Yesterday, I posted about the growth of e-books and the possible need for e-agents. Thinking about e-books set me a-wander, and here are the results. Not all of the stories presented here are novel length; some are short stories–there’s even a short graphic novel. All are worth a proper sit down read through, and, to me, YA appropriate (remembering that I’m very liberal). A note on Fairyland: it’s all there save for the final chapter. Although it can be frustrating to wait for an ending, I recommend you read it anyway, slowly, and over a cup of steaming hot tea.
*Titles link to online text or download pages.
1. FOR THE WIN, Cory Doctorow
Doctorow is indispensable. It’s hard to imagine any other author taking on youth and technology with such passion, intelligence, and understanding. Although perhaps less urgent than Little Brother (2008), this effort is superior in every other aspect: scope, plot, character, and style. Set in the near future and in locations across the globe (though primarily China and India), the story involves a sweeping cast of characters making a living—if you want to call brutal conditions and pitiful wages a “living”—in such virtual-game worlds as Svartalfheim Warriors and Zombie Mecha. Many of them, like 15-year-old Mala (known by her troops as “General Robotwalla”), endure physical threats from their bosses to farm virtual gold, which is then sold to rich First World gamers. Then these brilliant teens are brought together by the mysterious Big Sister Nor, who has a plan to unionize and bring these virtual worlds—and real-world sweatshops, too—to a screeching halt. Once again Doctorow has taken denigrated youth behavior (this time, gaming) and recast it into something heroic. He can’t resist the occasional lecture—sometimes breaking away from the plot to do so—but thankfully his lessons are riveting. With it’s eye-opening humanity and revolutionary zeal, this ambitious epic is well worth the considerable challenge.–Daniel Kraus for Booklist
2. TIME TRADERS, Andre Norton
Head over to the Baen Free Library, then follow the prompts to authors, then Andre Norton.
Intelligence agents have uncovered something which seems beyond belief, but the evidence is incontrovertible: the USAs greatest adversary on the world stage is sending its agents back through time! And someone or something unknown to our history is presenting them with technologies — and weapons — far beyond our most advanced science. We have only one option: create time-transfer technology ourselves, find the opposition’s ancient source…and take it dawn.
When small-time criminal Ross Murdock and Apache rancher Travis Fox stumble separately onto America’s secret time travel project, Operation Retrograde, they are faced with a challenge greater than either could have imagined possible. Their mere presence means that they know too much to go free. But Murdock and Fox have a thirst for adventure, and Operation Retrograde offers that in spades.
Both men will become time agents, finding reserves of inner heroism they had never expected. Their journeys will take the battle to the enemy, from ancient Britain to prehistoric America, and finally to the farthest reaches of interstellar space…
3. THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING, Catherynne M. Valente
A young adult novel, following September on her journey. From the first chapter:
Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her father’s house, where she washed the same pink and yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her, and flew to her window one evening just after her eleventh birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds, in the shanty-towns where the Six Winds live.
“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes, and be delivered to the great sea which borders Fairyland? I am afraid I cannot go in, as Harsh Airs are not allowed, but I should be happy to deposit you upon the Perverse and Perilous Sea.”
4. BETTER ZOMBIES THROUGH PHYSICS, Jim Ottaviani and Sean Bieri
A short, online only graphic novel. Join us for chills, thrills, and pulse-pounding scientific breakthroughs as we embark on a tour of the Quantum Zombie, Inc. facility, courtesy of a guy who bears a striking resemblance to famed scientist and cat-lover Erwin Schrödinger. Hijinks, hilarity, and an abundance of felines await you in “Better Zombies Through Physics.”
*Tor.com & the authors encourage fan fic based on this story.
5. TOAST, Charles Stross
The title of Stross’s provocative new SF collection—a revised, expanded version of a 2002 title of the same name—is a mordant reference to catastrophes at the climaxes of these 11 stories. In “A Colder War,” a stand-alone sequel to Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” monsters from outside space and time are liberated as weapons of mass destruction by Russia and the Middle East. In “Antibodies,” a mathematical theorem undermines the foundations of all computer encryption systems, forcing fugitive behavior from the narrator who has depended on the anonymity they hitherto ensured. “Ship of Fools,” written in 1995, evokes the epic scale of Arthur C. Clarke’s fiction in its projection of dire technological fiascos that rock the world at the turn of Y2K. In Stross’s worlds, virtual reality is the new frontier, AI is a fact of life and everyone is fluent in the sometimes impenetrable technogeek-speak that goes with the territory. For all that, his characters are familiar and sympathetic hackers, slackers and opportunists, whose lives have not been improved by their technological expertise, and whose adventures he interweaves seamlessly with the circuitry.–PW
6. HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES, Neil Gaiman
A story about a couple of British 1970s teen-aged boys, Enn and Vic, who go to a party to meet girls, only to find that the girls are much different than they imagined.
