Archive for the 'Fantasy' Category

Where do you get your ideas?

There’s a great essay at Neil Gaiman’s blog about creativity, and where his ideas come from.  Read it.  It’s terrific.  Then again, I think that almost everything he does is.

It’s reassuring; it’s good to hear a well-established writer talk about the ideas that don’t work, about the ideas that do, about wrestling them into a shape that’s palatable for public consumption.  It’s good to know that having to struggle, sometimes, doesn’t mean that I’m completely unfit to be a writer.

It’s an interesting exercise, too, to try to figure out where and when you get your best ideas.  Mine tend to come when I’m between activities, or trying to work out a problem, or at the edge of sleep.  And, of course, when I’m in the least convenient place to write them down, like driving in heavy traffic, or giving my son a bath, or stir-frying snow peas.  And often, I lose them as quickly as they come.  I’ve taken to repeating a word or two to myself, over and over, as a mnemonic to try to hold onto them just a little longer.

Sometimes I suffer from a dearth of ideas, nothing to say, and no way to say it if I had something. It happens when I’m too stressed out by life, too busy with the mundane details of motherhood, marriage and mortgage, to generally fried to write.  My favorite quote from Gaiman’s essay:

My idea of hell is a blank sheet of paper. Or a blank screen. And me, staring at it, unable to think of a single thing worth saying, a single character that people could believe in, a single story that hasn’t been told before.

It is.  Hell, that is.  But if I force myself to write, to put words on paper, even if they don’t really mean anything, eventually my creative side will become frustrated at being so sullen and puke something out.  And if I keep the creative side happy and busy, it doesn’t stop spewing them out.  Not all of them are good, mind you, but they’re ideas nonetheless.

So.  Where do you get yours?

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Ten Terrific Sites for Speculative Fiction Writers

Some of my favorite speculative fiction websites, listed in no particular order:

1. Ralan’s Webstravaganza: A fairly extensive listing of markets, paying and non-paying for horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.

2. Duotrope’s Digest: Another markets database; this one is sortable and includes non-genre markets as well.  Also offers statistics about the markets, such as the acceptance rates, etc.

3. Endicott Studio: If I had to pick a favorite website, this would probably be it. A treasure trove of mythology, folklore, and fairy tales, and information for writers who love them.

4. Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy: Jeffrey Carver’s free online writing course. If you’re an accomplished writer, a lot of this is probably repetition, but some of it probably isn’t, and a refresher never hurt anyone. If you’re just beginning, this site is invaluable.

5. Vision: A Resource for Writers: An online zine dedicated to writers, with all sorts of useful info.

6. Uncle Orson’s Writing Class: Part of Orson Scott Card’s Hatrack River website. Tips, hints and info from one of the masters.

7.  Pitfalls of Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy:  Vonda N. McIntyre’s advice to writers.

8.  David Walton’s Writing Page:  A plethora of advice to spec-fic writers.

9.  Critters Workshop: One of the best writers’ workshops online, and the site includes a number of resources, including market stats.

10. SFWA’s Articles on Writing:  Advice from a number of pros.

This is, of course, far from an extensive list.  If you have any resources you’d like to share, please post them in the comments!

Writing another life

Today, a student I tutor came in with a paper about cultural appropriation in film; I won’t go into what the student said, but it got me thinking.

I’ve seen lots of articles, blog posts and advice about writing from the viewpoint of a culture that is not the author’s own; it’s kind of a touchy topic, and understandably so. Here’s one take on the matter, and here’s another and yet another.

So, here’s my take.

There are times when the use of elements from another’s culture is simply, blatantly wrong; the use of various Native American symbology by non-Native opportunists in order to sell “spiritual enlightenment” for huge profits (none of which usually makes its way into the hands of the people from whom the opportunists are stealing) comes to mind.

But when am I commiting cultural appropriation as a writer?

I write fantasy. Contemporary fantasy, yes, but fantasy all the same, and I think that it’s in the speculative fiction genres that cultural appropriation is the most problematic. I use various elements from various cultures to construct the mythos of the world my characters walk through. As someone of very, very Irish descent, I have long been fascinated by Irish and Celtic stories and faith; when I first began to write seriously, it was from this that I drew most of my fiction’s symbology. These symbols came from my heritage, from my understanding of the culture of my ancestors.

But then I started expanding my horizons; I became extremely interested in Native American faith and spiritual practice, and created a character based on a Navajo spiritual figure.

When I submitted the story to an online group for critique, I was lambasted.

It wasn’t that I’d drawn the character inaccurately; it was that I, a white woman, drew the character at all. Truthfully, nobody in that particular group was of Native descent; they couldn’t say whether or not the character was done accurately or even respectfully, because they didn’t know.

I understand this. There are a lot of people out there for whom the figure that I’d appropriated is a spiritual figure, not just a folktale out of the distant past. The act of using this figure in fiction can very easily be seen as disrespectful. I certainly didn’t intend any disrespect when I wrote the story, but I trashed it after that.

In retrospect, the act of writing that story was disrespectful. I’d approached a holy figure in a way that made him a fantasy, something not true.

I have made use of elements of Native culture in stories since then; some of the stories are more successful than others. But I’m extremely careful now. I research. A lot. I cannot stress how much I research when I start writing at all about a culture that is not my own. And I try to have empathy. I try to imagine the various ways in which my story could be viewed.

Is it still problematic? Most certainly. I’m a child of the majority culture, a white woman, not visibly different from the majority culture at all. I know that I cannot possibly understand what it is like to live the life of any culture but my own. But not to try, I think, only furthers the problem. If every writer of European descent only writes about the culture of descendents of Europeans, their writing becomes stale, and we begin to write with blinders on.  I learn when I write.  I may make mistakes, but I will continue to try.


All in the Past: Even So Archives

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