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Writing: Even Tyra Banks

It’s not unusual for a celebrity to dabble in other arts fields. Sting and John Mann (of Spirit of the West) have not just done music but acted. Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood went from acting to politics (one would argue that it’s all acting). Others start as actors and move into singing or modeling, or start as models and become actors. There is always some crossover. And some actors, singers and models try writing. Look at William Shatner with his Tekwar series, though in fact he didn’t write them but had a ghostwriter. Shatner may have come up with the ideas but he didn’t flesh those ideas into a written story. An unsung writer did that but Shatner’s name sold them.

Princess Sarah Ferguson (Fergie) has written children’s books to some success.Of course there are many kiss-and-tells or autobiographical memoirs that the rich and/or famous indulge in, whether they write them or have someone do it for them. But those celebs who write fiction are rarer and there is quite a range of quality, more than you would get with a straight fiction author. The reason is that publishers look at saleability. If you’re John Doe, you will have to convince the publisher that your story is so good that they can make money on it. If you’re George Clooney, on the other hand, the publisher will look at your popularity and sex appeal in general and then see if the demographic looks promising for selling a book.

You may not even have to write it and they may go to the trouble to get a tried and true ghostwriter. But even if you should insist you write your fiction and be dumb as a piece of toast they may publish based on your popularity and have a couple of good editors go through to clean up the worst parts. After all, poorly written books do not necessarily mean they’ll bomb. Many mediocre books have sold well, due to the topic and the marketing campaigns.

from Banks' site

So, Tyra Banks with her Bankable line (including Bankable Books), and who started as a model, then moved into TV shows such as the Tyra Banks Show and America’s Top Model reality show, has decided she’s going to write a fantasy trilogy called “Modelland” (and as she puts it, pronounced Model Land). My writers’ list has already had a lot of eye-rolling and scoffing over this. I mean, it doesn’t sound that crazily wonderful with some young girls transported unwillingly to a land where “drop-dead beautiful, kick-butt fierce” intoxibellas rule with their powers.

Now I don’t watch these shows so I have no idea if Banks comes across as powerfull and intelligent or as just some ditzy petty model. But…uh…Modelland. It sounds pretty teen-set-princess-girly-dreamworld. There is not much about the story so far except that Tyra plans to write three books published by Random House. Will Banks write the books or will there be a very well paid, very secret ghostwriter?

Now there is an attitude in our world to heartily roll our eyes when a model (or actor) tries something more serious like politics or writing. But not every model is just a beautiful bimbo. People are often judged by their covers, like books.

Tyra Banks might write the next book as popular as Harry Potter. Except, we don’t know. No one knew that Harry Potter would make Rowling one of the richest women in the world. It’s pretty much hit and miss and even writing in the style of, or copying the stories will not guarantee a hit. In fact, the factors that allowed Harry Potter to skyrocket have changed now.

I can’t really judge Tyra Banks’ book until I’ve read it, and I would read it to review. However many people will read it because she’s writing it (and she’s got a marketing empire going already), others for curiosity, others because they are kids and it sounds fun. Will it be good? Who knows? I’m just skeptical with the title but then I’m not a teenager and seriously, as a teenager I was reading science fiction by Herbert, Heinlein, Clarke, Norton, McCaffery. Very little of it was dubbed teen or young adult fiction except for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. So chances are I might not like it. But the proof of the pudding, as they say, will depend on the reading.

And Tyra Banks… Well, if she is only a beautiful Barbie, then she is still a very rich one and is doing several shows and lines of merchandise and might be Businesswoman Barbie. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

http://www.tyra.com/view/BANKABLE_BOOKS

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/100637-Tyra-Banks-Fancies-Herself-the-Next-J-R-R-Tolkien

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Writing: What Constitutes Fantasy

Discussion has recently come up on my writer’s list about fantasy stories. One of the members asked a range of questions, not because she needed advice but because I believe she’s had discussions with other writers on what constitutes fantasy. Most of the members had close to the same answers here so I’m listing her questions and how I view each of them.

