Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Future of SFF is a Reaction to Current Real World Events

Where is SFF headed? I think we're going to continue to see more stories rooted in non-western cultures. I think we're going to see more robust casts where the straight white guy is the token (and not as the Great White Savior). I don't think diverse stories are a passing fad, rather they're a change in consumer demand encouraged by Hollywood making consumers aware that representative entertainment is available to the mainstream.

I think as long as real-world politics is shit, that'll the demand for HEA in SFF is going to increase; that includes breaking grimdark's stranglehold on the bestseller lists and waning popularity of irredeemable anti-heroes. I think there will be an uptick in mass-anarchy themes, where the quests change a nation rather than bestow individual glory. I also think humorists are going to come back to SFF to shine a shaming light on the corruption and frustrations of the real world.

I'm looking forward to all of it, as a reader and a writer.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Where Is SFF Headed?

This week, the SFF Seven contemplate the SFF genre and where it's headed.

Coincidentally enough, I just returned from San Diego Comic Con and - wow! - was that an education in fandom. Of all the conferences I have attended, this one had the most wildly enthusiastic fans who were excited to put their money into those fandoms.

Sure, there was a lot of Game of Thrones cosplay - the above Daenerys was my favorite - and Marvel, but also characters from every SFF, and SFF-adjacent, storyline you can think of. The SFF publishers had booths that crawled with readers. Grace Draven and I both did signings with long lines and books that practically evaporated. In my signing, person after person told me how excited they were about THE ORCHID THRONE and how much they appreciated authors coming to comic con.

I'm thinking... these kinds of events are where it's at.

Sure, there's a lot of stuff focused on games, movie, and streaming franchises - but in the minds of people who love the stuff, it's all intertwined.

It puts me in mind of a conference I attended back in something like 2012. I asked a panel of TOR editors if they thought the HBO Game of Thrones series would galvanize popular interest in fantasy novels. (Yes - a totally self-interested question.) They were junior editors, but all looked startled, maybe even a little confused, and finally answered.... Maybe? Then they explained that they'd of course known about the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George RR Martin for so long that it hadn't really occurred to them that this could have a *new* impact.

Even then I thought... REALLY? Because I think it's obvious now that the hunger for SFF in all its forms is growing.

So where do I think the genre is headed? I think it's going to be about multi-media. I think the subgenres will continue to proliferate and blur, and that the craving for more stories with fabulous worlds of all kinds will continue to grow.

I'm definitely planning to attend more comic cons!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Using Fairy Tale Tropes in My #SciFi Novels


This week’s topic: What fairy tale would we pick to rewrite and why?

I’ve written a couple of fairy tale themes into my books – probably most notably with Trapped on Talonque, which my SFF7 buddy Vivien Jackson was kind enough to mention earlier this week. Sleeping Beauty has always been one of my all-time favorite stories, both Disney’s version and the more general folk tale, so I thoroughly enjoyed taking the concept and running with it. I relished doing a scifi take on the story… Bithia, the ‘sleeping beauty’ in the novel is from an ancient, spacefaring  civilization. To make the story work I had to think long and hard about why such a person would be left behind on a more primitive planet by her own people and how she could survive without aging. Then I got to have fun imagining what it would be like to be her, and finally be set free…but thousands of years into her future. Suffice it to say nothing is as she hoped or expected.

There’s no prince, only my gallant and resourceful Special Forces soldier, Nate Reilly. He becomes fascinated with Bithia, needs her help to survive and rescue his men, and of course falls in love with her. Instead of helpful fairies, we have a clan of priests and priestesses who know many of the secrets of the Sleeping Goddess, as Bithia is called on Talonque, but have their own agenda.

And how long can even the best alien technology keep functioning with no maintenance? (I did enjoy throwing problems at this group of characters.)

I’ve also invented my own fairy tale, that of The Princess of Shadows, for the scifi romance Mission to Mahjundar. Here’s how the novel’s heroine Princess Shalira explains the story to the Sectors Special Forces soldier who of course will be her handsome ‘prince’: “It’s an old folktale about a girl of royal blood who hid from her enemies in the shadows of the palace walls, disguised as a beggar, until her true love rescued her.” Gesturing to her eyes, Shalira said, “It’s meant as an insult to me, since I can’t see, not even shadows, and I’ve lived the past fifteen years on the fringes of the court, out of the ‘sun.’ I’m tolerated, protected only because my mother was the emperor’s Favorite till she died."

