Tag Archives: fantasy

Essential SFF

Today at Nerds of a Feather, I discussed my list of 24 essential SFF books. You can read the list here!

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Review for Nerds of a Feather, 1

Dearest Readers,

My very first book review for the amazing Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together is up! I review the Nebula Showcase 2015, edited by Greg Bear. Consider giving it a read here!

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New Poem: Rolling Dice

I am so thrilled to have a poem up in Apex Magazine! You can read it here!

And if you’re a fan of excellent science-fiction, horror, and fantasy writing, you should check out all of of Apex and consider getting a subscription (which they’re currently having a drive for and which will unlock some great stuff for the magazine)!

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Brontë Wieland: The Interview

Hello Dearest Reader! Pints is back with a new EBCP (Extremely Brilliant Creative Person) interview. This time, I’m talking with writer Brontë Wieland.

I first met Brontë when I was working on the planning committee for UW-Madison’s very first literary festival (Madison Lit Fest). Brontë was only a freshman but was already getting involved on campus (maybe this is only surprising to the me, the queen of not getting involved). I remember being struck with how motivated he was as well as by the excellent ideas he brought to the planning table.

Because of this, I remained curious to see where Brontë ended up. He was writing, so I encouraged him to send me some of his stuff. He sent me a play at one point which I still think about years later. There was an originality and skill that I almost couldn’t believe. Later, I also read some of his short stories and was equally impressed. His writing was polished, engaging, and utterly original.

Since first meeting him, I’ve expected big things to come from him. And, I think, after reading this interview, you Dearest Reader will as well!

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1.) When did you begin writing? And why?

Tough question.

Romantic version: I always had the heart of a writer and reader inside me and began writing short fiction in childhood. I had the insatiable urge to send a message and show the world my voice.

Real version: The first story I ever wrote was plunked out in all caps when I was ~9. A ship sailing through the Bermuda Triangle was wrecked on an island inhabited by fairies who saved the travelers and who many of the travelers eventually fell in love with. My second story was maybe a year or so later, written when I pulled a Pokémon book called Go West, Young Ash from my bookshelf and began copying it word for word, changing some words for their opposites so it wasn’t plagiarism. I stopped after about half a page. I was bored. The novel was called Go East, Young Klash. Luckily, it was never published. Then I didn’t write again until sixth grade when there was a short story competition my teacher forced us to participate in. I wrote about an average earthworm who always wanted to grow an afro. One day, he did grow an afro and eventually sacrificed himself to save life on Earth from a supervolcano. Mrs. Schroeder thought it was shit. Everyone’s a critic…

I didn’t start writing seriously until just before college. I’d always loved books, but that summer I read A Moveable Feast and learned to appreciate prose. I wanted to make something beautiful like that.

Why? Let’s go story by story.

Story 1: I had a tale to tell and it needed telling.

Story 2: I wanted to write something great.

Story 3: I wanted to have fun and do something that had never been done.

I think that accurate summarizes the motivations that keep my pen moving still.

2.) Describe how you approach an idea for something to write.

Every story is a little bit different. Sometimes I see a scene, an image, or a character. Sometimes I sense a story, a plot, an arc. Or maybe I feel an emotion. The first step has always been to let it ruminate. Gestation period varies. Sometimes months, but occasionally just hours.

My second step is usually to scrawl endlessly in a notebook in a script I can barely read. I get clips and blips of words and phrases and I jot them all down. Later is when I reorganize and then sit in front of my computer to agonizingly hammer it out at 1wpm over the next couple weeks.

I think that’s the most common, but there’s a lot of variance. On occasion I do just sit down and type until there’s nothing left to say.

3.) You write a lot towards the speculative and fabulist realms of fiction, what draws you to those kind of story elements? What do you think is the most important aspect to get “right” in this kind of writing?

I do, don’t I?

To me, these types of stories have always been the most real, the most Ur. Storytelling, from its infancy, has often been fantastic, grander than life, stretching the boundaries of existence. What I’m trying to do is tell the truest story possible. Real life has never been necessary to do that.

