Tag Archives: writing

Fantasy, by the Planets- My Faults are in the Stars

A post first issued in 2013, now brought to my own site for the first time.

With a tip of the broad-brimmed hat to Ciara Ballintyne, whose wonderful post on the subject kicked my dusty brain into gear, I fell to thinking how to classify the various works of fantasy that I love so well. I’ve come to realize from posts at various sites, that my views are quite simplistic- also showing their age, frankly- but perhaps for beginners I can offer the following easy taxonomy. If it helps you to write, then it’s good.

  • I’m following a rule of three, split by Stakes and Mood, for a total of nine sub-Genres. Yeah I know- too tidy, old-fashioned, unconvincing. Sue me. I have simple tastes, and believe that many things folks call genres are better described as flavors.
  • Among those things you won’t see reflected here by name are Urban, High/Low, Historical, Dark and most likely others you’ve come to like. My, I’m being grumpy today. It’s just that I prefer a few categories, and then one can speak of works that split-the-distance, or bend the genre. That strikes me as the greater compliment than to give every great work that comes along a category of its own.
  • My model is a solar system- in fact, ours. The planets represent centers of gravity that define something qualitatively different about the writing, and of course the reading experience. But plenty of room between the heavenly bodies, and most of what we read doesn’t nestle down precisely in one atmosphere or another. Most planets have moons, and there are uncounted millions of asteroids: I know what you’re thinking, the literary genius goes on and on.
  • And here’s another point, before I lay the figure on you. It’s a solar system, which means there’s room outside it as well. Maybe you’ll find the stuff you really like is off beyond Pluto somewhere, and that’s cool. I know that some of my works to date have spicing from other genres such as Horror, Mystery, and Romance: if Fantasy writing was a country trading with its neighbors, I would say imports outweighed exports by about 10 to 1. Might be cool to consider that in a future post.

A Question of Stakes and Mood

So I’ll give the graphic representation here, which I hope is pretty self-explanatory (thousand words and all that). I hope you enjoy it, and then if you like scan as many of my notes as you want. I’m a heroic and epic fantasy chronicler, so believe me, this IS the short version! But stop whenever it’s not helping you anymore. I’m very happy as always to hear your thoughts too. You should be able to click on the picture to make it bigger.

One chronicler's suggestion
One chronicler’s view

I’ve suggested three major genres of fantasy- Epic, Heroic and Sword and Sorcery (down the middle)  with variations of Mood (across the top) from Cinematic to Morbid, and a second spectrum of Stakes (along the side) from Casual to Crucial. At each “planet” I installed a title that pretty closely fits the location: most of my selections reveal my age but I think they will still be familiar to many. One word of warning; these planets are not arranged in the same order as you might expect by the presence of the “sun” in the picture. More explanations than you could ever want follow here!

The Stakes of a Tale

EPIC Fantasy is defined by Crucial Stakes; the main character is called upon to Save the World. Combat is rare, humor limited and every act reeks of consequences. Things happen for a reason, it all ties together.

HEROIC Fantasy involves some kind of quest within more limited boundaries, to Save the Kingdom. Heroes fight more often, there can be humorous moments and even mistakes before the (usually happy) ending.

SWORD & SORCERY sometimes identified with “Low” fantasy, has the smallest, most Casual stakes; for the protagonist, the job  is literally Save Your Skin. Fighting and action ranges from frequent to non-stop, and nearly any vice you can imagine is on the table (sometimes taking its clothes off) while mistakes are common (and mean less). By the end, there has often been little or nothing accomplished. Except you’ve enjoyed a great story.

