The Liebster Award

The amazing Helen of High Fantasy Addict has kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award. Thank you very much, Helen!

The Liebster Award acknowledges bloggers who run great and underrated blogs. If your blog has fewer than 200 followers, you’re eligible.

I’ve seen this one making the rounds, and I think it’s both sweet and fun. It’s also my first award, so of course I’m really excited about it!

Since this is one of those awards where the nominees make their own nominations, there are a few instructions for me to stick to. To accept the nomination, I’m supposed to put a picture of the award with a link to the blog that nominated me. Thank you again, Helen. Then we have the following:

1. List eleven random facts about yourself
2. Nominate eleven other bloggers for the Liebster Award
3. Notify these bloggers
4. Ask eleven questions that the bloggers must answer upon accepting the Liebster Award
5. Answer the eleven questions that you were asked when you were nominated.

As soon as this is posted, I’ll contact the bloggers I’ve nominated. Everything else, I’ll do in order. Here we go!

List Eleven Random Facts About Yourself

  1. I’ve always wanted a Siberian Husky.
  2. When I was 18, I turned to my mom and said, “Mom, I’ve lived in the U.S. for 18 years. I think 18 years is enough time living anywhere.” I moved to Switzerland that year and I’ve been in Europe ever since.
  3. I didn’t major in Creative Writing during my University studies. I tried to take a class as a minor, but the professors refused me entry without even looking at a sample piece. I have never forgiven them. I still believe I can make it.
  4. I am a big proponent of people in fantasy novels using guns and gunpowder, but I have never held a real gun in my life.
  5. I despise raisins and everything they stand for. Don’t ask me what they stand for; I’m sure they stand for something, and I’m sure it’s despicable.
  6. I am nearly fluent in Danish. I plan to be fluent by the end of this year.
  7. I can read (but not speak!) hieroglyphics from Ancient Egypt.
  8. My current job is giving walking tours around Copenhagen for tips.
  9. If I played fewer board games, I might get more writing done. I reaaaaaaally love board games.
  10. I decided to be an author when I was six.
  11. I’ve been playing the piano since I was five.

Nominations

I hereby nominate the following eleven awesome bloggers for the Liebster Award. Apparently a lot of cool bloggers are named Christine or Christina.

To accept the award, put a picture of the award at the top of the post and then say who nominated you.

  1. Christina Ruth Johnson at http://christinaruthjohnson.blogspot.dk/ is getting her MA in Art History and putting up really cool tidbits about writing in the meantime.
  2. Christine Haggerty at http://christinehaggertyauthor.com/ wrote a great, chilling rendition of the Hansel and Gretel fable.
  3. Brianna Vedsted at http://whenibecameanauthor.wordpress.com/ works in my old home state of Colorado and writes westerns.
  4. Paul J. Stam of http://papermudandme.wordpress.com/ writes about writing and about art – pottery, in particular.
  5. Aric Catron at http://ariccatron.wordpress.com/ writes about self-publishing from personal experience.
  6. Christine at http://plottingbunnies.wordpress.com/ has really cool writing prompts of all types.
  7. Aisha at http://ashscrapyard.wordpress.com/ puts up some seriously awesome picture prompt contests.
  8. Akleneth at http://akleneth.wordpress.com/ writes a lot of varied, thoughtful poetry and prose.
  9. Randy Ellefson at http://randyellefson.wordpress.com/ blogs about music and fantasy – could it get any better than that?
  10. Kate Sparks at http://disregardtheprologue.wordpress.com/ has some great laugh-out-loud moments, and good thoughtful pieces as well.
  11. Val and Ben of http://attemptingsweden.wordpress.com/ chronicle the difficulties – and exciting new experiences – that come with being an ex-pat.

The process of picking these eleven took me a couple of hours! It was so hard to boil it all down and pick just a few…

Eleven Questions for the Above Bloggers

  1. What pet would you own if you could own any pet in the world?
  2. What was the book/piece that inspired you to start writing?
  3. Which published author do you think is most underrated?
  4. What’s your favorite hobby (aside from reading/writing)?
  5. What’s your superpower? Would you use it for good or for evil?
  6. Do you prefer the country or the city?
  7. A man you have never seen before walks up to you, gets down on one knee, and asks you to marry him. What do you do?
  8. What’s the coolest reason that you ever skipped school?
  9. What has been your most disappointing experience in the world of writing so far?
  10. What has been your most inspiring experience in the world of writing so far?
  11. What is your favorite dessert?

