPop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horror

Priest of Bones (War for the Rose Throne Book 1)Kill the Queen (A Crown of Shards Novel Book 1)

Because I never trust pictures to really be worth a thousand words, the books are:

PJ Tracy’s The Guilty Dead, which is a Monkeewrench mystery.  This is a strange series for me.  Some of them are excellent.  Some of them are tragic.  And some of them just sort of misfire.  The authors seem to cram other types of genre into their mystery so each book can be a pretty different reading experience.

Creatures of Want & Ruin by Molly Tanzer. The title made me think it was a sequel to Creatures of Will & Temper, which I quite liked.  But if so, it’s a sequel by setting, rather than protagonist.  That’s all right by me.  Hopefully, this one the dog won’t eat.  I had to buy the first book from the library after the puppy got hold of it.

Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horrors.  Totally not my kind of book, but hey it fell off the shelf that I was browsing and it’s a library–it costs me nothing to give it a try (unless the dog gets involved).  So I took it home.

Priest of Bones by Peter McLean.  Technically, I have borrowed this book before.  But, I had just cracked it open, decided I really liked the voice of the book, when it came due.  The downsides to quickly browsing the “new releases” shelves when I’m in a hurry.  It was back; I am going to read this one first this time.  Seems like it’s going to do the difficult work of treading the path between “gritty” (bleh!) and “realism” well.

Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep.  Long ago, I bought Spider’s Bite, but never got around to reading it and misplaced it.  It’s here. Somewhere. In one of the book piles. But for now, the idea of an epic fantasy with a modern urban fantasy sensibility seemed deeply appealing.

Also picked up: Rick Springfield’s newest CD The Snake King.  (The man is STILL MAKING MUSIC!  Is it any good?  I will find out!)  And Camila Cabello’s self-titled CD.  I like the “Havana” song.  It’s catchy.

Library Haul!

Winter

Right now, with winter settling in, the nights freezing more often than not, it seems impossible to remember how it ever felt to be too warm.  I know there were nights in the summers where I lay on a nearly bare mattress, kicking fitfully at the flat sheet around my ankles, trying to decide if I could bear to have that weight on my sweat-clammy skin, or if I could bear to sleep without any covering.  (the ghouls get you if you don’t sleep under a sheet!)

But now, it’s winter, and that means my bed starts becoming … tricky.  Laundry day is a CHORE.  My bed has more layers than some cakes.  The heavy, quilted mattress pad.  The fitted sheet.  The flat sheet.  The super soft microfiber comforter (from Society6, which I love love love).  The quilted bedspread.  The microfleece blanket.  The final cover sheet. (Because of the dogs.  When I had large dogs, they didn’t sleep on the bed.  But then I got a schnauzer-dachshund mix who claimed the bed as her right, and taught the subsequent mini-schnauzer, who in turn taught the puppy.  Easier to just put on a cover sheet than worry about dirt and fur.)

Removing any of these layers tends to send me scrambling, shivering, for a cover in the middle of the night.

It’s four loads of laundry. It’s endless treks up and down the stairs. It’s another reason I contemplate moving to sunnier, warmer climes every December.   It’s hard to remember that when I was a kid in Miami, snow and cold seemed… magical. From Narnia’s endless winter, to all the Christmas songs, to the fashionable accoutrements–boots and nifty jackets and big chunky cable knit sweaters.  The closest thing we got to snow in Miami was the rich girl’s birthday party, where her parents bought snow and covered their front yard with it.  Or the iceberg in the NOAA museum.  Or that one weirdly magical day where teeny tiny flakes swirled out from the sky for a whole five minutes, and we all shivered and went inside for hot cocoa.

I spent so much of my childhood dreaming of snow, and now, I spend winter nights under my layers and layers of blankets, socks on my feet, dreaming of sand and sun.

I could say it’s human nature to be discontent with the status quo, but I think it’s simpler than that.  I’m stuck in my own fairy tale: The Girl Who Couldn’t Thermo-Regulate.

 

Winter