The Importance of Epic Fantasy

 

The Importance of Epic Fantasy

I recently read an essay by author Stephen R. Donaldson about Epic Fantasy which was quite thought-provoking:  Stephen R. Donaldson: Epic Fantasy: Necessary Literature.

A few excerpts from that article, along with some of my own thoughts:

If we take it as given (I do) that the underlying purpose of literature is to shed light on the essential conundrums of being human (“Why are we here?” “What is the meaning of life?” “If it’s all meaningless, why do we care about anything?” “Why are we all so dissatisfied?” “Is there a God?” “Can there be a God?” “What is our relationship—if any—with the world in which we live?”), fantasy is the literature of the irrational, the transcendent, the spiritual. It is the literature that dares to confront those facets of being human that seem at odds—sometimes wildly at odds—with our mundane waking lives. And it’s vital.

Couldn’t agree more.  This is one of the primary reasons I have always been enthralled with reading fantasy literature.  For the same reasons, the important impact Fantasy can have on our youth is one of the main reasons I tend to write Fantasy, more so than anything else.

“Contemporary fantasy—even in its most cynical, post-modern guises—is the literature of reintegration because it both explores and accepts every dimension of what being human means, every natural language that humankind speaks (I mean both the language of critical intelligence and the language of magic and monsters, which can be seen as the language of religion). It expresses itself in both the language of alienation and the language of affirmation. That alone makes us more fully human, more fully ourselves, than we would be without it. It imagines possibilities for us that may seem incredible until they’ve been experienced.”

This passage in particular is important to me.  I’m fascinated with religion, spirituality, and faith, and themes centering around those things always bubble to the surface in my writing, intentional or not.  Donaldson is right on point.  Fantasy allows me as a writer to delve into those concepts deeper, giving perhaps less offense, and possibly even more insight than if I were writing straight fiction.  People avoid discussing politics and religion with friends and family at times for a reason.  Emotion gets in the way of such debates and prevents logical discussion and thought.

If modern fantasy and especially epic fantasy serve any function at all (I mean any function that we haven’t already seen beaten to death in our literature), it lies in the ability to dramatize—to demonstrate—reintegration. In a “nightmare world” ruled by “alienation and nausea, the quest for identity, and the comic doomsday vision,” what could be more necessary?

Fantasy and genre fiction in general allows us to tell stories that resonate back through our collective conscience.  I suppose fiction does that in general, but to me, fantasy allows for deeper immersion.  It’s much easier for me as a reader to become absorbed in the story, characters, and setting of a fantasy, than general fiction.  Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth analyzes it the best in my mind.  At our very core, we share an interconnectedness to other people and the strongest connections tend to be accomplished through our stories.  Be it, literature, song lyrics, movies, or television, through Story our bonds as human beings are formed from a very early age.  To my mind, fantasy forges the most powerful of those connections.

The success of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films and the surge of popularity for Hero tales over the last decade is a clear indicator that our society is in great need of epic fantasy.

Writers of the Future, Part II

Writers of the Future, Part II

Well, I just hit the submit button on my first writing competition.  This is a big first step toward establishing a writing career.  Have to say it would be nice to win, but the fact that I committed myself to writing the story and submitting it is already a major triumph.  Doesn’t mean I won’t be keeping my fingers crossed though.

I’ve heard some writers theorize you don’t really hit your stride and start gaining polish and momentum as a writer until you’ve written at least 1 million words.  Chalk up another 17K toward that checkpoint!  Wish me luck.

Writers of the Future

Writers of the FutureWriters of the Future

I’ve had my laptop to the grindstone this week.  I previously started a short story/novella to submit to Writers of the Future for their first quarter competition this year.  I had the entire story outlined and approximately 2,500 words written.  Since the deadline is fast approaching I decided it was time to switch gears and finish it.  It’s been a productive week writing to say the least.  I completed the first draft last night;  it clocked in just over the 17,000 word limit.  I’ll let you do the math since my brain’s tired.  I did a first spellcheck/grammar pass last night and will complete several revision passes over the weekend so I can email it for submission next week.  It’s time to start submitting!

Writing Resources

Writing Resources

Writing Science Fiction & FantasyA very good friend gave me a wonderful book recently:  Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, Jay Lake and the Editors of Writer’s Digest. Not the kind of book to read straight through for pleasure necessarily, but I’m finding it to be a great resource for my writing.

Orson Scott Card’s advice on writing is always top-notch.  No surprise there.  This learned tome presents quite a bit more high quality information on such topics as Steampunk, Fantasy Cultures, World Cultures, Magic, etc..

Some of the most useful things in this book are general lists of terms and definitions for Dress and Costume, and Arms, Armor, and Armies.  I never knew there was a woolen cloth, often ribbed, worn by the wealthy known as “lersey.”  I also did not know “cambric” is a fine white linen.  And, I definitely had never heard of a “blunderbuss woman”.  A blunderbuss, yes, but a blunderbuss woman, no. FYI, that’s a member of an elite female corps under the command of the king of Dahomey, Africa used not just as bodyguards, but on the battlefield as well.  Very useful stuff to know writing fantasy.

Highly recommend this book.

Snow Day

Snow Day-3/5/15

Not used to snow storms in March, but this was one hell of a storm.  We had 16 inches of snow in our front yard, and 20 inches in the back.  Took us 2 1/2 hours to shovel out the cars and driveway.  Otherwise, a most enjoyable day.

I spent a good bit of the day writing and managed to add a chapter in my rewrite/revision on Dream of the Sphere, over 2,500 words.  Also watched Divergent with the kids.  Pleasantly surprised.  Good movie.  I’m adding the book to my list of To Reads.

