Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nancy Hansen's Way

Nancy Hanson writes fantasy. No, not the new, fancy-schmancy spin-off fantasies like Dark Urban, or Supernatural Romance, or any of those. She writes fantasy in the way it was written years ago.

The kind of fantasy that would make Tolkien proud. (And probably a little jealous.)

Nancy blends her love for fantastic settings with her love for pulp style action and straightforward storytelling. And that means you should get to know her better. 

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

Well I always have something going! I’m primarily a fantasy writer, though I will tackle other genres. My second book, which just came out in January 2012 is an anthology of three short stories written for Pro Se and set in the same world as FORTUNE’S PAWN, which debuted last August (2011). TALES OF THE VAGABOND BARDS is the first release under my new imprint Hansen’s Way, which right now is going to feature other such collections of stories written in that overarching world.

I tend to do a lot of epic/heroic sword & sorcery tales with a mythical quasi-medieval background. This anthology is no exception, but the main characters here are not wizards or warriors, but bards who fight primarily with song and word rather than swords and magic. In this land I’ve created, there has been a big push by an upstart religion to rewrite history so that humanity is the center of the universe and completely faultless in any conflicts with other humanoid groups, such as Elves, Dwarves, and Fairy people. Older beliefs are shunned and history is being sifted through and rewritten. As the frontier for the humans expands, it pushes the other races of beings farther back, creating even more conflicts, since the pervading belief is humans are superior beings. Since a good portion of the human populace is illiterate or nearly so, the Vagabond Bards are a group musicians, poets, actors and singers dedicated to educating and assisting the masses so that the mistakes of the past are never forgotten. Unfortunately that has become a very dangerous occupation, opposed by what is gradually becoming a state religion. The three tales in the book involved three different bards in specific circumstances, doing what they do best.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

Whether I’m writing humans, elves, aliens, or troglodytes, I try and show the commonality amongst all sentient beings. The lifestyle, language and thought process might be different, but inside, we all have the same hopes and dreams. I try not to make the villains as clear cut cookie cutter evil as they are complex and twisted. I tend to favor less than idealized heroic characters because mine are often the underdog who gets thrust into a situation and rises to the occasion. I think that’s something we can all identify with. I use a lot of female leads because that’s something that is something pulp really hasn’t done much of.

A lot of what I write—even in fantasy—comes right out of the news. For instance, the other day I was giving a final read through a story I wrote a while back that has a monk who was once a warrior entering an archery contest. His reason for being there? His mission supports war veterans who are homeless and permanently injured and the monks who minister to them want to use the money to expand and offer more beds and services. That is a very contemporary theme; a private sector individual who uses what he knows to make a difference in the lives of veterans who gave their all, in a world that has seemingly turned its back on them.

The idea is not to preach to readers, but to touch them somehow. When you enjoy a story and can see a bit of yourself in a character or your life in the tale, when you have some strong feelings about the situation portrayed, and wind up with that ultimate good feeling about the outcome, then I’ve done my job correctly. 

What would be your dream project?

I’d love to have someone like Peter Jackson, who did such a marvelous job with THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, bring my world to life as well. I’d love to sit in as the consultant and watch that happen!

I always say aim high and dream big, just be prepared to do the groundwork to get to that point.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?I’m actually doing that right now… FORTUNE’S PAWN and the rest of the trilogy it belongs to started out as a huge 850+ page, plodding mainstream fantasy novel. I wrote that monstrosity back between 2000-2003, and shopped it and some short stories set in the same world around for a while with no luck. Having fallen into Pro Se Press’ lap in 2010, I got a quick education in how to write pulp short stories, and did that for six months or so before we started talking bigger projects, like a novel. Pulp novels are a lot shorter than the mainstream fantasy I was used to reading and writing, and the pacing is far faster. When the decision was made to keep the essential story of my book but break it up, I had to reread it first. I’ll tell you, after writing all that high paced action and adventure stuff, I found good long portions of it were BORING! So I carved it into rough thirds, and started reworking what I had, keeping what was good and necessary, and writing entirely new scenes. I had fought this idea before but now I am glad I’ve done it, because the storyline I have going now is far superior to what I had, and the main character went from a simple victim of circumstances to a feisty young woman who plunges right into her destiny.

So if I had to do that over, I would have written the shorter, more high action books, and probably have gotten published a lot sooner. 

What inspires you to write? 

I’ve always been a dreamer and a story teller by nature. You should have heard some of the elaborate excuses I gave my parents when things went wrong... We lived in a neighborhood where there weren’t many playmates, so my sister and I would act out scenes from our favorite TV shows, and write ourselves in as new characters. We whiled away entire summer vacations that way, because my family couldn’t afford camp or vacations for us.

I was always an avid reader, I’ve been know to open encyclopedias and dictionaries and devour whatever was on that page. I was that one kid in class who actually looked forward to the essay questions on the test because I knew I had a good chance of winging it. I once got an above average passing grade for writing an entire book report on why I didn’t finish reading the book (because I didn’t like it).

In high school I was given a last minute project no one else could dig up info on, simply because I’d been absent and it was the only thing left. It was a report on debtors’ prison in Dickens’ London, and I had to explain how it worked. I hunted for a week and couldn’t find any new resources, and the deadline was closing, so… I created the entire system from scratch in one night. It must have been convincing, because even with citing the same resources others had hunted through and not found much in, I got an A. I have a feeling the teacher knew what I had done, but was intrigued that I had imagined such a plausible setup. It was very detailed description.

I’ve read a lot of fiction, primarily fantasy over the last fifteen years or so, and that plays heavily into what I write. In all honesty though, the whole world around me is an inspiration. I’m someone who watches people and notices what motivates them, bringing them together or tearing them apart. I see things in the news, online, catch snatches of conversations, or dig up little interesting facts that will spark a story. Now and then I’ll get a story idea in my sleep; I tend to have big colorful cinematic dreams complete with music, that look like movie trailers. The first Vagabond Bards story came from one of those dreams that I adapted to my ongoing world, and that seeded the rest of the series.

You have to stay open and carry something to write with on you at all times. You never know when an idea will strike. 

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

From Tolkien came the idea of a big world with a long history and lush backdrop. From Jack London I learned that both people and creatures have a motivation for what they do, and it isn’t always pleasant. From Steinbeck I learned to wring the hearts of the readers by showing them everyday people in extraordinary situations. Hemingway showed me you can say a lot with a few words, so don’t spell everything out and trust that the reader is going to get it once you’re done. Robert E. Howard taught me that breathless pacing and endless action makes for a darn good page turning read. David Eddings and Joel Rosenberg (the sci fi author) proved a series can be fascinating from beginning to end if you have characters the readers fall in love with. Joseph Campbell showed me that all cultures have the same archetypes for heroes and mystical beliefs. Pioneering female speculative fictioneers like Andre Norton, C.J. Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Ardath Mayhar showed me that you can write in what is thought of as a male dominated sector of fiction, and if you’re good enough, and willing to do what it takes to see print, you will succeed.

