Saturday, September 17, 2011

Talking Books

Thursday, my father and I went to a "Talking Books" meeting with Brandon Sanderson, Mark Buehner, and Lisa Mangum.  It was a wonderful and informative evening.  All three of these individuals are funny and talented people.

Brandon related his hate of reading as a child until one of his teachers gave him an adult fantasy novel with dragons and a witch having a midlife crisis.  He realized stories could be more interesting than the lower level children's reading he was being fed by everyone else.  He now teaches writing, writes incredibly imaginative books, and co-produces an excellent podcast on writing called Writing Excuses.  This podcast has been pivotal in shifting my writing from just something for myself to something I could sell to others.

Mark is a professional illustrator who does children's books, including one that my Mother got for the grandkids and tending kids to read called Fanny's Dream.  He illustrates for many of his wife's books and others.  My only regret here is not realizing that he was the illustrator for that book, otherwise I would have grabbed my mom's copy to be signed by him.

Lisa was particularly informative and helpful to both me and my dad.  She helped explain the publishing house's side of things.  Although I went Indie for my first two books, I would love to have partners in the creative process.  Being independent, I found that I can write, get professional editing, do covers, sales, and promotion.  But wearing all of the other hats in a publishing house takes away from my time to wear the author hat.  My only regret in meeting Lisa was that I didn't have my own business cards ready yet to give her and get my foot in the door on a personal level with Deseret Book.  I will likely send her a thank-you note as that is the courteous and professional thing to do... and maybe still open doors in the future.  Good karma works.

I hope our local library does more of these Talking Books events.  They're amazing.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Strong Women

Though I haven't been vocal, I've been busy.  Children Of A Clouded Skye is in editing, I've been prepping the dead tree version of A Clouded Skye, and writing my neolithic fantasy story.  That aside, I thought I'd talk about strong characters.

I wrote my first novel, or maybe it was a novella, when I was in high school.  It was the story of an island girl kidnapped by a passing ship of what was an analog of the British empire.  The character was certainly lovable and had strong moral fiber (or whatever) but pretty much reacted to everything that happened to her, a passive figure.  For this and many other problems with the story, it will not likely see the light of day.

Fast forward fifteen or so years and I have a new protagonist in Skye.  Though raised in the street as an orphan, she is anything but a passive woe-is-me victim.  Being alone and independent just came naturally because to survive, she had to be.  In the sequel, Children of a Clouded Skye, several of the children of those introduced in the first story are strong willed capable girls as well.  Maelekin's daughter Channa, King Cardeness's daughter Usoya, and King Mathanias's daughter Bella.  Skye's son Vitalie is strong too but he doesn't count in this argument because he's a boy. 

There's been enough stories where the woman was nothing but the prize to be won or the victim to be saved, even when supposedly she is a competent spunky go-getter.  I feel this portrayal does womankind a great disservice. One of my considerations of whether a story is good or not is how that half of our population is portrayed.

One of the reasons I struggle with Superman and Spiderman is that both of these superheroes are stuck with perpetually helpless girlfriends in Lois Lane and Mary Jane.  Sometimes you wonder how the girls survived childhood without their heroes.  I'm not against bad things happening to the girls in my stories but I want to see them get out of the danger and solve the problems on their own.  They shouldn't have to rely on some man to do it for them.  Do it once and I'll tolerate it.  Do it over and over and then I start hoping the girls die to put them out of their own misery (Disclaimer:  I do not favor or condone the killing of helpless women in real life.  Really, I don't.).

One common danger of writing any story is that you make the villain more interesting than the hero.  If the hero always reacts to the villain, the villain will be the more interesting character.  The hero can react to the villain in the first act but by the second or third act, they had better be scheming and acting on their own to defeat the villain or they'll be dull flat reactive characters.  Good stories have strong protagonists.  As a guy writing about girl protagonists, it can be easy to fall into poor stereotypes.  I must be extra careful to avoid that pitfall in my writing.  Fortunately, I grew up with a large gaggle of strong intelligent sisters and a loving mother that gave me great examples of women and womanhood.