Making the Impossible Possible: Creating the Rules of Magical and Futuristic Worlds

ECCC2018

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. I attended last year and had so much fun, but this year I was pleasantly surprised to see many panels for writers (comic/graphic novel panels, and fantasy/sci-fi panels) as well as a big turnout for literary guests. I was lucky enough to meet Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles), Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns series, Anna Dressed in Blood series), and Marko Kloos (Frontlines series) and get them to autograph their books for me. But while there, I attended the Making the Impossible Possible panel which focused on writing and worldbuilding for authors of fantasy and sci-fi.

IMAG1231

The following authors participated in the panel and gave great advice to aspiring fantasy and sci-fi authors: Charlie N. Holmberg (The Paper Magician series), Emily R. King (The Hundredth Queen series), Marko Kloos (Frontlines series), J.D. Horn (Witching Savannah series), and Jeff Wheeler (Legends of Muirwood series).

The format of the panel was the moderator, editor Jason Kirk, posed a total of six questions to the panel of authors. Keep reading to find out what was asked of these fantasy and sci-fi writers as well as to see what their responses were. I found their responses to offer great advice and writing techniques to better improve my own fantasy and sci-fi writing.

Question 1

Each author in this panel writes their own rules to govern the worlds they create. How does this work when the same rules don’t apply, even though you may be writing within a similar genre?

  • “You need to choose your main character as a one in a million type of person. You need to write your characters as the person who brings the magic to the world and not necessarily have been the chosen one.”
  • The general discussion around this question discussed how it’s important to have governing rules within your world, but to not let them overshadow your characters. Let your characters shine through in the world they surround themselves in.

Question 2

In Fantasy or Sci-fi we often find that the main character always tends to be exceptional. So, if no one is exceptional is there no story?

  • “In Sci-fi, you play within the confines of that structured society. Nobody is different from each other since they all have the same governing laws of physics and biology applying to them. So, the characters in this genre work within their existing system to prove their abilities or skills.”
  • The authors on the panel discussed how it would be even more interested to see more work of fiction in fantasy and sci-fi who fall out of the “exceptional” phase and are characters that work harder to prove themselves versus having everything be naturally gifted to them. It even makes the character more relatable to the reader, no more what fantastic setting the character may be placed in.

Question 3

Every author has their own writing process. Do you start with world-building or do you start with the character or the plot or themes?

  • “Start with the character, then the world becomes a crucible for them.”
  • “Your characters act depending on what the world is and the action or reaction they do becomes the plot.”
  • “Look for the tension, the drama. Ask yourself, why do we follow these characters? Why tell this story in the first place? First find the drama that the character will face.”
  • “If the world is complex enough, all these conflicts come up naturally and then the character, character’s motivation, etc. will follow.”

Question 4

Does your world need to be completely believable to make it work?

  • “As long as you don’t break the suspension of disbelief.”
  • “I can excuse sloppy physics [in Sci-fi] if the story, the plot, and the characters are absolutely believable.”
  • “It doesn’t have to be so much as believable as it has to be intoxicating enough to completely pull you in.”
  • “Don’t overdo the details to try to make it as ‘realistic’ and ‘believable’ as possible. Too much in the details can cause a big learning curve for your reader and can prevent them staying with your story.”
  • “Build the world and characters quickly so you hook the reader in. The strength of your story are your characters who provide the real emotions, real reactions the reader can connect to despite them being in an impossible world.”

Question 5

How do you solve your mistakes?

  • “Take a slice of humble pie from your critique partners.”
  • “Incomplete or sloppy world-building will lead to mistakes. If you ask, what does my character do now? Then you didn’t do enough world-building to throw enough cool things at your characters.”
  • The panel then gave examples from their own work where edits and proofreading provided great feedback for their novels in which they had to go back and rewrite certain parts to make the story turn out better.

Question 6

What tip do you have for aspiring writers?

  • “Think outside the box. It’s all about originality. Do something that’s less expected.”
  • “Don’t try to chase trends. Don’t write to market it. If the book is good, it’ll have its own market.”
  • “Just tell your story. Keep going.”
  • “The world around you can create something different. You don’t have to create something new, you just need to write it in a new way.”
  • “Read what you like to write. It keeps you immersed in your world. Steal little pieces of what you like and make them into your own.”

The panel was then opened to take questions from the audience. Here are a few of the questions that I found to have really good advice in their answers.

  • How do you build a society in your stories? This was answered in 4 parts.
  1. “Ask yourself, what type of government do you want? The kind of government you create governs the rules and freedoms your characters are subject to.”
  2. “What weird customs or traditions do your characters partake in? Create a history for each tradition.”
  3. “Everything is a result of what has come before. Make sure your society has a history.”
  4. “Do real research of Earth’s own history, then tweak it and make it your own for your story.”
  • How do you organize everything when you are working on a current novel?
  1. “You need a story Bible! It’s just 1 document where everything is stored and you can do a quick search.”
  2. “Use Scrivener. This allows you to keep you draft, research, notes, and edits all in one document.”
  • How do you write mundane tasks to make them see fantastic?

