Fantasy fiction, reading, Science fiction

On Historical Perspectives in Fantasy and Our Modern Expectations

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(Note: I have borrowed all of these images and have not a whit of claim to them.)

This is a discussion I’ve seen around the blogisphere a lot lately — why so much high fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction is sexist and prejudiced. I have several thoughts on the issue (and, necessary disclaimer, some of them might not be popular).

Well, for the first part, I can concretely say: Most high fantasy is based on approximately the 11th-17th centuries A.D. of this actual world, which was a very sexist and discriminatory time period. Sorry, not sorry, folks, it’s just the truth.

And in urban fantasy, generally it’s because the authors are reflecting the current state of affairs in our culture, and they have their reasons for doing so.

When it comes to science fiction — well, the first reason often applies, but also, until very recently, sci-fi was a genre dominated by white male authors (again, not suggesting anything, just stating a fact), so there was probably a sense of unwitting discrimination. (Meaning you have blinders on based on the society/culture you come from, and don’t realize you’re actually showing prejudice.)

Now, here’s what I think of people claiming so many of these series (some of them considered classics of the genre) are horrible and shouldn’t be read anymore in this “enlightened” era: That point of view is just wrong, and people need to stop pushing it.

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And, no, I am not defending any kind of discrimination. I am defending the accuracy of history. Whether we like it or not, there are lots of very not-nice things in humanity’s past. If we cover these things up and act like they never happened, we are in danger of repeating them.

If we remove conversations on biracial marriages, or disabled people having worth, from our fiction, then we’re denying the achievements we’ve made in these areas. If we declare none of our characters need to be chauvinist, then readers won’t understand the significance of what the heroines have overcome.

If we, as authors, want to portray a world without these damaging ways of thought (hoping that one day it will reflect reality), then please do. I do. But we also need to leave the door open for characters who don’t agree with our own POV, so that readers know what could be, and why it may be dangerous.

We have a responsibility to state the facts, even when we don’t like them.

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This probably won’t be a popular post, but I feel it’s a necessary one. (Refer to my previous posts on getting history right in entertainment to cement how strongly I feel about this issue.)

Part of the idea of society becoming more modern is that we become more tolerant of those who don’t share our opinions. There’s a huge, and vital, difference between not agreeing with someone else and believing they’re wrong, and literally attacking them to prove your philosophy is the more mature and civilized.

Guess which approach I hope wins out?

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movies, reading

How is it September?!: Mini-Reviews

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Why is it officially the ninth month of this year now?!?! Anyway, I know I’m not the only one feeling this sense of impending doom. All right, all right, that’s a bit extreme. But not really, when you consider that White Fang and Muffin are starting high school and preschool within 24 hours of each other. I’m dying here, folks…

Since lately I haven’t been up to much (rather than my head exploding over Volume 2 revisions), I figured I’d try something new — a quick recap of some of my most recent, current, and next reads. I’ve been really good about posting my thoughts on Goodreads, but not so much on here.

Here are two I read in August: A Matter of Temperance and Halayda.

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A Matter of Temperance by Ichabod Temperance is cute and fun. I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of the old radio shows, where relating a lot of the action relied on the narration, and there were scenes that were much more dialogue than prose. The only thing about this writing style meant sometimes it was a bit difficult to follow, but usually it was pretty easy to catch up and keep going.

The protagonists were SO stinkin’ adorable, I cannot even with how sweet they were together, and separately. Ichabod Temperance is an innocent old-fashioned country boy, and Miss Persephone Plumtart is a proper lady but absolutely no shrinking violet. In a steampunk Victorian England, they try to save each other and eventually the world from monsters that are a cross between Lovecraftian nightmares and giant insects. (And, yes, I did enjoy this!)

