Newest post is up at Mslexia – click here for Part I of the Dos and Don’ts of writing SFF. Includes reference to poisonous space-rhinos, which I now *have to* write a story about.
My latest blog about genre-writing is up at Mslexia. Here’s an excerpt – click here for the full read. And I do hope you like the zebra photo. I aim to serve.
No one wants to be pigeonholed. I just want to write books so wonderful that everyone loves them, all over the world. Even people who don’t normally read will adore what I write and praise me. Loudly. You want the same thing, right?
With that in mind, identifying yourself as a genre writer and distinguishing yourself from the mainstream – isn’t that cutting yourself off, selling yourself short?
I don’t think so. Far from being limiting, I have found more support, useful advice and a stronger sense of my writing identity since I defined myself as a fantasy writer. Here’s how it worked for me, and while my references and resources are particularly about Sci-Fi/Fantasy, I hope that some of this will be useful to those writing in other genres, too.
I hope you’ll read the full post here.
My first post is up at the Mslexia blog – w00t! It’s the first of six pieces about writing Fantasy (and the SF/F genre in general). Mslexia is a quarterly magazine aimed at women writers, and it’s my absolute favourite writing-type periodical, so I am very chuffed to be guest blogging for them. Come on over and read my piece, then check out the rest of the site if you haven’t heard of them before. Excerpt follows.
From the Mslexia Blog
I didn’t mean to write ‘genre’. I hadn’t even considered it – but when I joined my local writing class, every story I told had something supernatural in it. Magic and myth, alternative histories, witches and other worlds. What was happening to me? I hadn’t read anything like that since my teens, so was surprised to find myself writing it now.
I was reading serious novels those days; classics, Booker Prize winners, modern stories about India and child abuse. Somehow I’d changed from the girl who devoured every book in the library’s ‘Science Fiction’ section (where anything vaguely Asimov, McCaffrey or Herbert was shelved), stopped being the girl who stalked Terry Pratchett til he remembered my name*. I’d become a reading snob, and hadn’t even noticed.
My review of Warm Bodies is up at Slacker Heroes today. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this, not being a big zombie fan, but it was gorgeous. Funny, full of art and music and just the right side of sentimental. Zombie romance – who knew?
I just love your brraaiins: 3 reasons to fall in love with a zombie
He lives in a plane
Post zombie plague, the undead hang out in large groups at abandoned places while the living hide in barricaded, joyless camps. ‘R’, our zombie narrator, lives in an abandoned airport, and has claimed a 747 commercial jet as his private pad. He spends his days travelling up and down the airport escalators, then up and down again. I guess they’re operating at the same level of animation. His friend ‘M’ is more down to earth (all zombies have forgotten their full, living names; M and R think they remember the first initials of theirs, at least) and is as sleazy and female obsessed in death as he was in life. M lives in the ladies bathroom, watching soft porn and tripping on hits from fresh brains. I know which bachelor pad I’d prefer.
‘My friend ‘M’ says the irony of being a zombie is that everything is funny, but you can’t smile, because your lips have rotted off.’
He loves music
It’s hard for the zombies to remember what happened to them, or what their lives were like before. R seems to be the only one who cares, and his inability to piece anything together is upsetting him. He collects records and memorabilia, paintings, movies and dolls, and piles them up in his plane-pad. He’s certain they were things of importance but unable to remember why. His mind is stretching beyond his zombie lot in life, but his memory won’t play ball and his vocabulary, limited to the occasional shuffling syllable, can’t help him ask what he wants to know. In one of the cutest, coolest scenes of the novel, he uses his vinyl stash to ‘scratch’ the words he wants to say, skipping through lines of Sinatra records to articulate his thoughts.
Who’s he trying to communicate with? Well. When he eats the brain of a twenty something soldier, he experiences the love the boy had for his bright, full of life girlfriend and decides to rescue her and bring her back to his plane. Yes, you’re right, not the cleverest idea ever. Bring a living girl into an airport full of zombies in order to protect her? Hmm. Anyway, while she’s there they start playing the records he’s amassed, and have a strange few days of hanging out, playing records and eating Thai food. Sounds like my 20s. Though I never had to cover myself in the blood of the dead to hide my scent from the hordes of hungry dead outside.
He values pop culture
Frustrated that none of the other zombies seem to remember or want more, R loses his temper and shouts at a zombie he meets when looping the escalators one day. She has a name tag – she has a name, a clue to her old life, but zombies can’t read so all it does is taunt him.