“Write characters’ reactions to that task. Like in Harry Potter, Harry thinks the dishes washing themselves in the Weasley’s house is magical and fantastic, but Ron just thinks it’s completely normal.”

This was such an amazing panel to sit on and I hope you found their advice to be inspiring and helpful to your own work. Below you can find the Goodreads page for each author named here so you can check out their work and get hooked onto some fun new series.

Kendare Blake

Charlie N. Holmberg

J.D. Horn

Emily R. King

Marko Kloos

Patrick Rothfuss

Jeff Wheeler

Book of the Month: A Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

BRViceandVirtue.jpg

February is known as the month of love since Valentine’s Day falls in it. And what better book to pick for this special month than an LGBTQ, historical-fiction The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. This glamorous book manages to fit the first-love of a young gay boy set in Europe in the 1700’s into an action-adventure story.

As the book jacket explains, “Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.”

ViceVirtueBookCover

Set in the 1700’s, this novel somehow explores many modern-day themes and issues. In fact, I like the comparison of Monty’s grand tour year as the equivalent of the modern-day gap year young adults take after high school before embarking on their studies in college. This book also uses the historical setting to present modern-day themes that today’s YA genre would want to read in a book. These include child abuse (Monty’s relationship to his father, Lord Montague), alcoholism and gambling (Monty’s prolific lifestyle), racism (demonstrated through Percy being high-born yet also being a black character), disabilities (as seen in Percy’s epilepsy and the stigma that comes with his illness), sexism (Monty’s sister Felicity faces sexism as her gender undermines her intelligence and skills in medicine), and LGBTQ (which is illustrated in Monty’s sexuality and his crush on Percy).

I think what impressed me most about this book was how modern it felt within the constraints of the historical narrative structure. I really enjoyed the setting, it gave a fresh take on the similes used in the novel. Sometimes, after reading page after page of YA, you can come across a lot of the same metaphors and similes, but due to this novel’s setting I felt like I was coming across new comparisons that showed off Lee’s writing skills yet perfectly tied into the world-building of this story. It adds this charming, glitzy, old-world glamour feel into it.

The other great thing about this book is how it feels like it’s a little bit of everything – romance, comedy, action, adventure, murder-mystery, historical-fiction, and gay/LGBTQ. And if you like books that travel to other countries, then I highly recommend getting the audio book version of this novel. I listened to this book as an audio book and the voice actor did such a fantastic job at creating these authentic accents for all the various characters ranging from British to French to Spanish accents was just amazing and delightful to hear.

If you are a fun of captivating characters, then Monty is the right guy for you. Lee created such a strong, unique voice in the character of Monty. She manages to capture this entitled, sassy teenage voice right from the beginning while simultaneously making you like it. But this only makes it so much more wonderful for the reader to see Monty’s transformation from the exploits and troubles he endures along the way.

If there is one thing I would critique, it happens to be something that also ends up working in favor for the novel’s plot. I thought the grand tour would be more of this glamorous trip but ended up being a fleeing escape since they are on the run and less of a tour. I felt disappointed because it wasn’t what I had expected, however it also worked in favor of the reader because there was no guessing where this story was going. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next and I couldn’t ever guess the next thing that would happen. It felt truly unpredictable in the adventure/action portion of the plot, yet the romance side of it however was plenty predictable but in a good, happy-ending kind of way.

If you are in need of some good humor, some witty banter, and fun all-around then this book should definitely be on your To Be Read list.

4 Ways Audio Books Can Transform Your Day

 

audioBook1Saying audio books are better than printed hardbacks/paperbacks can easily be damning in certain circles. But before you click away, just hear me out. Do you ever find yourself not having any spare time? Let alone, time to sit down and enjoy a good book? When I’m having a busy work week it’s nearly impossible to fit in an hour or so to open up a book.

My New Year’s goal is to read at least one chapter a day. But by the third day in January, I was failing to fit in my chapter a day. Then I discovered the audio book section in my local library. Normally, these can be pretty pricey, especially if you get the CD format instead of the MP3 drive version, but both of these beauties are completely free with a library card. And I was pleasantly surprised to find a varied mix ranging from current bestsellers to the classics.

There are many ways to use audio books if you think you don’t have enough time to fit reading into your schedule. And whatever genre you are interested in, there’s an audio book for that. Need self-help or motivation books. Check. Want to read a suspenseful thriller? Check. Or, need something with a little romance? Check, check check.

_DSC5415

One great use of an audio book is to listen to it on your daily commute to work. A 20-30 minute drive can turn into 40-60 minutes of reading (or listening to) a book a day. And with the right book, your daily commute will become more enjoyable.

audiobook2

My second favorite way to listen to an audio book is to download it onto my phone and plug in my headphones and listen to it while I walk my dog. My library has MP3 digital audio books available to download, but you can also try Amazon or Audible to find any book you want to listen to in a digital download format. I try to walk my dog everyday for 20-30 minutes, so this is just another way I squeeze in more reading.