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Halayda by Sarah Delena White was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The world-building is very ambitious, and it’s a unique take on the worlds of faery and human meeting in a not-very-good way. However, I struggled with parts of it. The main protagonists, Sylvie and Taylan, seemed a bit self-absorbed and short-sighted, in my view — basically, the villain is getting ready to blow up the entire world, and they were more concerned with cementing their romantic relationship and avoiding their personal destinies until about 50 pages from the end. The secondary characters, Zad and Diza, were very likable and relatable, and I enjoyed reading about them.

There was plenty of action, and emotion, and a background history that was very interesting. But the exposition got rather lengthy in places, and there were subplots introduced that I didn’t get enough conclusion on. Overall, this is a different sort of fantasy tale, and worth trying. (White Fang will be reading it soon, and we’ll see what he thinks.)

Reading now…

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Believe it or not, I am currently reading A Game of Thrones. I must say, I am surprised that I’m liking it. I’ve seen a few episodes of the show, and didn’t care for it at all. The level of profanity — not just the violence, but the vile language and the base level of sexuality portrayed — really shocked me. Also shocking was when I found reviews saying the books weren’t as bad. So, I wanted to see for myself. And, yes, G.R.R. Martin’s original material is definitely for adults, and not a pretty story, but the text is 10 times less foul than the show. (Okay, off the soapbox…)

It’s very well-written; the characters are fleshed-out; the style of the prose reminds me more of the early 20th century than the Middle Ages it’s set in (which is great, because I can understand 90% of what’s going on without having a dictionary at my side). Some of the characters are completely horrid and deserve to get the sword. (I already have my own nominations.) But others are wonderful or cool, or an interesting gray area and I want to know more about them.

The only downside is each book in this series is loooooooong. I may very well be going on 50 before I finish it all.

Coming up next…

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Later this month, I will be part of the launch team for EB Dawson’s The Traveler, which releases in just a couple of weeks! I’m receiving an ARC of this indie author’s latest release, and am looking forward to this new story!

Oh, and one more thing — last night we watched Collateral Beauty, and everybody needs to see it. Bring the tissues. Actually, just build a fort of opened tissue boxes, and sit inside that.

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Fantasy fiction, reading, The Invisible Moth

September Giveaway!

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So, as we all know (and if you don’t know, then you aren’t worthwhile servants to the great moth, how dare you) (I’m kidding, I swear, don’t leave me) — the above happened. It looks wonderful, and the formatting was a breeze (for a sweet change!), and it is the same exciting and glorious story as the first edition, so everybody obtain and read it.

Ahem. Enough of the awkward self-promotion. (Sorry, my ASD side is showing…)

Anyway, I will be giving away a copy of the re-release, autographed, and with a free gift!

To enter, just do so in the comments section of this post until the 20th of September. I will select a winner before the 1st of October.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

blogging, writing

Why I’m Minimizing My Online Presence

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No, I’m not announcing a hiatus or something like that. By this title, I’m strictly discussing my choice not to use certain types of social media and how much energy I expend on particular sorts of networking.

And there are very good reasons for this.

I am not starting an account on Instagram, Wattpad, Tumblr, or any additional websites on which I do not already exist in some capacity. There are simply not enough hours in the day, sir, ma’am, to throw more into my current schedule, shake it up, and hope that the result is not a hot mess of epic proportions.

While I am aware of the possible benefits to my advertising and marketing that expanding my social media platforms might produce, I am also painfully aware that doing so would require more effort and brainpower on my part. I am not a robot, I cannot come up with amazing content every single day. Hence I don’t want to put myself under that sort of pressure.

Not having my head explode is a bit more important than learning to use my son’s camera or push people to stalk websites hunting down my account.

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I’m not going to fret over the number of Tweets I post per week, how many Facebook things I liked last month, or panic because it’s been 23 minutes since my Goodreads update and no one seems to have noticed. Not freaking out over the fact that you’re not the next internet celebrity is important to maintaining a good self-image. Just because we don’t have 1500 subscribers does not mean we aren’t valuable or worthwhile beings that have beautiful contributions to make to the world.

In some ways, numbers matter. Like, when it comes to book sales. It matters at least a little. Especially when you’re trying to make money. #thestruggleisreal  But it truly is not the end of everything if you never make the NYTimes Bestseller List.

