Thursday, February 17, 2011

In Which I Talk About My Writing

So I've got my shiny new blogsopt site and I've participated in my very first blogfest. A bunch of new people just signed up to follow my blog. (Yay!) So I figure I'd better make it clear what I'm doing here and why I feel I can call myself a writer.

I have since childhood loved fairy tales and myths and have always had stories with fantastical elements playing around in my head. (Though there was a brief phase where all of my stories involved me as a sort of female version of Indiana Jones. But I've got past that now.) While my mother encouraged me to write stories and assured me that I was a gifted writer, I shrugged her words off. She praised the Indiana Jones fanfics after all; I couldn't possibly trust her judgment. So I spent a lot of my teenage years writing stories about made up worlds that I did my best to keep private because it was just, I thought, a whim and I knew they weren't very good anyway.

Then I got married and started having kids and my writing completely fell by the wayside. I think I had always had a writing habit during my adolescence because I was one of those angsty teens (though only on the inside) who was never content with their life and so found escape in books and writing. Having a family changed that. I was no longer dissatisfied with my life and didn't need to escape, so I stopped writing. But I never lost my love for fantasy. If I wrote less then I began reading more, becoming more familiar with the genre as it is now. And this led to a new source of dissatisfaction.

I'm not happy with the fantasy genre today. I think in many ways it has fallen too far from its tree. Many fantasy authors go to extreme lengths to subvert the traditions of the genre because they think turning something that has become a cliche to its opposite extreme is clever and original. (Reality check: It's not.) Many fantasy authors are jumping on the "dark, gritty realism" bandwagon that seems to be sweeping our nation. These writers (who I don't mean to suggest are all fantasy authors) make me very sad. They've forgotten what the fantasy genre was all about, they've forgotten their roots. Because of these modern trends it has been increasingly difficult for me to find a nice, satisfying read among current fantasy fiction.

As my disappointment with recent fantasy offerings has increased over the past several years, the stories in my head have returned. But this time instead of Indiana Jones fanfic, I feel I might actually have something to offer the world. What I want is to create something in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien. Now, by that I don't mean a Shannara-esque ripoff complete with Elves and black robed sinister creatures. I mean that I want to create a secondary world with its own mythology that draws from the real world mythologies that I love. I want my tales from that world to draw from the traditions of myths and fairy tales that explore and illuminate basic truths about the world and the human condition in subtle and thought provoking ways without sacrificing story or characters. And I want to worry not one whit about grittiness or realism.

For the first time in my life, I think I might be able to do those things.

So I have begun the delightful work of worldbuilding. Though I think of it more in some ways as "world revealing". It's not really a ordered, logical process. The ideas come in visions and flashes and slowly, slowly reveal themselves to me. I think it will be a unique and varied world rife with enchantment. I'm very excited about the possibilities.

The first story to be set in my new secondary world is in a land that I am modeling on Ancient Egypt in many ways. I am attempting to use Ancient Egyptian philosophy and beliefs as the foundation for the land. Most people learned at least a bit about Egyptian belief in school and know they had a polytheistic pantheon of gods. You might even remember some of the more prominent gods like Ra, Isis, Osiris, etc. But I have found that there is a much deeper and more complex aspect of Egyptian belief and the way they viewed the world that is absolutely fascinating and in many ways totally foreign to modern western thinking. I'll be exploring it in my first story, my first attempt at a complete novel. I'm hoping it will offer a unique experience.

I'll no doubt be talking a lot about my efforts on this first novel here. About my research, how I will be integrating what I learn about Ancient Egypt into a fantasy setting, about the story its self and what I learn as I write it, about the larger secondary world I am attempting to create bit by bit... I'm still at the beginning of my journey and I think it's going to be a fun ride.


  1. What a wonderful post! World building is HARD, HARD work but immensely rewarding and fun. Best of luck to you! I base my works on ancient mythologies and folktales. Right now, I'm playing with Greek myth :D

    I'm looking forward to reading more!

  2. That certainly whets the appetite. I can understand your sadness at the state of things and I admire the vision.

  3. Your world sounds fascinating. I'd love to learn more about Egyptian myth.

  4. My story is similar, though of course also different. I too was heavily into reading early on and was very good at writing, but college, career, and family led me away from writing. Only in my late thirties did the itch to write claw its way back into my mind.

    While I don't dislike the gritty realism trend the way you do, I do dislike the seemingly universal idea that doing anything remotely Tolkienesque is horrible. I think publishers and agents view these stories as anathema, yet they are overlooking the fact that such stories have always sold very well, regardless of whether they were even any good or not. I want to combine the realism yet also keep the type of world that I loved so much from my years of role playing (and reading Tolkien, of course). I haven't seen anyone else do that.

  5. I will certainly be talking a lot about Egyptian mythology and belief in future posts. It is a passion of mine.

    I plan to talk about my opinions on the "gritty realism" trend more in a future post. My view is that there is realism and there is realism. Tolkien's work is very realistic in many ways. What I mainly dislike is what I view as a sort of extreme hyper realism which I will attempt to clarify at some point. (I've seen the phrase "nihilistic torture porn" used to describe it.) I also dislike the way many people seem to think anything less than this hyper realism is for children and escapists.

    I am very much against extremes in general. I am with the Greeks: Moderation in all things!

  6. As an adult, I have found it hard to find really satisfying fantasy as well. Looking forward to reading more about your premise, sounds promising.

  7. Yes, I prefer the more moderate realism of George Martin over the extreme stuff like Abercrombie, though to me that's just about being actually realistic. The extreme stuff doesn't seem any more realistic to me than the fairy unicorn stuff. My book goes for realism but in a more PG-13 range than Martin, probably because I would like to capture the YA audience and not just the adult.

  8. Subcreator, I'm looking forward to more of your research and musings. I'm also a huge Tolkien fan, with the shelf full of Tolkien books and all. And I'm also in the worldbuilding phase of a new project.

    Ted, I think your assessment of Martin and Abercrombie is off. Abercrombie has more violence, Martin has more sex. Martin's stuff is a little more spread out because he books are longer, which may provide an illusion of being more tame. Abercrombie's stuff is shorter and more concentrated. But overall they are roughly equal, in my opinion, as far as their grittiness goes. Anyway, I like them both quite a bit. The edgy movement agrees with me. I also like other stuff that's less edgy. Tad Williams comes to mind. And of course Tolkien.


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