Romance in Fantasy and YA Novels

For as long as I can remember, it’s been of a most popular opinion that something about me is, quite simply, a bit off. Some think it’s the crystals and half-conscious ghost talk. Some think it’s the glazed, intangible look in my eye at various points in the day. But many would agree the most astounding strangeness, is my inability to understand the maddening importance of romantic relationships.

The population, on the whole, has a tendency to take this one form of love and put it up high on a nigh unreachable pedestal. It’s considered in many ways (especially to the young) to be a form of love comparable to the brilliance of the sun. A sun that, sometimes, burns out all other forms of love. The love between close friends. The love between siblings. The love for a parent and their child or a person and their pet. Even the love for your greatest enemy. (If you’re into that sort of thing.)

If I’m being entirely honest – and I try to make a habit of this – I have no idea if romance is true the way you can read about it in a book or see it happen in the movies, because

 

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Shadowscape Tarot Deck

 

I’ve never seen another person and felt the world tip off its axis. That isn’t to say I don’t know love. I’ve been deeply and completely in love with every person I’ve invited into my life for however brief a time they were there. (Okay fine. Most people.) I’ve always believed love was not worth giving unless it could be given with your whole heart. No matter what form that love takes.

That’s why, despite my adoration for Disney fairytales growing up, I find myself where I am now at nearly thirty.

I am sick

To death

Of romance stories

It’s become a challenge for me to find a good fantasy book where the romance doesn’t saturate the plot. There’s always a man. There’s always a woman. And more pages seemed dedicated to whether or not they fall in love than to if they manage to overthrow the evil emperor or whatever kids get up to in fantasies these days.

 

There’s nothing wrong with a romance arc. Despite the strangeness I share with others on this planet, I understand it’s often an important part of people’s lives. (Though I suggest you look into cultural norms and start asking yourself why you think and feel this way. Who knows, you might be chasing after something that will never make you happy.) But it’s not the only part of our lives. It’s not the only relationship worth writing about. In my opinion, it’s not even the most beautiful form of love there is.

We’ve reached a time where it might be beneficial to start telling new stories and expanding on the entire experience of being human rather than rehashed pieces of it. That means enough with romanticizing abusive relationships in YA books. Stop teaching girls that they can change abusive dick bags. Stop teaching boys they have to be abusive dick bags. It also means teaching young adults to value more in their lives than whether or not they fall into this strange fairytale love we keep out of reach on that blasted pedestal.

 

BookCon 2018 and Meeting V. E. Schwab

Have you ever had one of those moments where a thought strikes you out of nowhere and you have no other choice but to act on it? That’s how I got to BookCon on Sunday and managed to meet V. E. Schwab.

Now, I can write this in a way to make it seem like a grand event. A meeting at the hands of fate and fortune. The strings of destiny braiding down to the crossroads of choice and action. In actuality, it was dumb leprechaun luck coupled with a friend who’s far more outgoing than I.

I’ll back up a bit.

I uncovered Schwab during a time in my life where all the comforts I knew – my apartment, friends, house plants, and cats were taken by various circumstances. The outcome was me, my bike, and a backpack filled with necessities like a few changes of clothes and a shower pack. Everything else was in a storage unit that I couldn’t reach without a car.

Things were fortunate in a few ways. It was an uncharacteristically warm autumn and winter. I had friends and co-workers who let me sleep on their sofas. And, I had a locker at work, and no one minded that kept tea and a teapot inside and came in every morning to sit in the breakroom to have my morning cup.

Around August was when I lost everything, and around January is when I found a place to set in a few roots. If I were a plant at this point in my life, then I would have been a sad one who went through a bad transplant that resulted in few leaves, weepy branches, and a loss of vibrant color.

Even though I found a place to stay, it was still without any of the usually homey comforts. I slept on pillows and blankets on a wood floor in the spare room and kept a small hot water heater and a line of teas against the wall. There was a single window and a slanting roof and a small door in the wall leading to a nightmare attic space with a stained, folded mattress in the center of the room. (Horror movie fuel.)

I needed comfort. So, next chance I got I went to the library. To be perfectly honest once I started studying story and writing craft, reading had begun to lose some of its appeals. Part of the joy was not knowing how I was being subtly manipulated on every page. Finding a book to enjoy became an arduous task involving reading first pages, middle pages, dialogue, and imagery. I needed the guarantee that I could be immersed in the world and forget the occasional peek behind the wizard’s curtain.

In the library that day, I discovered a book in a white jacket with bold red and black artwork. It was called A Darker Shade of Magic. It had an invisible force pulling me in. The second it was in my hands I felt it was the right choice. I read the jacket – pirates, alternate worlds, magic, a thief – it was quite simply every story I’ve ever loved packed into one.