Building a community of readers, supporters, and minions makes life as a self-published author a lot easier. Though we need to keep the crux of the biscuit in main focus as we create our masterpieces — that our sales total cannot qualify the emotional effect our writing may have had on our fans. #drinkingthetearsofmyreaders

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Speaking of writing — I need to concentrate on that more than being on the internet. This is something that all indie authors have issues with: We’re honestly trying to make our word count or page goal for that day. We hit a slight wall (maybe it’s constructed of tin foil?), and decide to take a break. 10 minutes to check our notifications, we firmly proclaim. 35 minutes later…and we’re still on Pinterest.

Sometimes this is all right. Seriously, no one can work ALL the time. However, if this becomes a habit, then it turns bad. Eventually we’ll fall behind on our weekly plans, then we end up pushing back a whole project, and then we’re setting a precedent that could snowball into unfinished works, ignoring deadlines, and just turning our back on something we may regret not finishing.

Anyway, although I am honestly smacking the tin foil wall right now when it comes to completing Volume 2, I am not going to sit around feeling sorry for myself for an indeterminate amount of time. I’m developing a set deadline for being done with the revisions and moving on to the edits, and then to starting a new project.

Because, remember, I have a fear of dying without having written all of my series.

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Unfortunately, there is a lot of negativity around online, and too much of it in my personal space stresses me out. Luckily, I haven’t been the direct target of true nastiness. But some of us have, and we know how ugly it can get. And it makes us want to run and hide (and yes, we are adults). It reminds me of the whole reason I use a pen name and don’t tell anyone exactly where I’m from and indicate that I am actually a Warriors cat in disguise.

Even when I’m not the target, it worries me to see how terrible people can be with each other — when one of the great things about the internet is the chance to connect with one another. Connect, folks, not attack. Aren’t we supposed to be growing in tolerance and awareness? Hint: Yes, we are.

Anyway, I’m trying to avoid unnecessary stressors in my life, and this falls under that.

In short: I have enough on my plate. I should finish my current works in progress. I don’t accept that the haters are gonna hate, and I’d like to be nowhere near it.

Here’s to achieving at least some of this.

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books, writing

How to Write Your Book Like a Movie

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No, not literally like a movie — sorry, guys, if you want screenplay/script writing advice, this isn’t that post.

I mean: When you write your novel, it really helps to have ongoing visuals happening simultaneously in your mind’s eye. Description is important — but it’s also important to descript in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your readers.

As not just a writer but a reader myself, I’ve come across more than my fair share of novels that simply felt far too wordy. And as a writer, I try really hard to avoid typical problems that readers moan over.

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One of those is 17 paragraphs in a row that use 9-syllable adjectives to sum up: “The marketplace sat in the middle of the town square, lit by gas-fueled streetlights and filled with vendors selling baked goods and weapons.”

A method I employ to hopefully set the scene without releasing a plague of purple prose is imagining each chapter in my novel as the film version. I think about what the characters are doing (body language, facial expressions, physical actions), the tone of their voices, what they’re wearing (even if I don’t mention it in the text), what building/room/outside setting they’re in, how that looks (again, not necessarily telling the reader every tiny detail).

This really helps engage my effort and passion for the story. Writing is work, whether we want to admit it or not. And if we want others to read it and enjoy it (not simply to pay us, either), we should do our best to ensure our product is realistic.

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When you watch a movie, all the relevant information is straight there on the screen. The directors make sure that you get a sense of what’s happening in that moment by including not just the major stuff (like trees if the characters are in a forest), but little touches (like a child’s drawings on the refrigerator door of a grandmother’s kitchen).

Thinking about stuff like that when you’re writing can add a great deal to your story.

Remember, though, going overboard isn’t great. Finding the balance is key.

