Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Writing Fantasy And The Little Man Behind The Curtain

My guest is Urban Fantasy author, Allison Pang. I'm fascinated by how different authors write in their genre. I asked Allison to tell us a bit about writing fantasy.

I'm so proud of her and getting her book published. We're showing the cover and excerpt here but we aren't yet allowed to share an excerpt.

Allison's a special friend, in many ways, because we both started out our blogs about the same time. We were both learning the ropes of the blogophere, while writing our stories, juggling life as wives, mothers, working for a living, and somewhere in there breathing (housework? There's housework?).

Oh, and lets not forget the fact we both probably pay the paychecks of several chocolate factory workers.

Hey, Sia – thanks so much for having me on your blog! Sia was one of my first blog followers when I first started this foray into publishing over two years ago. It’s an honor to finally be able to post here, and posting about one of my favorite topics – Writing fantasy!

Familiarity breeds contempt.

It’s an old adage, but when I think about writing or reading fantasy, I suspect that a great deal of the reason I enjoy it is because of that very sentiment. Most of us read books to escape – whether it’s romance or mystery, high fantasy or even contemporary –we want to get involved in a story that isn’t tied down to our own mundane day-to-day slog.

For the most part, people want to believe that their lives have meaning, and fantasy stories in particular tend to fill that void. After all, the trope of the plainly raised peasant lad (or lass) rising above his means, complete with wondrous powers or blistering sword skills to become king/slay the dragon/get the girl/save the world can be pretty appealing. Why else do we see that same story told again and again in movies and books? Everything from Harry Potter to Robin Hood retains an inner sense to that ideal, even though the details may vary wildly.

As stories go, fantasy is certainly more appealing than sitting in traffic or suffering through boring meetings to pay the mortgage, anyway. And of course, everyone’s concept of fantasy is a little different. Whether it’s elves or police officers or Scottish Highlanders, fantasy is whatever transports you to that other world and makes you happy. (And really, why not combine the best of both worlds and have elven police officers? Wearing kilts?)

The key to writing good fantasy is world-building, particularly if you’re writing high fantasy (which is the typical Tolkien-esque type story, set in a mythical land and full of strange gods, peoples, climates, etc). In some ways, building your own world with its own rules can be pretty freeing. Research may not be involved at all, at least as far as accuracy goes. As a writer, I can borrow from whatever bits of fairy tales or mythological cycles as I like and make up the rest. I don’t have to worry about people calling me on it like I might if I were writing a Regency or Historical romance. In a sense, I become a goddess over my very own world - one that is subject to my whims and desires.

At least until after the first book is written.

Once people become familiar with your world, you have to stick with the rules you come up with or readers may become disillusioned. If you can’t keep things straight, then readers have no reason to believe in your words or your story.

My first book, A Brush of Darkness (February 2011, Pocket), is what’s known as an urban fantasy – which is fantasy that is mostly set in a contemporary setting. In some ways, I find it much harder to write than the “pure” fantasy. I have to balance the realism of everyday life in a city with the incorporation of fantasy elements – unicorns who live in underwear drawers, urban elves, pixies, succubi and incubi and yes, vampires (but only mentioned in passing.) I borrow very loosely from Scottish and Celtic mythology for my world mythos, but I don’t limit myself to just that. If I run across something interesting, I have no qualms about trying to fit it in, as long as my rules don’t get broken – and as long as people buy what I’m selling.

On the other hand, I’m restricted by every day facts that I can’t break. If I declare that Abby, my main character, can’t go to Best Buy at 6 PM on a Saturday night because they’re closed, I’m going to get called out on that. (And rightfully so.) And that’s an obvious example, but it still applies to things that people do or see everyday – as a result I find myself having to research more common details than fantastical ones.

Since I’m a pantster, much of my world unfolds as I write it. There are times I’ve written myself into a corner – particularly with the second book (which I’m finishing up now.) For example, one of the characters (Melanie) has a magic violin that allows her to open Doors to the otherworld (known as the CrossRoads). I set it up so that she had certain limitations that had to be met and as a result there was a scene I wanted to do in Book 2 and I can’t. Or at least, I can’t do it the way I wanted to initially. So that requires a little more work on my part (and sometimes a large amount of chocolate), but eventually I managed to make it happen. I tend to wing it more than I probably should, but that’s just my style.

For something like high fantasy, world-building becomes a great deal more complicated. For the epic novel I’m working on (in my spare time), I actually do keep notes – tribes of people, religious affiliations, customs, maps, political alliances, wars, trade routes, flora, fauna, cities – all of the details that might come into play - and that’s not even taking into account things of a more magical nature that “break” contemporary rules. I don’t suspect I’ll even reference many of these things directly, but knowing my world as intimately as I can allows me to “flavor” it with a sense of realism that will hopefully allow a reader to become completely immersed.

As books go, urban fantasy and high fantasy are two different sorts of animals, but the mechanics are still very much the same. As a writer, I’m attempting to make the reader suspend disbelief and to take my words as accurate portrayals of the world the story takes place in.

As a reader, I’ve come to realize that for every Great and Powerful Oz on display, it really boils down to the little man behind the curtain pulling the strings. Hopefully he’ll put on a good enough show that I’ll ignore him utterly.

  • How do you keep your world straight?
A Brush Of Darkness Blurg:
I had a naked incubus in my bedroom. With a frying pan of half-cooked bacon and a hard-on. And a unicorn bite on his ass. Christ, this was turning out to be a weird morning.

Six months ago, Abby Sinclair was struggling to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Now, she has an enchanted iPod, a miniature unicorn living in her underwear drawer, and a magical marketplace to manage. But despite her growing knowledge of the OtherWorld, Abby isn’t at all prepared for Brystion, the dark, mysterious, and as sexy as sin incubus who shows up searching for his sister—and is convinced Abby has the key to the succubus’s whereabouts..

Abby has enough problems without having this seductive shape-shifter literally invading her dreams to get information. But when her Faery boss and some of her friends vanish as well, Abby and Brystion must form an uneasy alliance. As Abby is sucked deeper and deeper into this perilous world of faeries, angels, and daemons, she realizes her life is in as much danger as her heart—and there’s no one she can trust to save her. 
Stay tuned for January when I can share the excerpt with you here OVER COFFEE. If you love urban fantasy, you're going to love Allison's writing style and story. 

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A marine biologist in a former life, Allison Pang turned to a life of crime to finance her wild spending habits and need to collect Faberge eggs. A cat thief of notable repute, she spends her days sleeping and nights scaling walls and wooing dancing boys….Well, at least the marine biology part is true. But she was taloned by a hawk once. She also loves Hello Kitty, sparkly shoes, and gorgeous violinists.

She spends her days in Northern Virginia working as a cube grunt and her nights waiting on her kids and cats, punctuated by the occasional husbandly serenade. Sometimes she even manages to write. Mostly she just makes it up as she goes.