In the last few years, I've played a lot of handheld video games on my phone. They’re easy, free, and some are quite addictive. I’ve tried collecting baby dragons, meandering through a Chinese imperial court, and crushing 157 levels of heart-shaped candies. Right now I am designing outfits in an Asian fashion game called Love Nikki: Dress-Up Queen and playing a Star Wars game with some competitive gameplay and acquisition of an assortment of characters from this sci-fi franchise. Galaxy of Heroes, began as a way to introduce characters from every era of the Star Wars franchise, including the non-canonical (but extremely popular) Old Republic, as well as the controversial Prequel Era, the acclaimed Original (Imperial) Era, the new Sequel Era, and several successful TV series set in various periods. I learned about some of the characters in the SW Universe from playing this game, long before I actually saw the source material.
One of these characters was a villain named Cad Bane. He appeared in a handful of episodes in the Clone Wars TV series, which I didn’t see when it first came out. I discovered this character had been an original concept from the first Star Wars movie in 1977, but never actually made it into the film. So he was recycled and popped up decades later on TV. He’s based on western outlaw types and is a killer-for-hire with a huge cowboy hat. Really belongs with the “space western” angle of this franchise. But when the game developers started to use a new upgrade chip—called a “zeta” chip—they didn’t apply one to Cad Bane. Zeta chips come with new abilities for the character and since zetas came years after the game started, a lot of the characters were reworked to include zetas. But not this guy, although he was very popular. When asked why this was, the developers just shrugged. They seemed lost for words. Why didn’t Cad Bane get a “zeta” ability? Well—he just didn’t. They simply couldn’t think of any new abilities to give him.
As I’ve worked through my books, Devotion, Harrisons, and Victoria needed total rewrites. There was always more to Palladia and now it seems there’s more to The Birthday Present as well. The long-forgotten MerrySummer stories suddenly popped back up and Bellevere needed a few tweaks to be clearer and more accurate about the situations in that book. After linking Birthday Present into the Palladia timeline, the first place I looked, naturally, was Facets of Fantasy. Would it develop gaps in and connections in this way? And what about Ryan and Essie? But neither of them did.
A long-running theme with both Facets and Ry/Es was that I always thought there was more to the story. For years I fiddled with little sequels to the Facets stories. Ry/Es ends on a note of possibility the children might return to Caricanus. But the only sequel that really went anywhere was the one for “The Trouble with Taranui,” which eventually became City of the Invaders. The only link I was able to make between Facets and my other books was to tie it into Ry/Es—a tenuous thread that never quite fleshed-out fully, but that also did feel real and sincere. There IS something in common between these two books. They are both fantasy set in outer space. The world of "Halogen Crossing" is so high-tech it could easily be set on a distant planet and not a fantasy world. "Jurant" is already set in outer space. I tied Renari in by having Ryan’s long-lost twin—also an astronomy buff—tells the mythology of the planets she looks at, one of which is Renari. So Renari is a planet on which fantasy things happen, not a fantasy world. But after creating those linkages, the stories in Facets just closed over into their own dimension and Ryan and Essie drifted around them like a satellite. I couldn’t connect or expand them any further and I couldn’t write more stories to continue them.
I’ve felt this was problematic because I want to do an epic fantasy novel, preferably Christian speculative, and I would like it to sync into my already existing books rather than create an extraneous new world. But the worlds in Facets only seem to exist in these 3 stories. I can’t seem to write more about them, though the promise is always looming like a fruit just out of reach. Ryan and Essie was written with a blatant idea of sequels in mind and its ancient mythology would be suited to the story I want to write next. But again, Ry/Es is complete. It ends where it does. Just like Palladia and Birthday Present started to expand, Facets and Ry/Es have contracted and become stable. They belong together.
So when I do write that epic fantasy book, I’ll have to find a way to develop the world that lines up with my other work, but doesn’t include these two books. I’m sure I will, though, when the time comes. Coming up with ways to get stories written is what authors DO.
And there will be more updates.
Victoria: A Tale of Spain is part of a review group on StoryOrigin this month. This group has 11 books of historical fiction that need reviews and you can find the link here where you can read samples and then take the books if you feel interested. Of course, what fiction books don’t need reviews these days? Probably only about 1% of them. It’s really not that difficult for readers to put up reviews. In fact, I remember how easily people used to review my books. I never had to ask at that time—they just found books and immediately put up reviews, often also giving private feedback to me in messages, which I didn’t even ask for! But these days people are a lot stingier about reviews. (Most likely feedback too, I'm not sure because I haven’t asked for it in a while.)
There was a pop song that drifted around a few years ago: “It’s all about that bass, ‘bout that bass, no trouble.” Similarly, for authors it’s suddenly all about reviews, ‘bout reviews, no trouble. Well, it should be no trouble. A person who doesn’t want to review a book because they have to take time to read it shouldn’t be following an author at all. Authors write books and books are for people who like to read. People who don’t like to read go to YouTube videos-- for the song All About That Bass or for anything else--and write inane comments. This actually doesn’t take more time and effort than reading, but they prefer to do it because that’s what they like. It might be unkind to call them names, but I’ve never forgotten it when someone I knew said, “Don’t read the comments on YouTube. Your brain will disappear.”
