Don’t be Diss’n the Myth

A guest post by T.L. Smith.

Star_People_Legacy_Cover_for_Kindle“One man’s myth is another man’s religion.” Many variations of this quote exists, so I won’t try to figure out who said it first. I only bring it up because that’s a popular trope for writers. I’m one of them. But for all the vast potential we can pull from mythology/religion, I think authors should keep in mind how easy it is to cross the line from entertaining, to insulting.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not all up into ‘political correctness’, or afraid I’ll insult someone and they’ll come hunt me down. No, I’m talking about is how, with e-books and international markets, our writing crosses cultural borders all around the world. Even borders who try to regulate their internet and what their citizens can see. Our potential markets are virtually limitless.

I personally like the idea that a reader in some far corner of the world might get their hands on my book… and like it… and order more. With that in mind, I believe it’s possible to write a myth/religion based fiction, without insulting a large number of your potential readers. Whether you believe in their faith, or not.

It’s not pandering, it’s respect. In fact, internally I cringe when I use the word ‘myth’ out loud. Whether the followers truly believe(d) these characters exist(ed), or were created, they believe the purpose of God(s) is to guide humanity onto more enlightened paths. To better lives. To brighter futures. Even God(s) of destruction are there to cleanse and prepare the world for another attempt towards perfection.

So I put a lot of research into the characters I incorporate into my stories. I study them, good or evil, until I can see the person in my head. Until I can hear their voices, until I sense their intent to exist. Then I try to translate their personalities and motives onto the page and into my own stories.

Currently I’m working on a ‘gods are aliens’ Science Fiction novel series, that one day might see the light of day. All my gods, demi-gods, demons and humans, however obscure or popular, exist somewhere in the stories passed down through the world’s cultures.

The material available is vast and consuming, and in many cases…ewwwww. There’s some pretty twisted mentalities at play. Which makes me wonder about the original sources. Makes me sometimes wonder about myself too, as I try to bring these characters back to life in my own stories…just saying.

But back to paying proper homage to the trope… It might seem an easy task We see the ‘gods are aliens’ theories repeatedly on TV, but it’s not. It takes the right myth, the right region of the country of origin and an explanation to weave it into the fiction you’re writing. I just don’t see Zeus rampaging through modern Norway. Maybe waking from a long slumber to look down from Mt. Olympus and say “WTF?”

I wouldn’t add to Ulysses’ ordeal, but I might take on his mythical creatures and give them lives of their own, struggling to make this strange blue planet home after exile from their own distant destroyed world.

Then there’s bizarre stories of Gods on chariots, blankets, and winged creatures. The transport of Gods and their minions, awing the iron-age populace below. There are tales of war and weapons so devastating, they can alone destroy the entire planet. And let us not forget the gods’ insatiable appetites for human flesh, culinarily or erotically.

But be careful. As freewheeling as the ancient storytellers were, don’t take a character out of their personality. There things that Athena simply wouldn’t do, that Hera would, or Zeus took as a common practice. And speaking of ‘common’, unless you got a good twist, skip the usual suspects. They get a bit… boring. Dig deeper and pull out the gods few people know about. You get a lot more flexibility with their personalities and motives, without crossing the line.

However, this isn’t all about insulting someone’s religion. We want to be creative, but lend an accuracy to not offend the experts in this field. Last thing I want is some big-deal professor somewhere coming out against my book. I want a good review from them. Even if it’s ‘Didn’t like the story, but she got her facts straight. Thumbs up.’.

So how am I doing with paying the proper homage? Last year I released Star People Legacy. A story where Native American Mythology and Science Fiction collides down on the Yuma Bombing Ranges.

The ‘where’ was easy. I’m USAF and did my time down on the Gila Bend side of the ranges. The inspiration came from a story told by a couple NCOs who had an odd run-in on our bombing ranges. I carried the story around for (cough-cough) years, then on our way driving from Phoenix to San Diego Comic-Con, I told my friends the story. As clear as the Arizona skies 350 days of the year, Star People Legacy came to me as a concept.

Right there, in the back seat of Gini Koch’s car, I started writing out the concept. Then came the research. I could have stuck with myths (hate that word) isolated to the southwest, but I wanted it more universal. I looked for stories that spanned as many of the Nations as possible.

That is how I focused in on the Star People and their stories. I found an admiration for the stories and the Native Peoples brought together by them. I tried to incorporate that into the future world created for them, where social advances renew their cultures and internal politics help merge them into one Nation.

