Posts Tagged ‘writing origins

06
Nov
09

On Batman

When I was a kid I was never really in to American comics or superheroes. That said, I LOVED Batman. I watched the animated series religiously every day after school (favorite episode: Harley and Ivy), and later I stole my boyfriend’s Frank Miller Batman comics (which are what I miss most about that relationship). I never really did become a comic reader. I couldn’t stand how convoluted and unending the stories were (they never END! No one stays dead! There’s never any closure!), but my love of Batman has never really let up. Conversely, I hate Superman with a burning passion.

Even though Bruce Wayne is handsome and impossibly rich, he’s still only human. Everything he uses to fight crime – the toys, his strength, his connections, he has to work for them. Superman was just born with his powers, and while he struggles nobly not to abuse them, he still has freaking eye lasers. Where Superman is treated as America’s weapon of mass destruction with a conscience,  Batman is a detective. Superman punches holes in walls, bounces bullets off his chest, then fries the Ant King with his laser vision. Batman follows clues, makes deductions, and then is waiting in the dark in the drug lord’s hideout before the evil doer even knows he’s been caught. Batman, SO COOL.

When I wrote my very first novel (which, thankfully, I never finished),  I had a main character who was the only one of her people born with great magical power. I wanted a heroine having to accept the greater destiny she was born to. Classic first novel stuff, I don’t have to tell you how bad it was. I worked and worked on this novel, but I could never get it right, and eventually I threw it away as a failure. Years later, while I was thinking about all the novels I’ve started and never finished (it’s a long list, folks), I found myself getting caught on this story again. I still like the magical system and the basic world premise I created, so why hadn’t it worked? I kept thinking on this question until, a few days ago in the shower, it came to me.

I’d written a novel with Superman, not Batman.

See, by giving my main character fantastic powers at birth and making her the only person to have them, she never had to do anything for herself.  Any challenge I made for her she could overcome by using her fantastic powers, and she never really had to suffer or fight for her choices. This isn’t to say there weren’t fights, the book was pretty much a running string of fights, but the MC was never pushed, never sent to the edge. She never had to think or grow, she wasn’t even a character really, more like a talking jar with generic humanist values I stuck super powers in. In short, boring.

Contrast this to the book that made it, The Spirit Thief. I’m not saying my main character, Eli Monpress, is Batman, but lets’ just say he would have had Batman pajamas as a kid.  Make no mistake, Eli is powerful, but he lives in a world full of powerful people, which means power is no longer enough. He has to use that power in new, clever ways which, by default, gives me, the author, conflict to play with right off the bat.  His power is not what makes him interesting, it’s how he uses, or doesn’t use, that power. In fantasy I think it’s very easy to fall into the trap of giving your characters too much power, of making them Superman. This can be done overtly, by just giving them super powers, or subtly, by giving them an inescapable destiny of victory.

This set up can work just fine (hell, it worked for Superman), but I prefer Batman stories where the power is in the person, not the magic or the sword or the alien artifact. After all, take away Superman’s powers and he’s just this guy. Take away Batman’s money and he’s still god damn Batman (which is why, whenever the Justice League travels into the dystopian future, Batman is always the only one still alive).  Like most authors, I’m a sum of all my influences, and I think there’s a little bit of Batman in all my main characters. If any one of my characters were stripped to their barest parts, they would still be themselves, still be dangerous, still be able to get things done.

At the end of the day, I’m happy with that. Batman for life!

17
May
09

rachel’s sunday quickie – humble beginnings

The question this week is: ” What book (or show, or movie) got you started reading fantasy and/or science fiction?”

For me, this question took some thinking. I grew up as a little geekling in a geeky house. Both my parents read Darkover and Pern books and my dad read me Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy before I was old enough to get any of the jokes. Fantasy and SciFi were just a part of my life, which was awesome, because I loved them, so pinning an exact moment is hard. But, if I had to pick just one, just one work that set me on my current path more than anything else, it was probably the Ralph Manheim translation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. These were the original stories, full of bloody magic and horrible death and princesses who made their lovers cut off their own heads as a sign of faithfulness. I ate these things up. This is the first book I can remember reading. We had the enormous, bible-sized hard cover version, and I know every story in there backwards and forwards, rolling cheeses, glass mountains, little blue dwarves and all. 

Lots of other works had a deep impact on me, especially the Last Unicorn and Patrica Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series, and Le Mort d’Arthur (I loved that as a kid), but it was the world of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that really set the stage for all future fantasy in my mind.  Seriously, if an traditional fantasy author doesn’t set their setting, they get stuck with little German villages for a backdrop in my head. Let this be a warning!

15
May
09

Admitting to an infection of words

The day I got my agent was the happiest day of my life. When I got Matt’s message on my voicemail saying he wanted to represent me, I think I almost had a heartattack. I’m not just being rhetorical there, like my chest started to hurt and the room got kind of dark, but unrelenting joy pulled me back to the land of the living. (I told this to Lindsay, Matt’s wonderful assistant, when I called back, and Matt’s first words to me when he picked up the phone were “Don’t have a heart attack, we want you to write more books!” People, life does not get more awesome than that right there.)