A couple of women who are more noteworthy outside of writing have been a big influence on me too. Helen Keller did write, but her entire life was a huge inspiration because she had so much to overcome, and she did it with such grace and determination. And Anna Mary Robertson Moses—AKA ‘Grandma Moses’—pointed out that you’re never too old to try something new and be a success at it, so if you have to get your family grown and on their own first, do so and then pour all your life experiences into your creations.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

Writing is an art that has a strong footing in science. Since the dawn of time, mankind as a whole has had this hunger to leave behind some evidence of our passage through this world; otherwise we wouldn’t have the cave paintings, carvings, and decorated pot shards we keep digging up. Once language became sophisticated, we told stories; initially oral and eventually coded in designs that represent meanings. Most of those early tales portrayed life events like births, deaths, hunting, where to gather food, warfare, and natural phenomena or disasters through the filter of our beliefs in some higher meaning to it all… All those things are rather scientific, even on that very primitive level of understanding that gave them supernatural powers. Some of those stories I am sure were trumped up as they were passed along; tales were added to and embellished. I don’t see how that’s terribly different from what writers do now. We’re still telling the same kind of stories about big daring deeds and those who faced them.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I’ve recently finished a couple more short stories destined for PRO SE PRESENTS. The sequel to FORTUNE’S PAWN is also done and has been turned in, and I am almost finished collecting stories for another Hansen’s Way anthology. Both of those books, the novel and the anthology, will be out later this year from Pro Se. There’s a couple of special projects I have fingers in, one of which is Pulp Obscura, where I have three different short stories to write, and am doing the background studying for those now. You might even see some things from me that aren’t fantasy, or strictly intended for an adult audience.

I do some editing for Pro Se as well, so I have had a lurking presence behind the scenes too.


For more information about Nancy and her work, visit

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#126) -- Bad Reviews

How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?

Bad reviews may sting, sure, but I have to remind myself that it's just one person's opinion. The key thing is not to put too much stock in them. I'd rather have my readers enjoy the book than the reviewers. It's when my regular readers come up and tell me they didn't care for a story or comic I did that I really start to listen and see what I can learn from their "review."

Here's a fun blog post that addresses this subject and offers some excellent advice, such as "pick a really popular Author on Amazon and go read their bad reviews." Or this helpful bit that is all so true: "You need a tough skin, but at the end of the day it is worth it."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Zombies vs. Robots: This Means War! Signed & Numbered Edition!

Zombies vs. Robots: This Means War! 

An Exciting New IDW Signed
& Slipcased Limited Edition!

Very Affordable and Only 350 
Signed Copies Will Be Printed!
Already 50% Sold Out!

Hi Folks!

Today we’re very pleased to announce that Cemetery Dance has been chosen as the official distributor for IDW Publishing’s exciting new line of signed Limited Edition hardcovers!  These Limited Edition books have low print runs (just 350 for this first title), high production values (slipcases, full color artwork/printing throughout), great contributors (most of whom are signing the books), and an incredible low prices for this sort of publication!

The first book in this line is an incredible anthology called Zombies vs. Robots: This Means War!, which is set in the world of the ZVR comic! Collectors who snag a copy of this book through our online store will be the FIRST collectors notified about future Limited Editions we’re distributing for IDW, so don’t wait because these are not going to last long with these very low print runs, high production values, and IDW’s rabid fan base!

About the Book:
ZVR: This Means War! takes IDW’s splatterific Zombie vs Robots comic book series—created by writer Chris Ryall and artist Ashley Wood—and expands it in ways that will redefine both zombie and robot fiction.

A shambling cohort of top horror and fantasy writers from across the globe have devoted themselves to making evocative word-pictures in your brain of this delicious cult series. This special volume features the Brain-Eating Talents of Jesse Bullington (The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, The Enterprise of Death), Nancy Collins (Sonja Blue, Swamp Thing, Vamps), Lincoln Crisler (Despairs & Delights, Magick & Misery), Brea Grant (Dexter), Robert Hood (Immaterial), Nicholas Kaufmann (Chasing the Dragon), James A. Moore (Vendetta), Norman Prentiss (Invisible Fences), Rachel Swirsky (“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window”), Steve Rasnic (Bram Stoker Award Winner), Rio Youers (End Times), and Jeff Conner (editor/World Fantasy Award Nominee).

This special edition features the signatures of these contributors: Jesse Bullington, Nancy A. Collins, Lincoln Crisler, Brea Grant, Nicholas Kaufmann, Joe McKinney, James A. Moore, Yvonne Navarro, Norman Prentiss, Rachel Swirsky, Sean Taylor, Steve Rasnic Tem, with ZvR co-creator Chris Ryall and editor Jeff Conner.

ZVR: This Means War! is the perfect book for readers who enjoyed World War Z, Robopocalypse, and Zombies vs Robots.

Cemetery Dance Publications is proud to be the official distributor for this brand new deluxe Signed & Slipcased Limited Edition, which is a steal at just $60, so we don’t expect copies of this beautiful FULL COLOR special edition to last long!

Table of Contents:
"Introduction" by Chris Ryall
"Pammi Shaw: Creator of Gods and Also Blogger" by Brea Grant
"The Last Imaginaut" by James A. Moore
"Farm Fresh" by Sean Taylor
"Angus: Zombie-vs-Robot Fighter" by Nancy A. Collins
"To Denver (With Hiram Battling Zombies)" by Steve Rasnic Tem
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice-bot" by Nicholas Kaufmann
"Kettletop's Revisionary Plot" by Lincoln Crisler
"Jimmy Finder" by Joe McKinney
"Historybot Saves the Future" by Jesse Bullington
"The Virgin Sacrifices" by Rachel Swirsky
"Safe School" by Norman Prentiss

Chuck Dixon: The Best Damn Comic Book Writer Ever

I first met Chuck Dixon not in Chicago at my first Wizard World Chicago Convention, but in the pages of all of my favorite comic books. You see, I may be slow on the uptake, but eventually I started to notice something they all tended to have one thing in common. It was this name in the "written by" part of the credits. Chuck Dixon.

Then my friend Scott McCullar, who was doing Chuck's website ( at the time, offered to introduce me to him if I wanted to make the trek from Atlanta to Chicago one summer. Thankfully, I had the cash on hand for a flight.

What can I say about Chuck that hasn't been said already? Precious little, I'm sure, but I will say this. His work is the textbook definition of how to write an enjoyable, action-oriented comic book that never lets a reader down. Call his style a formula or a knack, it doesn't matter -- because it rarely (and by rarely I really mean never) makes you feel as though you've wasted your money on one of his books.

But enough of my gushing. It's time for Chuck to speak on his own behalf.

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

I’m kind of all over the place at the moment. I just wrapped up a script for an issue of the Simpsons. I’m working on my third novel about the Navy SEALs and I started the first issue of a Lone Ranger limited series. I’m also helping out on some dialogue for a computer game. That’s coming in piecemeal so I work on it when it arrives.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

I don’t really tie myself to any one theme or genre. I take what comes be it action adventure to SpongeBob. It’s the comic book medium that’s always fascinated me. Within that realm I feel free to create anything. 

What would be your dream project?

 An unlikely one; a long run (a year or more) on the Fantastic Four.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

There was a long arc at the end of my run on Airboy that I felt at the time could have been presented better. The conclusion (with art by Adam and Andy Kubert) worked out great, but the lead-up to it didn’t come out the way I’d envisioned it.

What inspires you to write?