The story follows Enn, a shy boy whom the more confident Vic encourages to just talk to girls. While at the party, Enn talks to three very nice but strange girls. As he focuses on “making a move” on the girls, it is revealed to the reader the exchange students there are more interplanetary than foreign.
7. TANGLEFOOT: (A Story of the Clockwork Century), Cherie Priest
A novelette, Tanglefoot is steampunk/alternate history fic. From the prologue:
Stonewall Jackson survived Chancellorsville. England broke the Union’s naval blockade, and formally recognized the Confederate States of America. Atlanta never burned.
It is 1880. The American Civil War has raged for nearly two decades, driving technology in strange and terrible directions. Combat dirigibles skulk across the sky and armored vehicles crawl along the land. Military scientists twist the laws of man and nature, and barter their souls for weapons powered by light, fire, and steam.
But life struggles forward for soldiers and ordinary citizens. The fractured nation is dotted with stricken towns and epic scenes of devastation–some manmade, and some more mysterious. In the western territories cities are swallowed by gas and walled away to rot while the frontiers are strip-mined for resources. On the borders between North and South, spies scour and scheme, and smugglers build economies more stable than their governments.
This is the Clockwork Century.
It is dark here, and different.
8. AGENT TO THE STARS, John Scalzi
The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity’s first interstellar friendship. There’s just one problem: They’re hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish.
So getting humanity’s trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone who can help them close the deal.
Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He’s one of Hollywood’s hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it’s quite another thing to negotiate for an entire alien race. To earn his percentage this time, he’s going to need all the smarts, skills, and wits he can muster.–Publisher description
Today, genre is an ever-evolving thing. Years ago, libraries and bookstores shelved like with like alphabetically–mysteries went with mysteries, science fiction with science fiction, and romance with romance. But over the past century, newer, genres and sub-genres have trickled into the mainstream, making bookstores and libraries a little tricky to navigate. One particularly “new” *genre (or mode) is magic realism, a style that grew out of the 1920 visual arts movement. But what does magic realism mean? And why isn’t it just another kind of fantasy novel?
Magic Realism, or New Objectivity, started out as a post-expressionist kind of visual art. Despite the “magic” tag, though, this new style wasn’t about elves and goblins, but rather rediscovering the magic in the world as it is. As artist Grethe Jurgens writes,
“It is the discovery of a totally new world. One paints pots and rubbish piles, and then suddenly sees these things quite differently, as if one had never before seen a pot. One paints a landscape, trees, houses, vehicles, and one sees the world anew. One discovers like a child an adventure-filled land.”
Sometime in the 1930s, writers started to experiment with this new form, and scholarly pieces started to appear, particularly in the Americas, comparing Magic Realism to other genres, but also further defining and refining the idea. As a result, MR is very popular in South and Central America, and many of the genres leading authors are originally from there (Angel Flores, Alejo Carpentier).
Is Magic Realism the new fantasy?
When we think magic, we think fantasy, fairy tale, perhaps even Disney. According to Bruce Holland Rogers, even editors find the term Magic Realism confusing–
“If a magazine editor these days asks for contributions that are magical realism, what she’s really saying is that she wants contemporary fantasy written to a high literary standard—fantasy that readers who “don’t read escapist literature” will happily read. It’s a marketing label and an attempt to carve out a part of the prestige readership for speculative works.”
But if Magic Realism isn’t fantasy, what is it? It’s hard to say. As Rogers points out, some readers read and enjoy MR novels but dismiss them as fantasy. Others discuss them in great seriousness in book groups and workshops. But there are some common elements in many MR stories.
