Tag Archives: fantasy

Fantasy and world building, the balance of imagination

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Fantasy can stretch your mind and enhance your future.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” 

                                                                                 —Albert Einstein

When is the last time someone accused you of having your head in the clouds? Did you thank them? Chances are they weren’t meaning to  be complimentary and that is unfortunate. It says more about them than you. Chances are they weren’t big fans of the imagination, daydreams, fantasy or invisible friends. Go figure.

Albert Einstein was also a daydreamer and he did all right by us. Other great imaginers include: Carl Sagan, Dr. Seuss, Julius Ceasar, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marc Chagall, Immanuel Kant, Michelangelo, Muhammad Ali. No surprise that you find artists and writers valuing imagination but military leaders, philosophers and athletes? Not at first blush.

Imagination is the mother of fantasy as necessity is the mother of invention. Fantasy is how we escape when reality is too tedious, demanding or overwhelming.  Perhaps escape is too final a solution, say we hold reality at bay with judicious infusions of fantasy. When we step into a fantasy, the stranger the better, we observe situations that are outside the realm of our possibilities (for the moment) and are able to try on how we would behave in new situations. We can visualize and plan, we can step outside ourselves and act through the behavior of heroes and heroines because who knows when we will be asked to step up and assume a heroic undertaking. And if we never are, how else will we know how it feels?

Aladdin magic lamp east design for wish fulfillment
Aladdin’s magic lamp imagining the path to  wish fulfillment

“Everything you can imagine is real.”

—Pablo Picasso

When you escape into fantasy you allow your mind to take a break and regroup, imagine an alternative or grow in understanding. I know when I’m not feeding my imagination. My energy is just one casualty, but the first thing to go is my empathy. When I am stressed, with too much to do I become a shriveled version of myself.

There is a difference between stressing out by stretching yourself too thin and engaging in too many creative projects. Yes, even a good thing can be overwhelming. But I notice that the stress creeps in when I quit trying to discover or play with my project and get caught up in the end result. If someone likes it before it is done it is the kiss of death. I become paralyzed with trying to figure out how to keep their admiration instead of going where the project leads. I need to create alone or at least I need to create without input. Until I reach a final stage. That comes when I’ve pushed as far as I can and am ready to see it from a new perspective. I guess it is all a matter of timing.

“People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind.”

—William Butler Yeats

I don’t know of anyone who can pull from an unending pool of creativity without feeding that space with day dreams and “useless” speculation. Inspiration is the reward of feeding your creative place. It is the spontaneous vista at the peak of the endless and rocky mountain path. It shines, it glows, it lets you see things that are hidden by your daily routine. One of the most enjoyable ways of investing in my creative capital is by reading a good fantasy. And it is exactly when I don’t have  time that I need fantasy the most. Because fantasy is really about perspective. It is a balance to the way we see the world  breaking our preconceived ideas and offering a new way to perceive.

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

—Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 

 

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Fantasy is the root system that feeds the tree of  knowledge.

 

Read more great quotations about imagination at: brainy quotes

Javelin: a sharp, lethal weapon

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Javelin, Jelly’s story.

Javelin, book three in the Sanctuary series, is like all of the series, pure fantasy. The best part of writing fantasy is that you get to make things up. You get to play god in creating situations that could be, better yet, the way they should be and then you get to put characters you care about into those worlds and see what they do.

A writer’s attachment to their work should come from the investment they have in the ideas that work represents and from the affection/disgust they feel towards the characters living in that work.

The characters  live. If they don’t why read the book? There should be a point in a good book where the reader steps into the world and lives inside the head of at least one character. I know there are  books written without a single sympathetic entity included. I won’t invest  more than reading 25% of a book if I can’t find someone to” love”. The character may be flawed (all the better) beaten up like an old stuffed frog, but if there is a shred of something I can identify with, I’ll keep reading.

Writing a book is a series of choices. Every word is a choice, set in place like stones in the walls of places like Machu Pichu. No cement, no masonry, just precision and tension. Sound like a good book? It does to me. The plot should undulate like the earthquakes that shake and wiggle the high places and the words should be able to withstand the pressure. Ok, enough metaphor.

Machu picchu temple of the sun inside

Machu Picchu is over 560 years old. The walls were built without mortar, like a good book, built to stand the changes of time.

Words often get in the way. For me, there are times when I want to shape the story with my hands not my words. I want to paint the faces, show a movie of the actions and create a scent that would expose the motivations of the characters. I want to make it real.

I’m blessed and cursed. I can draw and paint but not with the skill I need communicate at the level I desire. I can write but I struggle with the same limitations. When one reader tells me that they get the character or the story, it means that the magic moment of connection has been achieved. Writing, like most things creative, is lonely, often a singular journey. The difference is the reader.