1.     Should a writer write down to an audience, or just use their own conversational voice?

 I took this to mean, should a writer condescend to, take on an instructional tone in explaining to an audience that may not know as much. Or should the writer use the author’s voice. However, I believe she meant, use your regular writing voice, thought that wasn’t clear. I have elaborated on my original answers.

I’d think neither. You’re writing using characters so your characters should help reveal the world. A character has a personality and a unique voice and depending on the point of view, that will affect what voice is used. You could have a condescending narrator; in that case yes he/she would talk or write down to the audience.

To explain the particular setting/technology/society of a world requires deft revelation, some of which may be through a particular character. Albeit, some exposition is required in a novel, but it shouldn’t be talking/writing down so much as making sure your regular reader understands the functioning aspects of the world as needed to understand the story. Example: I recently edited a book for someone who had all sorts of words/slang about airforce planes but on a level most of us (unless we were pilots) wouldn’t understand. He needed a bit more info in context so that the reader could understand what was going on.

 Unless you (the author/narrator) are an integral part of your novel, the authorial voice should not be there. When author’s drop into their stories it’s disconcerting and pulls the reader out of the world. Terry Pratchett from time to time uses an authorial or omniscient narrator (as you suspected, dear reader). It takes skill to use it in a way that enhances a story as opposed to detracting from in and ruining the atmosphere.  

2.     Should a fantasy novel assume lack of science and technology?

No. Even a world of magic has some technology or science. Whether it interacts with the story is another matter. Cups, weapons, dyes, plows, walls, etc., are all a science when they’re discovered/invented. Pre-industrial societies had science and or technology. Stories that involve alchemists (as an example) often mix science with magical properties. Books have been written where magic and science blend equally.

If you mean the logic/science behind how magic works in a particular world, then yes it still has to make sense and work in the story. But science does not negate magic necessarily.

3.     Should a fantasy novel assume a pseudo-medieval milieu?

No. It can, as is evidenced by numerous novels, but some are of far earlier societies. Some are integrated in later worlds and some are just plain ole alien. I read Brandon Sanderson’s novel, Mistborn, which had a plantationesque era and established magic. There was science as well. I really liked it for being of a different milieu.

Often there is the accepted trope that in a world that is not industrialized, magics develop in different ways within people. But a world could have magical creatures, i.e., not found normally on planet Earth and still not be medieval. Many medieval fantasies fall into parallel world tropes, where it is the middle ages but some element of magic is real. Many take an Earth like world and values but create fictitious places. Everything from the myths of the ancients up to the modern urban fantasies, like Charles de Lint’s (his name came up often in this discussion) are fantasy but not medieval. And really, a fantasy story has a better chance of selling if it is different rather than the same as every other book on the shelf.

4.     Should a fantasy novel necessarily encompass magic?

Again, it doesn’t matter really. Yes or no, depending on your world. A world can just be “other” or different from the world and the past we know, yet have nothing magical about it. It will still fall into the fantasy category. The lines between science fiction and fantasy can be blurry. Anne McCaffrey’s famous dragonriders of Pernseries started out as a medieval fantasy where people in feudal style societies rode dragons that killed the invading threads. She argued that it was science fiction because it was a different world, where originally the humans came from someplace else.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books were similar in that they started out in a medieval style world, where some people had special powers. But as she wrote more and more books, there was interaction with people from other planets and spaceports. Fantasy or science fiction? Yes.

5.     Should magic in a fantasy novel be hard or just part of the norm like breathing?

Depends on if everyone does it, or if it’s a gifted few. Are they born with it or like us, do they go through a crawling stage before walking and then flying? Many books have magical talents begin with puberty. In others, the person must study and earn the talent. It could be a world that has an inherent magic in the way it works such as creatures that change shape. It all depends on what is integral to the plot and how that affects the outcomes and solutions the protagonist must find.

Overall, I’d say almost all of these are not hard and fast. It depends on how the world is set up, what tale you’re trying to tell and how integral magic is to that story line. But questions like these are always goods to ask because as writers, it keeps us thinking and examining what we do. And sometimes it pushes us outside our comfort zones and we move beyond the box.