All the while a little part of me was afraid I might fail at respecting the Nations these stories originated from. Until Phoenix Comicon 2016. Sitting behind my books, a Native American family passed by. The mother saw Star People Legacy and looked up at me. Though her husband was rushing her to keep going, she grinned, pointing at the book. Before he pulled her away, she told me she’d read it, and loved it.

I so wanted to chase after her. To ask her straight up whether I’d given their story the respect it deserved, but someone heard her and stopped to look at the book. I’m happy with that few seconds of affirmation.

Now to get back to work on the next installment of aliens and gods.

Guest Writer Bio:
TL SmithT.L. Smith was born in Louisiana, but calls Phoenix, Arizona home between bouts of wanderlust. Even a stint in the U.S. Air Force as a radar specialist, training pilots in enemy detection, brought her back to the desert. Her time in the service taught her to appreciate the military culture and ever-changing technologies. Experience gives life to the Science Fictions she loves so much and helps her write about the strong women, holding their own as humanity reaches out into the universe. Come check out her current releases and where you can meet her next: www.tlsmithbooks.com

Genre Frappé

All month long, the Fictorians have been posting articles on mixing several genres together to make a book more interesting or to entice a wider audience. Here are two outside-the-mainstream ideas for you to consider.

Erotic Genre Mixing

If you’re comfortable writing and marketing erotica, you should consider combining it with the different genres. There are plenty of straight-forward erotic encounters between all kinds of individuals to choose from in the eBook marketplace. There are, however, smaller niches where your mixing in different genres can bring in more readers.

This isn’t a new idea by far. Even in genres such as Westerns, there have been plenty of years-long ongoing series that featured plenty of explicit sex between the characters. A good example is the Jake Logan series based on a man named John Slocum. Considered an Adult Western, it had by formula three explicit sexual encounters per novel. The series was penned by multiple authors under the Jake Logan pseudonym, and it ran for over four hundred novels.

The idea of the adult-oriented genre novel is a relatively unexplored niche. Writing a Space Marine novel series? You could have the teams be chaste and virginal as they sling lead or energy beams around, or you can add in some adult interactions as one would expect in a more realistic lifestyle. Maybe the protagonist falls in love with an underground freedom fighter, only to discover they were a spy all along. The adult interactions between the characters will create a bond that is far more heartbreaking and emotional than if they were friendly acquaintances when the truth comes out.

If you decide to go this route, it is important that you indicate the adult content in the marketing material. Some people prefer have a sex-free reading experience, and if you have a surprise orgy halfway through the book, you might get hit by poor reviews.

Non-Fiction Blended with Genre Fiction

This is another under-represented area that is open for exploitation by a savvy author. The most common mix for this is known as Alternate History, where the author sets up actual historical events and adds in a “What If?” event that veers from what actually occurred.

For example, did you know that there was an actual Emperor of the United States? Emperor Norton I lived in San Francisco and declared himself the Emperor plus the Protector of Mexico in 1859. The citizens of San Francisco loved him and his “official” decrees, and many dignitaries stopped by to say hello. Now imagine writing a story where the United States government was overthrown and he was actually elevated to political power. How would life be different now?

You can combine plenty of ideas with different genres to create some unique combinations. One good example was an anthology edited by Fictorian Travis Heermann called Cthulhu Passant. This charity project combined Lovecraftian horror with the game of chess. Each story had both elements, and at the back of the anthology the editor appended a quick primer on chess moves and terminology.

If there is something you are proficient in, consider marrying it to one of the genres to create something new. William Gibson combined science fiction with marketing in his novel Pattern Recognition. The movie The Last Starfighter combined arcade-based video games and science fiction. Consider combining what you do for a day job or hobby and how it can be tossed into a blender to make a delicious Genre Frappé.

 


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Magical Realism: Where Fantasy and Literary Fiction Meet

When most people hear magical realism, they immediately think of Gabriel García Márquez and his book One Hundred Years of Solitude. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Márquez tells the story of the fictional town of Macondo and the generations of families that live there. It includes people coming back from the dead, a plague of insomnia, and thunderstorms of yellow flowers. If not Márquez, many know of contemporary writer Isabel Allende, arguably the most popular current writer of magical realism. But, some well-known books, authors, and movies also fit into the magical realism category – ones you might not expect. Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Sherman Alexie, Haruki Murakami have all written magical realism. Movies like The Green Mile, Chocolat (as well as the book by the same name by Joanne Harris) and Big Fish (also a book by Daniel Wallace) can be grouped in the genre as well as the TV series The Leftovers on HBO. Books like Life of Pi, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Lovely Bones, and 11/22/63 can also fit into the genre of magical realism.

