Friday, May 27, 2011

Why fantasy?

In my stories, some characters are gods, others are monsters. Some use swords, others slings and staves, and a few cast magic spells as fast as they can sing. They travel between worlds, righting wrongs simply because they are wrongs. But I really don’t think of myself as a fantasy novelist.

In my latest novel the hero is a former operative in the Space service, currently hunting werewolves. But I don’t really count myself a futuristic paranormal or scifi writer either.

It’s easy to pigeonhole a book based on such elements. “Oh, it’s got magic, must be fantasy.” Yet how many threads have we all read where people debate where the distinction lies between SF and fantasy, and whether Star Trek is one, or Star Wars the other, and what the hell do we do about Space Opera? Swords and spaceships are just trappings, however. Clarke’s Law can be stood on its head easily enough, and Heinlein has cast more than a few spells in his day, calling it the highest of tech. Some of the best fantasy novels feature the introduction of technologies, and not a few scifi novels open doors to magical realms. The secret is not in the trappings but what they represent: Order v. Chaos. A device that breaks the rules is fantasy, a spell crafted according to a procedure is scifi. Men who transcend the powers of nature are fantasy heroes, gods who fail when men fail belong to a scifi universe.

I don’t write fantasy or SF, though, because my books don’t really care about the trappings. I write characters and their purposes. In the very first review of my work that I ever received, it was compared to a famous work of mythology, of which I had never heard to that point. Shortly after reading up on the Chinese Monkey God, I came across a movie featuring him as a character. Small world. Maybe. More recently I combined several mythologies on purpose to explain vampires, and my current novel is centered around Jasec, teller of tales and keeper of lore. My stories are about people making lemonade, as we all do, but with fantasy lemons.

Which, to my mind, makes them fables, and there’s no publishing category for that.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Stop trying to write me and write me!

Writer's block is not something I usually suffer from. Sorry. 'From which I usually suffer.' It's my internal editor/critic who causes most of my problems.

As a pantser I usually just follow my characters around and see what they do, with only an idea of a plot which is usually embedded in the situation. Joseph Marquand is a werewolf hunter investigating a werewolf attack on a lunar base populated by two different types of werewolves. What happens next? Well, it depends on which character you're following. My storyteller Jasec is telling tales to a variety of listeners. What he tells and how he tells it varies with his audience and his purpose, a larger context that has a life of its own.

Sometimes the story I try to tell is not the story I thought I was telling. I try to find the logic of the characters, figure out what they'll do in a given situation. But characters, if they're created right to begin with, aren't necessarily logical, any more than any other person. If they were perfectly logical they'd be computers or Vulcans, both of whom make boring lead characters. In order to make them interesting we have to give them human characteristics, at the risk of having them act OOC or completely upset the internal dynamic of the universe we write in. If Vulcans start acting like us, only with their greater strength, intelligence, and lifespans, why are humans the dominant power in the Federation? If vampires are just super-sexy, bloodsucking people, why wouldn't everyone on Earth want to be one? Where's the downside?

All of which is just my way of saying that I'm straying from the point. A properly made character does what he wants to do, and trying to force him to do the logical thing, or the plot-advancing thing, just ain't gonna work. Men usually don't know what the plot of their lives is, and they wouldn't necessarily go out of their way to advance it if they did. A character who only did that sort of thing would be a cardboard cutout, and no one would care.

So I don't suffer from writer's block, but I do suffer from character-block. Sometimes they just don't want to do what I want them to do, and the story won't let me write it until I stop trying to write some other story.

Hasn't this ever happened to you?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

My word

I’m writing Scripture today. It feels strange, me being an adherent of no religion.

But that doesn’t mean I have no faith. All men have faith, they must, too much of the world is beyond our direct experience, and even that assumes that our senses are accurate and reliable, as Descartes pointed out long ago. We believe, we have faith, that our senses are veridical. We believe that others are telling us the truth (i.e., beliefs that they hold to be true), perhaps not so much lately. We believe that while others may not all mean us well, neither do they mean us harm. These beliefs may not be true but we have to believe that they or some beliefs like them are true, otherwise there is no trust and the systems that make our society function break down. Law is no substitute for trust and faith. Neither is religion or government. These ‘shared faiths’, mere instruments, unify and strengthen that society, but they do not make it. Mistaking the substitute for the source can even have pernicious effects in the end.

My writing is set in worlds where common action is much more necessary than it is in our own. Religious and political structures are therefore much more important, but since I also do not write in this world I cannot and do not use our religions. Religions serve a purpose, and creating one deliberately is difficult work. I model my religions on some of the religions we have created for ourselves, trying to do justice to the spirit of the enterprise.

There are people for whom this is not good enough. The light in their eyes goes out, their faces fall, the instant I use the word ‘gods’ rather than ‘God’. I consider this unfortunate. Equally unfortunate is the tendency I see in many fantasy and science fiction novels to either have no religion at all (substituting something else for the substitute) or treating it as automatically pernicious. This is not helpful. Priests are not merely power-hungry tyrants manipulating the fears of the peasantry and aristocracy alike in order to…well,whatever, but usually to stamp out the wizards. Which always struck me as odd, since clearly in worlds where magic worked, any monarch would want to have it in his arsenal, but I digress. Off the top of my head I can only recall Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni books and C. Dale Brittain’s books as portraying established religion in a more tolerant light. I would be interested to learn of others.