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Just Another Portal Fantasy Part Two: The Drive of Influence

I am a firm believer in the concept that childhood and teenage reading/ viewing/ hearing/ etc. habits indicate what a future writer’s work will look like. With that said, what are my influences and how do they reveal what my own writing is like?

The biggest influence for me is sword and sorcery. I grew up on classic (and cult) sword and sorcery films. I remember watching Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer religiously. I remember gobbling up Beastmaster. I remember adoring Masters of the Universe. And I worshiped Ray Harryhausen.

I came later to reading the Conan pastiches and even later to Robert E. Howard and the other legends of written sword and sorcery. But I naturally gravitate towards this particular genre of fantasy.

Along with sword and sorcery film, I gorged myself on science fantasy cartoon shows. He-Man and She-Ra loom large in my childhood. And I will always have a soft spot for Thundarr.

I watched other movies. I read other books. I remember reading some of the Little House books and loving them. I remember Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. There are so many.

But, ultimately, it is the sword and sorcery and science fantasy that I consumed as a child that has driven what I want to write.

My later readings have, largely, confirmed my earlier inclinations although other strands have emerged as well. I gorged myself on Agatha Christie for years. And I have a deep love of James Bond. How they will affect my writing remains to be seen.

While I am a strong sword and sorcery fan, I’m not a typical fan. I don’t have the same type of love for the standard heroic fantasy hero that a lot of other fans do. Where they (I suspect) wish to be that hero in real life, I want to go to bed with that hero (which is, probably, true of James Bond, as well).

However, as I explained to a degree in my “Black Magic” posts, I also have a strong affinity for the sorcery side of things. In a way, I think this is fueled by my fascination with villains.

So much of what a writer writes is informed by the culture experienced in youth.There is a rich mine of memory that is exploited unconsciously(and occasionally consciously).Hell, I’m probably not even aware of the vast majority of my influences.

Next time, world building.

Just Another Portal Fantasy Part One: An Introduction

I have always wanted to write a portal fantasy. The reason why, I believe, is that I want to write about the experiences of a contemporary character trapped/ touring/ adventuring in another world. Indeed, this project has, in several forms, been gnawing at me for years. It is finally time I get off my ass and write the damn thing.

But am I writing just another portal fantasy? In that this novel is an adventure novel, maybe. However, I strongly believe that the approach I’m going to be taking is atypical of most portal fantasies.

What do I mean by portal fantasy? A portal fantasy is any fantasy in which a character from “our” world is thrust into a clearly fantasy world. The fantasy world can be both a separate world/ dimension or the hidden places of our own world. I am also going to include planetary romances like the Barsoom series for good measure.

The fantasy world that I will be utilizing is a separate dimension from our own. The world I am imagining is, frankly, impossible according to the laws of physics that we know. That said, I will be including some typically science fictional elements because I love science fantasy.

To be honest, I am psyched to finally get to work on this project. And I’m excited to write about it on this blog.

My next post will explore my influences. The second post will sketch the world. The third will be a response to a series of posts on Black Gate dealing with planetary romances. The fourth post will explore some of my past ideas. The fifth post will discuss the problem of Jett Drake. The sixth post will deal with Tyler Spang and his libido. The seventh and final post will deal with whether this project will be a novel or a series.

Building Worlds

Talking to myself while I pace is my favorite method of brainstorming. I get a lot of exercise and ideas out of it, what’s not to love? Anyway, I’ve been brainstorming a lot lately. With the brainstorming comes a reassessment of my creative plans. 

My creative instincts pivot towards writing lone novels with little to no relationship between them. Baring, of course, the fact that I wrote them with the resultant similarities of style. I like this approach. It allows me to avoid the pitfalls of writing series ( I can’t abide the bloating that kills many long running series, be they novels, television, or manga). It also allows me to dabble in multiple genres and, perhaps, forms (rather than limiting myself to just writing one form my entire career).

This is how it would have looked in practice: My first novel would be occult fiction. My second novel would be epic fantasy. My third novel would be realist fantasy. So on and so forth. 

But there is a huge problem embedded in this approach. World building is a hard and stressful operation. How much more stressful would world building a project every year or two be (whether that world is a version of Earth or a secondary world)? 

Looking back over many  various projects, I realized something. Many of my projects are either set on Earth or could just as easily be reworked to be set on Earth. What if I create a single, alternate, Earth for my common setting? 

In the days I’ve had to think, I’ve fallen in love with this idea. I can keep my projects largely separate, but I won’t have to kill myself creating new worlds every few years. I’ve mentioned that I’m wanting to write some form of superhero fantasy, and I think having a common setting will allow me a larger canvas for depth and history while not becoming bloated. 

But why Earth? Why not a secondary world?

Assume, for a moment, that I could only write one fantasy. That one fantasy could only be inspired by a single time period. What period would I choose?