‘Name,’ I say, glaring into her ear. ‘Name?’
She shoots me a cold look and keeps walking.
‘Job? School?’ My tone shifts from query to accusation. ‘Movie? Song?’ It bubbles out of me like oil from a punctured pipeline. ‘Book?’ I shout at her. ‘Home? Name?’
I think I’d get on with this guy. Picture it. We’re in his plane, listening to Sinatra, eating pad Thai and talking about books. He’s kinda immortal. He’s got DJ skills. He wants to know where I’m from, what my favourite movie is. He’s eaten my boyfriend’s brain to get to know me better – if that’s not commitment, what is?
Every few pages of this novel has a reference to what this new, dead world is missing; Julie’s eyes are likened to ‘classic novels and poetry’, while R’s cravings for brraaiins pulse like pink Pollock fractals. Polaroids are valuable because memories are fading, Beatles songs weave in and out of the chapters, and R and his crew are a ‘cadaverous cadre…roaming the open roads like Kerouac beats with no gas money’. The people behind the barricades have no time to teach their children about art and music, because learning to load a gun and cut a zombie’s brains out are more urgent life skills. They dress in khaki and there’s no booze left in the pub. They are alive, but what for? Warm Bodies is a love letter to what we still have – culture, creativity, emotion, (vodka) – and inspires me to relish it now, before the zombie apocalypse takes it all away.
from ’3 reasons to fall in love with a zombie’
Firstly, if you’re going to be preparing food then you’d best wear an apron. What better way to express your love for all things Whedon than with this jaunty ‘Grr Argh’ apron from Cafepress? They also have a ‘Browncoat’ apron, which would be brilliant if only it were brown. Call me OCD but I couldn’t wear a lemon yellow apron with the word brown on it, though I would like to see someone try to get Jayne Cobb wearing one. Shiny.
Suitably apronned, you may now adopt a devil-may-care approach to cutting pizza, perhaps using this AMAZING Enterprise pizza wheel. I would have to hum the Star Trek music while slicing, and I just know I’m going to think of the clever pizza/Picard pun that’s eluding me *after* I publish this.
Two Star Wars options for dessert – you know the Empire would have the best sweets, full of delicious, nasty sugar and over-processed flour. Remember the edible clone troopers I linked to before? Darth was breathless and puffy from diabetes, not evil. Whereas the rebels would be all hemp and granola, not a snickerdoodle in sight. Here’s a Death Star Cookie Jar from thinkgeek, and a Darth Cake tray from Incredible Things. Luke, I am your baker.
Lastly, somewhere to stash any leftovers. Bento boxes aren’t really my thing, as they seem to only be for tiny portions, not the Bowley-sized hunks of food I prefer. Anything from Studio Ghibli is always good, though, and this Ponyo bento box is super kawaii. I’d have difficulty eating anything fishy from it, though, without feeling like I was eating one of Ponyo’s sisters. Vegan treats only.
My Advent Thanksgiving series is a series of posts about stuff I liked in 2011. Music, books, tv, games, handsome gentlemen – you get the idea.
Have you already seen these? Quite possibly the best photos I’ve seen this year (thank you Chris) these were shot for Esquire in ’67. I’ve been searching for an explanation, ideally an accompanying article, but can’t find much. It seems to be a stand alone photo shoot, presumably in tandem with Warhol’s excellently titled film, Batman Dracula.
The Throwing Muses gig I blogged about last month was in the same venue as a free exhibit, Warhol is Here, at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. What a way to spend the evening – we had fish n chips, Kristin Hersh, cold beer on a moonlit balcony over the sea and Andy Warhol. Very special. I hadn’t seen the three prints below, and they are now my favourites, especially the one for Chelsea Girls.
This one’s a no-brainer. If you haven’t already seen my gushing review of this for the BFS, click here to read it.
When I started doing book reviews it was because I thought it would be cool – I’d just joined the British Fantasy Society, and when they tweeted that they needed more reviewers it seemed an ideal way to get involved. Plus, hey, free books! I was right, it is cool, and perhaps book reviewing should get it’s own Advent Door as it’s definitely made 2011 fun. I’ve discovered new writers and read great books I might not have found out about otherwise, often before they were published. It’s connected me to other reviewers with similar tastes, and now I review for Slacker Heroes too. It’s hard to believe that this time last year I didn’t have a blog and hadn’t ever reviewed a book (except out loud, ranting, raving or recommending to my friends).
