Fantasy Faves

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So majestic!

For the next couple weeks, I’m going to be exploring fiction genre-by-genre, doing a (semi? quasi? lazy?) deep dive into each one. And I’m picking one of my favorites to start: Fantasy.

So, what is Fantasy? According to Wikipedia, it’s “a genre of fiction that uses magic or other supernatural elements as a main plot element, theme, or setting.” Which means that fantasy involves at least one of the follow: magic, monarchs, and mythology.

Some examples:

Harry Potter = magic

Lord of the Rings = magic + monarchs

American Gods = magic + mythology

The Mists of Avalon = magic + monarchs + mythology

magic

Melissa Joan Hart knows what she’s talking about

But, obviously, those elements are pretty common in a lot of books, which means Fantasy is a massive genre. And not all Fantasy is the same: some is dark, some is funny, some involve elves and unicorns, some involve iPhones and Camaros. So, like taxonomic rank, there are sub-divisions. Some popular ones are:

  • Contemporary Fantasy—a.k.a. fantasy that takes place in the real world. iPhones and Immortals. McDonalds and Mages. Google and Gorgons. (Notable examples: The Mortal Instruments, American Gods, The Magicians, Tithe)
  • Epic/High Fantasy—a.k.a. swords and sorcery. No modern plumbing allowed. Tis only a flesh wound, but that stuff’ll kill you, because there are no antibiotics. (Notable examples: A Song of Ice and Fire, Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, Sabriel)
  • Fairy Tales—a.k.a. Disney-fabulous. Except all of those Menken-scored childhood faves have significantly darker origins. Mirror mirror, on the wall, what bedtime stories do I not want if I’m going to sleep at all? (Notable examples: Ella Enchanted, Throne of Glass, Princess of Thorns, Cruel Beauty)
  • Historical Fantasy—a.k.a. Contemporary and High Fantasy had a baby! Based in the real world (a la Contemporary), but not the modern world (a la High Fantasy). Think warlocks in the Revolutionary War. The Salem Witch trial with actual witches. Magical Cold War (which, I won’t lie, I would LOVE to see). (Notable examples: Shades of Milk and Honey, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Quicksilver, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)
  • Paranormal—a.k.a. attractive vampires. Generally featuring a contemporary setting and a mythic monster of the week (at least one, but frequently multiples). Common theme: they’re hiding among us. (Notable examples: Twilight, The Graveyard Book, Beautiful Creatures, A Discovery of Witches)
  • Urban Fantasy—a.k.a. gritty Contemporary. Usually crossing over with the Mystery or Romance genre. Things usually get violent. (Notable examples: Dresden Files, Mercy Thompson, Neverwhere, White Cat)

Granted, a lot of these subgenres overlap. There are no clear divisions in fiction—it’s more of a spectrum. Genres can mashup and collide, and usually end up doing strange and wondrous things together.

But, given all the different fantasy combinations, certain elements recur over and over. And, when they get really overdone, they get boring. They become tropes. And tropes are kind of awful. Common (waaaaaaay too common) tropes in Fantasy are:

  • Chosen One—the hero was prophesied long before birth to save the world from a great evil. They’re naturally good at everything. Yawn.
  • MacGuffins—a magical object that is the hero’s only hope to save the world. Spoiler alert: it’s not.
  • Kindly magical mentor—Gandalf. Dumbledore. Yoda. Aslan. #SquadGoals.
  • Instalove— cant_marry
  • Damsels in Distress—seriously, don’t even get me started.

If you’re writing Fantasy, please avoid those.

So what makes Fantasy great? It’s escapism in one of its highest, most imaginative forms. It’s not just disappearing into another life, but another world. It’s flipping the bird to reality. Are you stuck in rush hour traffic? No, you’re a twelfth level mage battling orcs in the Fields of Garruth. Stuck inside on a rainy day? No, you’re a medium using her powers to solve a string of gristly werewolf murders.

Fantasy readers refuse to accept the normal, the expected. They demand more.