The hero is of course thoroughly captivated and determined to help her.

My personal favorite fairy tale is Cinderella. I’m not that big on the Disney animated version because frankly there isn’t enough of the prince in it. I enjoyed the Disney live action version more, principally because I loved Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. In my opinion they did not do justice to the waltz in that movie though. The dress, although impressive, was too big to allow the prince to really dance with her. Mostly he spun her around to make the dress’s skirt flare out. Okayyyy….

 But the best version I’ve ever seen was Drew Barrymore’s movie “Ever After.” Let me pause a moment and bask in my happiness s over that retelling! I love to rewatch that one. A close second for me would be the Rogers & Hammerstein stage musical, as performed by Lesley Ann Warren in the role of Cinderella for television. So many good songs, such a handsome prince, and oh the WALTZ.

(I also enjoy the version of the waltz scene the Broadway cast of ‘Cinderella’ did for the 2013 Tony Awards.)

I’ve actually written a take on Cinderella, set in my ancient Egyptian paranormal romance world, entitled Healer of the Nile. I had fun figuring out how to work the key elements of the fairy tale into my Egyptian framework and I was determined to have Pharaoh be the ‘fairy godfather’ who made things right for Mehyta, my heroine, and Tadenhut, her disabled soldier hero.

One of the oldest versions of the story actually is from ancient Egypt, about 2400 years ago, in fact. But my story for Healer was entirely original and didn’t involve anyone having to fit into any particular sandal!

Soooo…I’ve basically already written versions of my two favorite fairy tales. Not saying I won’t ever write another book using a fairy tale type trope but I don’t feel particularly pulled to do it. I’d say my third favorite story is Beauty and the Beast as done by Disney in the animated version but at the moment my Muse doesn’t feel inspired.

I will also say that frankly the Brothers Grimm version of anything was too dark, violent and scary for me as a child. Someone made the mistake of giving me a volume of their tales when I was a kid, not the cleaned up, pastel cheery Disney versions and I was horrified. Scarred for life to some extent! So I’m just really not a huge fairy tale fan. I leave that genre to others!


Friday, July 19, 2019

Transformative Fairytelling

It's been a busy, messy week involving surgeries (one complicated and expensive, the other not so much), a drama queen, an all-nighter (which was last night - I'm running on two hours of sleep so no warranties expressed or implied as to the coherence of my post). Oh yeah. And a book re-release.

I wish I'd worded this little piece of pretty differently, but what the heck. 

I was also invited to step into a podcast to talk about the creative process, the excuses that derail it, and how to approach overcoming those. If you want a listen, check out Creativity Quest on Sound Cloud or on Anchor.fm. If you prefer video, the episode is also available from the Creativity Quest YouTube channel. Truth: The sole reason for vid was the opportunity for kitty photo bombing. Which happens. Now you can make an informed choice.

We're writing about fairytales - which ones inform our work and which ones we want to write. I come from a Jungian background, which translates into having followed the work of Joseph Campbell for more years than I want to admit. I love the fact that a folklorist made the psychology myth and fairytales so accessible that he and his work entered popular culture. Most of us are familiar with the hero's journey cycle. It's the basis for most TV, movies, and genre fiction in Western culture. But there's also a heroine's journey. It's very similar to the hero's journey in most respects. There's the call to adventure, the descent into the Underworld, mentors, gatekeepers, everything we're familiar with. It shifts near the very end. In the hero's cycle, the hero has to conquer the monster(s) facing him or her. (The great thing about these story cycles is that gender is meaningless - you could just as easily say 'protagonist' rather than hero if you don't want to get hung up on gender.) In the heroine's journey, rather than conquering or defeating the monster, the protagonist's challenge is to transform the monster(s). It's a subtle shift, but the implications can be really profound both from a character standpoint and from a plot standpoint. How do you overcome someone or something you can't kill (because to kill or destroy would also wreck your character arc and you would fail your quest). I feel like the romance genre spends a lot of time and page space exploring the differences between hero's and heroine's journeys and I love when I run across a book that unabashedly gives all that transformational power to its protagonist.

If I get to play around with fairytales and myths in my stories, I want it to be from within the confines of the heroine's journey. I'll admit that Enemy Within didn't make that benchmark. It is solidly a hero's journey rather than a heroine's, but that's my aspiration.