Everything. I’m a compulsive writer. I read recently where David Mamet said, “All prolific writers are lazy.” I think the fear of having to do actual manual labor drives me to write.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

Archie Goodwin would be number one. Then Larry Hama, Harvey Kurtzman. Carl Barks, John Stanley and Frank Robbins.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

It’s a craft. It can be art but not if you set out to make art. You learn what works and what doesn’t and spend your life (if you’re serious about it) trying to warp the rules to come up with something new. Even if you fail, the endeavor is what it’s all about.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

Well, I’m still on GI Joe and Snake Eyes over at IDW. I do a half dozen stories a year for Simpsons and Spongebob. In addition to that I’m adapting Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time cycle to comics. And I’d like everyone to go see Dark Knight Rises a dozen times.


For more information about Chuck Dixon, step inside a comic book shop and ask for the best damn story ever. If you need more info than that, go to his website.

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#125) -- Expectations

What expectations do you have for yourself as a writer?

First and foremost, I expect me to write. That sounds like a "duh" kind of thing to mention, but you'd be surprised how many "writers" I meet who just never seem to get around to the actual work of writing. Or do it so sparingly that the term "hobbyist" is a more applicable fit than the term "writer."

I also expect me to get better. I can't be happy with where I am now. I must improve not only my technique and my diligence but also my efforts to promote myself and my work.

I expect me to spread the word about what I write. I can't merely rely on others to do this for me. The "if you build it they will come" paradigm is utter garbage.

I expect me to read. I expect me to make time to read. Why? Because writers who don't read are like builders who don't look at houses. They're like swimmers who practice technique without going near a pool. They're like... well, you get the point. Writers read. If not, you forget what good writing (or bad writing) looks like. You miss the new and exciting stuff happening in the world of publishing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

[Link] Five Important Questions for Writers (and other creative people)

by Thomas Wharton

The other day I was looking through one of my writing notebooks and I was struck by how many questions there were in it. There was at least one curly little ? on almost every single page, and on some pages there were many.  Questions about the plot, about what the characters should do next, about other ways the story might go, about why I’m writing this thing and what I’m trying to say.

It occurred to me then, looking at all those pesky interrogative marks scattered like tiny thumbscrews across the pages, how utterly vital questions are to any creative endeavour. How they’re always quietly (or annoyingly) driving the work forward, prompting one to ponder, delve, rethink, push a little harder, venture out of the comfort zone, change course …

So I decided it might be a worthwhile exercise to choose the five most useful, recurring, indispensable questions that come up for me again and again during the writing process. Limiting myself to only five was part of the creative challenge of the exercise.

Rather than tenets or rules to live by, these then are my top five questions to create by:

What if…?
What else?
What’s going on right now?

Continue reading:

Hey You, Open the Book! -- What Makes an Effective Cover?

In a previous post, I wrote about the virtues (or vices) of the old men's adventure magazine covers, and how the more lurid they were, the more effective they were.

But what about modern books? What makes a cover effective for them?

As one reader, Tina Osborne, mentioned on my Facebook page when I posed this question: "An attractive cover gets me to look at the cover. An effective cover gets me to open the book."

That's not a bad description, but what does it mean?

So we went to the publishers, artists, and writers to find out. 

What's the difference between an attractive cover and an effective cover?

Pete Miller: A reader can think a cover is attractive even if they have no intention of buying the book. I could see a beautiful painting of a horse and rider and think it was gorgeous, but would have no intention of buying it. An effective cover is also attractive but also says to me, "Buy this book." Of course every buyer is different and no cover is effective to all buyers.

M.D. Jackson: An attractive cover catches your eye, sure, but it doesn't tell you one thing about what you will find underneath it. An attractive cover may get people looking but if the story that it covers delivers something else the reader will feel cheated. You can't just slap art on a book and call it a cover. The Mona Lisa is great art but it's not a cover image. You can put a Frank Frazetta cover on any book (and Ace did just that for a long while) and it will give your sales a boost for that one book, but if the book doesn't deliver then no one will remember anything except the cover.

An effective cover is a cover that gives the reader the "feeling" for the story they're about to read. Hopefully it catches their eye but it must also tell the reader more or less what they're gonna get and at the same time get them jazzed about it. An effective cover depicts something about the story that it covers in an exciting, intriguing and, above all, an honest way.

Matt Hiebert: Not sure there is a difference. But I guess an effective cover could be unattractive (The early Mack Bolan books) Is the price on one is lower?

Danielle Proctor Piper: I'd say attractive covers feature exceptional art or really great subject matter...but an effective one will have something about it that resonates with me personally. With any luck, the effective cover will feature something currently popular that entices potential readers to learn more about what's going on inside the book.

So far as design goes, I myself find a "broken", disjointed design as exciting as a simple cover featuring say just a logo, a good character drawing, or a full edge to edge illustration. If I like a specific artist's work and see his or style on covers, I may well by those issues just to see more of that artist's work.

James Ritchey III: Nobody gets paid for ugly. 'Eye-catching' is simply not drawing, painting, etc. bad. If a design is bad, people will look at it and know something they can't put their finger on is wrong wid it. I prefer good ideas for covers, but I dunno if they're any more or less successful in drawing an audience. All is hubris.

Krystal Rollins: An attractive book cover and an effective cover are both of the same: book covers sells the book.

Aaron Meade: An attractive cover will grab your eyes and gravitate you towards the book which in turn makes you OPEN the book, and hopefully you have an artist which can pull the load once you've opened it. Now, an effective cover is more condensed in its content, i.e. The Watchmen with its black cover with a smiley face with blood. In my opinion, an effective cover might get overlooked by the fanbase that loves good artwork even though it is a good marketing ploy.

Sarah White: I think the key is composition. A picture can be pretty, but if it isn't framed and balanced right for the cover, it'll look a little off. But even a cover with less than perfect artwork but with a really clever composition will be much more effective.

Lee Houston Jr.: An attractive cover will do what it was designed to, get the readers' attention. But that at best will just get them curious about the book. An effective cover will not just attract the readers, but indicate what the book is about without actually giving the plot away and present a book that MUST be read. I was blessed to have David Russell on Hugh Monn, Private Detective and think lightning has been caught in a bottle again with Mark Guerra on the impending release of Project: Alpha.

Ron Fortier: An attractive cover is nice to look at.  An effective cover makes someone have to buy the book to find out what the imagery is about.  They need to know the story behind that image.  Covers should be both all the time.

Barry Reese: An attractive cover is simply that -- something that's nice to look at. To me, an effective cover is one that makes you curious enough about what's inside to want to read it. They're not always the same thing -- but the best covers are.

Van Allen Plexico: An attractive cover doesn't necessarily have to tell you anything about what's inside the book in order to be effective. I've bought a ton of books in my life--especially when I was younger and less discriminating-- based purely on how cool the cover art was. Sometimes I enjoyed the book and sometimes I didn't, but that would've been the case either way.

Stephen Zimmer: Attractive and effective are the difference between a good artist doing a cover and a good artist who is also skilled in layout and design. An effective cover reflects good layout, and almost by default will also be attractive.

How importance is a consistent design and typeface for the covers in a book series?

Pete Miller: I think this is vital. It tells the reader that these books go together. If you liked the first you immediately know that you will want to read the next.