Getting Into the Mood

But these tales are also qualified by a tone or Mood which puts them in definable categories. The CINEMATIC (or Light) mood generally carries more humor, a higher level of action and suspense, and often brings more misadventures whose purpose either distracts or relieves tension derived from the main plot. Not surprisingly, fantasies with a Cinematic Mood make good movies. The Stakes are the same (a Cinematic Epic Fantasy is still a quest to save the world), but you can laugh along the way, there’s more of a campy flavor. There’s also less doubt that the world/kingdom/skin will, in fact, be saved. You don’t spend sleepless nights wondering how it will turn out. On the opposite side of the spectrum, fantasy tales of all three genres can be Morbid (or perhaps Dark), bearing not just on death but on a much grimmer prospect regarding the Stakes. You can certainly doubt whether “it” will be saved, or you might be uncertain if you want the main character to succeed. Many works hailed as deconstructions of fantasy, in another view, are Morbid.

THE BOOK TITLES: In case you were interested, some notes on the choices I made. I spotted my own works with initials in purple (TMM- Three Minutes to Midnight, and so forth). I think I have them in the right orbits, but let me know!

Epic: Lord of the Rings is the obvious call, hard to see how any work could displace it. I also include SRD’s Thomas Covenant series as a later, but still seminal example of the Stakes involved. Ironic point- Middle Earth is lost unless Frodo refuses to use the Ring, and The Land is done for unless Covenant decides to use it!

Cinematic Epic: I chose the 1980 version of Flash Gordon for two reasons. First, even though it’s about as silly and campy as anything ever put on film, the Stakes are unmistakably Crucial: Ming is moments away from destroying Earth and ruling the entire galaxy. It’s technically science-fiction, but the lasers and mind-probes are pretty soft-pedaled especially in this movie: the best moments like the stump-of-death and the tilting-floor duel are pure fantasy. Secondly, it’s a shout-out to anyone who was at Camp Dudley YMCA in 1983, when five hundred boys trooped to the movie-hall after four days of torrential rains, expecting to see another boring baseball series recap film. Instead, the pulsing drums of Queen preceded Max von Sydow sneering “Foolish Earthlings, who can save you now?” The cheering echoes up in the Adirondacks to this day.

Morbid Epic: I think Stephen King’s Dark Tower series stands well here, because of the grim tone, the gruesome moral choices made and the severe prices paid. I’m not sure who I want to win, nor whether anyone will. And the Stakes once again are the entire world (no matter how small). Should I have yelled “Spoiler Alert” a few paragraphs ago?

Heroic: I personally put Ursula LeGuin’s series on a pedestal just as high as Tolkein’s or anyone else’s, and the first book I think is a splendid example of individual heroic activity for big (but not yet universal) Stakes. There are two kinds of readers on earth- those who need to read Earthsea and those who need to read it again.

Cinematic Heroic: The book is better, yet the movie of The Princess Bride brings out the Cinematic mood just as well. But the book is better.

Morbid Heroic: Here’s where I would stash GRRM, personally, and for emphasis I laid him alongside Elric of Melnibone. I think Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch can also be classified here. The struggles going on in Game of Thrones et al will not bring the world down to darkness (most likely)- and with most characters showing a gleam of virtue already dead I’m not sure anyone would notice if they did. Heroes are saps. Even some of the bad guys are suckers, compared to some of the other bad guys. I count down from the top of my list of characters who are a) somewhat good and b) still alive, and here’s my top 3:

  1. The brave bastard (no really) who’s still alive because he lives at the polar ice-cap so none of his enemies can be sure where he is
  2. The girl who’s hoping to become an assassin
  3. the blonde guy who actually said no to boinking his sister for a change, and who might be getting a tad weary of being so evil all the time

Can you tell I don’t like Morbid fantasy much?

My choices for Sword and Sorcery are all nearly as old as I am and I cannot see into the darkness far enough to make out a Morbid choice. Perhaps you have some suggestions to fill in my star-chart?

Planetary Considerations (is this for real?)

Speaking of that, let me wrap up (this IS the short version) with a run-down of the various planets.

The SUN brings “light” of course, so the three planets closest to it are Cinematic and the furthest are Morbid. But that’s not strictly a distance thing.

Arranged to fit my own fantasy
Arranged to fit my own fantasy

Venus is where you should expect to find her, both the lowest and most light-hearted spot suited to the pursuit of, ahm, venality.

Neptune occupies the Cinematic Heroic spot because like many tales in that sub-genre, it’s turned on its side.