As to which fairytale I prefer? I'm an author trying really hard to grab my own glass slipper. I'm comfortably certain you can work that one out. :)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Rewriting The Little Mermaid (AKA Giving Women a Voice)

 By Maxym M. Martineau

There’s been a lot in the news lately surrounding the casting choice of Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming, live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. Let me be clear: this article is NOT about that. (For the record, I’m 1,000% in support of Halle playing Ariel. I’m also here for either Lizzo or Tituss as Ursula.) I was asked to write a guest post picking an old fairy tale that I’d love to rewrite, and truthfully, that has always been The Little Mermaid for me.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid

I’ll be honest, my desire to rewrite this tale stemmed from the 1989 animated Disney version I first saw as a child. I can’t remember if I loved it or not as a kid (I probably did, given I was a competitive swimmer for 15 years and constantly in the pool, dreaming of having fins). I know I didn’t have an Ariel doll. I know I didn’t identify with her (I always felt more like a Belle). And as I grew up and rewatched the film, I disliked it more and more. It wasn’t the hidden phalluses dotting the landscape (I’m a romance writer, if anything, I find that funny). It was the way Ariel found love.

I have a whole slew of FEELINGS about Ariel having to give up her home, her life, in order to fully accommodate that of her lover’s. There’s never a moment where she wonders if Prince Eric would come to her. There’s never a thought of compromise, of the potential where he could grow a sparkly tail and join her world. The immediate, knee-jerk solution is for her to give up everything that made her, her, and abandon the uniqueness of her identity to fit into the mold of Eric’s society.

But let’s pretend for a moment that that’s okay. That yeah, she’s a freaking mermaid, and she physically can’t live on land and he can’t grow gills, so the only option for her to experience true love (which, bigger issue, she’s never even talked to the guy at this point and is willing to throw EVERYTHING away for him) is to become a human via a spell from the sea witch. As a romance author/reader, I can understand the central theme to sacrifice for love (it should be from both parties, but I digress).

No, for me, the biggest and most unsettling issue is that Ariel literally gives up her voice in exchange for the chance to fall in love with a man she doesn’t know.

Her voice.

Her ability to speak. To articulate thoughts and feelings. To stand up for herself. (Quick disclaimer: this is not to say that those who are mute are incapable of expressing themselves. They can, and should, be seen/heard and respected. This is simply a breakdown of the events that transpire in Disney’s The Little Mermaid and my interpretation of what Ariel willing gives up for a man.)

By giving up her voice, Ariel is perpetuating the theme that women should be seen, not heard. That our thoughts don’t matter. That we are meant to fall in line behind men and quietly accept their decisions without ever providing our opinions. This. Is. Dangerous. I mean, just listen to Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” when she tries to convince Ariel to give up her voice:

“The men up there don't like a lot of blabber
They think a girl who gossips is a bore
Yet on land it's much preferred for ladies not to say a word
And after all dear, what is idle babble for?
Come on, they're not all that impressed with conversation
True gentlemen avoid it when they can
But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who's withdrawn
It's she who holds her tongue who gets a man…”

What in the actual flying eff. No less, this convinces Ariel to go through with the exchange. Girl. I don’t even have words.

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid

Knowing that Disney’s rendition was loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s work, I decided to read the original for comparative reasons. And yes, in both versions, the mermaid (we’ll call her that since she’s never named) sacrifices her voice for the chance of love. However, I think there is one vital and very important difference that completely and entirely changes the tone of Andersen’s story: the mermaid does so out of a longing to acquire an immortal soul.

Let’s review this passage between the mermaid and her grandmother, who is telling her all about the human soul and immortality:

“‘... We [mermaids] sometimes live to three hundred years, but when we cease to exist here, we only become the foam on the surface of the water, and we have not even a grave down here of those we love. We have not immortal souls, we shall never live again; but, like the green sea-weed, when once it has been cut off, we can never flourish more. Human beings, on the contrary, have a soul which lives forever, lives after the body has turned to dust.’”

Grandmother goes on to discuss the kingdom of heaven, and how does the mermaid respond? As one might who just discovered there is nothing for her beyond her limited existence:

“... ‘I would give gladly all the hundreds of years that I have to live, to be a human being only for one day, and to have the hope of knowing the happiness of that glorious world above the stars.’”

So while her initial interest in becoming a human and leaving her kind is certainly sparked by a handsome young prince whom she saved from drowning (that’s the same), it becomes something so much deeper, so much more profound, that I’m less annoyed when she willingly sacrifices her voice to the sea witch for a chance at immortality.

