Posted by: kshayes513 | August 2, 2015

YA or not YA: a matter of themes

HP6D-06331r (L-r) ALAN RICKMAN as Professor Severus Snape, EMMA WATSON as Hermione Granger, RUPERT GRINT as Ron Weasley, DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter and MAGGIE SMITH as Professor Minerva McGonagall in Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy adventure “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

My version of ideal character balance: Lots more Snape and McGonagall, lots less teen angst

YA bores me. There. I’ve said it.

It didn’t always bore me. And I wish I’d read more of it when I was younger, because YA science fiction and fantasy includes a lot of stories I would have enjoyed if I had come across them when I was in my 20s.

I know a lot of people who read and love YA throughout their lives, and many who write it. But for me, an adult of near grandmother age, it’s rare to find YA that even starts to engage my full attention. (Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching novels and Le Guin’s Annals of the Western Shore series are the only new YA books in many years that have achieved that.) I like individual teenagers, but I don’t want to spend all my time in teenage society listening to teenage problems from a teenage point of view.

When I realized this, I also realized why I had become bored with worlds and story arcs I’ve been working in for a long time. Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | May 16, 2015

“Ghost Noir:” Favorite New Writer Daniel José Older

Daniel Jose Older's Half Resurrection Blues is from Penguin

Daniel Jose Older’s Half Resurrection Blues is from Penguin

Is “ghost noir” a genre? Apparently it is, and if that’s what Daniel José Older writes, I love it.

I’ve met Daniel and heard him speak twice at Boston area cons in recent years, and I’m happy to say I own autographed copies of both his books of original fiction. I’m even happier to hear he’s got another novel coming out. Gawker has just published an interview with him.

This little excerpt about his approach to creating the world and the characters is probably at least half of why I like his stories so much.

“The concept of an “inbetweener” reads very similarly to the concept of a double-consciousness, like a two worlds lived and perceived experience of people of color. Is that something that you were going for?”

“Oh, absolutely. I was really interested in talking about the experiential level of it and the emotional level of it, more so than trying to create a construct where the living people equal the whites or and the dead people are people of color or vice-versa. That’s not interesting to me, because that’s a very facile way of approaching a larger analogy. More so, I was thinking about my own experience of being half white and half Latino, and sometimes passing for white—being a very light-skinned Latino—but being very aware of what those things mean in moving through my life in the city and my vocation.”

Cultures rubbing against each other – whether its 2 cultures within a story, or the culture of the characters rubbing against the culture of the reader – to me, that’s the most fascinating aspect of worldbuilding.

Who’s your favorite writer for creating cultures that rub against each other in believable ways?


The headline on Kate Elliot’s recent post is “Writing Women Characters as Human Beings.” Since I’ve never wondered how to write women characters, I started to read as a curiosity – what answer will she give to what has always seemed to me a rather ignorant question?

I realize, though, that for many men who are novice writers, it is a legitimate question. And that is thanks to a global culture which almost universally portrays women as some other kind of being than men, and less than men in almost every way. In media storytelling, we now have statistical studies showing that women appear far less often than men, and that when they appear, they are nearly always defined by a relationship to a man – sister, mother, lover, wife, co-worker or sidekick. And that’s when they’re more than just background, object of sexual desire or MacGuffin.

Elliot starts from those limited stereotypical roles and shows how the confused apprentice writer might start thinking about female characters to break out of the stereotypes. But this essay goes way beyond writing female characters. Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | December 21, 2014

Watching The Hobbit and Kissing Middle Earth Good-bye

Should The Hobbit have been 3 movies? Almost certainly not. But not for the reasons most people give.

(Spoiler warning: this is not a “should you go see it?” review. This is a spoiler heavy analysis of whether and why The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies succeeds as a movie and as an adaptation of Tolkien. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, continue at your own risk.)

They may be pretty, but they're not main characters.  Image: New LIne

They may be pretty, but they’re not main characters. All images: New Line

Many critics talk about the book of The Hobbit as a “slight” little story. They’re wrong, fooled perhaps by the tone of Victorian children’s story whimsy that Tolkien uses in much of it. I always thought that at least 2 movies were doable, partly because of the book’s length (300 pages and 19 chapters is hardly a “little” story).  And even more, because of the real reason The Hobbit has endured. We don’t come back to it for the quaintness of the hobbit world, nor cherish it because Bilbo Baggins is flummoxed by having an unexpected Dwarf tea party, or learning to “burgle” a stone troll. Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | December 9, 2014

Ursula K Le Guin at the National Book Awards

Last month at the National Book Awards, Ursula K. Le Guin was honored with the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters, presented to her by Neil Gaiman. You probably know this already, unless you’ve been entirely ignoring any news lately, because video of Le Guin’s acceptance speech not only went viral, but made it into all the mainstream headlines as well.