_DSC5418

Also, another great thing about the digital download of an audio book on your phone is that wherever you go your book will be right there with you. For example, if you have to go to appointments where you have to wait, like a doctor’s office, then this is just another way to squeeze in more reading and pass the time.

_DSC5409

A fourth way to incorporate an audio book into your daily life is to listen to it while doing chores or errands. I think I can say that no one looks forward to doing chores, however listening to an audio book helps me get them done with less complaint. I simply download the book on my phone, plug in my headphone, and I’m off to wash dishes or vacuum.

While I love having the feel of a paperback in my hands, right now with my schedule, audio books are a life saver and they help e enjoy many parts of my day.

The Perfect Book and the Perfect Night in on Valentine’s Day

IMAG1103

This Valentine’s Day, my husband and I will be taking a break from the hoopla that is Valentine’s Day. So, instead of putting pressure on each other with gifts and dinner reservations, we’ll be staying in and hanging out at home. And if you find yourself at home too, then I have the perfect book to keep you company, because who needs a Valentine when you have the perfect book.

Tucker Shaw’s Oh Yeah, Audrey! is a well-written easy read that pairs Audrey Hepburn’s most infamous character Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s with your inner fangirl in this sparky and delightful novel.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Just as the book jacket states, 16-year-old Gemma Beasley runs away to New York City for 24 hours to meet up with other Holly/Audrey fans to see a special anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But best laid plans can and do go awry when Gemma gets swooned off her feet by a real-life Paul Varkjak. Gemma lives her New York minute life by following the mantra of “What would Audrey do?” but ends up in situations closely similar to Holly, where she ends up around suspicious people with questionable motives.

I absolutely loved Gemma and her reactions to the things going on around her. It felt completely authentic and very relatable. I was a little disappointed in the fact that it’s set in only 24 hours. This led to little character development, especially all of Gemma’s friends and Gemma’s love interest. Because of this, some characters felt like clichés, like the fabulous gay best friend and the entitled rich-boy who thinks he can buy a girl. Actually, that last character bothered me a lot because the novel shows him genuinely pursuing Gemma. I mean, why bother having him spend month after month having hour long phone calls if all he wanted was sex? This character just didn’t add up to me.

But, nonetheless, this novel successfully delivers a story about friendship and about Gemma finding herself while paying tribute to Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly.

Like I said before, this is a fast read and can easily be read in a day. So, I recommend watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s (available on Netflix) to better understand all the book’s references. For Valentine’s, all you need is a fabulous evening. Whether you inhibit your inner Holly Golightly by wearing a black dress, black opera gloves, pearls, with a coffee and croissant in your hand, or you stay home in pajamas cuddled up with a book on the couch with a glass of wine, just remember that this Valentine’s Day can still be fabulous darling.

Audrey_Lipstick

And if you stay in and find yourself reading this book, just remember Holly Golightly’s advice, “A girl doesn’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick.”

Back To School Reading List

IMG-20160307-WA0006

School is back in session. Here in Olympia, school starts on September 6th and with that, this time of year makes me long for good books with school themes. Maybe because I was a student for so long. Or, maybe, because as a teenager, school was a sanctuary from my home life. Either way, I love how schools in YA/children’s books seem mystical, as if it is its own character in the book. Hello, Hogwarts anybody? I mean, the room of requirement proves how alive and sentient the school is as a character. So, here is a list of my favorite books that make back to school sound like an awesome adventure awaiting you.

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_Stone

Most people hope to have an owl bring them their official Hogwarts letter inviting them to study witchcraft and wizardry. But, I had always wished to stumble upon the mirror of Erised. I was so fascinated by that as a child and I still hope to come across it someday.

2. Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

anna_and_the_french_kiss

An American boarding school in the city of Paris – check. A vicarious experience of living in dorms – check. French culture and French food – check. A cute, promising romance – check. Say no more, I’m in.

3. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

rest_of_us_just_live_here

In a world plagued by magically awesome heroes and world-building details seen in the likes of Fantasy and Sci-Fi, this novel focuses on characters that are usually seen in the background in these types of stories. You know, the ordinary kids – the non-heroes, who try to live ordinary teenager lives with ordinary teenage problems in a world where the biggest challenge of all is trying to attend prom when the school keeps getting blown up – again.

4. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor-and-park

This book does a great job at detailing what it feels like to be an outcast or misfit in your school, whether that’s because you are poor or it’s because you are a shy introvert. This story about first love perfectly showcases the dynamics of how teenagers’ homes impact their school life as well their relationships with friends and boy/girlfriends.

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

true_diary

The story of Junior has such a special place in my heart since it parallels to my Native American grandfather’s up bringing about an Indian basketball player leaving the reservation to play for the all-white farm town high school. With a great narrative, fresh humor, and awesome cartoons, this book is bound to find a special place in your heart too.