Pluto is Cinematic Epic because its very survival (as a planetary body) is at stake. Despite being so far away it is at least solid, and remarkably bright for its small size. So a nice combination of light and far-out.

Mars is the home of Sword and Sorcery and if Conan wasn’t so cool I’d have put Jon Carter there as a title in a heartbeat.

Earth is the home of heroes. Full stop. Keep looking, they’re there- and my Lands of Hope are the proof.

Epic Fantasy is the King (I know, the planet I used has rings, but it’s a great color). And Jupiter has many moons, lots of tremendous titles we all could name in its orbit.

Morbid S&S needs a planet where things are cold as hell but can move quickly and dangerously. Mercury, remember, doesn’t spin- the dark side temps drop to -350 F or lower. In a Morbid S&S your life could be over in fewer seconds than the days of Mercury’s orbit.

Uranus is appropriate for Morbid Heroic because it’s so large and full of gas. Deadly gas. Fortunately for me, it’s also far away. Did I mention Morbid is not my favorite?

And Saturn wishes it could be Jupiter again but will have to settle for second in size, still slow of speed, lots of material in its orbit too.

Sincere thanks for your patience, I’ve enjoyed the rant. Ar Aralte! (Hope Forever)

An Interview with Annie Lima

Q: Well, harumph. I can’t say I’m happy to be doing a “civilized” interview, after the fun I’ve had in Hahn_critic_1my author interview dungeon. Alas, all the cool stuff has been moved to my home blog now; here on IB, there are only soft, cushy chairs, curtains too thick to use for binding ropes and some completely dull, soft plastic tea cups. How am I going to get any information from this vict- ahm, guest? ::muttering:: It’s been so long since I’ve been polite during questioning.

::game-show face :: We welcome Annie Douglass Lima today to talk about her new release The Gladiator and the Guard. This is the second title in her Krillonian Chronicles series, set in a world where modern life coexists with permanent slavery.

Q: Let’s see, a tale of arena combat? You won’t need to work hard to hook this former history teacher! Of course, in the Roman Empire most gladiators had families, and some were quite young, though we hardly think of that. Where did you get the idea to combine these threads and have siblings face the pressures of the arena? It’s a terrific dilemma, very evocative.

Annie Douglass LimaA: Thank you! The idea grew out of the first book, in which I established the principles of slavery and how it works in the Krillonian Empire, a modern world very similar to our own. Of course slaves would have families, and of course they would be separated from them if they were sold away. I just had to decide how and why people would become gladiators (who are perceived by most of that world as athletic heroes but are really still just slaves). In The Gladiator and the Guard, the arena manager obtains new “glads” primarily by purchasing slaves who are already martial arts experts. He occasionally offers contracts to free athletes, but it’s rare for anyone to accept, since that involves payment in advance and then voluntarily entering into slavery in the arena. Plus, contracts are always for a lifetime (and glads’ lives are notoriously short). In the Krillonian Empire, enslavement (usually involving sale by auction) is the legal punishment for certain crimes, so he also keeps an eye on the online auction sites. When violent criminals become available – or anyone with combat experience or documented martial arts abilities runs afoul of the law – he is quick to place a bid.

Q: This is fabulous, a kind of lifetime slavery that’s not strictly racial. Could you elaborate on the kinds of crimes that can get you dumped into this fate? We seem to be talking about people not born to slavery, and that’s always tricky. {Of course, everyone would like to believe they’d heroically resist, and succeed- but then Stockholm Syndrome was discovered…}. But at any rate, Bensin and his sister didn’t do anything wrong, did they?

A: Bensin and his sister actually were born into slavery. Slavery is hereditary, but there are other ways to become a slave, too. Bensin’s parents were enslaved as kids, when their homeland of Tarnestra (originally an independent nation) became part of the Krillonian Empire. The people of Tarnestra fought valiantly to retain independence, and when their resistance was eventually crushed, tens of thousands of Tarnestrans were ripped from their homes and sold into slavery across the empire as a warning to anyone else who might be tempted to resist imperial progress.