In Javelin the third book in the Sanctuary series the main characters are surrounded by walls of their own making. In self defense they keep others at a distance. The theme is that love conquers all, even broken hearts. Sound a little different from what you expect from high fantasy, well all fiction is fantasy. This series tells the old stories through the minds and actions of species nonhuman and human, characters ultimately not afraid to open their minds or hearts.

If you like to wonder what if, wander in Sanctuary for a while.

Overview: Javelin—Jelly Jones’ story. Follow the coming of age of Lunabel’s best friend. Jelly has the warrior spirit of of an Amazon princess and a heart that knows no gear for retreat.

 

Branding Sanctuary, how to find your favorite series

What is branding, you ask. . .

Branding requires that your potential readers will be able to identify the genre of the series and will look for the other books in the series. In essence the series has developed a brand.

Writing a series is a whole level of magnitude beyond writing a book.  Not only do you have a story to tell, with characters that change during the story, you hope, but you also have to grow a series arc that must change over the course of several books. One book allows growth for characters within a snapshot of time. A series gives you the potential to create a comprehensive world where the characters and their context should also grow, over an era of time. Hopefully the end result is a unique place where the reader can escape.

One of the most important part in creating the mood for a series is the Cover. I design my own covers. I’m happy that I can and probably spend way too much time and energy on it. I think about it, I agonize over how to depict the characters, the stylistic approach I would take, whether to use specific images or abstract suggestions of the story. It takes me forever.

Then I worry about whether my ‘target market’, those readers who want to read high fantasy with young protagonists, will relate to the image.

Just as the first book in the Sanctuary series has taken  forever to complete, the cover has also gone through a long history of gestation. But a funny thing happened. As the story matured, the cover changed and when I got both of them to the place that felt right the next three books in the series have rushed to get out. I’m grabbing asphalt trying to keep up. And falling short.

The world I’m trying to create is taking over and I better hold on tight or get left behind. But it takes time.

Early cover of Grace Notes
First cover for Grace Notes

The cover, above, was developed from a 3D model. I thought I wanted to do this because I hoped, still do, to create an interactive version of the story, with animations. Something that is doable if you are working with wire frames and animation. This cover was created by putting a “skin” over a wire frame base. The advantage to this is that the frame remains essentially the same even when you turn it , displace parts of it, your final result is recognizable as the same character. This is a realistic looking character but I finally I discarded the cover because I wanted something more “real”. I wanted a heroine that felt vulnerable, fey, wary and tough, like the character and I don’t have the skill to show that with CG. Finally, I didn’t think my reader would relate as strongly to a CG model as they would to a photo-model.

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Interim cover

This cover was created to refer to an element in the book rather than a character. This cover appeals to me but it doesn’t suggest the genre/target I’m trying to reach as well as the close up of the main character. A cover image influences how the reader sees the character sometimes that isn’t a good thing. In this version I’d inserted images that suggested setting.

represents the setting of the series
third version of cover

“Grace Notes” is the story of a girl with a secret. She has immense power but she is afraid to let anyone know. She is also hiding from the judgment of people who are uncomfortable with her strength.

In order to realize her potential the heroine will have to face her worst fear and question her most comfortable assumptions. The fact that these themes are revealed through a love story between characters of wildly different cultures that have been in historic opposition, existing amid prejudice and misunderstanding adds nice layers of richness, I think. And of course the motivation, besides heroine’s need for authenticity, peace of mind, and joy, is the driving force of first love.

Examples of my branded series:

Covers in progress for the next three titles in the Sanctuary series:

Book one in Sanctuary series
Current cover for Grace Notes

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Book two, release Sept 15, 2015 

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Book three, Javelin, release date November 2015.

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Book four, Cohort, release date December 2015.

Another factor of branding a series is by title, That’s why the final covers carry the title: The Fae Wars-Grace Notes, The Fae Wars- Cantata and so forth. The original titles, Grace Notes and Cantata meant nothing to the average reader, though hopefully the meaning became clear in the reading of the books.

Covers that are strongly branded for fantasy series:

the representational simplicity of the

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Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers

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The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

So, why fiction? Especially, why fantasy?

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We can learn empathy, new ways to sort our perceptions or escape in fantasy.

 

We  search for meaning in our lives. Most of us  strive to live in ways that are rich, empowered, and authentic. At least that’s what Carol S. Pearson wrote in The Hero Within. I subscribe to that theory. I don’t hear people recommending fiction as a way to do this, nearly often enough.

An article published in Brain Connectivity says that reading novels allows us to be more empathic to others. Most novel readers already know this. But the article says that not only do novels allow us to escape, try on new ways of looking at things, and experience feelings  outside of our lives, but the study asserts that reading novels actually changes the chemistry of our brains—causing chemical effects that can linger for days.

When I read, and I read everything, including box labels, highway signs, non-fiction, which I love, and most especially fiction. I expect to fulfill one or all of the aspirations above.