But when I offered to get involved with reviews there was another factor, apart from coolness and book-greed. Hope. I knew that Laini Taylor and Stacia Kane (two of my favourite writers) both had new books out soon. I didn’t expect it to work out, but I crossed my fingers and squinted my eyes up and hoped I might get to read one of them early. I was willing to risk reading bad books by other people if it meant I was in with a chance of getting one of theirs. I didn’t think I actually would, but you gotta hope, right?
But I did! Hope works, people! The reviews person at the BFS had approximately 90 seconds grace between sending out the ‘Would anyone like to review ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone‘ and getting a shrieking, capitalised response from me, begging for the review copy. Which I got. W00t!
I then panicked that the book might not be as good as I hoped, that my high expectations would sour it, and I left the book on my table for a while. I worried. Then finally I began, and loved it. Phew. I still want more Dreamdark books, and I miss Magpie and her band of crows. But Karou and the warring angels were a sumptuous substitute for the sequel to Silksinger (ooh, so many Esses) and now I have two Laini Taylor series to recommend. Marvellous.
(Just need someone from Harper Collins to send me an ARC of Sacrificial Magic now… #cheeky).
Here’s a great trailer for the book, and another link to my review.
**Trumpet fanfare please, I’m very excited about this**
I’m going to be a guest blogger for Mslexia next year! I’ll be posting from January til March on what it’s like to be writing fantasy, vs literary fiction. No, I won’t just be saying the most obvious thing – Never Judge A Book By It’s Genre. I’ll be writing about the different things fantasy/SF writers have to think about, e.g. not only ‘is my character’s voice consistent’ but also ‘is this magic system consistent’. There are big pluses to being in a niche – it’s easier to find friends, get clear about what you’re about, stand apart from the crowd – but it can also be frustrating, when people take your writing less seriously because it has dragons in it. I’ll link here as my posts go up, and in the meantime you can see my tiny profile here.
If you haven’t heard of Mslexia, you’ve missed out. It’s a quartlerly magazine about writing and featuring writing. Their mission: ‘Mslexia is dedicated to encouraging, nurturing and empowering women writers to produce, publish and have their work read, with the parallel aim of improving the reach and quality of women’s literature.’
And the name?
‘Mslexia means women’s writing (ms = woman lexia = words). Its association with dyslexia is intentional. Dyslexia is a difficulty, more prevalent in men, with reading and spelling; Mslexia was created to address a difficulty, more prevalent in women, with getting into print… Read the article ‘Three cures for Mslexia‘ written by Editor Debbie Taylor from the launch issue of the magazine, which analyses some of the issues at stake.’
One of the first things I did when I decided to take writing seriously was subscribe to Mslexia, and I love it when a new issue arrives. I take myself off somewhere and squirrel down to read it, highlighting competitions, lit festivals, good advice. Their blog has already had some great contributors, so I am thrilled to be able to join in. In fact, I just ate another mince pie to celebrate. Hope to see you there in January.
Technically, Advent has already started. Or so Wikipedia says. In my world, though, and maybe yours too, if I’m not yet allowed to rip back that cardboard & eat cheap chocolate for breakfast, it ain’t advent. Which means it’s not advent til tomorrow and thus my series of advent posts isn’t late. Phew.
Kinda inspired by all the ‘I am thankful for’ posts that Americans got to post on their blogs last week, this month I’ll be posting about things from 2011 that made me glad, made me lustful, made me dance, made me head of a guild of thieves with a fighting horse and magic gloves*, and made me grateful for my wifi and my local library. See you tomorrow. I’ll probably start with lust
*January Edit: I didn’t post about Skyrim in the end, because Paul Cornell did it so well on his blog that it eclipsed anything I would have said. The bastard.
Oh, I have been remiss and not linked to my review of this yet, though it was such a fun novel to read And – and! – the lovely lady who wrote it, Cathy Pegau, agreed to step into my virtual parlour and answer some questions for me.
After working my way through a knot of books that were hardgoing and/or disappointing, Rulebreaker turned up in my ‘To Read’ pile at just the right time to give me a breather & remind me that reading should be a good time. Here’s the Slacker Heroes review:
I’m excited today because, as well as a book review, I’ve invited the author to answer some questions for us. Rulebreaker is a sci fi romance by Cathy Pegau, out now from Carina Press, and our Q&A session is at the end of this review.