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The Demise of the Printed Word

When I say printed word, I mean that literally. Not the electronic word nor the spoken word but everything from books to newspapers are in jeopardy of a discontinued existence. Nearly everyone these days has a computer and is connected to the internet, even the poorest people. In essence the computer has supplanted the TV and in fact could take over that role, completely being one system for everything: music, TV and internet resource/communications tool.

Many of us don’t enjoy sitting at our desks, reading or even watching a computer screen for hours. But then we have laptops so you can move to a more comfortable setting. Imagine a large, wide-screen TV and your console (read keyboard) at your couch, remote and wireless. Weird future? No, we have this ability right now and it will only be a matter of years until we see this as a common evolution.

On top of making computer usage more comfortable, there are a myriad of PDAs (personal digital assistants) or whatever fancy name they’re branded under. These are the small, light, handheld devices to which you can download images or text. Some people are already reading stories on devices as small as Palm Pilots or the slightly bigger ebook styles that would be the equivalent size of a thin paperback. So it won’t matter what you want. There will be some form of electronic medium on which to view images, listen to music and read written works.

What still stands in the way of full electronic immersion for the common person is that the cost is somewhat prohibitive, not every book you want is available, the tactile feel is very different between paper and plastic/metal and we don’t always like reading onscreen. One trend that has become prevalent with computers and the internet is our short attention spans. People like short paragraphs to read and stories of a certain length. Fill the screen with a huge block of text and our attention deficit minds wander off to another webpage or site. We’re not willing to sit as long to read onscreen. How that will translate to palm readers overall remains to be seen.

You could say the internet is perpetuating a lack of concentration and patience. So how long a paragraph can someone put on any of these reading ebooks and still keep someone from wandering away? I doubt Victor Hugo will read well on an ebook format, but I could be wrong. So what we’ll have is shorter and shorter sentences and paragraphs and perhaps even books, which could lead to a new fad in literature, that of simplified writing. There are already twitter websites. That’s worrisome in itself for the intricacies and depths of plot.

Even more problematic is the future for writers. There will be more internet publishers, not willing to actually hire a copy editor and pay them a decent wage to correct a manuscript. Instead, they’ll offer the editor a portion of the net sales, so the copy editor or proofreader will work for free or even peanuts unless the book sells through. Authors will not even get an advance against royalties but again a share of the books that have actually sold. They’ll write first and maybe never get paid later or be paid a couple of bucks.

Now most writers have written first, and sold later so that, you could say, is the same as it’s always been. But copy editors don’t work for free and writers now can “sell” their books to a publisher and still get less than they should if they sold to a traditional publisher. With low cost output to the epublisher, an author should get a much larger percentage. If the epublisher also does print on demand paper publishing than there should be a separate rate for that as the overhead would be slightly higher for shipping and printing. But how well does an epublisher advertise or do they leave it up to internet searches rather than promoting an author? This too can make the difference between putting your book on a dusty eshelf or having it actually sell.

What does the publisher put out? Very little in costs. They acquire the book and the editing for free and run a website that lists these items, where people can stop in to buy them. Perhaps the publisher must run the manuscript through their program to format it properly but once you have it set up, it’s not that much work.  If a novel is bought, the publisher gets the lion’s share and some of the rest of the money is divvied up to the author, editor and perhaps artist. This is a way to have authors work for free.

This may sound like a prediction but it is already happening with many epublishers. As well, with news readily available on the internet, actual newspaper sales are dropping. Some newspapers have stopped paying freelance journalists. Why bother when everyone and his robodog is sending in articles? Writing has only been a rich profession for a few but it may well become one of the poorest paid professions, if pay still enters into it.

My advice to all writers: don’t give up writing but don’t quit your day job either. Be very careful what epublishers offer. Ask them about advertising, marketing and where your books will be shown. Do they actually copy edit (everyone’s books can use a copy edit)? Do they also offer paper copies and what percentage can you expect? Also is that percentage of books produced or sold and of net or reatil price? Very important, that.  The electronic future does not seem to offer riches to authors.