  • I want to enrich my understanding
  • I want to know about my options (do I really want that 34% fat content for a snack? Probably yes, sigh, I don’t guarantee that understanding my options will mean making the best choices)
  • I want to feel some thing that will add authenticity, joy, or excitement to my life.
  • Or, I want to forget for just a moment, lay down my awareness and slip into a safe and soothing place.

It surprises me how many times I’ve heard people ‘admit’ they read fiction but only—insert a current critics’ darling, or the most recent break out best seller from the most prestigious bestseller list. These poor souls’  behavior suggests that they only read as a way to improve themselves or stay abreast of cultural core knowledge. They imply that reading fiction is a duty, and reading the ‘right’ things seems to make them feel righteous.

But there is a solid core of  people  contemptuous of fiction (which by definition means a work that is partially or all made up, something that is not true, which may even have issued from the fevered imaginings of people like Edgar Allan Poe or J.R. Tolkein). Just the facts, Ma’am and anything that isn’t  is an unsavory past time. Or,  you infer from some people’s reactions that reading is a waste of time

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Classic fantasy is often a metaphor for universal truths or archetypal passages in our lives

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Too bad for them. I won’t waste  time on people who worry about the value of fiction or the significance of what they read.  Worry cuts into my reading time.

I am a word slut, a  novel addict, and sometimes a self admitted escape artist. Don’t get between me and my drug of choice.

While I can admire the strength of a well crafted sentence, the power of a well hewn paragraph or the structural beauty of literary  fiction, sentences, paragraphs and beautiful form are only devices, tools to deliver the guts of the work, like the brushstrokes of a painting. For example, ‘Starry Night’ has several levels of impact. If you would deconstruct the image, each stroke becomes a personal statement. But the real impact is viewing the image as a whole. Like all of Van Gogh’s work, it vibrates, it is alive, and it can grab me by the throat across the room. I can feel it with my back turned.

If I notice careful crafting, or sense that the writer is a little too conscious of what they have wrought or if the structure begs to be admired for it’s brilliance, I’m pulled out of the story. I can admire but admiration is a cerebral response and I’m in it for the game-changing-gut-wrenching-soul-blowing whole enchilada.

I want it all, I want to respect the competence, even the artistry of the writer and I want to be lifted out of myself by the story.  If I can’t have it all,  I’d rather have the emotional lift and save my intellectual gratification for architecture. Sorry but that’s the way I’m wired.

For me, story is the point. Words are just abstract marks unless they translate into thoughts or feelings, most hopefully both. Words are just elegant symbols if they lack the means to evoke understanding.  I can appreciate beautiful writing but without the good bones of a story and engaging, authentic characters, beautiful writing doesn’t move me.

Fiction should push us beyond our present understanding, expand our experience beyond our current knowledge, escape mundane or even impossible situations and/or give us a push, either a feel good-rush, or a terror-buzz or a connection to something you’ve never quite felt in touch with before.

Good Romance fiction is a great means to accomplish that. Don’t roll your eyes. I’m talking about the original definition of Romance.

Unfortunately, Romance and romantic fiction, (though there is nothing wrong with romantic fiction) have become interchangeable in the general vocabulary. This misunderstanding has diminished the impact of one of the most powerful implements for achieving  meaning in our lives.

Traditionally, firstly, fundamentally, Romance was a medieval tale based on legend, chivalric lore and adventure, or the supernatural. Think of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, The Golden Arrow or Ivanhoe. Romance is also a prose narrative with imaginary characters involved in events, remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious

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Story can inspire, challenge our standards of right and wrong or suggest a way to live that rises above and beyond our daily experiences.

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I write fantasy romance. While I write in  other genres, fantasy romance will always be the most appropriate genre to convey the best I have to offer. 

I once  heard Tamara Pierce say that she wrote fantasy because it was the one genre where you could talk about honor, integrity and impossible goals without embarrassment. We should expect fantasy to thrust us into a journey that requires the best and brightest to meet the worst and most destructive forces; to triumph and  come out on the other side of their quest as even better, brighter and stronger beings who leave the world a better place. 

We are flawed, we can rise above it—that is the bottom line for Romance. Life is big, we are small but Romance should suck the best stuff from deep, deep inside us and show us what we can achieve.

When you add the third definition of Romance,  a love story in the form of a novel, you have a pretty complete understanding of why I write what I do.

The Sanctuary series is high fantasy set in an Urban environment, based on themes like: love conquers all, be true to one’s self, good overcomes evil and life trumps death.

This blog will be about creativity, fiction, the world of Sanctuary and fun. Yeah, because in the end if this isn’t fun, or at least interesting I’m taking  myself too seriously.  I’m counting on someone pointing that out, immediately.

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Some of my favorite go to books of fantasy romance: The Stand, by Stephen King, The Thomas Covenant books by Stephen R. Donaldson, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, Briar’s Book, Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce, all the Wild Magic series by Tamora Pierce, Tithe, Valiant and Ironside by Holly Black, to name a few.