Then what is magical realism exactly? Is it fantasy? Literary fiction? The simple definition of magical realism is when a story is set in the real world, but the people in the world accept that some magical elements exist – when magical elements are a natural part of the world as we know it and are accepted as such. Stories in this genre may include retellings of fables and cultural myths to bring them back into contemporary social relevance, such as the book The Alchemist. Latin American writer Alejo Carpentier coined the phrase “lo real maravilloso” or “the marvelous real,” but Maggie Bowers is often credited as the originator of Latin American Realism, from which all magical realism stems.

When considering the definition, it becomes clear just how broad and inclusive magical realism really is. It’s also a genre that tends to overlap with other genres. Many books in the magical realism genre are also part of other genres, usually literary fiction and fantasy. There aren’t very many set rules as to what makes a book magical realism, but there are a few.

One of the rules or exclusions of magical realism is surrealism, a different genre that has more to do with psychology and the mind. Magical realism deals with the material, tangible world. Another widely accepted rule of magical realism is that the story takes place in the world as we know it, and the characters have the same needs and limitations as we do. This differs from fantasy where the setting is typically a far-away land and magic is wide-spread and known, and tends to be a power that comes from within. Magical realism simply adds a magical element into the story, such as a man with giant wings (“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez) or an epidemic makes an entire city go suddenly blind (Blindness by José Saramago).

Magical realism presents a very interesting opportunity for literary fiction and fantasy authors. Authors can enjoy a blending of both worlds by creating a playful and unorthodox story that sparks readers’ imaginations.

Recommended reading to examine magical realism in different cultures:

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  2. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  3. Blindness by José Saramago
  4. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  5. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  6. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  7. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Isn’t it Time to Re-brand Space Opera?

2016 phoenix comicon boothI’ve harped on this before. Where in the middle ages did we come up with the term “space opera” to refer to soft science fiction? Is it a derogatory term? Did it make sense at the time? What were they thinking?

Space opera. It sounds like soap opera, so what are readers going to think when they hear the term? I know what I thought; Days of our Lives aboard the USS Enterprise. Now, I admit, that would fit a fair number of Star Trek episodes, but it definitely does NOT define the genre. So, what should we call it instead? What term would fit a genre that incorporates adventure, romance, horror, and/or mystery in a futuristic setting that has scientific elements but does not strictly adhere to known scientific fact? My vote? Galactic Fantasy.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term before. I’ve heard it here and there, though not consistently, and it’s rarely used by the die-hard sci-fi gurus. And maybe I’m wrong. If the experts are okay with the term then why change an established genre.?

Why? Fans. Space opera may be established in the writing community, but it is not widely established among the fandom. And I have proof.

I shared tables at the 2016 Phoenix Comicon with a group of writers called AWW (Amazing Wycked Writers), which is a group of local Arizona sci-fi/fantasy authors who band together on occasion for conventions and such. I ran my section of the tables, showing my books to passing fans and talking about them. When describing the genre of my “Mankind’s Redemption” series, I used the proper term, space opera. Some fans knew what that meant, the avid readers and those who knew their sci-fi stuff, but most just smiled and nodded. You know the look. Sure, I’m going to pretend like I know what that means so you don’t try to explain it and so I don’t have to show my ignorance. A few people just admitted that they had no clue, and a few were familiar with the term, but not many. About halfway through the convention, I switched my genre label to Galactic Fantasy.

Now, did the readers recognize the term galactic fantasy any better than space opera? No, but I saw their eyes light up as their interest sparked. Maybe they thought the same thing I did when I first heard the term; a fantastical adventure in an outer space setting. Now, being a fantasy and soft science fiction fan, that idea appeals to me a lot more than a soap opera in space. And it appealed to the fans at Comicon, too. I garnered more interest, sold more books, and spent more time explaining my stories rather than defining the genre in which they take place.

If Galactic Fantasy makes more sense to the fans then that’s the road I’m going to travel, even if it is less worn. (Reference to famous poem intended). I hope you’ll join me and we can all be part of the Galactic Fantasy revolution. Isn’t it about time…and occasionally, time travel?

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. She loves learning new things, vacations, and the color purple. She writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net