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Here’s an actual example from Masters and Beginners: “It wasn’t a dark and stormy night. It was a pleasant late summer’s evening, shortly after sunset, the sky a rich navy
blue, stars beginning to twinkle in the distance. In a pleasant subdivision, residents were settling in for the night. In a tent pitched on one of the well-mowed lawns was a group of
four teenage girls, in their pajamas and sleeping bags, currently finding out who could come up with the scariest scary story.”

I don’t need to go into which day of the week it is, exactly what hour and minute, the color of each girl’s pajamas, and the average square footage of the houses in the subdivision.

However, if I had only written, “There was a tent in a backyard and 4 girls were having a sleepover,” it might not be enough to give the reader a proper idea of what’s going on.

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Good movies rely on the “show don’t tell” guideline of entertainment. I don’t mean never revealing the vital plot points directly to the audience. But revealing small clues through the discreet look one character gives another, a letter that someone reads but doesn’t put in front of the camera, the shot that pans around to the vase that was supposedly broken after the owner has left the room. You get the idea.

This is an excellent tip for writers of any medium. Personally, I love it. And I love reading novels that use it, too.

Hope this helps some of you struggling with description and balance. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

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community, reading

One Reader’s Confessions

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(These are being divulged in the secret hope that others will agree with me.)

I judge books by their covers. This is totally unfair, because a less-than-visually-stunning cover does not, for an instant, mean the story inside is underwhelming. Yet I don’t hesitate to put right back on the shelf a novel whose cover doesn’t make me want to run off to the Scottish Highlands with it.

There is no guilt about not finishing books. Even if it’s a selection that no less than 56 bloggers I know and 43 Goodreads acquaintances have recommended. If it’s simply not for me, I’ll let it go with a wave of good wishes and not a moment of regret.

If I really didn’t enjoy a book all my friends love, I won’t post a negative review of it. I don’t want people I care about to be aware of my disappointment and in turn be disappointed themselves. That would make my insides wibble-wobble.

Rarely, if ever, do I give authors a second chance. There are exceptions to this. But generally, if reading so-and-so’s work transformed me into a koala of temporary sadness/frustration, then I won’t attempt another title by them.

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Diversity fiction is not necessarily my thing. Do I appreciate movements like “own voices” and encourage diversity in writing? Completely. But depending on the specific novel, I’m pretty likely to give it a pass. Maybe it’s because I don’t have much tolerance for things like sexism/disability prejudice/religious elitism in certain cultures (and honestly, very little interest in developing this). And, quite frankly, I don’t like characters who are fixated on forcing their race/ethnicity down the readers’ throats.

Have I read diverse fiction? Of course. Have I found some great examples of it? Yes, indeed.

Do I get tired of trying to avoid the soapboxes? Yeah…

I won’t read negative reviews of books I love. Actually, probably a lot of you do this? Why spoil it for yourself, right?

I hold to a Judeo-Christian belief system, but don’t recommend Christian literature. Not entirely; I’ve gotten a lot out of non-fiction by Max Lucado and Joyce Meyer, and honestly enjoyed some Ted Dekker. But I find too much of the “Christian” market to be problematic in many ways.

Impulse library requesting is totally a thing. And this occasionally gets me into trouble. Like when several holds come in at once (you try lugging 8 or more hardbacks three-quarters of a mile, including up a hill, on foot, in the rain, without getting a little grumpy). And then I only have a maximum of 6 weeks (with renewals) to read them all.

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In order to finish a long book faster, I’ll skip some parts. For example, about 75 pages from the end of The Raven King, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and cut to the last chapter to find out if Gansey survived. (In my defense, after I learned the answer, I did go back and catch up on what I missed.)

Page count totals more than 400 pages? It and I shall never meet. Again, yes, there are exceptions, though they’re few and far between. Does this mean I may be missing out on some really great stories? Yupper. Do I mind that much? Not at all. Bring on the movie version. Sorry, folks, but I simply don’t have the time to sit down and slog through 650 pages of any (even an amazing) novel.