Answers to the Questions I was asked:

  1. Favorite color: Green.
  2. Favorite hero or villain in a novel: The Gentleman with the Thistle-Down Hair from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. He was scary because he was incapable of understanding why his actions were wrong. Loose cannons are the best villains.
  3. Pet Peeve: When someone’s writing advice to me is ‘show, don’t tell.’
  4. Something on my bucket list: Hold a sloth.
  5. Favorite song to dance to: Hmmmm…any kind of salsa dancing music, really, except for the bachata beat.
  6. Best day of my life so far: Sneaking down to Lake Lugano with my friends and jumping in! It was nighttime, technically, but who cares.
  7. Favorite place I’ve traveled: Lugano, Switzerland.
  8. Most prized possession: My piano.
  9. If you could go back in time, which time period would you visit: Definitely Ancient Egypt, during the Ptolemaic Period. Egyptian women had strong rights in the ancient world even though beer, bread and onions doesn’t sound like a particularly fun diet.
  10. Who would they cast to play you in a movie: Umm…well, if we’re going off looks, I guess my closest celebrity lookalike is Deeta von Teese.
  11. If you could have one superpower, what would it be: Flying.

The Art of the Invisible, the Beauty of the Complete

One of the ways in which I try to keep an active writing life is by meeting with other writers in the real world. We don’t spend much time writing when we meet, but it’s a nice way to remember that there are people behind those mysterious blog posts, short stories, poems and discussions that I get embroiled in online.

One of my friends is a guy who’s been working on fantasy stories. He’s very passionate about writing, and very dedicated to fantasy. But he despairs at his chance of publishing traditionally, because he perceives that he writes fantasy that’s too untraditional for the publishing world.

When I incredulously but politely inquired as to the thought behind his reasonings, he gave me a number of answers. Some were good, some were bad, and one stuck in my mind. “I don’t do world building,” he told me loftily. “I do action, and characters, and people.”

This statement intrigued me for a couple of reasons. First, this guy writes in a fantasy, otherworldly setting. So if his world is poorly constructed, it’s gonna show. Doesn’t he want his work to be the best it can? Secondly, revealing the world is kind of like revealing exposition. It should be done a little at a time, at points of relevance, so that by the end of the story we have a complete picture without any boring word dumps. Does he think that the people in his story have to bum around with someone like Tom Bombadil for fifty pages or so in order for a publisher to give him the green light?

Ah, Tom Bombadil. People either love you for the world you reveal, or hate you for impeding the story.

Of course, Tolkien is the Grand Maestro of worldbuilding. But we don’t have to be like him. We don’t have to invent loads of different languages, stories, races and religions that never show up in the completed work. Even George R.R. Martin didn’t do more than write key phrases of his languages. HBO hired a linguist to work the rest of them out.

In October 2012 I wrote another post on worldbuilding, detailing the sorts of things that we often forget but which make the world we write in so much richer. My friend is clearly of the opinion that the world doesn’t matter. How true is that?

My first reaction to his statement was that it was preposterous. Now that I’ve had a couple of days to think about it –

Yep. Still preposterous.

If you’re a fantasy author who writes about people in a world different to our own, then you’ve already started to build a world. The magical rules they follow imply a different kind of physics. The social rules they follow imply their traditions, their politics, and to some extent their history. Even using vague monetary denominations such as copper, silver and gold pieces implies mining practices and the social value of these metals.

As fantasy authors we ask readers to accept our new world rules. So we’d better know what they are ourselves. If it helps, we can think of our world as yet another character that needs development.

Whenever I come to an understanding of how something works in my world, I write it down. Let’s take the money example. Is it metal money? How do they get it? Do they make coins from it, or do they use pieces by weight (such as the anglo method of clipping pieces off an armband)? If people use paper or other kinds of money, how is it printed/made? How can they ensure that no one will counterfeit it?

How much of that information gets used in a piece? Almost none. But if you mention the mines down south, or the Grand Treasury, that’s all you need to hint that those procedures are in place and that you’ve thought about them. It enriches the world without shoving the worldbuilding aspect under a reader’s nose.