In defense of the sea witch, it’s the necessary price to pay because of who the mermaid is—the mermaid’s greatest gift, her voice, in exchange for the greatest possible outcome, an immortal soul. When you’re the loveliest singer in the sea, I suppose that’s a fair asking price. Oh, and for kicks, every time the mermaid moves on land—i.e., walks, runs, dances, basically does anything on her feet—she’ll feel intense pain like knives or swords. Because what childhood fairy tale isn’t terrifying in one way or another?

All that aside, she still needs to “win” her immortality, so to speak. It’s only granted to a mermaid who can get a human to love her with his “whole soul” so that she in turn will gain a soul of her own (without stealing the man’s soul, so little risk for the man in this situation, go figure). And while it’s not crystal clear, I believe the only reason she is forced to give up her voice is because of its power (i.e., a terrible singer would sacrifice something else in exchange for this opportunity, because her voice isn’t as valuable). Either way, a voice is still inherently powerful, in my opinion. Oh, and no lovely spell, either—the witch literally cut out the mermaid’s tongue.

Now, spoiler alert: I’m going to tell you the end of the book. There’s no way around it. I apologize in advance.

The prince doesn’t fall in love with her. Instead, he falls in love with the maiden who “rescued” him from his near-drowning experience (which should be the mermaid, but as she can’t tell him this, she’s SOL). To him, it’s the first woman he saw when he awoke, who later turns out to be a princess. (Of course. Good for him.) And while he permits the mermaid to live in his castle and dotes on her, he never loves her that way. (Even though he kisses her. Jerk.)

Anyway, cut to the morning after the prince marries, the mermaid is about to die (since she couldn’t get him to fall in love with her) and she’s facing a life of nothingness. She has the opportunity, through the sacrifice of her sisters (who only had to give up their hair while bargaining with the sea witch to fashion a special blade), to kill the prince and cause her legs to change back to fins, at least granting her remaining years as a mermaid with her family. Of course, because she’s selfless and still loves him, she tosses the blade aside and dives into the ocean to die.

And she does. Sort of. She becomes this last-minute daughter of air being that apparently, after 300 years of good deeds, can gain an immortal soul and go to the heavens. So she’s happy and the story ends.

Andersen Wins

So, how does that make me feel? Well. Better than the Disney version, but also still mildly peeved her voice was sacrificed for a chance at love (though again, slightly less irritated because of the immortal soul factor). And yet… I love that she finds her own happiness, despite the fact it requires her to die, that isn’t dependent on a man who treated her like a child, never returned her affections, and basically cast her aside the moment he found his true love.

I also can’t help but think Ariel from Disney’s version would’ve been SO much more relatable to me if this other, more important factor (immortality) was woven into the plotline. Who wants to turn into sea foam and cease to exist when there’s an opportunity for forever somewhere else?

If it were me rewriting the piece, I’d steer clear of the voice sacrifice all around. I just think that we, as women, have had our voices squandered so much that re-popularizing this idea with a remake, one we know children will flock to, is potentially harmful. The act of the mermaid sacrificing her voice is much more meaningful and powerful in Andersen’s version, so I guess if it’s “needed” for the sake of the story, then honor the original.

To put it plainly, I’d hone in on the mermaid herself and why she’s sacrificing her voice (i.e., the notion of equal payment in exchange for the wish granting) and amp up the costs for anyone else who deals with the witch to reiterate that fact (i.e., maybe her sisters could’ve lost something MORE significant than their hair when attempting to save her life). Hopefully, that would alleviate some of my distaste for the story.

About the Guest Author:  Maxym M. Martineau

Maxym M. Martineau is a staff writer and editor by day, and a fantasy romance author by night. When she’s not getting heated over broken hearts, she enjoys playing video games, sipping a well-made margarita, binge-watching television shows, competing in just about any sport, and of course, reading.

Following her passion, Maxym earned her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. She is represented by Cate Hart of Harvey Klinger Literary Agency. Her debut, Kingdom of Exiles, is out now.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Hey, Fairy Tale, I Know Your Type

Back in university, when I took a class on folk tales, our chief text was a a shelf-length set of books in the undergrad library that comprised the Aarne-Thompson Tale Type Index. Those original two guys, Aarne and Thompson, sorted through scads of European and Near Eastern folk tales, and later on some dude named Uther (for you Arthurian aficionados, yes, that's really his name! ) added stories from a few other languages and cultures.

