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Archive for July, 2008

1. Endicott Studio : Home of The Journal of Mythic Arts; tons of well-written, thoughtful information about the folklore and fairy tales of many different cultures. Also, poems and stories by the like of Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Jane Yolen and more.

2. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing: An online course in speculative fiction writing from Jeffrey A. Carver

3. Exploring Ancient World Cultures: An introduction to Ancient Greece, Rome, India, China, Egypt, the Near East, early Islam and Medieval Europe.

4. Dave’s Mythical Creatures: A good place to start when populating your fantasy or science fiction worlds.

5. Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions: To help writers flesh out fantasy and science fiction worlds and how they work.

6. SpecFic World: Advice to Writers: Lots of articles specifically for fantasy and science fiction writers.

7. The Best of Legends: Information on some of the most famous legends of all time, including Robin Hood, King Arthur, Beowulf and more.

8. Ralan’s Webstravaganza: Extensive market information for F, SF & H writers; includes pay rates, guidelines and more.

9. Storm the Castle: Articles for writers, but that’s not all. Stretch your creativity with dioramas, model rockets and classical guitar as well. A plethora of information, nicely organized.

10. David Walton’s Writing Advice: Mostly links, well-organized, from a wide range of speculative fiction writers

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I found a post today at Creative Writing: Writing for the Sheer Joy of Writing; it’s exactly what I needed to see right now.  I’ve been helping a friend through a difficult custody battle (I have to be in court with her tomorrow, to testify on her behalf); I’ve been helping my sister through a tough time of her own; I’m trying to find a new job; I’m trying to quit smoking.  And I’m trying to write.

I think it’s important, if I want to be a successful writer, to make it a commitment, a responsibility, part of my everyday life.  But that doesn’t mean that I have to let life leach all the joy out of it.  I tend to overplan, I think, because my time to write is so limited, but if I don’t allow my creative self to play, to explore, just a little, how can I feed it?

The post is about no-consequences writing.  Freewriting, letting oneself just let words flow out without checking to see if they make sense.  Let them meander, see if they lead anywhere.  They might, they might not.  Either way’s okay.  Either way, I think I’m putting less pressure on myself to get the prescribed number of stories done in the prescribed amount of time, and paradoxically, perhaps, I’m more likely to meet my goals.

Happy writing!

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I’m asked sometimes, particularly by professors at the university where I work, why I choose to write in the fantasy/speculative fiction genre.

It’s not an easy question to answer.  I like to read fantasy; I always have, ever since my sister gave me a full set of  The Chronicles of Narnia when I was in fourth grade.  I wanted so badly to be able to open my closet door and find a world waiting for me there that sometimes I couldn’t sleep at night.  I didn’t have monsters in my closet; I had fauns and centaurs and talking lions.  My love of fantasy and science fiction didn’t go away when I got older, either, as it did for many of my friends.  I discovered Yeats and Shakespeare and Spencer, and since I read them in classes, nobody batted an eye.  When I read Bradbury and LeGuin, a few of my teachers pursed their lips and became very quiet.  When I read Marion Zimmer Bradley, one of my teachers told me, “But you’re so much smarter than that!”

Excuse me?

The best fantasy is not simply escapist; it uses myth and magic as metaphor, as symbols for the kinds of things we really don’t like to talk about in the open.  That’s what fairy tales are, and that’s what myths are: the verbalization of cultural and collective fears and hopes, the dreams that we may not say aloud.  So we talk about them in hushed voices, with symbols that we may not see immediately, but that we feel nonetheless.  The Dark Wood is everything that frightens us in the night, everything we don’t feel strong enough to confront in open daylight.

I write fantasy because it’s where the “meat” of human existence is, from my point of view.  The fears that stir deep inside the belly, that pull the covers over your head at night.  I also write fantasy because there’s a sense of wonder there that I’ve never found in any other kind of literature.  I want to feel that there’s something mysterious left in the world, something that neither science nor religion can properly explain.  Fantasy, while I’m reading or writing, lets me imagine a world where anything is possible, and there’s no one to tell me that the things I fear and the things I hope for are foolish.

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Well, my current project isn’t a novel (though I have one of those in the closet), but several stories I’d like to get out by the middle of August. Revisions and everything.

Wish me luck!

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Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip (2007)

Sylvia Lynn has spent most of her adult life avoiding going home, staying away from the dark, tangled woods that surround her family’s estate. But she feels an obligation to return to Lynn Hall for her grandfather’s funeral. While she’s there, she meets the Fiber Guild, a group of women who, with needles and hooks and thread, stitch together things far more mysterious than torn hems and quilt squares. She has something to hide, and so do they, and their secrets form a pattern that could change Sylvia’s life forever.

Patricia McKillip, as always, paints vivid, magical pictures with her lush, lyric language, which is her chief strength as a writer. Instead of a secondary-world or historical fantasy, however, she turns her pen to the modern day, to a sleepy little village and characters who are reluctant to embrace the modern age, but are desperate to escape the stagnation and bonds of the past. She revisits the village that provides the setting for Winter Rose (2002), a couple of centuries after Rois Melior’s story, and Rois figures prominently in this novel as well.

McKillip’s characters in Solstice Wood are well-drawn, and even the tertiary and secondary characters are fully-fleshed. The book is divided into sections told from various characters’ point of view, and while their motivations and personalities are distinct, the tone and the language they use to describe their separate journeys are not; the language of a fourteen-year-old boy sounds suspiciously like that of a mature fantasy writer.

The plot here is nothing a seasoned fantasy reader hasn’t seen before; but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In McKillip’s very capable hands, a plot that might seem cliche from another writer is fresh and absorbing. The ending, however, seems a tad contrived, a bit pat for the intricacy of the rest of the novel.

All in all, Solstice Wood is a very satisfying read, but not an earth-shakingly good one. Grade: B+

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“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” — Philip K. Dick

“Rule one of reading other people’s stories is that whenever you say ‘well that’s not convincing’ the author tells you that’s the bit that wasn’t made up. This is because real life is under no obligation to be convincing.” — Neil Gaiman

“Our lives with all their miracles and wonders are merely a discontinuous string of incidents – until we create the narrative that gives them meaning.” — Arlene Goldbard

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” — Orson Scott Card

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Rather, how many times have I said it?

I’m making a new commitment to writing.

Every person who writes, or wants to write, or occasionally thinks about writing, has said this sometime, somewhere. I’m making a new commitment to writing.

Really, though. I mean it. I’m tired of putting myself and what I want to do with my life in last place. I’m tired letting the job, the messy house, the decrepit car, the broken toaster all come first. I’m making a new commitment to writing.

The thing is, I write every day. But I don’t write for very long, or ask myself to write very well. I’d like to think I’m dedicated to the craft of writing, but I can’t seem to make myself take time to do revisions. Not when Dr. Who is on, or the X-Files movie is playing at the theater, or it’s a hot day and my son wants to go to the water park. But I’m making a new commitment to writing.

Maybe if I say it enough times, I might believe it.

I’m making a new commitment to writing.

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