Easy. The modern world. 

Yes, the modern world is where my passions truly lie despite the fact that I’m a history nerd with a wide array of interests. 

Would a secondary world inspired by the 1920s, 1960s, or 2010s have a shot? There is an undeniable desire for fantasy to be inspired by periods not medieval Europe. But would such a fantasy world drawing inspiration so close to our own time really fill that need? Maybe. I can always hope. 

There is another problem, though. Our world today is far more complicated than other historical periods because there is so much information to sift through. We have hundreds of countries and polities, an equal number of languages, and dozens of religions. How can that diversity be reflected in a secondary world? Maybe I could hew closely to Earth and use real languages for various places. Maybe I can limit the setting to an expy of the United States that stuck with the Articles of Confederation (or just remained independent states) with a few references to other countries. Maybe that could work. 

Or maybe I could just recreate Earth as a very weird and fantastical world. A world where anything could be possible. 

Either way, I’m looking forward to the journey. 




News from Central Casting

Tyler Spang wants to be a superhero. Okay. Given the congealing of his characterization over the past few weeks, I agree that he works better as a superhero. I can make this work. 

The problem is that while the definition of superhero is broader and deeper than the costumed adventurers who grace Marvel and DC, I still don’t think Bright Light, Deep Shadow (the work that originally featured Tyler as protagonist) works well with a superhero in the leading role. 

Bright Light, Deep Shadow is a portal quest fantasy that will feature protagonists from Earth crossing over into a fantastical realm. Given this core idea, I think a coming of age story compliments the direction I want to go with this project. 

Yes, I know that John Carter, the protagonist of the Barsoom series, is a superhero. But I just don’t think that works well with what I want to do. I want explore how an ensemble cast adapts to the challenges imposed by a (possibly) hostile magical realm. And I want to challenge the perception that heroes have to be a certain way. 

In the end, Bright Light, Deep Shadow will be a young adult portal quest fantasy with an ensemble cast. 

Now back to the still troublesome Tyler Spang. 

He will be the protagonist of the eponymous Red Wind. The Earth setting will be the usual science fiction and fantasy kitchen sink that makes so many superhero universes great. And I’m already working on making a richer alternate history for the setting. 

I’m incredibly excited to be creating my own superhero universe. But I can’t also help but be wary. 

Superhero fiction, especially in comic books, have explored every possible avenue of story and trope countless times. Creating something new and my own will be a challenge. But it will be a fun one.

I’m also leery of writing superheroes because the genre is so big right now. Or is it? Yes, superhero movies are huge right now and comic books are seeing a resurgence of interest, but is the same true of prose fiction? I don’t think so. 

In the end I need to write what appeals to me. And, honestly, superhero fiction appeals to me. I want to write it, despite the challenges. 



Going Local When Times Are A’ Changing

I like Dan Berger’s essay “J.R.R. Tolkien: Myths That Never Were and the Worlds They Become.” I agree with his argument that, maybe, it is time for fantasy to move beyond Tolkien’s mythological and historical underpinnings and find new ways of writing fantasy. Indeed, I’ve felt the desire to write science fiction and fantasy inspired by the American experience. To be honest, I want to go one step further and explore the speculative potential of my native state of Texas. But, as is my psyche, I’m in flux as to how I want to tackle America and Texas in fantasy and science fictional form.

In my last post about my writing, I revealed that I have four projects on my plate. In the succeeding weeks, one of those projects has grown exponentially in the planning. From a single novel to a tetralogy, now the damn thing is a damn trilogy of trilogies. To be honest, I love this development. It allows me to write an epic contemporary fantasy without worrying about running out of subjects for other possible fantasy projects. These nine books will be the fantasy kitchen sink. Everything will be included, or at least mentioned or implied to exist. 

So, how does this affect the rest of the four? Well, Sebastian Ulrichs is screwed unless I incorporate his story into the nine books. (Which I likely will). Two Cities is still going strong because that story assumes an Earth devoid of any magic confronting a city from a secondary world with magic. So, it is free. What about Bright Light, Deep Shadow? That one will have to be retooled. But I don’t think I will have too much of a problem with it.

I may retool Bright Light, Deep Shadow into a science fiction story. And expect many more to come.

To be honest, I’m starting to gravitate more and more towards science fiction compared to fantasy. In a way, I’ve always preferred science fiction, but I’ve found fantasy the easier genre to write and write about. 

The assumption of a science fiction/ fantasy binary, though, is a dangerous one. I still like both genres, though my heart belongs to science fiction. I just need to take the leap into writing it. 

How does this relate back to going local in writing science fiction and fantasy, though?

Well, all of these projects or nascent projects explore my concerns for and about America and Texas. What does it mean to be American or Texan? What is my place in a world where I feel I don’t belong? Etc. There’s enough to, likely, fuel a hundred novels. Not that I’ll try. 