I’ve given up on classics. Not because all the classics are terrible. A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel have a permanent spot on my list of recommendations. It’s mostly the time issue; also, it’s a matter of personal taste. Too many classics either frustrate or bore the living daylights out of me.

Please, please, please don’t make me read anything that isn’t speculative fiction. This covers fantasy, sci-fi, sometimes dystopia, and even steampunk. See, that’s plenty of options! So I’m abandoning romance, mysteries, thrillers, most historical fiction, and even biographies — trust me, that still leaves me more than enough choices. And these are the genres I love — what’s the point in depriving me of that?

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blogging, books

Being a Book Blogger is Harder Than it Looks

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Yes, it really is. Having a book blog isn’t simply read a book, write a review, find some cute gifs, post it and make sure the link uploads to your social media. It is actually much more complicated than that.

Deciding which book to review can be impossible. If you read a lot — which most of us bookdragons do — you won’t have only one finished selection to choose at the end of the week. Plus, there’s absolutely no rule that says the next review you write has to be of something you just read. We’d also like to discuss childhood favorites, assigned classics, and movie novelizations. Unless there’s an ARC that you know you should post soon (because the release date was May 31st and it’s presently June 4th), the best way may just be to flip a coin or throw a dart at a printout of a bookstore flyer.

Let’s talk about ARCs for a minute. They are not all they’re cracked up to be. Yes, it is exciting when you get to be one of the first people to read a new release you’re really excited for. (I do enjoy this part myself.) However, there are also some downsides to ARCs that I think are worth discussing.

They’re time-consuming. It can be difficult to read on a deadline. What if your schedule gets turned upside down and finishing the ARC prior to its sale date just isn’t a possibility?

They may be disappointing. Those bloggers who have been getting ARCs for a couple years now will tell you that just because a book is an advanced reader does not mean it will be the most amazing literary thing ever.

You can feel like you’re reading out of pure obligation, rather than for enjoyment. I know some bloggers have in fact decided to stop requesting ARCs, because it was dampening their experiences too much.

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Striking the right tone is key, and not automatic. Hands up — who here has typed a paragraph of a post, deleted it, repeated this process, and again…and considered throwing yourself off the top of your bookshelves. It is hard to keep producing content that’s interesting, engaging, humorous, insightful, and doesn’t cover the same 14 books over and over.

What happens if your TBR has done away with itself? This actually happened to me. About 8 months ago, I had a TBR that I anticipated would take me the whole year to complete. How wrong could I have been. I finished it somewhere around 6 weeks ago, and am struggling to build up the next. What am I going to blog about?! I feel like screaming from the rooftops.

You hit a reading/posting slump. Your usual genres have become mehhhh. Your favorite authors have swanned off to Costa Rica for a 700-day hiatus. You don’t feel like posting on that fashion magazine you devoured at the doctor’s office out of sad desperation. Send. Help.

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Blogging takes more time than a TARDIS can provide. Oh, the number of instances in which I have begged for a time machine to add 5 hours to my day. After you’ve created the post, searched for images, added said images, re-thought some of the text, edited, changed some of those images, and double checked your facts on book details, you are effectively dead, and only have about 45 minutes in which to clean your house, cook dinner, feed the cat, give the kids a bath, and turn in overdue library DVDs.

Sometimes getting that post up is Mission Impossible. You’re halfway through writing your review, and the kids have devastated the couch. The cat just couldn’t keep that hairball in any longer. Your family informs you the inside of the fridge resembles an uninhabited cave.

Or you realize you just don’t know what to say about that book.

Mixed feelings do not for a comprehensive post make. Haven’t we all finished a novel or biography and just thought, “Well…wow. Huh?!” There were parts of the story you liked, and others that made about as much sense as a peregrine falcon becoming a ballerina, so your overall impression can be summed up this way: !@$#%^&*?! But your subscribers would really prefer: “I liked the character growth between Samuel and Bonita in the early chapters, but once Bonita decided to run away to Hong Kong to raise minature pandas, I felt the forward momentum was lost.”

And there are days when you just cannot form those words.

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