Guest Blogger: Danielle Ackley-McPhail
Danielle's winner is: Ari Thatcher! Congratulations, Ari. Send me your contact information and I'll pass it along to Danielle. Thanks to everyone who participated.
The world is full of wonder. Sometimes we forget about that. Everything that happens is a little bit of magic or miracle. As writers, particularly paranormal writers, we need to focus on that.
One of my favorite things is to take an event…just a normal event, and put a twist to it. Think what would make it different. Just an early example of this, in my eighth grade English class we had to write a story. My story was about the splendor of a moonrise, so overlooked and under appreciated in comparison to the sunrise. Now that is unusual in itself.
My narrarator…a rubber band dropped in a garden.
What can I say; I’ve always been odd that way.
Writers are in a unique position where they get to reorder the readers’ perception of the world. Give them rules and a framework for understanding and you can do anything you imagine. One way to do this is to create a social structure of knowledge for your characters. Think out the hows and whys and what-fors. Just remember, even with fantasy, logic has to be in there somewhere, or you better be prepared to explain why it isn’t. Once you have that in place you can play in the new reality you’ve created exploring character dynamics and heroic challenges with your imagination the guiding force. Nothing to hold you back but yourself. This can be a lot of work, but also a lot of fun for the author. Kind of like the first time you received a box of crayons…at first you were a two-year-old Jackson Pollock, then as you gained control and understanding a recognizable order began to take shape. First squiggles corresponded with the rough area on the page they belonged, then a little while later you understood the concept of coloring within the lines, until ultimately, you learned the joy of telling the lines to take a flying leap and made your own image.
In the speculative genres, we have no lines we do not impose ourselves.
One of the ways I like to explore this open field is to take the tropes everyone is familiar with and re-arrange them. Currently I’m playing in the faerie realm, just as an example. My faeries are bikers. Now, I know most people will say “What the heck?” But my bikers are modeled on the concept of faeries that kept generations of villagers leaving offerings on their hearths and hanging scissors over their cradles. Old World faeries had teeth…and worse. They were tough and harsh and malevolent. They were warriors. I mingled a bit of the old-world with the new, channeled magic into wings of energy and introduced the peculiar nature of the biker culture, complete with legends of their own, to revitalize the Disney-fied fae.
There is so much of world myth that has been lost to common knowledge, but not lost to time. A little bit of exploring on the internet or at your local library and you can find so many forgotten treasures to revamp your paranormal playground.
A good example of this are vampires. Yes, everyone has their own concept…from the Anita Blake novels to Sookie Stackhouse and beyond. But how much of what you read is made up from whole-cloth and how much is based on an actual existing myth? You would be surprise about how much everyone “knows” about vampires just from the Stoker novel is unsubstantiated by the actual legends found in nearly every culture. I have done research on vampires around the world for a current—unconventional—vampire novel I am working on and discovered only one legend that actually credits their version of vampires with not being able to go into the sun. If you want to explore an overdone subgenre do a little research, draw in uncommon knowledge about the common populous of our paranormal world…and if there is something so entrenched the readership will be in an uproar if you try and mess with it…rearrange what you cannot change.
One of my favorite things to do is find or devise an unanticipated reason for the assumptions everyone makes about a myth cycle. Just as an example, most elf or faerie fiction will claim that these creatures covet human young because they do not have many of their own, and why don’t they have many of their own? It is popular belief that it is because immortal (or near immortal) beings do not have the same need…compulsion…to reproduce so energetically. Since they live so long they don’t need to worry about replacing themselves before it is too late…basically. For me, I wanted a different reason, one that had at least the illusion of being grounded in the existing mythology. My elves rarely have young because the Irish believe in reincarnation, but they believe that you come back as your descendents. With that in mind, in my novels, Yesterday’s Dreams and Tomorrow’s Memories, which are based on Irish mythology, the elves are incapable of having young unless one of them dies…because that frees up the soul to return. Finite amount of souls, death equals birth. Some implication that there is a mythological basis.
I like to play that way. There is so much that you can do out of your own imagination or by exploring the underutilized aspects of existing mythology that can breathe new life into the paranormal genre, setting your work apart from the cookie cutter books that invariably begin to surface with the popularity of any particular fantasy denizen.
Play, have fun, don’t tie yourself down to what everyone expects. Above all, create.