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Judith Rook  (with Alison Dere)

Author Archive: JudithRook

ME AND THE ROADWORKS

21.9.17.

September 2017 will be marked not only by spacecraft Cassini’s final descent into Saturn’s atmosphere, but also by one of the funniest episodes of my life. I think I’ll probably not forget it.
To reach my local writers’ group, I have to turn from a main road into a side road. On this particular day, the side road was blocked by “road closed” signs just before it turned a corner. A council worker was on hand to direct me back to the main road. I was in a benign, argument-avoiding mood, and agreed cheerfully. But I did suggest that signs on the main road would be helpful.
“Lady,” said the council worker earnestly, “if this was a whole-road closure, we would have all the signs you could wish for on the main road. We’d divert the traffic.”
“Not a whole-road closure?” said I. “Can’t I use the open half?”
“No. It’s closed. We’ve got the road up further on.”
“Then the whole road is closed?”
“No. It’s only a half-close.”
“But you say I can’t drive any further.”
“Too right! You’d be under a grader before you could spit.”
Thoughtfully I went back to the main road and worked out my own diversion to where I was going. Then I began to laugh. I’m still chuckling.

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DEFINING A GENRE

9.9.17.

The following question appeared in the SciFi Roundtable Facebook group  https://www.facebook.com/groups/scifiroundtable/  of which I am an appreciative member.  It caught my attention, so I decided to write an answer.

WHAT MAKES AN EPIC FANTASY?

At school, we were taught the best approach to any topic, across the entire range of subject areas, was to have a careful look at the title before embarking on a response. This was a vital step, we were told, the first opening of the door which led to a mark acceptable to teachers and parents. Whether a mark was acceptable to we students (pupils in my day) was hardly considered.

The stiff and uncompromising instruction: “The Life Cycle of the Common Brown Frog – Discuss” was never a problem. But a more friendly invitation to “Discuss the Life Cycle of the Common Brown Frog” generated all sorts of open-ended possibilities for a young person who, with a weird attitude to things in general, might begin by giving the frog a name.

This business of titles and their meaning is why the question: “What Makes an Epic Fantasy?” caught my attention. Not because it is “about” a vitally important field of human experience, but because it opens a wide swathe of possible approaches to, and interpretations of, the topic.

Here are my ideas concerning the matter of epic fantasy, and what makes this particular expressive form what it is.

We all have ideas about the meanings of “fantasy” and “epic”, and we use the terms to communicate pleasantly with other 21st-century people. But ask for precise definitions of the terms, and one tends to see hand-waving and to hear generalities: “big, heroic, unreal, weird, blockbuster stuff…” which is interesting, but hardly satisfactory.

In 1984 Isaac Asimov, the great writer of classical (what some of us now call “hard”) science fiction, argued: “It is not the plot of a story that makes it a fantasy … It is the background against which the plot is played out that counts.”

In Asimov’s terms, for a story to be a “fantasy” story, we are looking at a unique background world which has come straight from the writer’s imagination, as in the case of George RR Martin, the “Star Wars” novels, or CJ Cherryh.

This allows for many works in the science fiction lists also to be viewed as having a foot in the fantasy genre. But, as Asimov remarked: “…it doesn’t take much to switch from fantasy to science fiction…”

Fantasy boils down to the imaginative creation of unique, possibly bizarre, worlds, and the more unusual but believable those worlds are, the greater is the attraction to the reader (or viewer).

Now we look at the conditions for a fantasy to be seen as an epic fantasy. Here the plot does become important. We move away from background as the defining characteristic, because the term “epic” is to do with human behaviour, a very special behaviour which raises certain humans almost to the condition of gods.

Initially, an epic was a long story about great characters, performing great and admirable actions, told in verse. But prose has taken over, and the definition of epic has changed slightly. Now an epic is any (still long) story, set in prose, where heroes, who are larger-than-life characters in the first place, face larger-than-life situations and show the highest ethical qualities a human being is capable of as they do it.

This behaviour is important to us. It is part of the collective human spirit, protecting us from darkness, and we welcome evidence that it exists. When we see a book or film or picture showing that courageous humans can and will openly resist the forces of evil, especially when they are moving within a large background, we are looking into an epic.