All authors look upon certain writing chores as unfavorable. Sometimes you just have to buck up and do it. Worldbuilding is one of those times.

Otherwise, urban fantasy could use a refit from all those sparkly vampires.

Missed Opportunities

Today I was reminded of one of the benefits of self publishing – you do things on your own time and don’t have to feel like you missed an opportunity.

In this morning’s email sat a message from one of the publishers I follow, declaring that they were now accepting unsolicited manuscripts. I read the post two, three times, racking my brain for possible submissions and cursing myself for each one’s inadequacy.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to get myself out there and prove to myself that I didn’t have to be afraid to show others my work. It’s not that I think that the writing on my blog is a masterpiece or even necessarily publishable. But I did think I might get some feedback and encouragement. And at the same time I made a rookie mistake. I treated writing like it was a hobby, something casual to do when I had the time.

My hard drive is full of half-finished pieces, barely-started novels, outlines, character sketches and all the little things that mark the beginning of something. I don’t think I have anything that signifies the end – something that could be sent out as, say, an unsolicited manuscript.

It’s easy to say that I’ll finish it later, that I need more research, that I need to be in the right mood. But the reality is that writing is a test of fortitude. It’s easy to write the beginning of something, when the possibilities stretch out before you in all directions. It’s less easy to finish something. And then there’s the really hard part: going back and tweaking, untangling all the inconsistencies, turning it into something that a stranger could read an enjoy.

I’m trying to establish a writing regimen so that I actually get things done. I want to re-flesh some of the old skeletons buried in my hard drive, and turn them into submissions. Where I’d submit them, I have no idea, but even if I change my mind and take steps toward self-publishing, well, that would be an opportunity I created for myself.

My fellow writers, I salute you! Be steadfast, and good luck with your submissions, if that’s the kind of writing you go for.

The Art of Writing the First in a Series (and a Tangent)

Nice to see the blog again! I have to issue an apology for being so bad at posting on time. But I got a bit of a nasty shock on Tuesday – my thesis defense was on Friday, and nobody thought I was important enough to know about it. That’s university bureaucracy for you.

The good news is, I did well, I am now a Master of Egyptology (whatever that means), and I have been offered the chance to publish parts of my MA thesis as an article in an upcoming collection. Exciting.

Before I found out that I had to make a presentation and prepare to be raked over the coals by my supervisor and assorted others, I had been cogitating about something. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books that are the beginning of a series. Now, I love a good series. Nothing’s better than immersing myself in a really good world when I know there are three or four books waiting for me.

The popularity of YA series such as The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Twilight have led people to like series, and when one particular series is finished they’ll start looking around for the next big thing. So I understand why editors want to publish someone who says that they’ve got a series planned.

However, I think that perhaps some people more loosely define the term series than I do. Let’s take a book I purchased recently, Opal. Opal was published by World Weaver Press and brought some fresh perspective to the Snow White fairy tale. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, with one exception: I felt a bit cheated by the ending.

The book gears us up, provides mounting tension and excitement and gets us ready for a big finish. And then –

Then there’s an advert for Book Number Two, Coming Soon!

This is something that I’m starting to come across with more regularity. The same thing happened to a lesser extent in Cinder, which was a fun, action-packed, and overall brilliant adaptation of Cinderella. Without spoiling anything, the end of the book is a bit more climactic than Opal, but I still got the feeling that I’d been cheated of my proper conclusion.

It’s basically like ending The Fellowship of the Ring right after the Fellowship has been chosen at the Council of Elrond. Wouldn’t that have been disappointing?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good ending that leaves you wanting more. And in a series, endings don’t have to provide all the answers. You can leave a lot set up for next time. But these days, it’s a gimmick. Everything’s set up for the big climax, and then you get to wait six months or longer just to get the end.

I don’t want to buy a book like that. I want a book that blows me away and leaves me reeling all the way through the last line. If I think the book ended on a cheap note in a blatant attempt to keep people interested, I’ll be disappointed in it. And if I’m disappointed in it, I’ll be less likely to buy the next in the series.

So that’s my latest pet peeve. Is it just me? Do you think I’m crazy?