5 Fictional Characters I’d Invite to a Summer Picnic

This week’s post is sort of silly, and inspired by Chronically Vintage’s post featuring some helpful blog post ideas. Since I was stuck for an idea this week, I’ll roll with this idea. This list could potentially go on waaaaaay past five, so for my readers’ sanity, I’ll keep it just to five.

Thorn – from the Bone graphic novel series by Jeff Smith. She’s the fun-loving country girl who discovers that she’s the crown princess, and saves her land from the Rat Creatures and the evil Hooded One. Of course, if I invited Thorn, I’d have to invite her guardian Gran’ma Ben, and her best friend Fone Bone, so now I’m up to three people invited to this picnic already… Continue reading

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Four Things

This week I’m stealing my blog topic from my friend Jessica over at Chronically Vintage. She’s a lovely person and blogs about vintage fashion, which is something I knew little about until I started writing historical fiction.

Anyway, the idea of this post is to not talk about writerly stuff per se, but rather to reveal some slightly more personal things about me. So here we go – four things about me: Continue reading

10 Quotes from Science-Fiction and Fantasy

We can learn a lot from fantasy and sci-fi. Sometimes we need to hear a truth come from the mouth of the Other, or to see our situations mirrored in a fantasy world. So here are ten of my favorite quotes about life from fantasy and sci-fi books, TV shows, and movies.

Some journeys take us far from home. Some adventures lead us to our destiny.The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others. – The Wizard, The Wizard of Oz

Words are, in my not-so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. – Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Equality is the nullifier of individuality… Equality is the despot destroyer of self-worth. In a world of sameness, there can be no heroes. – The Watcher, “Earth X #3,” Marvel Comics

Who’s the more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows him? – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Hope

Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens. – Gimli, The Fellowship of the Ring

‘Impossible’ is a word that humans use far too often. – Seven of Nine, “Hope and Fear,” Star Trek: Voyager

You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are. – Aslan, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

We all have a destiny. Sometimes we do not see it, because we have been taught to believe that we are not important. – Delenn, “Comes the Inquisitor,” Babylon 5

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. … I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. – Puddleglum, The Silver Chair

What is one of your favorite sci-fi or fantasy quotes about real life? Please share!

10 Quotes for Writing and Inspiration

I collect quotes. Quotes about writing, about life, quotes from books and movies, quotes from real people. So today I just thought I’d share a few of my favorite quotes. I hope they bring you some inspiration or deep thoughts. And please feel free to share one of your favorite quotes in the comments!

A stroke of the brush does not guarantee art from the bristles. – Kosh, Babylon 5

What I find interesting about folklore is the dialogue it gives us with storytellers from centuries past. – Terri Windling

Composer, sculptor, painter, poet, prophet, sage: these are the makers of the afterworld, the architects of heaven. The world is beautiful because they have lived; without them, laboring humanity would perish. – James Allen

Do or do not. There is no try– Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood. – Peter Handke

Not all who wander are lost. – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Always remember there are only two kinds of people in this world – the realists and the dreamers. The realists know where they’re going. The dreamers have already been there. – Robert Orben

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. – E.L. Doctorow

A child who can love the oddities of a fantasy book cannot possibly be xenophobic as an adult. What is a different color, a different culture, a different tongue for a child who has already mastered Elvish, respected Puddleglums, or fallen under the spell of dark-skinned Ged, the greatest wizard Earthsea has ever known? –Jane Yolen, Touch Magic

I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. –Joss Whedon

Creating Fantasy Creatures and Alien Species – Real Animals as Magical Races

In a previous post on this subject, I gave some tips for creating convincing and relatable creatures to populate a fantasy or sci-fi world. In this post, I will continue in that vein, but I will come at it from a slightly different view – that is, using animals as characters in your story.

This post is not about creating fantastic new monsters or magical animals, though I might do a post on that later. This is about using familiar, “real” animals as sentient characters or races. While the practice of having sentient, anthropomorphized animals in fantasy is not especially common – except perhaps in children’s books – it can be a valid fantasy storytelling element even in YA or adult fiction.

In my previous post about creating fantasy races, I emphasized two key points in creating believable creatures: elements that make them human, and elements that make them non-human. Both, I believe, are necessary to create convincing, well-rounded fantasy creatures.

The non-human element is probably obvious – you as a writer are seeking something different, something besides just another fantasy kingdom filled with humans. Whether they are Klingons or Elves, the “otherness” aspect is part of the point of fantasy.

But equally important is the human element. There must be some way for the human reader – if not the human characters – to relate to and understand this magical race of “other” in your story. Some common ground should be there – even if the point of your story is the search for that common ground. You can write about Klingons all day long, but always remember that your readers are human.

So how does this work if you want to imbue real animals with magic and use them as the “other,” the alien race? To illustrate how this can be done, I’ll use examples from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. (While both of these series might be considered YA or even children’s literature, they are stories that are complex and mature enough to be enjoyed by adults).

What are the qualities that make them non-human?

In my previous post about creating fantasy species, I discussed three main categories to consider: physical traits, emotions or mindset of the species, and the general culture.

In the Narnia books, there are plenty of non-human creatures – and some of the most non-human of all are the Talking Beasts. The badgers, bears, mice, and dogs that have human speech and mannerisms are perhaps more alien than the fauns and centaurs and gryphons. Though they live in harmony with humans, they are very much non-human.