Neil Gaiman presents Ursula K Le Guin with her medal. Image: National Book Foundation (screencap from video)

Neil Gaiman presents Ursula K Le Guin with her medal.     Image: National Book Foundation (screencap from video)

In his introduction, Gaiman talks about imitating authors as a young writer, and trying to imitate Le Guin and not being able to. This is immediately followed by Le Guin demonstrating exactly why he and everyone else has trouble imitating her. She gives an acceptance speech that says more in 4 minutes than most people can say in an hour, on topics that almost anyone else wouldn’t risk at an awards ceremony. Read More…

Giant cat or tiny person? Only the worldbuilder knows - for now.

Giant cat or tiny person? Only the worldbuilder knows – for now.

This week, io9’s Charlie Jane Anders has an excellent essay on the worldbuilding elements she considers raise worldbuilding from good and serviceable, to great and memorable.

Here’s a little taste from the beginning of the essay:

“…I’ve been obsessing about worldbuilding a lot lately, and trying to figure out what the difference is between good, decent, craftspersonlike worldbuilding — and great worldbuilding. And here’s what I decided:

Good worldbuilding shows you the stuff your characters see every day, and the things that they notice about their environment.

Great worldbuilding shows you the stuff your characters don’t see, either because they take it for granted, or because they’ve trained themselves not to notice something unpleasant.”

She goes on to explore this with a discussion of the “unreliable narrator” and some of the character and cultural qualities that can make characters oblivious to important aspects of their world. Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | September 23, 2014

Remembering Madeleine L’Engle and Banned Books

Still one of the most challenged books. My original edition hardcover is now about 50 and autographed.

Still one of the most challenged books. My original edition hardcover is now about 50 and autographed.

Many years ago, I was lucky enough to take a couple of weekend writing workshops with Madeleine L’Engle. From her I gained insights, techniques and mental disciplines that are now so integral to my writing processes, that I can’t even separate them out as things I learned then.

Also, during one of those workshops, she told us a story about encountering a would-be book banner. (I’m sure she told this story many times during her life. This is how I remember it after nearly 30 years, so my apologies if others have heard it with different details.)

The woman approached Madeleine to complain about the language in A Wrinkle in Time, and told her exactly how many times certain objectionable words appear. Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | July 13, 2014

Using TV and Movies as Research (with Dire Examples)

Should you ever use what you see on TV and in movies as reference material for a topic you know little about?

Here’s a hint: “Don’t try this at home” applies to a lot more than the stuff they do on Mythbusters.

Today’s dire example is this online exchange between a friend of mine who is designing a sculpture of a cybernetic horse, and a friend of hers (unknown to me) who offers advice on the cybernetic horse’s capabilities and behaviors. The sculptor is a professional horsewoman. The advice giver, apparently, is not. [Names omitted and some details changed for anonymity].

Sculptor/horsewoman (thinking aloud): Would a cybernetic horse rear?

Advisor: I think the horse rearing up, as a means to go into a full run would still be there. Rearing up in fear or being startled probably would not.

Sculptor/horsewoman: Horses rearing up to go in full run? I don’t follow….

This is where I almost fell off my chair laughing. If you’re a horse person, you know why. If not, let me explain: Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | December 22, 2013

Here’s Your 2013 Holiday Stocking!

I don’t know about you, but I’m too full of holiday goodies to get my head to do any serious work. So rather than attempt (and fail!) at a discussion of any substantial worldbuilding topic, let me offer a stocking full of little goodies for you to open at leisure.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Before I could get around to deciding whether to review The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a friend brought to my attention this blog post on Legendarium, which offers an excellent discussion of Tolkien’s position on film adaptations, as it relates to this particular movie. The comment thread here is also worth reading in full, for many thoughtful comments about the article and the movie. Taken as a whole they represent a pretty good review for serious fans!  Here’s a bit of the discussion of Tolkien’s letter on the issue: Read More…

Posted by: kshayes513 | December 8, 2013

Watching Catching Fire and Tripping over Romance.

In many ways, Catching Fire is a better movie than The Hunger Games. It does an even better job of portraying the hideous disparities between life in the Districts and the oblivious, self-indulgent luxury of life in the Capitol. And it cranks up the stakes between them by personifying it in a direct conflict between Katniss and the despicable President Snow.

It brings back some favorite characters (Haymitch, Effie, Caesar, President Snow) and introduces some promising new ones (notably Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch and Sam Claflin’s Finnick). Most important, it avoids making the “games” half of the story seem like a repeat of the first movie, by abandoning the first movie’s emphasis on violence porn, and by changing the structure of the conflict.

I found it absorbing to watch from start to finish, yet it still left me feeling a bit dissatisfied. I wasn’t sure why, until I came across Linda Holmes’ article on NPR, discussing the non-typical romantic roles played by the 3 young leads.

“You could argue that Katniss’ conflict between Peeta and Gale is effectively a choice between a traditional Movie Girlfriend and a traditional Movie Boyfriend,” says Holmes. “…Her larger mission — her war against the Capitol — often drifts out of focus behind her smaller, more immediate mission: saving Peeta.”

The moment I read this, I understood where Catching Fire falls short. Read More…

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