But perhaps the greatest draw in Fantasy is how anyone can be a hero. Maybe you’re a poor, neglected orphan (Harry Potter) or a small-town farmboy (The Wheel of Time). Maybe you’re a bit of a homebody (The Hobbit) or kind of a rebel (Dealing with Dragons). Greatness can come from everywhere, and be found in the humblest of packages.

Fantasy lets us all be heroes, even if it’s only in our minds.

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Dumbledore Truth Bomb

Want to know more about fantasy? Read it! Here’s a random list of some of my favorites:

  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  • Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • Peter Pan by JM Barrie
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  • Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
  • Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop
  • Antigoddess by Kendare Blake
  • The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
  • The Oracle Betrayed by Catherine Fisher
  • Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
  • Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine
  • Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
  • City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

Go forth and read!

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NOOOOOOOO!!!!

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Stuff I Learned in February

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Yes Tyra!

Okay, February went by really, really fast. And while I didn’t achieve all the goals I set for myself, I did learn a lot. Here’s a summary:

  • Switching up my schedule is a motivational kick in the ass.
  • Staring at a blank pages never helps.
  • Always wear layers.
  • Spotify is great for productivity. Podcasts are not.
  • I now prefer to read books on my e-reader, rather than print.
  • Command strips are great, and hang many things around my apartment, but apparently can’t fix everything.
  • Banana bread is always a good idea.
  • I really love the editing process.
  • And the brainstorming process.
  • However, the drafting process occasionally makes me want to punch a hole in my laptop.
  • The cliff hangers at the end of horror stories get me every time.
  • I have seen more Broadway shows in 2016 than movies (so far).
  • Fat Cat is a better pillow than lap warmer.
  • I technically don’t need coffee to function in the morning. I just need a hot beverage.
  • I’m a little too obsessed with Home Goods.
  • Also, Pinterest.
  • My shortcut to escaping a writing rut is mixing up the form.
  • When not constrained by storytelling limits, my brain wanders into weird territory.
  • I cannot resist anything that reminds me of my childhood.
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  • My TBR pile will probably bury me alive.
  • I really need to learn better sleep habits.

And on that note, let’s see what happens in March!

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Yeah, not at all.

Book Recommendation: Remembrance

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Yaaaasssssssssss

I am a nostalgia monster.

Seriously, if I was an android (and I’m not admitting I am, this is merely a hypothetical situation), I wouldn’t be powered by AA batteries or a Mr. Fusion machine. I would run off nostalgia. It’s the only reason why I consume so many things that remind me of my childhood.

Again, totally hypothetical.

So, growing up, I read a lot of Meg Cabot. Correction: I read every Meg Cabot. Because, even when they were socially awkward (which was, basically, all the time), her main characters were always sassy. And, as a socially awkward kid with a super sassy inner monologue, I completely related.

And of all the Cabot heroines, Suze Simon was my favorite.

You can take the boy out of the darkness.

But you can’t take the darkness out of the boy.

All Susannah Simon wants is to make a good impression at her first job since graduating from college (and since becoming engaged to Dr. Jesse de Silva).

But when she’s hired as a guidance counselor at her alma mater, she stumbles across a decade-old murder, and soon ancient history isn’t all that’s coming back to haunt her. Old ghosts as well as new ones are coming out of the woodwork, some to test her, some to vex her, and it isn’t only because she’s a mediator, gifted with second sight.

From a sophomore haunted by the murderous specter of a child, to ghosts of a very different kind—including Paul Slater, Suze’s ex, who shows up to make a bargain Suze is certain must have come from the Devil himself—Suze isn’t sure she’ll make it through the semester, let alone to her wedding night.

Suze is used to striking first and asking questions later. But what happens when ghosts from her past—including one she found nearly impossible to resist—strike first?

What happens when old ghosts come back to haunt you?

If you’re a mediator, you might have to kick a little ass.

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(Me)

What Intrigued Me: See above, re: nostalgia. I read the Mediator series multiple times in high school. Now, ten years after I graduated (oh god, don’t think about that…), a new one is released?

Well, color me giddy.