(Aside: I still suspect the collection is super limited because it does not include East Asian, African, or Native American tales. However, I haven't studied the Uther update, so maybe he added some?)

Anyhow, these folklorist guys broke down tales into their elements -- princess in a tower, supernatural helper, persecuted heroine -- and assigned numbers to each type. Then they noted which type-numbers tend to occur most frequently together. For instance, the Cinderella story contains both the persecuted heroine and the supernatural helper. 

At one point, I thought about writing a story based on the categorization system itself -- super meta! But then I read Seanan Maguire's Indexing and thought, well, somebody did that and did it well.   

I also always wanted to write an ATU type 410: a sleeping princess, but, you know, with some kind of twist. Like, she's in space or the coffin is really a Winnebago or something similar. Then I read... well, lots of Sleeping Beauty riffs: Veronica Scott's excellent (and in space!) Trapped on Talonque, David Eddings's Elenium trilogy, a gorgeous unpublished romance by Alison Williams, Anne Rice's erotica series. I started to feel like, well, this has been done, so I put my dimension-hopping, time-pausing, intergalactic queen on ice.

But you know what? There might be a reason why these tale types are done over and over, why they transcend culture and language, and people discuss them in a meta way in universities and academic what-ifferies. So maybe I could have another go at type 410 and no one would mind. We'll see. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

It's Not A Happy Fairy Tale When Your Shadow Wants You Dead

If I were inclined to rewrite a fairy tale, which would it be and why?

Yea though one might think me a Grimmlet, I'm more partial to Hans Christian Andersen's darker fairy tales. The Little Match Girl will forever break my heart, but it's not the one I'd retell. No, I'd pick:

Nope, not referring to Lamont Cranston, though "what evil lurks in the hearts of men" is definitely a shared theme. The Shadow by HCA is a story of a "learned man" whose cowardice and curiosity about a beautiful woman he espies briefly in the neighboring apartment leads to the divorce from his shadow. It's pertinent that this rending of man and reflection happens in the "hot countries" where "people become as brown as mahogany all over." (Yes, this "learned man" is from the "cold countries.")  There's so much to be read into that culturally, plus the wending of seemingly diverse mythologies...

Anywhoo, dude returns to the cold countries without his esteemed shadow. Years pass. He grows a new shadow...and then his old one returns --arguably corporeal, wealthy, healthy, and in sartorial splendor. The two have a gentlemanly chat about what happened that fateful night. On the surface, the conversation pleasant, yet the shadow is a bit like "that" friend, you know, the one who goes to exotic places, meets exciting people, then rushes home to rub your nose in it? Yeah. The Shadow departs and returns over the years, each conversation adopting a more sinister tone. Oh, and the shadow has a hang-up about using the word "thou," it insists on the word "you." (Again, relevant, your honor.)

What the shadow really wants is for the learned man to travel with him, all expenses paid; the learned man has only to give up a bit of his dignity to have the time of his life. The natural refusal and cajole happens with each visit until the learned man--aging and in ill health--finally agrees. Shit unravels in a dastardly manner from there as the shadow convinces those around them that he is the man and the learned man is his shadow. The learned man is passive throughout--from the beginning to the end of the story--which ends with the shadow marrying a princess and the princess executing the learned man.

There are ALL KINDS of stuff to unpack from this story and spin out into a larger paranormal world, possibly modern, probably LGBTQ+, and...~shhh~

Should I pen this retelling of a fairy tale? Only The Shadow knows. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Retelling the Fairy Tale

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is which fairy tale would you pick to rewrite and why?

It's kind of a funny question for me, because it's starting to be more accurate to ask me which fairy tale I *haven't* rewritten yet.

So far I've done retellings of Beauty & the Beast (PETALS AND THORNS) and The Goose Girl (HEART'S BLOOD).

Then there are all the books that incorporate fairy tale themes without being direct retellings. For example, the original Twelve Kingdoms trilogy began with the idea of the three princesses, daughters of the High King, each more beautiful than the last. All of the books in that trilogy and the Uncharted Realms and Chronicles of Dasnaria spinoff series play with various fairy tale themes. My first fantasy romance series, A Covenant of Thorns, also plays on fairy tale themes, that time about a person being transported to Faerie.

 As for the ones I still want to do... two have been on my list for a long time: Rapunzel and Cinderella. I have ideas for Rapunzel, but nothing yet that really gets to the feel I want. Cinderella poses its own challenges, but... I think I may have it now. :D