Magic Realism Checklist:
- Realistic setting
- Focus on new aspects of the mundane
- Focus on finding new experiences/relationships within old ones
- Protagonist seeks out mystery in the everyday
- Explores a new/unusual reality–subjective rather than objective
- Plot and structure are often secondary to character growth and development
Not every element will show up in every novel or short story. But character, reality, and worldview are key points in pretty much every Magic Realism novel written to date. In their book, Zamora and Faris, two of the earliest writers on Magic Realism, describe Magical Realism as…
…an attitude toward reality that can be expressed in popular or cultured forms, in elaborate or rustic styles in closed or open structures. In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality or to wound it but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.
Part of the MR/F (cue mystery music–Mr. F!) problem–aside from the “magic” in the term–is that while fantasy is speculative rather than realistic, it shares certain elements with Magic Realism. Good fantasy, like good science fiction, often explores different perspectives and ideas, such as Ursula K. LeGuin’s short story, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas and Earthsea series. Similarly, speculative fiction, a literary subgenre which also explores new or unusual perspectives is often confused with Magic Realism, too. Both speculative fiction and fantasy, though, are by their nature speculative, about what ifs and maybes. MR is about the here, the whens and yesterdays of the real world in the past and present.
Why Magic Realism is Important in YA
It’s easy to dismiss Magic Realism–again, because of the name–as a YA and kid genre. But there’s actually not as much YA Magic Realism out there as you might think, because kids and teens are less genre obsessed than adult readers. Moreover, the majority of YA readers are still discovering the real world and their place in it–for teens, everyday life is Magic Realism.
In YA, too, the definition of Magic Realism is less stark than it is elsewhere in the literary world. Agent Jennifer Matson thinks of it…
…as a subset of fantasy, and a magical realistic novel as one in which magical elements intrude, almost matter-of-factly, into a basically realistic setup, informing the novel’s various elements in a natural way rather than totally redirecting them. I also think of the magic as being very gentle and often surreal – nothing “high fantasy” (wizardly bolts, vampires, et cetera) about it.
What sort of books are considered Magic Realism in the YA world? Neil Gaiman’s Coraline could be considered MR. Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief half fits the bill, as does Isabel Allende’s City of the Beasts and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series. Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie and Louis Sachar’s Holes also come to mind, as does pretty much anything by Francesca Lia Block (and maybe Tanith Lee). (Check back tomorrow for an MR booklist.)
Should there be more Magic Realism in YA?
Many people, including kids and teens, read for escapist reasons. YA readers also read to help find their niche, to learn how to parse an event (or the world at large), to make sense of themselves and their experiences. And good novels–great novels–allow, even encourage this sort of deep thinking. But Magic Realism takes deep thinking a step farther, stripping away the pretty, carefully boxed-up worlds we as readers so easily slip into, forcing us to confront the world as it is, rather than through a safe, fairy tale veil. To borrow from author Alberto Manquel **,
“Unlike the literature of fantasy, in which the world itself—Narnia or Middle Earth—is unreal, fantastic literature finds its bearings in our own landscapes, our cities, our living-rooms, our beds, where suddenly something happens which demands not so much our belief as our lack of disbelief…in the Anglo-Saxon world, ‘realistic’ is a term of praise and, in spite of centuries of ghost stories and tales of wonder, fantastic literature is regarded as a sort of poor relation. The answer lies perhaps in that, at its best, fantastic literature is never explicit, and readers are made uneasy by the misty mirror it holds up to them. Hundreds of scholarly articles discuss at length whether Banquo’s ghost did or did not exist; none questions the existence of Macbeth. The power of fantastic literature lies not in the answers it dutifully provides, but in the questions.”
Do you read Magic Realism? Write it? Who are your favorite authors?
*some consider Magic Realism a literary mode rather than a genre. I’ve stuck with genre since that how it’s usually discussed in terms of YA and kid lit.
** A Background Reading/Primer for Teachers of Fourth – Eighth Grade Students, available here (PDF download off site).
Last week, I attended an author talk by Sherman Alexie (more about his talk later in the week). One of his tips (for more author tips, check out this recent post from my friend, Amitha) was to consider the everyday. Look around for ideas, and note everything down. As a short story writer, I love this idea, but I have to admit, Baby curtails my note-taking abilities. Here are four ways I jot down my story ideas.
1. My phone
I have an iPhone (it’s a marvelous way to document Baby’s every day) and use the voice record function every other day. With the addition of a headset–kept in an easy to reach pocket in my purse–the phone becomes a nifty little mp3 recorder. So, while on my walks with Baby, I tuck the phone into a pocket, open voice recorder, and walk with one headphone looped around my ear. Whenever I see something worth noting, I just tap to record.