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Incest, Betrayal and Genetic Sexual Attraction

CBC Radio today had a program talking about Genetic Sexual Attraction and how there was a certain need with some people who shared genetic material to be more than just brother-sister, father-daughter, mother-son, and take it into sexual fulfillment. This raised my hackles, because I was victim of incest.

I have never hidden the fact that my father abused me and when my parents divorced when I was 12, that I never saw my father again. He died two years ago and it was nothing but a relief. Stating this will probably cause some grave repercussions with my family members. But my father was never made to pay for what he did. Why, is a complicated matter, which I can’t get into. To say I hated my father would be an accurate description of my emotions.

Two years ago two people betrayed me, in separate situations. I was absolutely devastated and depressed by this erosion of trust. I came to realize that part of the reason the betrayals knocked out my foundations was because the first betrayal of trust happened when I was four, with my father. I did not necessarily understand cultural moires and taboos at that time but I knew it was wrong and that I felt uncomfortable with what he did or tried to do. I’m sure that set up certain patterns in my conditioning.

One aspect of that conditioning is that I am absolutely, adamantly against incest and am disgusted by the thought of it. I read a fiction novel a year or so ago (The Blood of Angels by Stephen Gregory, winner of the Somerset Maughm award) about a man who in the course of the book becomes attracted to and consummates his relation with his sister. His life becomes more of a shipwreck to disastrous, horrific endings. It was a riveting book, well written, compelling and making no judgment but letting the tale tell itself. I was intrigued and felt both repulsion and compassion for the characters. That’s the sign of a good writer who can delicately pull in the reader’s emotions.

So I try to look at some things through other’s eyes. But there are strong taboos against such ideas as incest or sexual relations with family members. Yet, some cultures supported incest, such as the ancient Egyptians who kept their royal bloodline within the family, brother marrying sister and even the gods practiced incest. But then many gods did, such as the Greek and Roman ones, keeping divine within the group and then spreading it amongst select mortals.

The physiological problems of incest is of course inbreeding. But more, this program talked about a genetic attraction, which was stated as a normal thing. I did not hear all of the program but I question “normal.” What is normal is that most humans have a range of thoughts that can encompass taboo subjects, such as murder, suicide, indulgences, crimes, incest. What is not as normal is that most people do not act upon taboo thoughts.

There is a GSA site, http://www.geneticsexualattraction.com/ which is supposed to be a support group for people in this situation. It stringently says this is for biologically related people who are mutually attracted where there was no “power over” (my quotes, not theirs) the other. Barbara Gonyo, who started the site, states that it is support on a subject that to most is:

1. misunderstood
2. shocking
3. to some unbelievable
4. taboo to society.

And…However, GSA is:

  • NOT an incest site as we have always understood the subject of incest
  • NOT a place to fantasize
  • NOT for incest victims of childhood abuse or their abusers
  • Not a porn site

That is a good thing to know and I believe there are some very conflicted people who must hide the relationships they have embarked upon. One member of the site stated that she wished people would leave them alone because they’re not hurting anyone. And in essence, this is a fundamental belief of mine, that a person can do what they wish as long as it doesn’t hurt others.

But part of me thinks, having read a few messages on the site, that people are looking for justification for their acts, that they “are not alone” and therefore it’s okay. Maybe it is. But then I read about a mother and son who were caught kissing by her husband, or by two siblings who get together and requite their relationship from time to time even though one or the other is married to someone else and I can’t help but wonder about the aspects of right and wrong and how those boundaries have been breached. Not one of these people mentions the aspect of just plain ole cheating in what they’re doing. It seems that because they already have a special taboo relationship of  “genetic sexual attraction” that this negates all other things, relationships and constrictions of trust.

What does it matter if a sister cheats with her brother on her husband when her brother is just family? It is a love so strong, an attraction so deep that it matters most of all. Yet, people have felt these attractions throughout the ages and most not for their family members. And, throughout history, marriages have ended when a new attraction began. That, is in fact, human nature.

