Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sharing the Banned Book Love

(I nearly titled this Share the Bad Book Love. That would've been shameful, and I need more coffee.)

This post is part of Tahereh's call for Banned Books review, although I will apologise right away, because this is not a review – not a proper one anyway. I wish I could give one, but I have not read a banned book recently (or any other book, really) and this novel I last read six years ago, as a teenager.

I figured, though, that since I am a storyteller, I should blog about how I fell in love with this story.

Yep, I'm talking about To Kill A Mockingbird, from Harper Lee.

Despite this being an award-winning novel, and often taught in American schools (or so I hear), it is a bit of a miracle it ever reached me. I was 15, a teenager obsessed with fantasy novels, and I went to a French school, as is the norm in a French-speaking province. English classes rarely, as such, presented us with interesting piece of literature. It was hard enough to teach us a new language, they had to make sure they had our interest, and as such they'd often use books we already knew (namely Harry Potter... twice). 

So, yes, I was lucky enough to get an extra-motivated English teacher, not yet discouraged by the lack of interest she received from her students. And she forced us all to read To Kill a Mockingbird, and made sure we did with small tests. As with 99% of school books, most of the class hated it right away.

Heck, even I had trouble at first. I had to get over the southern accent (thank god for dwarf-speak, which gave me a few tips as to what meant what), there were no fast-paced scenes like in my regular fantasy novels, and always thought Scout was being an arrogant know-it-all. Half this book is about kids playing games in summer, and my teenage self wasn't sure she cared. 

I kept reading, though, and not just for class. I kept reading because of the mystery behind, and because when I start a novel, it takes a lot for me to put it down (says a lot about those I never finished...) I started to see the life lessons as I went on, to understand what it was about and what I had to learn. When my friends told me the novel sucked, I answered "Keep reading. There's a story in there, and it means something."

I finished the novel within a week of the handout. I remember telling my teacher I loved it, and I remember her smile (and her surprise.  I bet most of her students don't go that fast). It's a bit hard for me to say why To Kill a Mockingbird became so special for me, but I know I've defended it against friends with a passion before, and I can remember the story better than most other novels.

There were a lot of barriers between To Kill a Mockingbird and me, but this novel breached all of them and touched me. I will never regret the hours spent with it in my hands (and will forever scold myself over the highlighter marks in my copy, when I still couldn't care). 

This novel, like many others, deserve to be read by as many as possible. Censorship should have nothing to do with literature. When I think that others are trying to keep these stories away, to silence the authors that wrote them, I shiver.

Love your Banned Books. Cherish them. But even more importantly, Share Them.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Common fantasy assumptions

In my few years of writing, I have always written novels that took place in worlds different than Earth. Sometimes these world were filled with magic. Sometimes there was nearly none. Sometimes there were elves and dwarves and gnomes; at others all you could find were humans of different nations. None of my settings are the same, and none of them give quite the same vibe either. Fantasy worlds have the power to be anything. When you throw the first bases, your imagination is the limit.

And yet, there are certain things common to all fantasy settings (or nearly) and that do not have to be.

Sometimes last week, Ted Cross posted on his blog about how most fantasy settings were north-hemisphere centric. He also noted in the comments that we tend to put the ocean on the west side of our continents. Fantasy writers do these without even thinking about it. I sure did, and more than once!

These can be explained by the fact fantasy settings are often similar to medieval Europe, but there are other aspects of fantasy we include almost without noticing. About a year ago, I decided to go after one that irritated me.

Magical powers are discovered at puberty.

Harry Potter has this. Eragon has this. Nearly every YA fantasy in existence has this! But I don't think it's YA exclusive. So many things happen to a teenager at that age, it's only natural to throw magic in the lot.

Well, no more. For a year now, I have been working on a setting where magic is associated with old age, because it arrives at about the same time menopause/andropause would. It's associated with loss of fertility, among other things, and I have tried to rethink a lot of my fantasy assumptions around this new fact.

It's important to understand my story isn't about magic being restricted to old people. It's something else entirely. But this is an important shift in how magic functions, and in certain parts of my world, it has a great influence. It is as much part of my world  than the religions, the kingdoms and the geography.

So let me ask you... are there any common fantasy assumptions you break?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Public Humiliation

So, I have been on the blogosphere for only two days, and public humiliation sounds like it could be a terrible idea, but I don't want to miss Le R.'s Public Humiliation Uncontest.

Sadly, I didn't keep diaries as a teenager. Whenever I tried, I'd forget within a week, and they would get lost. Now I wish I had, because posting from that might have been a lot less humiliating than what follows. I was a rather healthy, non-angsty teen, really.

So instead I'll dig out one of the very first thing I wrote, in which I probably do every writerly mistake possible. I loved my adverbs. I refused to use 'said'. I couldn't even ponctuate the dialogue right. I introduced five characters in rapid succession and proceeded to jump POVs. I used Arial, and even coloured their words!

I loved these stories, and in a way I still do, but oh boy, have I come a long way.