M.D. Jackson: Consistent design and typeface is as important to a series of books as a logo is to a product. It gives the reader an instant identification that tells them that this is the next book in a beloved series. It can be graphically simple as with the Twilight covers (a risk because the simpler it is the easier it is to emulate, as several book series did trying to cash in on the Twilight brand chachet) or it can be a consistent cover artist, like Don Dos Santos with the Mercy Thompson Novels, or, more famously, James Bama's Doc Savage paperback covers.

Matt Hiebert: Very, until a later separate printing.

James Ritchey III:  Keep it consistent -- AT LEAST match serif or sans-serif each to its like.

Krystal Rollins: Book series (even tho I am not a big fan of these) should be consistent.

Aaron Meade: I believe that it is VERY important to be consistant with logos and typeface on a series simply because the reader associates these with their favorite books. I could go into a comic book shop and with a quick scan of the room identify the Avengers logo from a mile away. IF you change it too often the reader may feel fustrated in looking for the book that theyve become accoustom to.

Sarah White: Extremely important. It creates a sense of continuity and unity over a series. A change in the typeface is like a change in the story. It really shakes people up.

Lee Houston Jr.: I think it is very important. Once you establish a look and a logo for a series, you don't go changing either unless you have absolutely no other choice in the matter. That way, over time, the reader has an idea of what to look for when searching for the next book in any series.

Ron Fortier: Once you've established a font logo your readers will identify with your hero or series, they will come back looking for it.  If you constantly change that imagery, it will only make it harder for them to recognize the product and hurt sales.  Branding is all important in any series.

Barry Reese: An attractive cover is simply that -- something that's nice to look at. To me, an effective cover is one that makes you curious enough about what's inside to want to read it. They're not always the same thing -- but the best covers are.

Stephen Zimmer: Consistent typeface and design for a series are almost imperative in my view. I think Matt Perry has done a wonderful job giving the Rising Dawn Saga and The Fires in Eden Series their own unique styles and consistency, in my case.

How are comic book and book covers different in their goals and purposes? How are they similar?

Pete Miller: Since comics are typically (especially these days) a single chapter, they need to convey to the reader the conflict of the chapter. Books need to sell the whole concept and will often feature the hero with an iconic bit of scenery from the story to tell the reader something about the whole world.

Ron Fortier: They are similar in wanting to catch a reader's attention to pick up the book.  They are different in that a comic book cover should also be representative of the graphics inside.  Nothing irks me more than to buy a book with an Alex Ross cover from Dynamite then open it to find inferior interior artwork.  "You can't judge a book by its cover" applies to comics more than prose.  Whereas a prose book, the cover should not look like a comic graphic.  Several New Pulp outfits have been using comic style covers on their books and that really doesn't work. Old classic pulp covers were not graphics, they were illustrative.  Big difference. They embodied the spirit of the prose inside.

M.D. Jackson: Comic book covers have the same mission to perform with their covers, but as they are trying to do that every month they have to be punchier, and edgier. Usually bright (BRIGHT!) colours are the order of the day. There's no quarter in being subtle when you're trying to move so many issues off the racks. The typography of comic book covers is even more important in this regard. The type styles are usually wild and almost garish with a definite "brand" or "logo" quality. And you want your figures on the covers -- the more muscular and sexier the better. A landscape isn't gonna sell Issue 176 of your series, but a knock down, drag out will.

Matt Hiebert: They are two different mediums. With comic books, art is probably why they are purchased, so the cover must reflect that at some level. With books, you're representing an idea or "feeling." Even a solid black cover might appeal to your audience.

James Ritchey III: The standard for comics logos and whatnot are generally thicker-outline -- or HAVE outlines. Dunno if that's a standard to shatter or not. With BOOKS, KISS principle. Spare me from 'bubble-wrap' lettering though -- horrible mistake I made in early uses of Photoshop typesetting for logos -- it must be easy to-read, rule one..

Krystal Rollins: Comic books are powerful with lots of color and illustration. More illustration is used to tell the book rather than words. A regular book needs less illustration as it uses more words.

Aaron Meade: Comic book covers are an extension of the story inside the cover. They are very important in that they convey to the potential buyer of the comic a quick glimpse of what they will get inside. I myself have been in a hurry in a comic shop and grabbed a book based SOLELY on the cover i saw. (most all of the comic collectors have been guilty of this a time or two) So the cover of a comic book is paramount in the portrayal of the story inside.

Now on a regular hardback or softcover book, i.e. Harlequin romances for example, you do usually get a great painting or drawing or photo on the book, but seldom do the covers of these book act as an extension of the story within, most times on the romance novels you need to read the story synopsis on the back of the book to know for sure what the book is about. They are mostly gimmicky and there to hold the book together.Not all books are done in this niche BUT a majority are.

Sarah White: I think a comic book cover is more abrupt. It's trying to get people to pick it up impulsively, based on a pretty picture or an exciting pose or a clever subtitle. A book cover is a longer consideration, it feels like. And people are more likely to pick up a novel with a bad cover than a comic book with a bad cover, because a novel with a bad cover could still potentially be a good novel, but people assume that with a comic, the interior is going to be like the exterior. So if the cover art isn't great, they're going to automatically assume that so is the interior art.

Lee Houston Jr.: Each must have a cover that will make readers interested in a specific periodical, with the ultimate goal of making the reader want to read it. But what the book cover artist does every so often, the comic book cover artist does month after month.

Barry Reese: A good cover for each is attractive and effective (see question # 1). But these days more and more comic books have pin-up covers that are generic and tell you nothing about what's inside. I prefer ones that in some way reflect what you're getting in the interior. Then again, many pulp covers were pin-up style, as well, and could have been used interchangeably for each other. Some people will tell you that New Pulp books shouldn't look too "comic booky" or whatever, but I say that an attractive, effective cover is just that, regardless of whether or not it's drawn or painted or whatever.

How do you choose between using an illustrated cover versus using a photo cover? What about covers that don't have images at all and use typeface and design only?

Pete Miller: Fiction and nonfiction. I don't care for photo covers on fiction. I don't want the reader to be stuck with a literal image - especially of the main character.

Covers with just type can also be effective statements, and eye catching - especially in thumbnail size on internet retailers.

M.D. Jackson: As far as a cover that has no illustration at all, those usually don't interest me. Book covers are trending that way -- minimal (or sometimes no) cover art, photographs, or just simple graphics. Case in point a recent edition of A Game of Thrones which sported a gold gradient behind a minimalist graphic of a griffin. It was a huge bestselling fantasy novel with virtually no cover art at all.

Naturally I like cover art, partly because it's what I respond to but also because it is what I do. No cover art means no cover artist which means unemployment for me or someone like me. So naturally I prefer the cover art to be just that: art or illustration.

Danielle Procter Piper: Typeface is more exciting to me if it's varied, but it's been drummed into me for years that it's too difficult to read...with comics and graphic novels, typefaces can actually add to anticipation by creating drama on their own.

Matt Hiebert: I would never use a photo. I prefer typeface and design for regular books.

James Ritchey III: Depends on the genre. A mystery, thriller or mainstream or 'soft' SF seems like it can be pretty minimal -- just letters--while romance, horror (albeit DARK), adventure/fantasy and hard SF needs pretty pictures. Go to a used bookstore, and just keep looking -- don't even buy anything. Figure out the type of cover you like.

Krystal Rollins: A photo cover tell of one thing and sometimes that is really important and focuses the reader on that one person.