I want to say so much more, but these ideas are so new right now. Both the fiction and the theory. 

I just know that I can’t wait to discover the answers. 

Finding a Passion in Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

“Write what you know” is one of the core pieces of advice for writers. That means to either write from experience either lived or gleaned through research. Furthermore, “write what you want to read” is also a core piece of writing advice. Even if what you want to write doesn’t have a large audience, there will be an audience. And hell, a new trend may start.

I’ve been thinking about this recently as I’ve been stymied on a few fronts. Even though researching medieval history hasn’t been as boring as I feared it would be, I still experience a distinct lack of enthusiasm for it. How can I write a medieval influenced historicist fantasy if I can’t muster the necessary passion for the world building, let alone writing the damn thing?

Perhaps I’m being unduly influenced by the simple fact that so much of fantasy is inspired by Europe’s medieval period. Maybe I should take a deep breath, take a step back, maybe sketch some, and think about what really interests me. What is my, for lack of a better phrase, passion? (or I could call it obsession).

Tolkien was a scholar of Old English and related historic languages. Outside of Middle Earth, he wrote one of the best essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and (I think) he was instrumental in reintroducing Beowulf. Though Middle Earth is his single greatest creation, Tolkien was no scholarly slouch. Hell, would Middle Earth even exist if it were not for Tolkien’s occupation?

George RR Martin isn’t a medieval scholar, but his passion for the medieval is undeniable. If you peruse his blog, it is possible to find him writing about his passion for toy knights and castle replicas. Clearly, the passion for the influence infuses A Song of Ice and Fire, even if he is equally famous for other works as well.

I’d be interested as well to see what interests and expertise other fantasy and science fiction writers have. Added to that, obviously, is how those interests affect the worlds created and stories dreamed up.

Bringing this around to me, it still doesn’t answer my initial problem. If I’m not as passionate about medieval history, what am I passionate about? What period of history influences me the most?

When I’ve touched on this subject before, I’ve stated that my areas of interest lay in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well as in the ancient world. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize that my area of passion is, really, located in one area.

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While my historical interests may be rather broad at times, if I were a historian, if I had to make that choice, I would choose the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the time when I really wanted to be professor of literature, my primary area of interest was in modern and post modern literature.

So, really, my expertise, my passion is in the modern/ contemporary world. And the times I’ve toyed with going outside the modern world, I’ve always tried to update them. Think of it as similar to how Kishimoto combined modern elements with medieval Japanese influences to create the world of Naruto.

Imagine Babylon connected to Nineveh by high speed rail. Or the Trojan War fought with tanks rather than chariots. Which might not be a bad idea…

So, my passion lies in the modern with other periods adding bits of inspiration. Now the challenge: how to incorporate that into an active world?

Do I create a hidden world out of contemporary Earth or do I create a constructed world that is, in itself modern? Is that even possible? And how do I make it unique?

Realism (as a Genre)

I’ve written about realism on the blog before. But on those occasions, the subject was realism in relation to science fiction and fantasy’s verisimilitude (or internal realism). In this case, I want to explore realism as a genre in and of itself. Even though realism as a literary genre doesn’t really exist anymore. Perhaps the more appropriate genre should be literary mainstream, but realism brings, I think, more to the table. Especially when it comes to writing. 

I’ve always been a science fiction and fantasy geek, but I’ve also been deeply interested in literary mainstream and the literary avant garde. That’s where my rage at Bravo and A&E comes from. This fascination, however, comes and goes in spurts. Which sucks for someone who wanted to be a professor of English Literature for much of my teen years. 

When it comes to writing, I was more interested in writing literary fiction much earlier. Indeed, all of my ideas now are fantasy or science fiction. The lone exceptions being my Keep Weird and Gay Erotica (if the later even counts) projects. 

And I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t know where I’m going with either project. What’s the endgame? I have a few ideas and arcs (both are designed to be comics), but what of it? The passion I have for my other projects just isn’t there for the more realistic projects. 

Was this always true? I think so. When I’ve set myself the goal of working on projects that are not speculative, I’ve found my enthusiasm lacking. The “magic” just isn’t the same. And I’ve already mentioned that when I read history, I’m always thinking about applying what I’m reading to worlds of fantastic adventures. 

But there are themes I want to tackle that realism just seems to do better. 

Or does it?

Perhaps I would have more luck if I incorporate some of the “realistic friendly subjects” and insert them as subplots. Now, this could work. I mean, I’ve already been tempted to do that in regards to Two Cities adding elements from Keep Weird into itself. 

Okay. I think I’ve solved this problem (for myself). But there are so many more that are so interesting. Like “what are the dangers of only using science fiction and fantasy as artistic inspirations?”

Anyway, right now I need to get to work on the first proper Gay Pride Month post.