Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Am I Writing Fantasy?

Lately I have begun to question whether I really should write fantasy at all. I dislike the apparent necessity for fight scenes and I’m not good at describing magic. My readers seem to dislike meditative passages, and where subtlety would serve in a  non-genre book I am forced to lay down a heavy-handed sentence here and there.  This is not meant as a criticism but simply as a description of where I’m standing right now, attempting to finish a second book that’s more interesting and exciting than the first – and viewing it through the lens of that person who gave me one or two stars, who complained that it dragged, who got confused.

So I find myself searching back to the reason I turned to fantasy in the first place, back when I was tired of what I describe as “baby-boomer literature,” a term unfair to both baby boomers and literature. But you know what I mean – those books that describe how a man wants to leave his wife or a woman wants to leave her husband, and by the end becomes self-actualized enough to do it. That navel-gazing, individual-focused writing that drives me crazy.

I began to read fantasy not for elves and airy-fairy stuff, but because it deals with war and loss and difficult choices. Granted, mainstream literature does also. I have recently had recommended to me some excellent mainstream literature, and this blog post is not in any way an indictment of it – especially since I haven’t read any of late. But at the time I turned to fantasy I was searching for exploration of those difficult issues, and I found it there.

And so that’s why I write fantasy. Sure there are creepy magical horrors and some knives and stuff, but that is never my focus. I apologize in advance for a possibly slow, actionless, too-subtle, second book. I’ve been working on it, it seems, forever, and while it’s engaging I am not sure it will sell. And that’s the worst thing to think about, going into your second book. The second book sells the first book, after all. The series sells as a unit, eventually. What happens when it does not hit the expectations of the readers? 

Everyone tells you to write what you want to write, and that’s what I have done. But there’s another voice, out there in the aether, that is telling you to make it exciting, make it fast, dumb it down, add sex, add blood, and so on. It’s hard not to just build a lego-set out of those items that seem popular. What makes it worse is that unlike the first book, you can’t share the second on a writing group or toss out chapters via email for uninvolved persons to read. It’s all copyrighted and secret, and you’re working alone. Nobody can tell you if what you’re writing is any good at all.

That’s my little rant. I have to get back to editing now. I’m pretty sure I have to strip out at least one Serious Issue from the story. And perhaps I will slip in a little sex or a little knife fight or . . .


  1. There is plenty more to fantasy than fight scenes, or even magic, although I do like the latter, a lot.

    Look at Kate Elliott's Spiritwalker series. Fighting? Not much. Magic, sure, lovely worldbuilding, but not much fighting. And I liked it a lot.

    Or, the Empire series by Feist and Wurts as I mentioned on Twitter. Again, social combat, social questions. Difficult choices.

    Some days I want a kick-ass hero/heroine and some times I want other things. And all of it in genre fiction.

  2. Yes, I agree there's lots more to fantasy than fight scenes. I meant to express that in my rant, but perhaps in my rantiness I was unclear.

    Carol Berg has good fantasy without fight scenes, or at least the fight scenes are obliquely described. Have not read Feist and Wurts yet.

    I would ask you though: what is a 'kick-ass heroine'? Does she fight or does her strength come through in other ways? Or both?

  3. A combat oriented heroine is what I was particularly thinking of in that comment, but strength for a heroine should, can and does come in other ways and other venues.

    Cat, for example, in the aforementioned Spiritwalker series, has strength of conviction and persistence that makes her "kick-ass" even though she's not a combat character.

    I've only read one Berg, years ago, and need to fix that...

  4. I haven't read Spiritwalker. I will have to get that. I really liked Crown of Stars.

    You should definitely get some Berg.