The physical is the most obvious, of course. Even though some Talking Beasts can walk on their hind legs and wield tools (like the heroic mouse Reepicheep), they are very much animal in appearance and behavior. No cartoony animals in cute clothes in these stories. Each species still behaves according to their animal nature as far as attitude and mindset – the fiercely loyal dogs, jittery hyper squirrels, gentle and aloof deer.

While the humans fight wars, voice their opinions, and rage against Aslan in the name of free will and progress, the Talking Beasts don’t change. Their steadiness of behavior and belief sets them apart from every other sentient race in Narnia.

They love and respect the humans, but the Talking Beasts are quick to remind everyone that they are most definitely not human, and are not trying to be in any way. The Talking Beasts are proud of their Otherness. The magic of Narnia makes them more than mere animals, but they never will be human – and they want to keep it that way.

What are the qualities that make them human?

As I mentioned before, some human elements are needed in your magical animal race if you want your human readers to relate to them at all. Even if the “otherness” is part of the point of your story, having at least some common ground can help to emphasize all the elements that make them non-human.

In Philip Pullman’s books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), the Panserbjørne (Armored Bears or Ice Bears) are at first appearance very animalistic and “other.” These Bears tend to shun human contact, but they are master craftsmen and metal workers. Their physical dwellings and societal structure are more human than animal, with their castles, metal armor, and sense of honor.

The Ice Bears, though emphasized as different and “other,” experience the very human emotions of fear and shame, hatred and love. The Bears have a king and their own laws for their kingdom. Almost the opposite of the animals in Narnia, who live in their natural habitats in the wilderness, the Ice Bears depend on their created laws and their skill with tools to hold their society together.

While the Bears and the humans have reluctant contact at best, until the plot of the story forces them together, the two species have more in common than each one believes at first. The Bears are animals and the Bears are Other, but just like humans, they hate and love and will fight to preserve their world.

Animals as sentient races and important characters can be a valid storytelling element for YA and adult fantasy, I believe, as shown by these examples. Always key is the human element, and the non-human element.Whether it’s a sword-wielding mouse, an armored polar bear, or some other animal, choose your beast and go create some magic.

How I met Batman

I first started going to the comic store regularly back in high school. It was on the way home, right where I got off the bus, and my friend and I would stop in after school at least once a week. I was an insufferable Trekker at the time (we both were), and Barry’s comic book shop always had boxes of individual trading cards from every series under the sun. A card collector’s dream, since those packs never had that one last special card you needed.

Barry was always ready with a smile and a friendly comment, whether my purchases were Star Trek cards or X-Men comics. Even twenty years ago, collecting every X-Men comic in existence was no easy feat – but Stories Comics and Barry behind the counter could help me make it happen.

The store was like a low-tech Bat-cave – a tiny hidden gem of a shop, with secret treasures stuffed in every nook and cranny. And I emphasize low-tech – those old manual knuckle-buster contraptions for running credit cards on carbon paper, index cards for tracking customers’ trade-in credits. There was no computerized inventory. It was all in Barry’s head – every comic, old and new; every action figure, t-shirt, video tape, collectible lunch box.

I needed a part-time job during my summers and holidays while in college. And since I didn’t want to flip burgers and I was tired of babysitting, I was elated to get a job at this low-tech Bat-cave. And so thus began my journey, like a young Robin under the tutelage of Batman. Barry the comic master taught me:

  • Everybody should have a nickname or a super-hero name.
  • Never buy a new comic from the top or the bottom of the stack; those are the ones that get the most abuse during shipping. Buy a comic from the middle of the stack.
  • Classic monster movie memorabilia is always popular, not just at Halloween.
  • If the toy companies don’t make action figures of your favorite characters, then cannibalize cheap or broken figures and build and paint your own.
  • Eat all your meals off of Justice League dishes. If those aren’t available, Looney Tunes dishes will do in a pinch.
  • If someone is scared of bugs, make sure you keep plenty of plastic cockroaches on hand to terrify them.
  • A rubber snake on the t-shirt rack will also freak some people out. Both are equally hilarious.
  • Don’t waste valuable storage or display space. Everyone has room for a giant inflatable starship Enterprise the size of a bus – that’s what the ceiling is for.
  • You can never have too many comic books.
  • Or toys. Or videos/DVDs. Or unique/one-of-a-kind/weird collectible items.
  • Batman is the greatest super-hero ever.

I worked harder at Stories than I have at most any other job. Comic boxes are heavy. Customers aren’t always happy. Returning damaged merchandise to the distributors is a hassle. Employees don’t always get along.

Barry knew how to work hard and how to run a business, and kept us working hard. When I was just a customer, shopping for my Spock and Picard and Data cards, Stories was just one tiny store in a center of a strip mall. But it wasn’t long before it took over half of the strip mall; plus two other stores opened across town, and the online sales continued to grow.

But what really made the business work was that Barry knew how to play hard and laugh hard. My boss was really just a big kid who never grew up. At an age when most adults were settling down to the drudgery that the world teaches is “real life,” Barry still believed in super-heroes.

He believed there was still some fun to be had in life, some joy to be found, some good worth fighting for. Kindness mattered, smiles could really help people. That’s what the toys and the comic books taught him, and he lived it every day.

Thank you, Barry, for rescuing a lost nerdy college girl and giving her smiles and giving her friends. You were just a regular guy, a Bruce Wayne everyman, sitting behind a cash register or posting cartoons on Facebook. But really, you were Batman. Thank you for proving there are still super-heroes.

In memory of Barry Pryor, founder of Stories Comics.