‘Why We Crave Fantasy’ (2013)

I’m not talking about the kind of fantasy we have to wade through every day–Climbit change, universal free college, secular utopianism, blah-blah. All that depressing stuff that The Smartest People In The World keep pushing at us, if only we’ll just let them have lots and lots of power over us…

But there’s another kind of fantasy that’s good for us.


My Fantasy Tool Kit (8): Butt Out!

http://www.realtownblogs.com/members/Judith2/files/98%20pound.jpg[Every now and then I remember the purpose of this blog is to get you interested in my books–so please feel free to click “Books” and look them over.]

If you ever want to write a fantasy novel–or any other kind of novel, for that matter–that’ll be sheer torture to read, be sure to make a thinly-disguised version of yourself the hero of the story.

Not that the reader is going to recognize you. But most readers can recognize pure poppycock when they see it. And few are so dense that they can’t detect irrelevant personal issues from the writer barging in between the reader and the story.

When you’re telling a story, butt out! I take it for granted that no one wants to read about me–not when they could be reading about Wytt or Helki. [You’ll have to read my books to get to know these characters.] Nor do they want to read my opinions on politics or the problems of this modern world that I’m supposed to be taking them away from.

To any writer, the same advice: Get out of the way! Don’t be like the jidrool who gets up and shambles around in front of the screen in the most exciting part of the movie.

If you want your readers to believe in your characters, you have to believe in them first. Don’t make them extensions of yourself or of the people in your lives. Think of them as real. Don’t try to control every little thing they say or think or do. Get so deeply into them that they start to say and do things you never expected.

Yes, I know–if it was easy, everyone would do it. A lot of published authors can’t do it. But you don’t even want to imagine the mountain of wasted paper produced by those would-be authors who don’t even try to keep themselves out of the story. That no one ever spent any money to publish their work goes without saying.

We are always being advised, “Write what you know.” But that’s no way to go about creating imaginative fiction.

Caveat: Let no one take this to mean I endorse the practice of lazily omitting to do research and just “intuiting”–that is, making up–false information about something for which real facts are easily available. For Pete’s sake, do not write about tribal customs of the Navaho unless you first read up on it: the ghost of Tony Hillerman will show the Navaho exactly where to find you.

Look at My Competition

The Goliath of Young Adults fiction, Scholastic Books, has come out with another really big project–the Spirit Animals series by Brandon Mull.

Check out the website, http://spiritanimals.scholastic.com/about# . Has this got bells and whistles, or what? They’ve even got a Spirit Animals game you can play.

Scholastic’s last big thing was Philip Pullman’s venom-spewing atheist fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials.They pushed it like crazy in the public schools, and managed to parley it into a feature film. I am happy to say the movie sank like a stone.

So what’re these new books about? Why, “a quest to find legendary talismans” that’ll save the fantasy world from an “ancient evil”–can you say “Harry Potter Wannabe?” The heroes are kids with super-powers, which they acquire by being able to link to and bond with special Spirit Animals.(Pullman had the same motif with kids bonded to friendly, loving “daemons” which could take animal form.) “Every kid dreams of calling a Spirit Animal,” says the voice-over in the promotional video on the website.

I’m sure they’re hoping to turns this into a series of blockbluster movies, down the road, to step into the No. 1 Franchise spot when Hunger Games gets worn out.

Anyway, that’s my competition, folks.

Now go out and buy Bell Mountain and its sequels, and make the big boys at Scholastic feel all kinds of frustrated.

Swell Book, Lousy Title

How many of you would be tempted to throw out a book entitled The Wierdstone of Brisingamen? Is that or is it not one of the worst titles ever?

I recently discovered this in my collection, a 1970-something edition with a special introduction by one of the true giants of fantasy and science-fiction, Andre Norton, who heaped praise on it. So how bad  could it be? I decided to re-read it, because I couldn’t remember anything about it.

It turned out to be really good.

Author Alan GarnerWierdstone, first published in 1960, was his debut novel–liked to set his fantasies in the real world. The more of the real world that’s in the story, he reckoned, the more believable it’ll be. This story is set in Cheshire, England, where Garner was born and raised. In fact, most the details of the landscape are real.

The fantastic elements of the story all derive from bona fide Norse and Celtic folklore, with a pinch of King Arthur. Readers unfamiliar with these traditions may have trouble with the proper names.

Anyhow, the descriptive passages are truly excellent, the story itself moves along very fast, and we are amazed to discover that Garner himself, years later, called Wierdstone “one of the very worst books written during the last 20 years.”

But don’t listen to him. Find a copy of Wierdstone and enjoy it.

‘Gritty is Good?’ (Nah)

There’s a new movement in fantasy literature, summed up as “Gritty is good” by my fellow blogger, James, at “Fantasy in Motion” ( http://fantasyinmotion.wordpress.com/). James defines it: “[T]he current trend in fantasy is to practically brutalize your heroes before letting them win (or die).” And, “Our heroes now are almost anti-hero in nature. We’re meant to root for the thief, the assassin and the mercenary.”

Not me, pal.

James holds up Game of Thrones as the exemplar of “gritty” fantasy. I think Game of Thrones is dreary. I mean, the bad guys always win. That’s not fantasy. That’s New Jersey politics.

If I want “gritty,” I can just look out my window.

Gritty is the gavones next door cursing each other and pounding each other until the cops come to cart them off.

Gritty is your town, your state, and your country being “governed” by thieves, liars, perverts, and swine.

Why, as a fantasy writer, would I ever want to create a place like Camden, NJ? There already is a real Camden, and it’s horrible. Why, as a fantasy reader, would I ever want to collect ugliness, cruelty, treason, etc? I can read about it all I want to in the newspapers. Turn on the TV or the radio, and there it is.

Here’s something that I do like–gritty on the outside, but gold underneath. Toshiro Mifune was a genius when it came to playing characters like that. Remember Strider, in Lord of the Rings, who turns out to be Aragorn, the king?

In all too much of real life we get grit on the outside and not gold, but grot underneath: dirty on the outside, and even dirtier on the inside.

I don’t want it in my fantasy.