Aaron Meade: My opinion may be bias but i believe in COMIC BOOKS you should use artwork to sell the book. Period. Every once in a while you will see a photo used in background and that WITH artwork is ok from time to time BUT I personally NEVER go for a comic with a photo only or typeface. There might be a GREAT story inside but i will never know it because the cover didn't grab my attention enough for me to open the book. Again i.e. reference the Watchmen books. I loved the story but never knew of it till AFTER the movie came out. Because the cover lacked the pull of great artwork.

Sarah White: I would never use a photo manipulation cover. I think they look lazy and tacky, and I have never seen it done well. As far as just typeface covers, I think they should be used sparingly. One every once in a while stands out from the crowd, but I think something with just a typeface cover should have either a very distinctive title or a very distinctive typeface. But if you don't have a picture, you have to get the mood of the book across in just the title logo.

Ron Fortier: We had never used a photo cover before until the release of our newest title, which has both a painted portion against a photo background.  I would personally never use just a photo cover, as genre fiction is about drama and imagination, not reality.  As for books with no pictures on the cover , I don't buy them.  They have no appeal to me what-so-ever.  And thus you'll never seen any of books without a gorgeous painted cover.  Period.

Barry Reese: I generally prefer illustrated covers but a skilled artist/designer can make me love anything. For some types of books, I think photo covers work better than on others, but there are exceptions to every rule.

Van Allen Plexico:
It seems to me you see far more text-only covers on hardcover books, which (ironically) are usually larger and would have more room for art than paperbacks do. Why do you suppose that is? I've always wondered.


For more information: Pete Miller -- M.D. Jackson -- Matt Hiebert -- James Ritchey III -- Krystal Rollins -- Aaron Meade --  Sarah White -- Danielle Proctor Piper -- Van Allen Plexico -- Barry Reese -- Ron Fortier -- Stephen Zimmer

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#124) -- Most Demeaning

What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer?

Perhaps the worst came from someone very close to me (and no, I'm not saying who it was). This person said:

"Let me know when you stop writing comic books and start writing real books, and I'll check out your stuff."

First, ouch.

Second, try writing comics. I dare you. It's not easy. I daresay it's harder than writing so-called "real" books because a writer has to think  not just in words, but in pictures and then describe those pictures in straightforward language without the benefit of 60 pages of describing the Tolkienesque mountains along the journey.

Third, comics are real books. Nowadays more than ever. They have the same fancy hardcover bindings and long page counts. And in many cases, as much dialog and internal monologue as a novel (they just do the narrative descriptions with pretty pictures and not words).

Fourth, I have written "real" books now too (to use this person's definition). Have you bought one yet?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

[Link] Giving Wings to Once Upon a Time: Why you should read fantasy to kids

I remember being a kid. It was a long time ago, but memories are etched as deeply as the scent of grass, the sight of fluffy underbellies of passing clouds. I remember the thrill of my first solo bike ride, and finally being tall enough to ride the roller coaster. 

And I remember my imagination, and how I used to play.

My playmates and I would hunt trolls, or fairies. We would build tiny rivers from puddles, and dig magical tunnels through snow banks. Sometimes I was a captured princess. Sometimes I was the hero out to save her. Always, I played, and dreamed, big.

And I liked my stories the way I liked to play. Big.

Not thick, as in War and Peace. Not large, as in the oversized-print version of the King James bible.

Big, as in: Evil has reared its ugly head again, and, again, I’m going in to save the day.

Artfully Rendered -- Mike Henderson

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My most recent work was a series of covers for this summers 4-part Ghostbusters event from IDW. My freelance schedule is always in flux like everyone else's, but there is some creator owned work on the horizon for me. Not much to tell about it yet, I'm afraid, it's still in its infancy.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

I did a lot of horror and crime related stuff early on but since I've done a sprinkling of super hero work. Its a delicate balance between never being pigeonholed and always wanting to come back to the things you enjoy drawing most.

What would be your dream project?

The two properties I'd give my right leg for a crack at are Marvel's Adam Warlock and the Masters of the Universe. I've no idea who has the comic rights to the latter, but that would make me one happy guy. Obviously, I have designs on my own creator owned work for the future, but those are the two "dream" projects.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

Yikes. This is like choosing which one of your kids has more flaws. I suppose if I had to choose one it would be my second OGN, Hexen Hammers. Not through a sense of dissatisfaction, really, but because there were some things that I tried with that book that paid off and a few that didn't. Its not really a question of effort or idea, but I'd love to have a do-over in the execution of them.

What inspires you to create?

The desire to tell great stories with art is the engine that drives most creators, but seeing what your fellow artists are creating is the fuel that keeps the whole engine going. You're not so much competing with your peers, but competing with yourself to elevate your game to the level of the artists around you, and that's very exciting.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

I certainly have a by-the-numbers system and a routine that puts me in a comfort zone, but I'm also not afraid to abandon a technique or process that has stopped working for me. Also, I never seem to approach two projects the same. All my work certainly looks like my work, but no two works should FEEL the same. I like to think of it as a scientific approach that's executed artistically.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I'm very excited for everyone to see my upcoming Ghostbusters covers, beginning in May. Covers are great fun for me, a really great change from the panel to panel grind that occasionally sets in. I'll be keeping folks up to date with some sneak peaks over at my blog:

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#123) -- Vanity or Self-Respect

Do you admire your own work?

Good for you! We agree!
I know a lot of writers who tend to downplay their work, speaking about it with a sort of humility that seems awfully put-on to me, as if they're trying to draw attention to themselves by saying, "Look at me, how humble I am, so you should really like my work because if I didn't mention it already, I'm very, very, very humble about it."

Then I know others who just really don't seem to think they're any good at writing. It's one thing to acknowledge that there are other writers better than you, but to constantly live in what seems to me like a state of self doubt about your abilities is (at least in my opinion) counterproductive.

If you don't think you can write well enough to be published, then why do it? Find something more fun to do that involves less work.

So, all that to say, yes, I do admire my work. I think highly of it (too highly at times, I'm sure). I know there are writers who are more successful than I am, and probably a few too who are better at the art and craft of writing stories, but I also believe my work has what it takes to earn some money for publishers and delight and excite readers, plenty of them. 

In fact, and I'll state it emphatically here and now -- I believe I'm one hell of a writer. If I didn't, I'd go back to Starbucks and give up on the dream.

And you know what? I think when you read my work, you'll think I'm one hell of a writer too. That's why I put my reputation on the line by putting the work out there for you to see.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Need another reason to attend FandomFest this year?

Here's another great reason to attend FandomFest in Lexington, Kentucky this year:

Beyond the Pow and Zoom!
How to Write a Modern Graphic Novel

In this two-part workshop graphic novel and comic book and graphic novel editor and writer Sean Taylor (Gene Simmons Dominatrix, Oxygen Network’s Bad Girls Club: An Illustrated Adventure) will guide you through the mechanics and tools of comic book scriptwriting, covering such basics as writing for the page turn, plotting for any length of story, conserving dialog, and pacing action with characterization. But he won’t stop there, because he’ll go beyond the mechanics to focus on the “art” of the graphic novel script .

The workshop will take place on Saturday and Sunday and will feature a strong hands-on component with “homework” between the sessions as each participant will create a three-page, full-script work. The culmination will a contest, with the winner rewarded with various helpful guidebooks for writers and study-worthy graphic novels.