Rulebreaker’s heroine, Liv, is a low-level criminal with a history of smash ’n grab jobs. She’s been a con since she was a kid, and has yet to find either an honest alternative or the job big enough for her to retire.
The novel opens with Liv on the floor with a gun at her head, held hostage during a bank job. She is particularly peeved about this because she was there to rob the place herself. It’s a nice twist, and gives us Liv’s droll, down on her luck point of view from the start.
The first person, ‘just-wants-an-easy-life-but-keeps-getting-into-trouble’ point of view reminded me of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, and the light but fast-paced tone made this a quick and enjoyable read.
The story’s set on Nevarro, a mining planet that’s seen better days. Like most of the drones who work for the mining company, Liv dreams of a bigger things, a better life, legitimate or not. When her handsome ex husband tells her about the job big enough to give her what she wants, she’s tempted despite how things ended between them. One last job, right? Right. We all know how that’s going to go.
As in all good crime capers, Liv gets involved despite the obvious danger. Before long she’s embroiled in corporate espionage, living with her ex and chillingly aware that the people she’s working for are seriously nasty criminals. They’ve hired her to get close to her sexy new boss, and do whatever it takes to get the information she needs. Did I mention that Liv’s long-lost mother (also a con) picks the worst time to reappear and move into her flat, or that her sexy new boss is a woman?
The scene is set for an engaging adventure with some deliciously saucy scenes. Pegau writes well and delivers humour and a believable plot along with the sexual tension. I’ll definitely look out for more of her books in the future, and especially recommend this for Stephanie Plum fans who like a little sci-fi (and a bit of girl-on-girl).
Now for the Q&A section
Thanks for your time, Cathy! How long have you been writing SF/F?
I’ve always loved the SF/F genres as a reader, so it was a natural progression when I started writing years ago. And I do mean YEARS. I wrote my first novel (sword and sorcery fantasy, not pubbed, still in the virtual desk drawer, would love to revise and see it out there) about 12 years ago. There have been sequels and other genres in that time as I learned more about the craft and about myself as a writer. The futuristic/SF setting has been a favorite for a while, but the addition of romance is a relatively recent thing for me.
What comes first for you, characters or story?
That’s sort of a chicken or the egg question, isn’t it? It changes for each story. I’ve had plot ideas that generated characters as well as characters I knew I’d love that I built the plot around. Not that it’s ever so simple : )
For Rulebreaker it was a little bit of both. I was contemplating a story about a thief falling for the person she was supposed to steal from, so the plot and character went hand in hand pretty much from the beginning. Liv was fleshed out as the plot continued to develop, before I even started the actual writing. When it came time to “cast” the love interest, however, the fact it was another woman added all kinds of conflict and characterization dimensions. So while Liv more or less came along with the story, Zia grew from it.
What’s coming next – when can we read more of your stuff?
Nothing official at the moment. I have a couple of more books in the same world with secondary characters taking the leads. I’ll let you know when something happens with them.
Please recommend another writer from Carina, for us to read while we wait for your next novel/
Wow, so many to consider! For science fiction (with or without romance) I like Ella Drake, Robert Appleton, Lilly Cain, KC Burn, Lisa Paitz Spindler, Diane Dooley, among others. There are also great romantic suspense authors like Natalie Damschroder and Maureen A. Miller. I love a good romantic suspense story.
No theme for this week’s links, apart from no-theme. And coolness. I’ve also included a new playlist for you, not styled as anything to do with writing this time, just the ear-worms of my summer. But let’s get to that in a minute. Firstly – breakfast!
Sarah Wilson found a great article about Hunter S Thompson’s rigorous, riotous breakfast requirements. I’ve always loved his writing, but never much fancied living with the guy, what with the whole ranch-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-filled-with-guns-dynamite-and-crazy-people asethetic he had going on. But this is the kind of breakfast I’d be willing to make a lifestyle change for.
‘. . . The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crêpes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned-beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, two margaritas and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert. . .’
Read the full description here. Then come back to read about Monster Hair Clips. I know you want to.
Monster hair clips. Werewolf snouts. Tentacle belts. Visit Miss Monster’s store of Fantasy accessories and get your very own antlers. I have a big crush on this shop and I’m hoping to wear some of these to work and see who notices.
Fed and dressed? You’ll be ready for a photo of an enormous rabbit then.