I read the first sentence, “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.” and I slammed the book shut because I knew it was exactly what I needed at that time.

“For the ones who dream of stranger worlds.” She dedicated it to.

It was, in fact, exactly what I needed at that point in my life. For the first time in years, I devoured every page of a book. I laughed, and cried, and mourned it when it ended. And, during a time where I was ready to give up on my own dreams, It gave me hope that maybe I could get published one day too.

Reel the tape forward again to now, after I got my friend hooked on ADSOM and during a remarkably stable time in my life. I stumbled on the news that she was going to be in the big apple for BookCon. We paid the $40 into the city. We paid the last minute $45 fee to get into the convention. We dealt with the endless amount of confusion, misdirection, and downright disorganization (seriously they need to organize these things better)  And, in the end, we were cut off right before getting into the booth where she signed books and spoke to her fans. But, we retained the stubborn hope that all was not lost. She was scheduled for another signing in a few hours.

We wandered off to find this second location, the both of us determined to make the most out of our last minute trip. To be perfectly honest, while in that line, before we were cut off, I asked whatever guides or spirits or gods were there to give me a chance for nothing more than to say hello.  And while I was coming to terms with that fact that it may have all been for nothing, my friend gasped, pointed, and Schwab was walking down the hall with her editor right toward us.

In the end, I got my hello. I would have been happy with that alone, but I also got a picture with her. What else can I say? She’s just as sweet, gracious, and lovable as she is online and in her books. Despite being mobbed by her fans she took it all with a measure of thankfulness and love that was wholehearted and astounding.

Maybe I was too shy to say more than hello. Maybe she was too busy for me to talk with her and pick their brain a bit, but I am eternally grateful for that opportunity.

Moral of the story?

Plane ahead of conventions.

Wear comfortable shoes.

And bring snacks/water if you’re going to spend half your day standing in inchworm lines.

Oh, and always bring a friend along who’s more fearless then you are. (I probably never would have approached her without you.)

This was a long one. Thanks for reading.

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P.S. I know I look awful. Give me a break. I was running on maybe three hours of sleep after a full work week.

Tea Legends – Ti Kuan Yin

I would love to tell you that I get to sit in coffee shops all day writing blogs and books and drawing pretty pictures, but I do in fact have a day job. It’s a good one, far as they come. I work at a teahouse. The days pass by and I count hours by how many cups I can drink between chatting up the customers.

One of my favorite jobs there, aside from making the tea, is when I get the time to write the blog for the Teahouse. You can find it here.

Tea has such a history it tends to peeks through time in the form of stories and legends. No matter how many I unearth, the legend of Ti Kuan Yin remains my favorite.

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In Fujian’s Shaxian province, during a time of great poverty, there stood a neglected stone temple on the outskirts of a small village. An old farmer frequently visited the temple. He swept away debris, lit incense, and prayed to the Goddess of compassion, Guanyin. One day particularly difficult day, he went to the temple as usual. He finished his sweeping but, when he went to light the incense, the statue of Guanyin sprung to life. The old farmer fell to his knees, at which point the Goddess, in her kind manner, whispered, “The key for your future is just outside this temple. Nourish it with tenderness and it will support you and yours for generations to come.”

Guan YinShe reverted to stone once more.

True to the Goddess’s word, there was a shriveled bush outside the temple doors. From that point onward, the farmer swept the floor as always, lit and incense, and also watered the bush. When the leaves grew plump and healthy the farmer discovered that, when steeped in hot water, it made a refreshing drink. He clipped some branches and brought it to the village where his neighbors could plant it too. After a time the farmer experimented by drying the leaves in a stone wok until they became the dark, iron color. It reminded him so much of the Goddess, he named the tea, Ti Kuan Yin, Tea of the Iron Goddess of Mercy.

 

 

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To this day, it remains one of my favorite Oolong teas. If you want to read the full post I made for the teahouse, click here.

I’m of the sound belief that life isn’t complete without a book, a furry companion, and a warm cup of tea. To be honest, It’s not something I ever thought I would say. I once wrote that our lives are saga’s – an unedited manuscript that some amateur writer is slapping together – hapless of the dull conversation, the pointless scenes,  the unanswered questions, and ginormous plot holes. I think we all know this on some level. We reach a point where we realize and then desperately attempt to make some kind of sense or meaning out of it all.

I know, the story is made in the grand adventures life offers. In the heartbreak and the triumphs. In the difficult decisions and the comedic mishaps. But, life is enjoyed in the still moments where all you have is eyes to see how slowly the world truly turns and a mind to appreciate this.