No headset? No problem. Just speak into the phone as usual. An iPhone isn’t necessary, either–most phones have a voice record function.
2. Index cards
Here’s a tip I picked up from Anne Lamott–slip a couple of index cards in your pocket. They’re small, thin enough to stop you feel bulky (always a good thing), and perfect for jotting down notes. I carry a small pencil (pinched from Ikea) with mine, though anything will do. (In moments of desperation, I’ve been known to grab restaurant matches and strike a couple to make charcoal. Anything for the idea, right?)
I live near Harvard, and my husband’s a grad student, so I’m always scooting through the campus. Whenever I’m out on a walk, sans phone and index cards (16 week old Baby = 4 hours sleep a night = a forgetful Peta), I head for the law school commons to shoot myself an email. Most universities have public access computers around, as do local libraries.
4. Talk it out
It’s hard to remember lists, and single facts. It’s easier to remember conversations. So, when I’m out with Baby and have no other way to keep track of an idea, I tell him about it. This verbal brainstorming helps me get a better grasp of the idea–and the more fleshed out it becomes, the easier it is to recall when I get home. It’s also the most successful–ideas I talk out make it into story form much sooner.
One final tip–organize your ideas for later. Try labeling notes by type of story, and/or genre. I use a story-only gmail account for mine–it’s my backup of works in progress, ideas, and contact information. Using gmail’s labels, I can find the notes I made for a short story, or the revision ideas I had for a piece of flash fiction with just one click.
How do you keep track of your story ideas? Do you revisit old ideas?
I resisted blogging for a long time. “After all,” I thought, “what’s the point? Who cares if I skipped breakfast on Monday and spent two hours bathing a ferret on Tuesday?” (Answer: my mother.) So I read other people’s blogs, soaking up tips, tricks, and encouragement. Yet, despite everything I gained from reading blogs, I still didn’t want one of my own.
Enter LiveJournal. For a long time, I read my friend Toni’s journal, savouring her small slices of home. But it wasn’t until Toni posted a polished memoir piece with the tag “critique me” that I realised the true power of blogging: it’s habit-forming.
Working as a writer, I’ve learned, like many, that ninety percent of the process is sitting down to write. True, this can be difficult – and there are days when I have trouble focusing on both my WIP and freelance assignments. Sometimes it’s Baby, sometimes it’s a lack of caffeine (I’ve had zero caffeinated coffee since Baby), and sometimes I just don’t feel like working.
I post something to my blog nearly every day. This is as much for me as it is for my readers. By posting every day, I have to sit down and write every day–write something that’s not related to my ongoing client projects, that is. Monday through Friday, I sit down to post an entry. Sometimes, this means editing a draft, other times it’s writing from scratch. Regardless, I sit down at almost the same time every day, and am forced to think about an issue, a story, or a writing exercise/technique. Which brings me to…
Blogging gives me a chance to dig into things I might not normally think about. I spend a lot of my time revising my WIP, reading to Baby, and juggling client projects. I get up early to go running five times a week, and I try to fit in three Pilates sessions. I take piano lessons once a week, and also have to squeeze in practice time. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted–too exhausted to think about the Nook, or ways to incorporate senses into my scenes.
Enter blogging. In the half hour I devote to it every day, I have the opportunity to learn something new. I think about how I do things, why I like a certain thing, then find a way to use it to my advantage. Where appropriate, I research–something I love–and learn new things. I try out critiques and exercises, and, if my mind is agreeable, freewrite, or play with some very short fiction. Then, after posting, I get feedback and ideas from other writers, which brings me to…
I’m a shy person. For a long time, I had trouble even talking about my work, unless it was project-related. I rarely spoke with other writers (until a class with the most excellent Mike Heppner at Grub Street). When I started blogging, though, I found myself growing more comfortable, more open. I started conversing with other fiction writers via my blog (comment threads), and via email. I picked up not just tips and techniques, but a sense of belonging–something most writers crave. Fiction writing can be a lonely business, full of self-doubt, self-pity, and self-criticism. Connecting with others helps us not only build confidence, but live and write the way we want to write. This may not seem important, but, to me, confidence & connection are the first steps to writing well, and that’s the first step to getting published.
Tomorrow: 3 Reasons You Should Blog for Business.