Punishing certain crimes with enslavement (not only for the perpetrator but for his or her family) is the government’s way of motivating people to keep the law. Bensin’s friend Ricky, for example, was born free but enslaved at age ten along with his parents and brother, when his dad (who worked for a government agency) was caught embezzling money from his employer. Other crimes punishable by enslavement include murder, armed robbery, and attempting to illegally free slaves.

Q: These works lie very close to the more orthodox epic and heroic fantasy genres, so that leads me to two questions, both driven by envy. When you laid in the “world-building” of the Krillonian Empire, did you find it necessary to go back and pull some out, move some around, etc. or else lose energy in the plot? And do you think it was easier to describe a setting closer to the Alleged Real World (except for, you know, slavery and people fighting for amusement), or was it perhaps harder?

A: I did a lot of planning and prewriting before I started my first draft of the first book, so I didn’t end up having to make too many changes to the worldbuilding once I had begun. Occasionally I thought of new details that I was able to add in as I went along, but those were mostly pretty minor. For example, since slavery in the Krillonian Empire is not based on race, there had to be a specific way to identify slaves. I knew from the beginning that they wear steel collars that lock around their necks, providing their names and their owners’ contact information. Obviously that makes it much harder for slaves to escape, but there are certainly tools out there (in any world) that can cut through metal. In The Collar and the Cavvarach, there came a point when I realized I needed to establish a reason why anyone with bolt cutters couldn’t just go around freeing slaves. So I had a certain mechanic explain to an inquiring young slave that he had to have a special kind of license to own and use such tools in his car repair shop, and that involved security cameras through which the authorities could be watching him at any given moment.

Q: BTW, try to get a little episode called “Gamesters of Triskelion” on your viewing list. Captain Kirk in his beefcake-prime and slave-collars you’ll really like!

I’ll keep that in mind! As for your second question, it was both easier and harder in different ways to create a setting so close to the Alleged Real World. I have a fantasy series that takes place in a totally different world, and with that one, I was able to make all the rules. But it took an awful lot of worldbuilding to flesh everything out. With this series in the Krillonian Empire, I mainly just combined a couple of modern-day Earth cultures and left it at that, of course with the addition of slavery and a made-up martial art. But then there was the challenge of making sure everything I said was consistent with how things really work in our world. For example, I know very little about firearms or martial arts training or the types of mechanical problems an old pickup truck could encounter, but I needed to make those details realistic in the story. I should say, I knew very little about those topics. Dozens of hours of research later, I’m much more knowledgeable!

Q: I should probably have asked this earlier, but who do you think is the target audience for these stories, in terms of age but also anything else you can think of? And is that your “core” audience, I mean the one you always thought you’d be trying to reach?

A: These books are young adult fiction, meaning they’re geared toward teens and adults. I teach fifth grade, and while I know a few of my students have read and enjoyed The Collar and the Cavvarach, I have never suggested it to them, or to anyone else below middle school, as recommended reading (unlike my fantasy books). The subject matter is dark in places, and while there is no sex or language, I don’t really want my fifth graders pondering issues like why the characters would say slavery is worse for girls, for example. The first book contains just a little violence, and that’s mostly in controlled settings like tournaments, where participants fight with unsharpened blades. But the second book would definitely be rated PG-13 for violence, as well as for a few mentions of blood and gore.

I would say the target audience consists of any teens and adults who like an exciting adventure story. Anyone with an interest in martial arts, or perhaps in the gladiators of ancient Rome, would be especially interested. I never thought I would write a martial arts story; I never used to be particularly interested in martial arts myself, and it had never been my goal to reach readers who are. But then along came Bensin with a story that just had to be told, and martial arts were an inextricable part of it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: Can you give us a quick run-down on the gladiatorial combat, called cavvara shil, that happens in the tales? The weapon looks decently wicked, but the cover of Book Two also shows a disappointingly-protective looking helmet. You don’t mean to tell me fighters sometimes survive?