Crafty Crafty blogged about this Big Yellow Rabbit, a sculpture by Florentijn Hofman which you can see if you are in Örebro, Sweden next week. Or now. I would love to walk around the corner and see something like this. I know my boyfriend thinks this is how I see the world all the time (He’s the prosaic one. I’m the trippy daydreamer).
Finally, here’s my latest 8tracks playlist. No writing theme this time, other than the fact that I write and I also like this. This summer my brain has looped these songs over and over, so for my own sake I’ve put them all in one place where I can get to them easily. You’ll see that my New Wave fetish continues unabated. The track by Television is over 10 minutes long, and totally worth it.
As always, if you only see a blank spot below, you’re using a browser which doesn’t like Flash. Click here for the music instead. Tracklisting below.
8tracks licensing requires that the second time you listen to a playlist it plays in random order. But all other times you should hear the songs in this order –
1 No Fun, The Stooges
2 Marquee Moon, Television
3 Thank You For Sending Me An Angel, Talking Heads
4 Kimberly, Patti Smith
5 Gravity Rides Everything, Modest Mouse
6 Gone Daddy Gone, Violent Femmes
7 Cattle and Cane, The Go-Betweens
8 This Time Tomorrow, The Kinks
Happy Weekend. X
The Etsy shop, Intergalacticdesign, is full of great switch plates – check it out here – and then visit Tickled Fancy for more very cool finds (and some perfect Mad Men art). She’s on twitter too, so I think a follow is in order – @whirringblender
Due to some late night messing around on WordPress without supervision, I got
water on it locked out of my old blog for a few weeks. Don’t mix droopy eyelids with WordPress, kids. So I finally had some impetus to move to this domain, which I had parked for when I felt clever and special enough to use my own name. Um. Well. I feel more dishevelled and out-of-sorts than either of those things, but fake it til you make it, as Socrates said.
Of course, minutes after I’d got this place set up I regained access to my old site – but I’m comfy now. And I did something to the css that I don’t understand but am very proud of. So I’m staying here. Welcome!
I’ve moved my old posts and comments over already, and I’ve added in links to my reviews that live elsewhere. There will be more of those soon – I’ll soon be reviewing at Slacker Heroes three times a month, which I’m very chuffed about, cos that’s where all the cool kids hang out. And me.
What with Slacker Heroes, my latest parcel from the British Fantasy Society, and my ongoing Amazon addiction (my Kindle is a hungry beast) I have lots of reading to do this month. Read read read. Write write write. I failed CampNano last month – did you? - but it did what I wanted it to do, which was remind me that I can write fast and write fast I did. Am. Looks like I will have a finished version* of this story by the end of next week and then I can start prettying it up. Read read read. Write write write.
(*I hate the word draft today. ‘Version’ will do nicely instead, plus it reminds me of The Lemonheads)
I’ve already encountered the first book so bad I won’t review it (it’s another writer’s baby, so I would feel like such a bitch if I publicly slandered it, even though it was v dire), and thankfully discovered Lev Grossman whose awesomeness totally made up for the bad book. I was sent The Magician King, but decided to pick up The Magicians and read that first to get the context. Boy am I glad I did – Lev and I clearly read the same books growing up, and he has built a world where all the cool bits of, say, Narnia or Tom’s Midnight Garden are real and even grown-ups can get there . I’d hate to be too old to visit magical lands.
Reviews of both ‘The Magicians’ and ‘The Magician King’ coming soon, as well as a post that was already brewing on which books I (and Lev Grossman, maybe?) loved when I was younger and haunt me now I’m creating a world of my own. Mine’s more graffiti’d railway bridges than grandfather clocks, but I feel those echoes when I write, nonetheless.
Thanks for coming over to say hi to me in my new place. Leave the welcome gifts on the table – yes, I’ll take that beer, thanks, how kind – and feel free to look around. Ignore that New Smell, it’ll wear off soon.
Reviewed for the British Fantasy Socie
Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
September 2011, Hodder & Stoughton
I demand that two new laws are immediately passed. 1) more books set in Prague 2) more books by Laini Taylor. Read this & you will understand. With its secretive streets and tall spired towers, the Czech city perfectly suits this gothic, fairytale romance. The pages burst with art and romance, legend and tragedy, with fog and with teeth. Secret portals that cross the globe in a flash. Real angels on the Charles Bridge. This book could not have been set anywhere else.
Read the full review here