But what hooked me to start reading the series, all those years ago? Ghosts. I freaking love ghost stories. Always have. Don’t know what, because I am generally terrified of everything (seriously, everything). But I love ghost stories.

Blame Casper.

What Hooked Me: You know how, if you read a lot of books, you inevitably make a list of fictional characters you would hook up with? Yeah, Jesse de Silva has been on my list for 15 years.

He’s still totally hot.

rawr

I have no game

What Made Me Fall In Love: The gang’s all back! Every character shows up (or gets a mention) and the nostalgia monster is happy.

Seriously. Every character.

And it is awesome.

So, if you like nostalgia, or just like happily ever afters, read this book. And if you haven’t read any of the Mediator novels, start from the beginning and discover the sass that is Suze Simon and the perfection that is Jesse de Silva.

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So Much

Remembrance is available online and at your local bookstore. Grab a copy or it’ll haunt you…

Glutton for Punishment

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No, seriously. What is WRONG with me?

I must hate myself. Or be a masochist. Because why else would I abuse myself like this?

Why?

Why?

For the thoroughly confused, I have designated February a challenge month. February is now a self-set mini NaNoWriMo.

29 days. 35,000 words. One punishing month.

So why am I putting myself through this?

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I don’t!

Consider it an experiment on myself. Consider I’m testing my limits, or test driving a new schedule. Consider that I’ve been listening to too many science podcasts, or have binge watched way too much Elementary and now identify with the troubled Sherlock Holmes.

(Actually, I should probably pace myself with the binge watching—it’s getting unhealthy)

Hopefully at the end of the month I’ll have good news to report and a new, more successful writing schedule.

But for now, I have to get back to writing.

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Too true

 

Book Recommendation: Batgirl

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Say Cheese!

High school Erica is back with a vengeance. Back then, I was the kid who always had a comic book (or manga) in her backpack—and was usually reading it under her desk during class. Back then I was all about Ultimate X-Men, Teen Titans, and Fullmetal Alchemist.

High School Erica 2.0 is better, faster, stronger. She also wears significantly less body glitter and tattoo chokers. And the comics she carries around in her purse are filled with some badass ladies.

Burnside – the coolest neighborhood in Gotham – is a hub for young artists, fashionistas and techies. And now, it is also home to Batgirl. As the newest resident of the city’s hippest zip code, Barbara has new roommates, a new school and a new costume.

But as Batgirl’s popularity grows (along with her devoted online fan base), Burnside suddenly seems to have an excess of Batgirls. And one of these imposters is out to kill off the original!

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Says it all

What Intrigued Me: Since I was a kid, I’ve liked Barbara Gordon. I mean, forget about Robin, she could go toe to toe with Batman. She was smart. She had attitude. And after the Joker shot her, did her crime fighting career end? No. She built a super spy computer and created her own badass butt-kicking team of ladies. The Birds of Prey were the original #squadgoals.

So a Batgirl with a Twitter account? I am all over that.

What Hooked Me: Everyone knows what Babs gets up to at night. But during the day? Apparently she’s an equally talented computer programmer.

Which there is a precedent for (ORACLE!).

Balancing getting her degree with crime fighting? Just makes her that much tougher.

What Made Me Fall In Love: Barbara Gordan always had a more complicated double life than Bruce Wayne or Dick Grayson. Not only was she the only one with a family to lie to, but her dad was the police commissioner who worked with Batman. That’s a whole tangled know of secrets and lies.

Even so, she was the upbeat, positive one. Bruce was Debbie Downer, no one took Dick seriously (which is why he had to quit and start the Teen Titans to get some respect), but Barbara was the optimist. So it’s nice to see her away from the gloomy boys, acting her age and having fun. She has friends, she had allies (shout out to Dinah Lance), she has crushes, and she saves the city.

And, let’s face it, crime fighting with a hangover from a house party is hilarious.

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KAPOW!

Batgirl vol. 1 is available online and at your local comic book store. Nab a copy before a demented clown snatches them all.