One of my favourite fantasy novels is “Lud-in-the-Mist” by Hope Mirrlees, published in 1926. It follows a strange, numinous storyline which takes the reader into a world “bordering on Faery”, but in no respect is it an epic fantasy. It is too quiet, too small in scale.

Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”, is a quite different matter. Heroes abound, the action moves within a powerful, large-scale imaginative setting, the forces of light and dark are constantly in opposition and the shape of evil is clearly manifested before it is defeated. This is epic fantasy in one of its highest expressions.

People find themselves drawn to epic fantasy. More than other genres of literary and visual expression, epic fantasy deals with themes from the deep levels of the collective human psyche, with heroes and heroines, great figures of power both benign and inimical, and events that rise far beyond the affairs of normal daily lives. But, perhaps most importantly of all, even in the face of realistic doubt, it shows that in the end, good will defeat evil.

AN ARTICLE WORTH READING TIME

I am posting this on the landing page so that people may see it.  It is also on the IDEAS page

IS SPACE EXPLORATION WORTH THE COST?

This article, on the Sci-Tech Universe site, should be read, for a number of reasons.  

The information it gives is important, not because it contradicts the argument that space exploration is too costly to sustain (which it does), but also because it is so centered on the US economy.  It gives the slightest of nods to other world space nations, with a huge non-acknowledgement of  European endeavours.  It shows how vital to the US amour-propre space exploration has become and how necessary it is that the US should lead the whole world into space.

http://www.sci-techuniverse.com/2017/02/is-space-exploration-worth-cost.html

A NEW PAGE FOR CHARACTERS

CHARACTERS – from Different Places

I HAVE OPENED A NEW PAGE, featuring characters from independently published books.   They introduce themselves and tell us about themselves, but they are not being interviewed.  They reflect and comment, each in their own way.  If they intrigue us, then we can go to the book(s) they appear in and discover more.

The first featured character is one of mine – of course.  My favourite villain, Darland Courvenier.

During the next few weeks, more characters will appear on the page, coming from a variety of genres.

There are some very fine characters out there.  And there’s no doubt about it.   They make the book.

 

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HOW PEOPLE WRITE

INSIDE WRITING

In my local writing group, we explore the science and art of writing.   We examine how other people write, and we take a close and honest look at our own work.

Here are a few lists we drew up to help us better understand ourselves as writers.  There was some hilarity when we compared them around the group, but we found the exercise interesting and enlightening.

Here is my own list.  It is not finished, but it was what I came up with in one writing session.

CHALLENGE TO MY WRITER FRIENDS:  Do the same exercise, post the result on your blog/website/Facebook Page, and let us know.

What adjectives/Adjective groups would you use to describe your writing “voice”?

Thought-provoking

Amusing/whimsical

Exploratory/speculative

Tolerant

Atmospheric

 

Identify Recurring Motifs which appear in your work

Following the unknown

The cosmos

Relationships between people (especially man/shadow; woman/light)

Female strength/power

Positive personal and social values

 

 

Identify Recurring Locations

Planets (whole planet awareness, with individual countries on a secondary level)

Centres of technical enterprise

Centres of political/social power

Centres holding mysteries

 

Identify Recurring Figures

The Wise Woman

The Hero

The Warrior

The Likeable Adversary

The Powerful Leader

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THE GREAT RETURN

Over a period of two-and-a-half years, my local shopping centre is being transformed into something almost unbelievable in variety, novelty and pro-customer competition.   I went to have a look at the latest opening of thirty or forty new shops, and found, to my absolute delight, a NEW BOOK SHOP!

Our small Western Australian city lost its last book shop nearly three years ago.  At the time, no-one seemed to care very much.  People were buying their reading books cheaply on line, and other books could be purchased the same way.  It was the natural process of social change which, while regretted, just had to be accepted.

However, this totally unexpected reappearance of a local book shop is delightful and to be celebrated.  I will no longer live in a city which lacks a single dedicated source of books of all descriptions.

I will not have to go into a supermarket to find piles of the same ‘best-seller’ I have never heard of.  I will be able to see a variety of dictionaries and books on grammar, I will be able to find Science Fiction classics and check out the physical ‘feel’ of the books on the children’s shelves.  I will even be able to check what the biographers of the world are up to without having to decide who I am looking for.