About the presenter: Sean Taylor writes short stories, novellas, novels, graphic novels and comic books. In his writing life, he has directed the “lives” of zombies, super heroes, goddesses, dominatrices, Bad Girls, pulp heroes, and yes, even frogs, for such diverse bosses as IDW Publishing, Gene Simmons, and The Oxygen Network. He’s the former managing editor of Campfire (formerly Elfin) graphic novels — where he oversaw the publication of graphic novels based on classic literature, world literature and historical biographies, as well as original works — and Shooting Star Comics –where he edited the critically acclaimed Children of the Grave comics series and edited and contributed to the fan favorite Shooting Star Comics Anthology, and was creator and author of the Fishnet Angel: Jane Doe comic book miniseries.

[Link] Point of view -- the five big questions writers need to answer

by Lynda Martin

What do we mean when we use the term point of view?

The first thing to do is set aside the common use of the phrase as synonymous with opinion. It is certain that your personal point of view on life will leach into your writing, but that is not the definition we’re after here.

When we use this term relative to writing, we are speaking of the most complex element of fiction. In basic form, we refer to the relationship among writer, characters and reader. What is the vantage point given to the reader to “see” what is happening? Who is standing where to watch the scene?

The chart below shows us the five major questions that must be answered to determine the point of view of our story. Each of these issues are carefully answered by the author (sometimes unconsciously) to convince us to share the same perspective. We’re going to look at them one at a time.

Continue reading:

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#122) -- Genders & Benders

You've written several characters who have switched genders (Fishnet Angel in particular) or can shapeshift back and forth. What's the deal with that? 

I've always been fascinated by the way members of different genders (a) perceive themselves and their "roles" in society and culture and (b) perceive each others' role in society and culture. And I've enjoyed books and movies that explored that dynamic for years.

My only regret when my mention that fascination to other people is that the prevailing attitude is one of comedy, a la the breast jokes in All of Me or the comedy of errors that is Thorne Smith's Turnabout. Or the works tend to oversexualize the content as in Zerophilia (which is otherwise an intriguing study in what a world -- or at least a group within it -- with no true gender divide might be like and the emotional/psychological dynamics therein) and Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil.

Perhaps the best (one recently and one not so recent) works to really explore that setting and the fall out of it are Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (perhaps the best of the books to enter that setting) and the teen comedy (enjoyable but still falls prey to the "Oh, I've got boobs" frat-boy humor in the second act) It's a Boy Girl Thing.

And in defense of those who create such work, although the immediate assumption is often one of "they must be transgendered" or " it's a fetish" or "s/he is some wacko pervert," in many (I daresay most) cases that's equivalent of saying that all sporting events are designed for brain dead jocks who don't appreciate higher culture (again, a knee-jerk reaction not based in truth).

I admire Le Guin's determination to explore her characters and pondered what a world without gender politics would be like. I admire Thorne Smith's ability to find the humor in a couple's switch, particularly in that it leveled the playing field between the sexes in the time period in which it was written.

My own interest, to get back to the actual question, is in mastering the knack for writing all kinds of characters and personalities and gender. As a writer, IT'S MY JOB to learn to write women, men, straight, gay, black, white, green aliens, monsters from the chasm, etc. Being able to enter another person's shoes, whether they be flip flops, dominatrix boots, snowshoes, or hi-tops, is what makes us better, more marketable creators.

The work of mine that most people reference when they ask me the question at the top of this post is my Fishnet Angel stories and comics (and upcoming manga). "Why the gender change?" they ask. I always give the same answer.

It's about what makes a hero heroic.

It's not powers. It's not costumes. It's not even the urge to fight when others choose to run. It's about sacrifice.

A hero is the person who chooses self-sacrifice over the innate, born-and-bred selfishness that we all possess. A hero gives up whatever is on the line in order to accomplish the greater good.

And that's the dynamic I explored with Fishnet Angel. What I wanted to know when I created the concept was not any of the gender dynamic stuff I mention in the first part of this post. It was much simpler, and so subtle that only a few people picked up on it at first. It is this: Is Mark Williams heroic enough to sacrifice his very identity for the good of strangers? Or will his selfish desire to have his old life back make him one day choose selfishly when confronted with that choice?

Monday, March 26, 2012

[Link] Old-time radio and comics heroes burst back onto the scene

By Brian Truitt, USA TODAY
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? (Hint: The guy dresses up in a cape and runs around at night. And it's not Batman.)

The Shadow still knows — as do Flash Gordon, the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet and other heroes of 1930s and '40s radio shows, pulp magazines and movie serials.

These good guys are making a comeback, though mainly in comics and feature-length movies. Next month, The Shadow receives a comics reboot courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment, which also publishes ongoing series starring Flash Gordon and Green Hornet plus a new title with pulp hero The Spider that's due in May.

On the big screen, a masked Seth Rogen stung bad guys in last year's The Green Hornet. And in The Lone Ranger, in production for release in 2013, Armie Hammer rides tall as the title cowboy with Johnny Depp as his sidekick Tonto. Baby Boomers grew up watching the Clayton Moore TV series in the '50s, although the saga began as a 1933 radio show in Detroit.

Though these characters may not be as well known as today's comic-book superheroes or the Star Wars and Harry Potter clans, they were the bee's knees for a generation that was decades away from the Internet and iPods.

Before Batman, there was the alter ego Lamont Cranston donning the shadowy mask and hat while haunting radio waves as The Shadow, voiced by Orson Welles in the late '30s.

And before Superman and Captain America there was Flash Gordon, an all-American space adventurer who tussled with planetary tyrant Ming the Merciless in sci-fi comic strips by Alex Raymond and serial films starring Buster Crabbe.

"The '20s and '30s are seen as a very romantic age, with the criminal underworld of urban America and high adventure of exotic foreign locations providing a bit of an edge," says Garth Ennis, who is writing the new Shadow comic. "The reality, I'm sure, would have been mostly a lot more mundane and occasionally quite grim."

He's crafting The Shadow as a dangerous champion of law and order with a flair for the dramatic, and he is embracing one of the vigilante's oldest and most famous traits: his habit of laughing as he consigns his enemies to their doom.

"I decided to be fairly sparing with it," Ennis says. "If he started howling every time he threw a punch or fired a shot, it would get old fast. So I decided to preserve the laugh for moments of deep, dark, extreme humor."

His take on The Shadow comic is a bloody affair, where the mysterious figure dispatches bad guys with violent aplomb. More than 70 years ago, though, audiences had to visualize with their imagination what was going on during the radio-show exploits.

The popularity of the old Shadow and Green Hornet radio shows and their ilk in their heyday is best compared to programs children flock to today, such as Hannah Montana and Dora the Explorer, says Martin Grams Jr., a radio-show historian and author.

Back then, kids and adults would read books, pulps and comics because they were a cheap form of entertainment, and radio was an even bigger medium because it was free.

Continue reading:

Visionary, Editor, Writer, Storyteller -- Allan Gilbreath

Above all else, Allan Gilbreath is a storyteller, and a storyteller in the classic, dating back to the caveman days sense. For the lucky few who are able to hear the stories in person, their lives are changes simply by the listening. For the rest, Allan also (thankfully) writes stories down for posterity.

If you haven't read his work or caught him at a convention panel, you don't know what you're missing. But don't take my word for it. He gave us plenty of his own words in this interview.