 

Book Recommendation: FABLES

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Let’s Get Mythical

If I had a bucket list (which I probably do, I just haven’t written it down…or thought all that much about it), it would basically be only one thing: “read every single fairy tale retelling in existence.” And in the past 20-odd years, I must have made a significant dent in the lexicon. I would think. I mean, I’ve read a lot.

And now, I have plunged head first into the world of graphic novels.

When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Fabletown’s sheriff, a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to determine if the killer is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.

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Yup

What Intrigued Me: Right away, the series established its lore credentials by introducing Rose Red, one of the more obscure (and one of my favorite) fairy tale characters. Because, considering how much notoriety her sister Snow White has gotten over the years, it’s about time she steps into the forefront.

And finally, after years of explaining who Rose Red is to people who’ve never heard of her, I can just direct them to Fables.

What Hooked Me: Bureaucracy. Chalk this up to something that drives me nuts in real life, but amuses the hell out of me in fiction. But seriously, how hilarious is it to see fairy tale characters stymied by a bureaucratic government of their own creation. Nothing less magical than bureaucracy.

What Made Me Fall In Love: Like I said, I’ve read a lot of fairy tale retellings. So finding something completely unique and clever is like candy. Like eating a lot of candy.

Almost like eating a house made of candy.

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I have a food obsession

Fables (all 22 volumes) are available online and at your local comic store. Nab a copy before someone huffs, puffs, and blows them all away.

Research (the Remix)

*cowed*

I am a knowledge glutton. It’s an addiction (a good one). I love to learn.

And no, I’m not embarrassed by how nerdy a statement that is. Nerds are the coolest people.

Yup

The funny (insidious?) thing about growing up is that you don’t notice it until it’s too late. As a kid, I was all about escaping into magical novels, re-watching my favorite films ad nauseam, and blasting my favorite music (mostly Celine Dion and Jewel…I have terrible taste). Any learning I did was about what interested me—obscure mythology and fairy tales, Victorian history, and comic book lore—and the rest could rot, for all I cared.

But, like my opinion on Home Depot (seriously, how did it go from the seventh circle of Hell to weekend warrior heaven?), my views on learning and what’s interesting changed as I grew up.

Now, I’m less likely to re-watch one of my favorite movies on a given Saturday night, and more likely to screen a new documentary. Now, I’m less likely to listen to music while I get dressed, and more likely to put on a new podcast. Now, I’m less likely to escape into fiction, and more likely to pick up a weird, niche nonfiction.

Which is a rambling way to say that I’ve found that, the older I get, the more interested I am in expanding my horizons. The more I’m concerned about understanding the world around me.

Still rambling. Will try to focus.

Research.

Research.

Research is fundamental. It’s vital, not just for writing, but for life. For not just knowing things, but understanding them.

Think of it this way: you don’t need a degree, or training, or a computer, or fountain pen to be a writer. There is no certification or license you need to operate a plot. No special tools. No equipment. Nothing to prove.

In my opinion, all you need is an active imagination.

But an imagination is like a muscle—you need to stretch it, use it, make it stronger. You have to work it out.

And like a muscle, you have to fuel it. That’s where the research—the knowledge—comes in. After you work out, you’ve got to drink a protein shake to refuel, right (or you can use the Erica Bauman method and eat a large order of french fries)? And you wouldn’t run a marathon on an empty stomach, so why would you want to write without fueling up your imagination?

Still rambling.

Regardless, I believe being hungry for knowledge, and putting in the work to get it is vital for everyone, not just writers (but, let’s be real, especially for writers). I’d call it a New Year’s resolution, but for me it started long before 2016. And I plan to continue to be a student for a lot longer than just a year. But this isn’t a call to action either, because who the hell am I to tell people what to do?

Consider this a hope I’m releasing into the void of the internet, on the only platform I have (because seriously, how would I fit this rambly mess into 140 characters?). I hope I—and anyone else out there—continue to learn this year, find new and interesting things, and exercise the imagination muscle. And I hope we all leave 2016 a little bit wiser.

oh my god, you don’t even know

Sound off in the comments: how do you find new and interesting things?