A: The martial art of cavvara shil is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with “have a rack”), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  cavvarachI wanted cavvara shil to be a combination of two or three different fighting styles, involving elements of unarmed combat as well as the use of a weapon. It took a few false starts before I had a fighting style I liked. At first I just pictured using a sword, but I wanted something a little less stereotypical.  The cavvarach, with its hook, ended up being just right for what I had in mind. Combatants try to snag their opponent’s hook to tug the weapon out of the other person’s hand, which is one way to win a duel. (They can also knock it away with their own cavvarach, or kick it away.) Besides disarming an opponent, you can win by knocking them over and pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds. Oh, and you can block blows with your shil, which is like a narrow shield that barely covers one forearm.

In The Collar and the Cavvarach, 14-year-old Bensin competes in cavvara shil tournaments to earn prize money for his owner. Like everyone else there, he fights with an unsharpened blade and wears poncho-like padding to protect his torso and groin in the event of a missed parry. Worse injuries than bruises or the occasional bloody nose are rare at such events. In The Gladiator and the Guard, however, Bensin (now 18) is forced to be a gladiator, and he soon discovers that everything works differently in the arena. All blades are razor sharp, and protective padding doesn’t exist. Most duels are not intended to end in death (that would be a waste; gladiators are valuable), but accidents can and do happen. The helmet you see on the cover is actually for the guards who keep an eye on the combat from a safe distance to serve as referees and (when necessary) bring the injured in on stretchers at the end.

Q: Oh, the helmet is for the guards? OK, then I’m glad it’s been broken! I couldn’t let you go without a nod to your life in the Alleged Real World. You may be the guest who’s come the furthest of anyone to be here on the Independent Bookworm! Assuming of course that “here” is in the US or Europe… pardon me, my ethnocentrism is showing. But do tell us a bit about your world, the one you see when you turn away from the screen.

A: At the moment, when I turn away from my screen I see twenty-six empty desks and walls covered with colorful science project display boards. (My students are out at lunch recess right now.) I teach at Morrison Academy in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. It’s a wonderful job in a wonderful place! My husband and I have lived in Taiwan for nearly nine years now, and we love it here! I’ve enjoyed inserting elements of Taiwanese culture into these two books. For example, some characters chew betel nut, a mild narcotic sold legally in shops decorated with flashing colored lights. When money is awarded as a prize, it’s given in a red envelope. Cheap boxed meals available at “hole-in-the-wall” eateries are a common and convenient meal for laborers or anyone in a hurry or short on cash. New Year is the most important holiday of the year in both places. In Book 3 (which I hope to draft in the fall), much of the action will take place in a different city of the Krillonian Empire, one which I plan to pattern closely after Taichung.

Q: Cities, climate, customs– too much to ask about! Let’s just call this a pause, and perhaps have you back when Book 3 is ready. I’d love to ::cough-cough :: show you my ahm, interview chambers, you’d love the decor. Thanks very much Annie for a terrific peek at an interesting world. Make sure to leave us with your contact links and a blurb about your current release.

=====================================

I’m excited to announce that my young adult action and adventure novel, The Gladiator and the Guard, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach.

First Things First: a Little Information about Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire’s most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie’s escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

 What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The Collar and the Cavvarach
sword isolated on white background; Shutterstock ID 109466807

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with “have a rack”), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

Click here to order The Collar and the Cavvarach from Amazon 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

 And now, The Gladiator and the Guard, with another awesome cover by the talented Jack Lin!

The Gladiator and the Guard.jpg

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard in Kindle format from Amazon

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

 Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard from Smashwords (for Nook or in other digital formats) 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.

Connect with the Author Online:

Email: AnnieDouglassLima@gmail.com

Blog: http://anniedouglasslima.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnnieDouglassLimaAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/princeofalasia

Goodreads: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnGoodreads

Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/AnnieDouglassLimaOnAmazon

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/AnnieDouglassLima

LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnLinkedIn

Google Plus: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnGooglePlus

Now, enter to win an Amazon gift card or a free digital copy of The Collar and the Cavvarach!

a Rafflecopter giveaway