So I had my agent, at long last. I had a party, I told my parents. A few months later Matt sold my book and we had another party and I called my parents again. In short, wonderful times. However, from the moment I got my agent until now, I’ve been in this weird limbo. My books are all coming out together at the end of next year, so, while I am published and frantically writing book 2 of the series to meet my deadlines, I’m not really published. This is a bump in the road when I tell people I’m an author, because the first thing they say is “Oh! Where can I buy it?” or some variation. (It was especially bad when I had an agent, but the book hadn’t sold. Now at least I can give them a publisher and a date as opposed to standing there going “Well….”)

This isn’t really a new problem, though. Maybe I’m the only one who gets this way, but have you ever tried answering the question of “So, what do you do?” with “I’m a writer” without feeling supremely uncomfortable? Like everyone who writes, I always wanted to, but I stopped telling people about it because saying “I want to be a writer” is like saying “I want to be an astronaut” or “I want to be in the NBA,” everyone thinks it’s impossible and does their best to let you know just how impossible it is, even if you’re eight. But with astronauts and basketball, people may still add the old “if you try really hard, you can make it!” angle. With writing, you don’t even get that. Probably because there’s no clear path most people see to being a writer. It’s just something impossible that happens to people who aren’t you. I’m a fast learner, and after one or two occurrences of this, I began to answer that I wanted to go into advertising.

This is the weird little dance I’ve been doing all through my life, through school, through college, even after college when I really was writing quite a lot. When I was in all ways except for the book contract, a writer, I never said “I’m a writer.” Because if you say “I’m a writer” to other people, they immediately assume miles of hardcovers with your name in glossy, five-inch printing at the center, and disabusing them of this viewpoint is unpleasant for everyone involved.

These days, however, I am a published author whose book just hasn’t come out yet, so why is it still so hard. I’ll be at home writing and the pesticide guy comes by to spray the house and here I am in my pajamas, so he gives me this “you’re unemployed, aren’t you?” look, and I want to shout “No! I am an AUTHOR!” But… I don’t. I say my job lets me work from home in the mornings, which is true, kind of. It’s not like I’m ashamed, I just can’t seem to tell people what I do.

Before, when I was unpublished, admitting I was a writer felt like I was admitting I was a silly, unrealistic dreamer. Now, it feels like bragging. Look! I did the impossible! Maybe it will get better when my book comes out and I can have something concrete (or, woodpulp, as the case may be) to shove into people’s hands, “Here! I made this!” I hope so. I worked way too hard for this to keep telling every plumber or chatty UPS guy that I’m a graphic designer.

Working from home.

Yeah.

21
Mar
09

how I (actually) became a writer

Step 1: Decided to be a novelist (age unknown)

Step 2: Spent high school world building, got nowhere, decided to go to college as an English Major so I could “learn how to write”

Step 3: Did not learn how to write. Did get to read some cool books I would never have read on my own, though.

Step 4: Graduated from college with broader horizons, but no more writing than I’d done in high school.

Step 5: Got a sucky job, played a lot of warcraft, dreamed about being a writer, wrote very little.

Step 6: Read the following quote by Hemingway:

Those who say they want to be writers, and aren’t writing, don’t.

Step 7: Woke up.

That was really it, right there. I can actually remember the very moment, the actual second it happened. I was sitting at my desk at said crappy job wasting time on the internet until I could go home, and I stumbled across that quote on one of the many writing sites I used to haunt while I was “waiting for my chance to be a writer.” It truly was like waking up. I could suddenly see how stupid I’d been, how silly. Here I was, at a job where I got primarily got paid to surf the internet, no kids, no obligations, free time coming out my ears, and I was waiting? Sitting there, in my chair, letting the other secretary get the phone, I realized that all this time I was in love with the idea of being a writer, of having written, and not with writing itself, primarily because I had done so little of it.

So I changed. Right there, I changed. I set out a schedule for myself (short stories, this was before I knew I was bad at them) and a ten year plan. I was going to have my first book published by the time I was 24 (I was 22 at the time, ah youth), and I was going to be writing full time by the time I was 30. There was lots of other stuff I’ve forgotten, but those two stick out. The first one I missed by miles, but the second I might still hit if I don’t slack off.

After the revelation (which I think of as my superhero origin… not much of one, but I’m not much of a superhero :P), I wrote every day. There were days off, of course, lazy days, failure days, technical difficultly days, but even after I’d miss a few days, a few months, I always came back. Not because I loved it, and here’s a dark truth, I don’t always love writing. Some days I hate it more than I knew I could hate. Some days I’m just eh about it. But I do it, because of step 1 waaay at the top of the post. It was my childhood dream to be a writer, to tell these stories that I’m constantly in love with, so every day I write and, eventually, a novel comes out. That’s when I love being a writer.