And now... *takes a deep breath*


The five halfling brothers stopped at the town’s edge, their muscles crying for a break. They had walked for days and nights, resting only for a few hours before moving on. They were fleeing their homes with all the speed they could muster, yet their hearts also demanded a stop. Their minds, however, protested: if they remained here, at the edge of the Calimshan desert, they would still be well within reach of the Banites.
            “We have to go on.” Daniel stated, scanning his exhausted brothers.
            “Go on?” Milan repeated, his voice taking a whiny tone. “I don’t want to!”
            Second youngest of the Masset family, Mil was only eleven years old. They had walked all day, and all the day before that, and now his tiny legs refused to do any more. He should’ve been in school now, learning write and count. He’d liked school, but now it’d been left far, far behind.
            “Neither do I, Mil, but this area’s dangerous for us.” Dan replied firmly, putting a reassuring hand on his small brother’s shoulder.
            Daniel was the second son, and he used to go fishing and hunting with his father, learning the trades that had been the Masset family’s only source of revenue. Gifted with dark brown hair, hazelnut eyes and a strong muscular frame, he had equalled many humans in both strength and endurance. Yet even he found the non-stop days of travel straining, and he could only imagine what it was like for his weaker brothers.
            “Walking’s deadly boring.” Calleran stated, crossing his arms. “There’s nothing in it to keep our minds off what happened, and that’s what has been killing us.”
            Cal was the third and middle brother – and the family’s oddity. Uninterested in either Yondalla or fishing, the blond-haired halfling had taken to luck games at a very young age. He had shamelessly spent his days and nights gambling instead of helping his parents and – to his two older brothers’ horror – he had now began praying Tymora, a human goddess of luck.
            “You just want to play at the local tavern!” Dan exclaimed, exasperated at his brother’s attitude. These were serious matters, yet sometimes it seemed like Calleran had no idea what that meant.
            “And you just want to walk until you collapse!” Cal countered immediately. “That’s how you escape it, eh? Let sweet darkness take over through sheer exhaustion, and all will be fine! But we’re not all –“
            “Stop it, both of you!” Leeroy interrupted them loudly. The Masset family’s senior brother, Lee had long brown hair and starkling blue eyes. He looked immensely like his father, but had inherited in great part from his mother’s character and interests. In the past few days, it had fallen on Lee’s shoulder to take both their places and be the brothers’ only authority figure.
            “Calleran is right. We have to rest for the night.” He stated with a sigh, before raising a hand to prevent Daniel from protesting. “Look at Sammy. He used to be impossible to put to bed, and yet he fell asleep in my arms hours ago. He needs a real bed and a good night of rest, and I think it’d do us all some good. We’re tensed and strained to the limit.”
            For three hours now, Leeroy had carried his youngest brother in his arm, bearing with the additional weight without a word. Sammy had been the last surprise arrival, and by far the most active of the five brothers. He’d learned to walk sooner than any of them, and was soon constantly running around the house. More than once, Lee had taken him out in town to give his two parents a break from the constantly moving kid. Since they had come back to find the house burnt to a crisp, however, Sam had had the energy of a slug.
            “But Leeroy, we don’t have a coin left.” Dan remarked gently. A glance at his six-year-old brother had sufficed to calm him.
            “I know. I’ll work for it.” Lee replied, and it was clear from his tone that this was not up for discussion.
            “Maybe I could –“ Cal started eagerly anyway, only to be cut off immediately.
            “No, Cal! I am not relying on your supposedly infallible luck to put a roof over our heads and a good meal in our stomachs!” Lee snapped, barely controlling the tone of his voice.
            Calleran looked down, biting his lips and flushing. He was only trying to help the best he could, but he always got the same reaction from his older brother. They clearly didn’t think he could be of any use in this. Next to him, looking much like Dan’s hand was the only thing keeping him standing, Milan groaned and mumbled “Food…”
            “Let’s go.” Leeroy said, sighing. He regretted his words now, but Cal had to stop relying so much on his luck. One day, it would fail him. Securing Sammy more comfortably in his arms, he took the lead and entered the desert-border town.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ambitious Characters, and Why I Love Them

Ambitious characters make my plot move. They look at the world around them, shake their heads and declare "Nah, that won't cut it." Then they do what they can to make it change.

Sometimes they'll be impulsive and hurl themselves headlong into danger, headless for consequences and intent solely on their goals. Sometimes they'll be careful and considerate, and they will plan their next action before they try to achieve anything. It doesn't matter. They have an ambition, and from it is born a story.

It's no surprise that ambitious characters are often villains. Heck, I think today "ambitious" is a negative term for many. And I love my villains (when I have a character that can be easily coined with this term, which is far from frequent), but I think if every ambitious man (or woman) is a villain, then you're limiting yourself.

I think most visionaries are men with ambition. They see the big scheme of things, and they dream of a better world. Revolutions are never easy, but when you have characters that have the strength of character and the means to make them happen, you can easily craft an epic tale.

All it takes is one proactive character acting to get all the reactive characters involved.

But there's more.

This character will carry the plot on his shoulders, and whenever you are at a loss for what to write next, you just have to turn to him, and he will tell you what he wants, and how he thinks he can get it. No matter what, he will strive to achieve his goal, and on his way there, he will create conflict.

When you have an ambitious character, he becomes your plot. You don't need to force it; it'll happen whether you like it or not. And I, for one, like it very much.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A New Voice

Hello, all, and welcome to my shiny new blog!

I guess I should start with an introduction of sorts. I'll keep it short, sweet and simple, since my life is not exactly what this blog is about. I'm a biochemistry student from French Canada who spends her time writing in english. Yep, it's a "bit" of a contradiction. I'm all kinds of contradiction - this is just the first.

Aaand, that was it! Writing this post is a bit like unwrapping a new CD, or flipping the first page of a new book. You don't know what's waiting for you. You think it's worth it, that you might have fun, or learn something, or whatever. You are convincing yourself it's not a waste of time.

But there's always this little doubt, the multiple what if... ? Well, I say screw them. Today, I'm joining the blogosphere, and adding my voice to the many that inspire me daily. And maybe, just maybe, my ramblings will help someone at some point, and it will all be worth it.

And next time, I'll promise I'll talk about something writing related!