Tea and the legends around it help me remember this.

How Atmosphere, Suspense, and Foreshadowing can make or break a scene

I’m a sucker for a scary book. Or a scary scene. Or a particularly chilling snippet of dialogue. Something about it gives me chills of pure delight. When reading we pick up on these notes in a very unconscious way. They are where they’re supposed to be. That is – in the background not unlike the stage props on Broadway. I know I know, when it comes to writing a lot of us learn unconsciously through reading but when you know the mechanics behind what you’re doing it means you get to twist things in new ways instead of relying on all that intuitive learning that lead us to mimic the greats.

So, in honor of all things horribly delightful, I want to talk about atmosphere, suspense, and foreshadowing, and how they can make your prose too delicious to put down.

Atmosphere comes across mostly in setting the scene at the beginning of chapters and it’s all about word choice, and consistency. I think it tends to be the most intuitive of the bunch. Chances are if you read, you’ll end up having some idea how to set the atmosphere for the book.

A Darker Shade final for IreneThe easiest way to do this is through description. Take a look at this passage from V. E. Schwab’s, ‘A Darker Shade of Magic.’

“- every inch of the city, day or night, summer or winter, bore the same pall, as though a fine coat of snow – or ash – had settled over everything. And everyone. The magic here was bitter and mean, and it bled the world’s life and warmth and color, leaching it out of everything and leaving only pale and bloated corpses behind.”

Bitter. Mean. Bled. Leaching. These words have a sinister edge to them, right? One that paints the harsh unforgiving nature of both the place and the people. It sets you up to be on guard and a little unnerved. Can you imagine if she said, and it milked the world’s life and warmth and color?

Paying attention to powerful and descriptive words will get the reader amped up. Kind of like foreplay. Or taking a bath vs taking a bath by candlelight with rose petals and a glass of wine.

Suspense can be a little more tricky, but I think this has a lot to do with what we see in horror movies that rely – most of the time – on build-up music and jump scare. In that way, I think a lot of writers (myself included, unfortunate I know) believe suspense is in hiding information to later jump out and startle the readers. Suspense is actually created when you give information to the readers. One of the best ways I had it explained was in the book, ‘Troubleshooting Your Novel,’ by Steven James.

“Mystery concerns the past; suspense concerns the future. In a mystery, the characters try to solve a crime, piece together a riddle or resolve a conflict. In suspense, they try to stop a crime or tragedy. Mystery appeals to readers’ curiosity, suspense to their concern.”

In other words, if the reader knows the scary thing is in the closet, but the protagonist doesn’t, we’re going to be worried as hell about them every time they get close to that closet door.

On the other hand, if we don’t know what’s in that closet, there’s no build up to when the protagonist finally opens the door and confusion over whatever jumps out. A lot of suspense is triggered by giving a damn about the characters of the story, but I’ll leave that little diversion behind for another day.

Foreshadowing is kind of like a thief isn’t it? (I do love a good thief) Only, instead of taking things it goes back and leaves little treasures behind. A reverse thief. The best thing about it? It saves you from a little pitfall (one I constantly fall into) called coincidence.

Coincidence is when someone passes out during a climactic scene and one of the characters declares, “Let me through I’m a doctor!” Convenient, right? And it takes away all the suspense.

Foreshadowing is when, in an earlier and inconspicuous scene, that same character had the reason or need to show or mention that he was a doctor.

The trick to this is making sure those scenes are, as I said, inconspicuous. One of my61XfS2XCw3L._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_ favorite examples of this is in N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.

There are people referred to as Roggas who can shake the earth (literally) and, also, stop shakes. There are places called node maintainers to stop those devastating shakes from happening.

I won’t get too into it, but let’s say the kids who get relocated there, are fully aware and completely incapable of so much as blinking let alone changing their heart-rending situation.

How does she set up the moment where our main character stumbles into this atrocity? No more than an earlier conversation in which someone (who knew the truth) casually asked, “You’ve never been to a node, I take it.”

So, what are some ways to foreshadow effectively?

If a character has a skill that’s going to be needed for those big moments, make sure it’s oh so subtly addressed beforehand. Kind of like that doctor I mentioned up there.

If there’s an item or relic, introduce it in a discreet manner beforehand. It could be something like a pen a character is always holding until that moment it’s revealed to contain a deadly poison that saves their lives. Or, you know, something along those lines.

Foreshadow who will be present. Instead of having a rightwing hero swinging into the rescue out of thin air to make everything all better again.

 

That’s all I have for you right now. This is a re-boot of some advice I’d written on my abandoned blog back on Blogspot.

I hope it was helpful.

Take care and keep writing.