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My latest work is Allan Gilbreath: A Short Story Collection. I finally had the opportunity to gather years worth of my short stories under one cover. It is a bit eclectic with stories representing mysteries, steampunk, science fiction, humor, dark fantasy, and straight literature. It was a lot of fun to revisit the older works and have those “little flashbacks” to why I wrote them. It also inspired me to dust off a few older projects that have been waiting and get them rolling again.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

The supernatural keeps cropping up again and again. It is a topic that has always fascinated me. As a professional skeptic, I enjoy the fiction side of the imaginary world where there really are things that go bump in the night. As for as themes, I like writing characters that may be a bit older, wiser, cranky, or just plain tired. They have more depth and assumed back story to draw on. Youth and enthusiasm are nice and fun but age and treachery always win the day (or is that night).

What would be your dream project?

My dream project would be to carry one of my stories from creation to all aspects of production; book, e-book, audio book, then movie. I love all aspects of the multimedia process. Writing at the fundamental base of it is a solitary effort. A writer simply has to sit down alone and write. Once the draft is done, other people like editors and artists are involved. Each new version of a book involves new people and skill sets. It is fascinating to watch each level dissect and adapt your work.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

Actually, I got to update my first novel, Galen, a couple of years ago. While there weren’t many changes, it was nice to add a cell phone here and there and have the Internet be mentioned. There was also a small amount of editing back in a few scenes that had been removed years ago by other editors in the name of word count. I am still working on the last book in the trilogy and wanted to keep the same general scenery and gadget level in all three books.

What inspires you to write?

The sheer love of storytelling. Whether I am teaching a class, leading a seminar, or entertaining fans at a convention, there is nothing like the look in their eyes as you tell them the requested story that informs, entertains, or just good old fashioned cracks them up. I remember the feeling of wonder the first time I read books like Dracula and the Mysterious Island. The thought that someone out there in the world is reading something I wrote and losing themselves in my imagination is a powerful inspiration.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

Jules Verne stole my imagination and led me around the world. Mark Twain taught me that humor was one of the most powerful forces on earth. Edgar Allan Poe showed me that everything had a darker side and that it was perfectly acceptable to explore where the whispers came from. However, it was T. H. White’s The Book of Merlin that pulled it all together for me. Heroes could have weaknesses and bad guys became that way for a reason. It was okay to explore something you feared and write about it. He also showed me that fiction could also be a social commentary and timeless.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

I guess that I am going to rank right in the middle of the debate. Writing becomes an art after the science of learning your craft is at least an ongoing process. Writing like any other skill has basics that need to be learned before the real creativity can begin. Sadly, too many people today think that they are pounding out the great American novel and that if a publisher doesn’t understand the favor they are doing them by signing with them they will just pay to get published. The harsh reality is that even if they have a good story idea, their work is going to die a bad death. Once you have learned the basic skills of your craft, you can begin to become more and more creative. As you build up your body of work, your skills will sharpen and you will learn new and better ways to express yourself. The better you can express yourself, the more creative you can become; art and science in balance.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I am planning on finishing the last of the Galen novels this year. The working copy name is Final Kiss and will feature Victorian style vampires, bounty hunters, and lots of getting bit. I am also working on a new Jack Lago mystery. Jack will have to confront another supernatural force and figure out the crime. There will also be another Inspector Peele/Duncan Essex steampunk story this year. Peele will handle the mystery and Duncan will handle the extraordinary gadget.

Kerlak link

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#121) -- Ultimate Writing Goal

Why do you want to be published? What is your ultimate goal for your writing?

Wow! There's a metaphor and a theme
in this story if you look hard enough!
Ten years ago, I would have answered this question: "I want my stuff to be taught in schools long after I'm gone."

But that has changed.

My goal for my writing now that I'm a far more weathered creator (that's a big writer word for "old") is simply to be remembered for telling a good story and making people care about people don't really exist but feel like they should. That's it.

No more aspirations of being the next Hemingway (Carver already did that, right?) or being some paragon of literary technique whose works are studied and scrutinized under a microscope in literature classes for me (although I still love to scrutinize stories and discuss technique like nobody's business and will for the rest of my life, I'm sure). I'm content to merely create tales that make people care enough to remember them.

All in all, I don't think that's such a bad goal. (After all, one could do worse than be a swinger of birches; thank you, Mr. Frost.)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

[Link] Questions that authors are never asked

What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer?

My eight-year-old son, when asked by a school friend what his mother's job was, said: "She's a typist." True, I was in my study typing some fiction or other at the time; I overheard, through my window, his judgment in the garden.

As a liberated woman, would you nevertheless prefer to have been born a man?

Both sexes experience the joys of love-making. If she chooses, woman has the additional extraordinary experience of growing a life inside herself, and presenting the world to it. It's painful - all right. But the wider experience in life a writer has, the better the ability to identify with lives other than the writer's own, and create varieties of character, states of being, other than his/her own. I sometimes think, for example, I've missed out on extending emotional experience by never having been sexually attracted to a woman. Anyway, a writer as such is a special kind of androgynous creature, all sexes and all ages when creating fictional characters, all the people he or she has known, observed or interacted with. So while I'm a woman, as a writer I'm a composite intelligence.

Why do you never write about sex?

I find it embarrassing.

More embarrassing than violence?

God, yes.

Do you ever write naked?

Not quite naked, but on hot, humid summer days (my study is poorly air-conditioned) I have to strip down to my undershorts to work. But almost stripped, there's a definite feeling of the elemental while I'm writing, a sense of physical exertion that's a welcome counterpoint to the endless operations of endless thought.

Find out who gave these answers and read more at:

There’s No Place Like Home – When Being Likeable Was Enough

Guest article by Selah Janel

Let’s face it: being a person is tough at any age. Some have it harder than others, true, but none of us are immune to heartache, tragedy, finding out you have to save the universe, having to rescue a sibling you wished away, being accidentally or suddenly transported to a magical world, or finding out you actually have magical powers. Part of what’s fun and disconcerting about urban fantasy or magic realism is that it could potentially happen to anyone. While it’s always been a theme to have a young hero or heroine at the center of stories like this, there’s been a definite increase in the fascination within the past ten years or so. So what I’m going to (try) to do is go down the timeline as much as I can and examine the strengths, weaknesses, and trends in some of the more notorious magical coming-of-age/urban fantasy plots.

Dorothy, Wendy, and Alice. We all know their stories whether it be from the original books or movie adaptations. They’ve been modernized, sexualized, horror-ized, turned into cartoons, comics, and anything else you could possibly imagine. All three tales are similar in that all three girls are living their lives and dealing with their own child-sized problems when BAM! They’re transported into a world that’s far different from their own. They go on adventures and defeat adversaries, but to a certain degree the real story is how their attitudes shift and their eventual desire and effort to go home. I’ll admit I go back and forth on these. I loved The Wizard of Oz as a kid (and I’ve read a lot of Oz books in the series) and Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates helped me appreciate Peter Pan (Until I finally read the book and decided that it was fantastic – up until that point I was only familiar with the cartoon and the musical which, while charming, don’t really embody the depth of the story). Alice…we’ll get to her in a moment.