  5. I sympathise entirely with your viewpoint, Mazarkis. I wrote my series (Stonewylde) not knowing what genre it was. Gollancz published it and now it's given a fantasy label, which I guess is as good as any. And yet there are no swords/magical creatures/elves/vampires/weapons/other worlds - any of the stuff a hardcore fantasy fan would expect. There are a few fight scenes but they're ones with fists! And they're brief. So I really sympathise with what you're saying. But it's true - you can only write what's in your heart, unless you want to totally pimp yourself out, and hope others find it resonates with what's in their hearts too. And the hearts of the marketing dept of your publisher - but how can you second guess that? Perhaps there should be more of this type of fantasy anyway? Maybe we should invent a new type of fantasy category?

  6. I wonder what we could call it. Right now TEK has been shoved into 'historical fantasy' which I believe to be an oxymoron. Would I prefer 'non-action fantasy'? That's surely a label that will sell lots of books! :)

    Adding Stonewylde and Spiritwalker to my ever-growing TBR pile.

  7. Actually, you can show contracted WIPs to writer's groups--the trick is having one you trust. I know my personal situation is a bit of a luxury (group of pros right in my lap,; but I also know other authors who have formed closed electronic critiquing/reading groups w/ one another to either get feed back in progress, or to use as beta readers, etc. The trick would be to find a few people whose opinions you trust and work out an arrangement w/ them. It may take a bit of time & effort, but don't assume you can't show what you're working on to others--you just need to find a different venue than you may have been using in the past.

  8. No book is going to please all readers, so trying to please everyone is a futile exercise. Though obviously most writers want to write a book that appeals to enough readers to make it financially successful (whatever that actually entails). In addition, middle novels of a trilogy are notoriously tough to write.

    But, based on Prince of Thorns, I believe you have a distinctive voice, and there are plenty of readers who enjoyed it. I bet most of them will enjoy your next novel as well, as they were drawn to your style.

  9. I actually did send a couple of chapters to the wonderful, the amazing, Teresa Frohock, and she politely told me how they weren't working. Which helped, but also put the whole book in a dreadful light for me!

    But you are correct - I never adjusted to being published. While my old reliable methods of getting critiqued are no longer valid I never found new ones.

  10. My bad. I meant The Emperor's Knife, not Prince of Thorns. Sorry. :)

  11. I got confused there for a moment! :)

  12. I love fantasy that eschews the traditional paradigms of action and adventure. That can't be mistaken though for lacking tension and pace. There are ways to create those things without action, I just think it's a lot harder. When it works, it's amazing.

  13. Can't find your email address. Send me an email at amber@amberpolo.com. I would like you to be a guest on my blog series "Why I Write Fantasy."

  14. I'm probably not the best person to help you come up with fast-paced fight scenes, because I'm not really into those kinds of stories, but thank you for your kind words nonetheless. I like to read the kind of fantasy that you write, Maz: one with complex characters and plots that delve into the "why" of who we are.

    I think that's why I always loved Marion Zimmer Bradley's works and Judith Tarr. They examine questions of conscience and soul. They are also authors of more adult works.

    And if it is any consolation to you whatsoever, better that you get placed in "Historical Fantasy" than "Religious Fantasy" like my poor tale. There you have the "EW! EW! CHRISTIANS! EW! EW!" crowd. ;-)

    I was having a lot of trouble with my second novel because I was trying to appease those Internet voices that claimed Miserere was not good enough for X, Y, Z reasons. The Garden didn't really take off for me until I shut those voices out and wrote the story I wanted to tell.

    The whole reason I wrote Miserere (and am writing The Garden) is because I wanted to read something different.

    Write what you love, Maz, and you will eventually find others who love it too.

  15. Eh, as far as I'm concerned, I bought Emperor's Knife today, and finished it just minutes ago, as I couldn't put it down. I'd be tempted to give it five of five! Lots of interesting characters, vivid imagery and even sensawunda. I mostly read science fiction when I read for pleasure, because so much fantasy seems to exist in the same near-Middle Earth world, and I'm so bored of that same old bleah.

    Btw., have you read Weiss/Hickman "The Rose of the Prophet"? It was the first original fantasy I ever read.

  16. No, I have not read that. I will add it to my TBR pile. Thanks!