Slicing and Dicing Writing

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First things first…I’m back baby! So, hey everyone. For how long am I back? I have no idea. I felt no urge to blog for months and then suddenly I wanted to blog again.
Second, this might be due to my good friend Katie Hayoz’s new blog applause. She is a fantas…fab….err….totally fantabulous YA writer. See Katie, one adjective cannot contain you or your writing.
So, anyway Katie wrote this awesome blog post and it made me want to re-start blogging too. So here I am, blogging again. Katie wrote a funny and lovely post about being both a YA reader and a wonderful writer. Well, she says she writes YA and that’s the label under which her creative, fun and well-written book is making its rounds.
I would say though that she is a writer. A good writer, not merely a good YA writer, or a YA writer at all. Why, you ask?
It’s because I’m old-fashioned, not just plain old. I remember when there were no genres really except fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes I would hear that a book was a classic or that it was contemporary…a ‘novel.’ Sometimes there were some kids books thrown into the mix.
And then marketers got their paws on the industry and suddenly around the time I started writing seriously, what was once a wonderland of words and phrases became chopped up and divided into genres. So, just in fiction (forget the non category for now) there is literary fiction, commercial fiction, commercial womens’ fiction, romance, children’s fiction, young adult (YA) also known as juvenile fiction, horror, science fiction, mystery, crime, fantasy, and western. In fact there are many other ways to slice and dice fiction. Each genre has sub-genres and the whole thing makes my head hurt.
 Of course, the word genre has been applied to the written word before but the boundaries were more fluid. They were looser generalizations but in the modern marketing machine, genres have become set in stone almost. So much so that sometimes even writers become genre-ized.
When my first novel, The Burden of Foreknowledge, was making the rounds of publishers it was almost sold to one of the big ones. The acquisitions editor loved the book but it got shot down in the board meeting. They had already made their quota of, “female Indian authors,” for that publishing cycle. Yes, this is how publishing decisions are made…sometimes.
I remember when I was a child my parents went to meet the Dalai Lama. For years afterwards my mother would quote something he said. “There are only two religions in the world. The religion of the good people and the religion of the bad people. There is no other religion.”
And for me, there are only two kinds of books in the world, good books and bad books. If a book is good the genre becomes irrelevant. H.G. Wells’ books are classics not because they are science fiction but because they’re great books. Little Women is still loved for the same reason. Huckleberry Finn remains a much-read book but not because it was jammed into an obligatory genre.
To me, genres limit us, as readers and perhaps as writers. Writing is supposed to expand our minds, our creativity, and our imagination. As does reading. But putting ourselves in a little box and saying, ‘here this is your writing/reading arena. Stay within the lines and you’ll do well,” is counter-productive to that in my opinion.
Readers become entrenched within the genres they read. Think about this, a man might pick up Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights but would they be likely to do that if these two were packaged as romance novels with the obligatory lurid bodice-ripper (neck-biters, the Germans call them) covers?
As far as I am concerned genres should not be tools to guide readers or writers. They are merely marketing categories that have grown to encompass and, in my opinion, strangle the way we read books. I read Little Women and all the other Alcott books but I never knew I was reading YA. I read Invisible Man without knowing that it might be classified as horror or science fiction.
Good writing is good writing. It spans boundaries and breaks them. It defies genres and goes beyond defining them. So…bring on some good writing and screw the genre.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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