These stories are well-deserved classics and still resonate with people. Everyone knows the pain of wanting to go home or to where you belong, everyone knows the bittersweet realization that it’s time to grow up, and everyone has felt overwhelmed and pulled apart by their surroundings, so in that respect the stories definitely hold up. Plus, they express different levels of magic and fantasy and danger in ways that are relatable for all ages. But we’re not here to talk about those things – we’re here to look at what makes these heroines tick.

Besides their locations and circumstances, all three are fairly similar: they’re likeable, innocent, and hard-headed about certain things the way any child would be. Don’t get me wrong; they’re sturdy archetypes and different incarnations have done a lot to flesh out how we view them, but at the end of the day the adventures they go on are more interesting than the girls, themselves. But the one thing they have going for them is that they’re likeable.

Dorothy is a little girl so, of course, she reacts to the potential loss of her dog by knee-jerking and doing what makes sense to her: running away from home to protect Toto. Even before running away she’s acting just how a kid would: getting in the way and daydreaming. During the course of her adventures she slowly wakes up and has to be somewhat self-sufficient (Though because of her age and I’d hazard a guess to include gender she also gets a huge help from others along the way, though the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man could also be personifications of the qualities she needs to complete her quest). She’s half-forced into facing off with the Wicked Witch of the West but she (somewhat accidentally – she’s a child and has to remain likeable) completes her task so that she can go home.

Even her entire quest is somewhat telling about her naiveté and age: she doesn’t realize that she really wants to be at home until she’s not there. She tends to become a little more self-sufficient in later books when she returns to Oz, but all in all still retains her child likeability. While I do think this kind of character thrives on the good girl role, it’s hard not to like her. I tend to get a little uncomfortable with ‘adult’ variations of Oz just because it is a story that’s so central to childhood and slowly growing up, it seems like a hell of a dichotomy (though I will admit that Bloodstained Oz is pretty amazing.) I find her less repetitive in the L. Frank Baum books, but the movie is and always will be a classic. I also really love that Dorothy is portrayed as a child who acts like a child and not like a little girl/teen/preteen who talks like she’s forty.

Wendy I have a love/hate relationship with. I genuinely like the book because to me it encompasses the sweetness and the potential danger that all really good fantasy and fairy tales should have. I’m not fond of Peter Pan the character. I’m just not. I think the concept is great and I get where all his motivations are coming from but his treatment of Wendy bugs the hell out of me. Granted, I think things are tempered and paced better in the book. I will even admit that she’s the real rebel of the story because she denies what he’s offering and agrees to take her natural place in her life by growing up. That’s huge and it didn’t make sense to me until I was older (like six months ago).

She tends to ape characteristics of adults and tries to act more grown up than she is. To be fair, this is totally a female trait. We’ve all at certain times tried to act older than our age and I don’t know a woman who’s being honest with herself who hasn’t tried to rush love or push it on the first available guy that just doesn’t see her that way. For me it’s not that the lost boys get to go off and have adventures or that Wendy stays around keeping house; it’s within her character and upbringing to want to do it and a lot of us have spent many long afternoons as kids playing house, me included.

Her forgiving nature does complement Peter’s little-boy arrogance, but having her continually be included only to be a mother/housekeeper/kidnap victim, person for Tinkerbell to harass (especially in the Disney version and the musical) is frustrating. Ultimately, she does get her way and makes her own decision, but if it took me decades to realize this, I kind of wonder if that was her real purpose or if I’m trying to put a strong-chick spin on it. And I fully realize at the time of writing that little girls strove to be good mothers and homemakers – and there’s still nothing wrong with that choice today. My main complaint tends to be that Peter wants her to come and baits the Darling children with stories about adventures, and then ends up ignoring and mistreating her at his whim.

I will admit that I can agree with the book version of the character and I love the Fox show’s variation. On the show, for every girly thing that she did or feminine stereotype that she was forced into, she also gets to go on her own adventures. She falls in with a group of mermaids and at one point when the lost boys are fascinated with The Three Musketeers and are pretending to be the characters, she disguises herself as a boy and totally kicks their butts with a sword. It’s fabulous. From what I remember it also had her hold her own against Peter’s bullheadedness much more, and had Peter being much more of an equal-opportunity harasser that forgot about everyone at certain points because he was so self-involved. It was much more in the style of the book and that version of Wendy I quite like.

And now we come to Alice. I was hesitant to bring this one up because in all honesty Alice and Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are stories that I actively dislike. The world-building is fascinating and I think it’s intriguing that different film or television versions can take the same story and use it to portray different themes, but if we’re talking the true-blue standard story then, well, honestly I can’t stand it. I never found the books enchanting and most of the film versions make me very uncomfortable. I grew up with the miniseries in the eighties that featured a million stars and a guy in a dragon suit playing the Jabberwocky. While the songs were catchy, there was always something about it that bothered me. The later miniseries also featured a lot of celebrities and was a great metaphor for overcoming stage fright, but it was still something that I’d never actively decide to sit down and watch. And try as I might, I’ve never been able to watch the Disney cartoon in one sitting. While I like that the story can be used as metaphor, the actual story doesn’t do much for me. To me, reading or watching a little girl get yanked around and harassed or bullied by people when she’s lost and confused just isn’t entertaining and can get borderline creepy. Obviously the majority loves this story and I’m not trying to stir anything up – anyone who’s mortally offended by this can send their hate mail to Sean, who's letting me take over his blog for this post.

Seriously, though, while Alice does have qualities of her counterparts (innocence and the little girl trying to be an adult syndrome), I could never get around the fact that she tends to be ganged up on to the point of being a victim. I often thought I was the only one who thought this way, but Ray Bradbury’s actually done a fabulous essay comparing Wonderland to Oz and why Dorothy had a much better deal (i.e. Oz was full of helpful people that exuded helpfulness and support whereas Wonderland had a dark and hostile cast to it).

That being said, I absolutely love the Tim Burton movie. Making Alice older plus giving her an independent streak was a work of genius. I like seeing her question the marriage she’s being forced into, and having enough wits about her to really notice an entire situation. Suddenly what’s been a “good” stock sort of female character has morphed into something well-rounded and interesting. Plus, dude, she gets to wear ARMOR! And fight the Jabberwocky! I think I may have stood on my seat and cheered at that bit (Thank God I have friends that can put up with me). That, plus seeing at least some part of Wonderland be supportive of her efforts and working with her was amazing and balanced out the dark and dangerous bits (To be fair I have nothing against dark fantasy; I just don’t like seeing little girls get ganged up on). Even better, when she returns home she has developed even more backbone and sets out to keep her father’s legacy going, herself, instead of taking the female-role position of marrying for business’ sake. For me, Burton captured the themes of Wonderland and gave the female lead a fighting chance, which I heartily appreciate.

While I think people tend to love these three stories more for the adventure and fantasy elements than the female leads, I do think they have their high points in that respect. The characters act like their age range, they’re likeable, and they get to have adventures that are believable for their ages and the way they were brought up. Plus, they work because they’re very easy for little girls to identify with. Unfortunately, they also end up getting pushed around to a certain extent (Wendy and Alice more so than Dorothy) and I don’t feel that’s a great thing. They obviously can be used to promote different themes and metaphors and they’re very likeable – I just wish there was more to them than being generally likeable and feminine. There’s definitely a reason they’ve stayed around so long, and I will agree that the good points of the overall stories outweigh the weaker aspects of the characters.

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