I’m not a psychologist so all that I’m stating here is just my opinion and obviously I’m biased. But I just feel that there is a matter of self-control and restraint that is overridden by these people. Yes, that happens to people who are not genetically related as well. But letting it come between an existing relationship is indulgent. I don’t condone cheating either. I would hazard that in some cases, where two family members have been reunited after a long separation (as in adoption), that there just might be a strong psychological need for that belonging and love of the biological parent or sibling that had been missing throughout life. It doesn’t have to be acted upon sexually but seems it sometimes is.

Is it right? Not by most cultures’ standards. Is it hurting anyone? Only if someone is in an existing relationship and cheating. Or if they have a child because it increases the risk of genetic abnormalities for that child. Do I like it? Absolutely not. I fear that if this was too openly accepted as one of the norms, that we would see people saying, why oh yes, we have always loved each other. But in fact there would be the brainwashing of say, a sibling by a parent over years, and in fact a power over that would keep the one member in line, believing this was normal and of mutual acceptance. Case in point, there are the religious groups who believe a man can have numerous wives and marry them as young as 14, when those young girls can be influenced and brainwashed that this is what they want and that they always have wanted, knowing no other life.

I caution against believing that this genetic sexual attraction is normal and should be acted on. Often there are still repercussions for relations and of course the pressure of society can be great. But maybe I’m missing some crucial aspect. I’m waiting to be convinced.

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Writing: Rannu Fund Fiction & Poetry Winners

donjuan-cover-72

To the right is the cover of Don Juan & Men, which is due out in June with my story, “The Boy Who Bled Rubies.” It is obviously a book with tales about the homo-erotic natures of men. I believe all the stories have a fantasy aspect, and mind definitely does.

As well, another story that also revolves around some taboo sex, “An Ember Amongst the Fallen” has been accepted by Nancy Kilpatrick for Evolve, a vampire anthology (of modern vampires, hence the title) due to debut in Brighton, England next year at the World Horror Convention.

And then, I entered the Rannu fund for poetry and fiction. I did not win, alas, nor get an honorable mention but received a note, I suppose. Here are the results of the winners, post by Sandra Kasturi, one of the patrons of the fund. Now I just need to sell my story, “Shoes.”

**Please note that all judging was done blind; names, bios, e-mails, etc. were all stripped from the entries.**

Fiction Winners (tie):
“Hell Friend” by Gemma Files
“As Promised” by Nick Stokes

Fiction Honourable Mentions:
“God’s Gift to the Natives: Flight” by Sandra Jackson-Opoku
“Crossroads and Gateways” by Helen Marshall

Fiction Judges: Robert Boyczuk, Candas Jane Dorsey, Sandra Kasturi

Poetry Winner:
“Visitation” by Kim Goldberg

Poetry Honourable Mentions:
“Book of Sloth” by Jacques Benoit
“The Gypsy” by Helen Marshall

Poetry Judges: David Livingstone Clink, Mildred Tremblay, Sandra Kasturi

We would also like to note the entries that made it onto one or more judges’ shortlists:

Fiction:
“Shoes” by Colleen Anderson
“Pearls Before Swine” by Don Bassingthwaite
“No Cages” by Kevin Nunn
“Natalie Touches Upon the World” by Ivan Faute

Poetry:
Jacques Benoit’s “Slow Day in Tabloidland”
Robert Borski’s “Neosaur,” “Frog Prince,” and “All the Clocks of Hell”
Gemma Files’ “Tantalus, Reaching Upwards” and “Jar of Salts”
Kim Goldberg’s “Inner Sanctum” and “Green Thumb”
Sidharth Gopinath’s “Watcher”
Riina Kindlam’s “Vulnerable, with a Pinch of Salt”
Helen Marshall’s “Howling,” “The Oak Girl,” “The Queen of the Cats,” and “Pan”

Thank you all for participating in this competition, and I hope you will all enter again next year–check the website for details in the fall. And thank you again for your patience as the judges got through the entries. (And thanks again to the judges!!)

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