There are many businesses now that offer (in some cases guaranteed) Amazon reviews for your books if you pay, as well as free review programs like the one on StoryOrigin. Why is this? Because people review a lot less than they used to and so every author has to ask around. My theory is that after a number of years of reading reviews for products, people noticed a lot of them weren’t very good. Now it’s true they usually weren’t nearly as bad as comments on social media sites—there might be a few trolls in there, but most product reviews were much better thought out. But still, a lot of book reviews didn’t really say anything clear about the book that would justify reading the review. They were vague and used strong, but unclear language—either praise or rejection--and you got more idea of the reviewer's attitudes than of the product itself. In short, they weren’t helpful to people in making purchases. So people became a little shy about expressing themselves through reviews.
There are plenty of professional reviewers out there. Many of them are even paid to deliver high-quality editorial reviews. But nobody is expecting a “real person" putting up a book review to be a professional. (Although actually, pro reviewers are real people in the sense they aren’t bots.) In fact, authors request non-pro reviews because they want readers to hear from a non-expert, just a typical person reading the book, which gives insight beyond the publishing industry and how they talk about books. Potential purchasers can find this very helpful. Reviews also don’t have to be long, polished, or filled with plot analysis. Not only do these take more of the reviewer’s time, they're more suited to beta reading. Whisking off a few lines that clearly describe the book’s content and what was your fav/least fav thing about it doesn’t mean you have to write an essay and it isn’t hard. It’s a great help to readers and authors alike and I hope more people start to realize that reviewing can even be fun.
Well . . . depends on the book, of course. But let’s assume you’ll like most of the books you read.
And there will be more updates.
It’s common knowledge that authors are told to write what they know. For instance, in the beloved Anne of Green Gables series of books, a constant thread involves her literary efforts while a teenager. They are melodramatic, romance soap operas that read like silly fanfiction about Camelot. Her characters, as she frequently resents being told, are essentially unreal, stylized fiction personalities that are too high-strung to make any sense to people. In fact, one of her stories was so—well, not exactly literary in quality—that it was chosen as winner for a contest advertising baking powder. (Probably because after Anne’s friend Diana made little awkward additions to an originally full-of-itself fiction effort, those contest judges thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever read.)
Readers want to hear about situations they’ve seen in real life. Anne is told this many times. But if we’re going to talk about “write what you know,” people who write fiction do not write biography or memoir, so they can’t just record what they’ve seen in their lives by putting friends and neighbors into books. Such actions can easily come across as simply uncreative or even spiteful and tasteless if anything critical is said about the characters based on real people. And does this idea even apply to speculative fiction, like sci-fi and fantasy, at all? If it's best to stick to what you know, how exactly can you write about a far future or a world with dragons when you’ve never seen those things? People must think authors really have the power to go to the places they talk about. 😊 I feel that this phrase does indeed apply to speculative fiction too, because you can know about things in life besides physical locales and personal acquaintances. Science fiction often requires a lot of understanding of scientific possibility and fantasy explores philosophy and morality—all things that people can be expected to know about. But in two of my more realistic stories--Movies at the Beach and A Year with the Harrisons--that pretty obviously draw from some real life experiences, I tried to navigate between the scenes that I knew from life and characters that were fictionalized so that the story could be told a lot better.
For instance, the characters in Movies at the Beach attend a dance school because I did that at their age. I wrote about what I knew. But some of the actual people at the school are altered for the story. The dance teacher’s sons in real life were both very lovely young men and I remember them fondly. But they weren’t funny. Not only would it be rude to put them in fiction without their permission, they wouldn’t make good comedic antagonists at the school—unlike the fictional Dylan Dupree in the story. Similarly, Letty Harrisons' extended family is much more dramatically different from hers than happened to me in my real life, but I kept a lot of the details of the world of Texas that I knew about fifteen years ago. Substituting other relatives that went better with the story—a story about growing up and culture shock—turned it into what it really is, a work of fiction. Fiction blends reality that you know with characters native to the genre you’re writing, often replacing real people who came and went and didn’t really create a story you could tell.
So the advice, I found (and I think every author has found), should be amended to, “Write what you know—but not literally everything you've ever seen. It's OK to fictionalize at times, because some things don’t add anything to the story even if they really happened to you.”
And there will be more updates.
Pleasant Fiction in an Age of Noise
I write stories about human emotions--about the journey of life. Every step of it can be meaningfully great or simply terrible and you can only reach the end after experiencing many kinds of things that make you grow. Emotional travels are the travels of life and the road of living is not one planned out in notebooks or organized in Scrivener. It is felt in love, hope, and fear and developed through an understanding of why humans go through these. And, on top of that, my stories are adventure stories. History, fantasy, and daily modern situations are all adventures as long as you don't know for sure what's going to happen when you wake up each day. Because that would be like repeating the same day over and over again and who wants to do that?
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Bellevere House has been featured on Ezvid Wiki video "10 Wonderfully Inventive Retellings That Interpret Classic Stories in a New Way." Click to see the video.