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Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

1.  A Writer’s Journey: Tips on everything from writing good villains to making time to write.  Excellent site!

2.  Creative Liberty: Creative development across all media; this month’s focus is on developing creative momentum.  Especially good for those of us who practice more than one art.

3.  Beanery Writers Weblog: Home of the Beanery Online Literary Magazine.  Includes articles and tips on writing, as well as some really excellent fiction.

4.  Life of a Writer: Advice on writing, finding writing jobs, and juggling writing with the rest of your life.

5.  A Place for Strangers and Beggars: The blog of teacher and SF writer James Van Pelt.  Includes all sorts of interesting and useful advice from a professional.

6.  Becoming a Fiction Writer: An aspiring writer shares what she’s learning as she goes along.

7. Tripping the Muse: Everything from avoiding sexist language to selling your work.

8. Confident Writing: Tips from a writing coach.

9. Hope Writes: Creativity for writers of all stripes.

10. The Writers Group: “Four women share how they encourage, give feedback, and offer critique as they create their unique literary lives.”  A nurturing sort of blog.

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When most people think about politics, they think of government policy, election campaigns, lobbying, and everything that involves the people who run the government.  Of course, politics encompasses more than just government.  Politics includes competition in the workplace, between family members, between members of any organization, even between friends.

It can be difficult to write about politics, however; it’s one of those touchy subjects that almost everyone has very strong feelings about, and many of us would rather not ruffle feathers.  And it’s hard to write fiction about current political affairs without giving your work a very short shelf-life.  But it’s difficult to write without somehow involving politics, whether in the sense of government, or in the sense of competition between individuals. 

If you write fantasy or science fiction, the issue of politics is particularly salient; writing speculative fiction is one way to write about current affairs while giving your work value that lasts beyond today’s headlines.  Many writers have used imaginary political systems to criticize their own, or to speculate about the long-term effects of the decisions their governments have made.

Think today about how politics touches your writing.  Do your characters have strong feelings about how governent should work?  Do your characters compete with others for the best job, the best seat at the table, the most attention from a mentor? Do their feelings about politics affect their actions?  If you write speculative fiction, is the political system in the world you’ve created similar to the one in which you live today, or based on systems from the past, or is it something entirely new?  What does your fictional political system say about the world you live in?

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I was talking with some friends at work yesterday about embarrassment.  Not just feeling mildly foolish, but the kind of embarrassment that makes you want to run and hide. The kind that makes you avoid certain people when you see them on the street.  The kind that comes back to you, years later, in the middle of the night, and you wonder what you could have done differently.

There’s a lot of energy in embarrassment.  It’s a universal experience; all of us have been absolutely mortified at one moment or another.  Thus, it’s an emotion that readers can readily identify with.

If you write fiction, it’s helpful, when writing about strong emotion, to anchor your characters’ experiences in your own; while writing about your own embarrassing moments might not be comfortable, your discomfort can help to make your characters’ discomfort more realistic, more palpable.  In addition, embarrassment and humiliation can be  strong motivating factors for characters; most people would go far out of their way to avoid being embarrassed, and most would go out of their way to redeem themselves after a humiliating situation. 

What are your most embarrassing moments?  Are they experiences that other people would find embarrassing?  What is your reaction to embarrassment?  What kinds of things in your surroundings do you tend to notice?  What physical sensations do you feel?  How long do these sensations last? What is the most embarrassing experience that you can imagine?

For fiction writers, what kinds of things would your character find embarrassing?  How are they different from or similar to what embarrasses you?  How does your character react to embarrassment?

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Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt (1990)

Roland Michell is a literary scholar who specializes in the work of one Victorian poet, Randolph Ash.  One day, while conducting research, he comes across a draft of a letter, written by Ash to an unknown woman, and for Roland, an obsession is born. 

Part literary romance, part epistolary novel, and part detective story, Possession examines the ways in which life affects literature, and the ways in which literature affects life.  Byatt juggles voices flawlessly; each letter, each poem, and each character are completely distinct from each other, switching back and forth from Victorian to contemporary styles.  The story told in correspondence and poems is deeply sad, and touching, in the way that Victorian poems often are, and the modern story is full of hope.

Readers should be aware that this is not an easy or quick read.  The book starts slowly, each event building on the next, and the language is dense; it requires close reading.  But as the characters become more obsessed, the book itself becomes more absorbing, until it reaches a very satisfying conclusion.

Fans of the fairy tales and epics of Victorian literature should not miss this novel; Byatt includes exerpts and entire texts of poems written by the fictional characters, and they are every bit as lovely as those by Tennyson or Shelley or Byron.

Rating: A

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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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