Snow Day

The Influence of Batman

Batman ClocThe Influence of Batman

Since I was a little kid I’ve always been fascinated by Batman.  I grew up watching Adam West and Burt Ward fighting Caesar Romero, Burgess Merdith, Frank Gorshin, and Julie Newmar (the only Real Catwoman, Earth Kitt, Blech!).  Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel.  I even had a talking Batman alarm clock as a boy.  Really wish I could get it to work again, since I still have it.

The Dark KnightOdd that I didn’t read a lot of Batman comics as a kid, having gravitated to Marvel and The Avengers (sounds like another influences Blog Post).The Frank Miller Batman books, The Killing Joke, Arkham Asylum, are all definitely graphic novels which I would consider influences.  For me, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is the definitive Batman.  Haters hate, I don’t care.  I love Christian Bale.  Hell, my favorite Batman from the 80’s and 90’s was Val Kilmer.  I’m weird like that.

JokersThe thing is, as I got older I became as fascinated with The Joker as the Caped Crusader.  Mark Hamill’s Joker is great, but Heath Ledger is my all-time favorite. Batman and Joker are simply two sides of the same coin.  Harvey Dent’s coin is no coincidence, I’m sure.  Put another way, Batman and Joker are all about Balance:  Law and Chaos, Order and Entropy.  The fact is, you can’t have one without the other.  It’s the way of the universe.  Those are the types of ideas I like to explore in my writing.  My characters are never black and white.  Real people are never black and white.

So far, I have to admit I’ve been very pleased with Fox’s Gotham.  I’ve avoided reading the criticism.  It won’t change my opinion.  I like what I like, and I like Gotham.  It’s good to see yet another step forward in the Batman mythology.  I see Gotham as a step along the same path Nolan charted with his three films.  Thus far, my only disappointment has been the initial appearance of Joker, but the kids performance was great.  Gave me chills at the end, but I just have to wonder if they shouldn’t have waited for a while to bring him in.  I’m more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt though.  Penguin’s blossoming origin story has been amazing and I’m enjoying Jim Gordon coming to life, layer by layer being added with each episode.  They could speed up development on Bruce Wayne for my tastes, but again, I think they are heading the right direction.

I only hope that Mr. Affleck’s upcoming portrayal isn’t as sinfully awful as I fear it will be.  Regardless, I’m confident Batman’s legacy can survive even Ben Affleck.

 

Writing Mastery with David Farland

For Christmas 2014 I enrolled in David Farland’s Writing Mastery class.  The class is online, with ten assignments designed to be accomplished at your own pace.  One of the greatest benefits is the online meeting with David Farland.  Dave holds live video chat conferences, usually three to four times per week, depending upon his schedule.  He answers typed chat questions live at each meeting.  His insights on the publishing industry and writing are inciteful and invaluable.

I’ve completed the first four of ten assignments thus far.  With each assignment Dave has personally reviewed and edited my work, offering extensive feedback.  I’m proud to say that Dave has been very encouraging and positive in his critiques so far:

Assignment on Setting-“Excellent job on this.  …Honestly, I get the feeling that you’re layering the details in pretty well.”

Assignment on Characterization- “Okay, this is very nice.  Excellent job!”

Assignment on Dialog- “You did a good job on this.”

Dave’s instruction and feedback has helped me improve my writing already.  I really want to finish the other assignments, but I’ve been inspired over the last month since I started the class, and I’ve been spending all my writing time on revision on Volume One of the Sphere Saga.

Anybody looking to improve their fiction writing skills would greatly benefit David Farland’s tutelage.  I highly recommend it.  Information on Dave’s classes can be found at www.mystorydoctor.com.

A Brave New Blog

A Brave New Blog by Jay S. Willis

I aim to misbehave, er, I mean write.  Thus, the birth of a Blog.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, though the form has changed over the years.  From handwritten, stapled-together books in Elementary school, letters to friends out of the country as foreign exchange students in high school, to research papers, journals and poetry in college, to short stories in law school, to novels.  As an attorney, writing is always part of my professional life, but it’s not an exercise is pure creativity.

Legal writing is satisfying, don’t get me wrong.  But in order to maintain balance (and sanity) I HAVE to write.  I spent far too long suppressing my need to write in order to stay focused on career and raising a family.  While those things have an important place, the selfish desire to exorcise my creative demons has clawed its way to the surface and can no longer be denied.  It has been a painstaking process, but I think I’ve finally succumbed and writing has to be a daily mental exercise.  Butt in chair, fingers to keys.  The commitment has to be made before a different kind of commitment comes about.

I spent a good bit of time in November 2013 conquering NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and won!  Managed to pound out 50,000 words, and then some and completed a first draft of a bouncing baby novel called Implements of Sacrifice.  I did not however reach my goal of completing revisions to it, so it continues to molder on the shelf for now.

Long ago, (I won’t finish that thought so as not to draw the ire of Disney/Lucasfilm’s legal department) a world began to form itself in my mind and I started exploring that world in a novel.  I wrote on that novel for many years and I couldn’t say how many drafts it has seen, but an official First Rough Draft has settled itself into place as Volume 1 of a three part story, The Sphere Saga.

In November 2011, I made my first run at NaNoWriMo and wasn’t successful because my desktop crashed, along with many other life-related reasons.  However, that novel wasn’t for naught.  That novel is the seed for Volume 2 of The Sphere Saga.

Fast forward to today.  NaNoWriMo 2014.  I’m 38,075 words into Volume 3 of The Sphere Saga and looking to hit 50,000 words by the end of the month.  The book will be more than that, and it will get completed eventually.

For me, the point of NaNoWriMo is to push myself into developing a writing addiction/habit, which I think I’m well on my way to doing.  It is my intention that this Blog become an extension of just that.  This is a writing outlet.  A tool.

I hope to hone my writing skills and one day be able to write fiction professionally, full-time if at all possible.