This is such a hopeful improvement.  I bought two books to mark the day.  They cost me a great deal more than two books published through the electronic platforms, but I spent a hugely enjoyable time in the shop, chatted with staff and other customers, found a book I had thought was out of print, and I don’t regret a single cent.

I told the lady who dealt with my purchases I hoped the shop would not close again for lack of custom.  She gave me a little wink and told me most of her customers had said much the same thing.

What do you think?  Is it a genuine turn-round?

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TO SAY OR NOT TO SAY

Why Say Anything? 

 

I saw yet another Facebook post declaring that a person would not read a certain book with a particular content.

I am the first to respect opinions, beliefs and tastes held by someone else.  I don’t even forgive those of my family and close acquaintance who say my books are not their cup of tea and why don’t I write a good thriller?  I don’t need to forgive, nor even to excuse, them.  I like and love those people, although I know I will never meet them at a SciFi convention.

I used to visit book shops frequently, when they still existed in the small city where I live.  I would browse the shelves with enjoyment, following the sequence: random page skim (for writing style); cover inspection (for visual hooks); blurb read (for content hooks).

The browsing could take me to twenty or thirty books, but I would leave with only one, perhaps two.

A book that did not survive the selection process was quietly returned to the shelves, rejected by me, but perhaps bought the next day by someone else.

It never occurred to me, or to other people in the shop to throw a book to the floor and loudly announce to all and sundry we would not read it.

Why do people on Facebook, in effect, do exactly that when they post they will not read a particular book?  I have seen this type of comment a number of times.

Would it not be better simply to pass on the book and to say nothing?

A Very Short Story about my Brand

A PERSISTENCE OF OWLS

 

I wrote this short story because I had been given another owl figurine as a present, and I realised that I had begun a collection, without intending to do so.  I have twenty-eight owls in various mediums and sizes.  Two are large enough to stand on the floor and others live on the walls as pictures.  Owls are generally given to me.  People say “I know you like owls”.  I think it may be the other way round, and it is that owls like me.

The story has been posted on a blog run by Karen J. Mossman.  It has many other stories, some of them very good indeed.

http://magicofstories.net/2017/07/01/a-persistence-of-owls

A Special Campaign

THE MAGNIFICENT THIRTY

ALMOST READY TO RIDE FOR THE FIRST TIME

Earlier in June I joined a limited membership Facebook group created by Lucinda Hawks Moebius.   She set it up almost, I think, as an experiment.   An experiment to see how a small group of writers may be able to really help each other in the hard and demanding world of ebook development and marketing, given a system and schedule for such support.

The group is titled:  30 Authors 30 Days Promotion and Writing Challenge.  Its major aims are:

(1)   To create interactive posts across social media platforms;

(2)   To cross promote each other;

(3)   To work in small groups to develop effective promotions.

(4)   To keep in good health.

(5)   While doing all the above, to keep writing – most important.

Preparation posts are flowing fast from the desk of our respected leader, but one strong theme runs through them all:  we must leave our accustomed zones of comfort and embrace the new and, possibly, the scary.

In fact, I think the first Lucinda post I spotted was of the lady herself, with a video message posted on Facebook.  I did not realise that one can do that, but now I do, and it is a group requirement that we should all post at least one personal video message on Facebook during the thirty days of the Challenge.  So our Facebook friends can expect a stream of interesting faces on their respective timelines, hopefully exploring interesting ideas.

There are other requirements expected of us during the campaign, and my impression is, that through organisation and system, we will become thirty authors able to make their way effectively in the world of electronic publishing.

For me, this will be something of a paradigm shift, and increasingly I realise the necessity and deep value of good leadership.   We’re already getting that.  Before the main campaign begins, our leader set us going on individual HeadTalker campaigns, promoting the books which will be the focus of our activities during July.  I had joined HeadTalker at the beginning of this year but had never run a promotion campaign, which just about sums me up.

However, things are changing, and even at this early stage, I would like to thank Lucinda for motivating thirty writers to get up off their fundaments and stir themselves into activity.  Yee-Haw!  Nearly ready to move out!

 

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