I feel like there’s something special, reverent, and liberating to tell stories in a way reflective of how they may have been told 10,000 years ago or 100,000 years ago. It feels like connecting with the minds that came before me, joining the ranks of hundreds of previous generations and thousands of previous storytellers. We’re all cut from the same cloth. We’re all telling the same stories starring the same people. It’s magic.

Or maybe I’m just scared my depictions of real life won’t be sufficient.

4.) You also write drama, did you come to one genre before the other? What sort of differences do you find in your writing process for these two forms? Do you prefer one over the other?

Fiction came first by far. I don’t remember reading or seeing a play before high school. I didn’t write a play until college.

As it turns out, my process is exactly the same. The main differences is I don’t usually write plays in LibreOffice.

They’re both beautiful arts and, you know, I can’t decide. I’m trying to think of moments I’ve had writing each that would sway my decision and keep finding examples for both and flip-flopping. That said, I think playwriting has informed my fiction more than fiction has influenced my playwriting. Stage constraints that I faced in playwriting changed my perspective of fiction completely. I had to learn how to make magic with just bodies, I couldn’t do any prosaic handwaving and neither could I weigh myself down with overexplanation. And I learned.

5.) Could you describe what you consider your overall style?

I don’t think I’ve found that yet. I’ve been experimenting and I have a lot of experimenting to go. The best I can do is say that I usually write in 1st person and I think a lot about culture, identity, and change.

6.) In your story “Empty Head, Flat Nose” (which can be read HERE), you write a science-fiction story that seems both absolutely futuristic and, yet, somehow still rooted in today—it’s one of the most brilliant aspects of the piece, I think. How did you achieve that balance? What sort of world-building went into this story?

My dad is a real down-to-earth guy. He sees things like they are, no illusions, and in a lot of ways has always kept me rooted while encouraging me to push forward. My mom tells me ridiculous things constantly and she always believes really wholeheartedly in what she says. One time my mom told me she heard about a guy walking home on New Year’s Eve. So, this guy, he was just minding his own business when a stray bullet fired celebratorily across town smashed through his noggin and got stuck in his brain. The guy survived. He was otherwise unharmed. No permanent damage. Obviously, sitting in the airport, listening to my mom tell me that is where and when “Flat Nose, Empty Head” was born.

I wondered what the chances were of surviving something like that and figured, they’re a lot higher if you don’t have a brain.

Anyway, I feel like the present day, real aspects of the story are my dad. The strange, futuristic ones are my mom. In terms of how I went about creating and maintaining a balance between these forces, I knew instinctively that this story needed to be as close to the present as possible or it wouldn’t work. There’s nothing special about a mechanical brain in a future that’s infinitely advanced. If this were in 1000 years, people would be rockin’ empty heads all the time and our skulls would be more a fashion statement than a body part. I kept that in mind constantly. I put as much of 2011 into the story as possible and only let the future seep through slowly. Another important chore was to make sure Sunny and especially Matt (since it’s his voice we’re hearing) felt completely comfortable in their world except for Sunny’s surgery which was a shocking innovation. Anything can feel like the present if the people you’re listening to believe it’s the present.

Part of all of this, of course, was the world building. Because I needed to feel comfortable in this near-future too. To gather the rhythm of the world, I wrote about the doctors who performed the surgery and their marriages and vices. I wrote about the company who financed the research and their intentions. I wrote about the lab techs’ hating their jobs. I wrote a bit about Matt’s parents. There was also an accompanying story about the time Sunny killed Matt’s cat when they were toddlers.

7.) What is one thing you think every writer should know?

We should all know what Junot Díaz said to an Atlantic reporter about gender and representation.

“I think that unless you are actively, consciously working against the gravitational pull of the culture, you will predictably, thematically, create these sort of fucked-up representations. Without fail. The only way not to do them is to admit to yourself [that] you’re fucked up, admit to yourself that you’re not good at this shit, and to be conscious in the way that you create these characters. It’s so funny what people call inspiration. I have so many young writers who’re like, “Well I was inspired. This was my story.” And I’m like, “OK. Sir, your inspiration for your stories is like every other male’s inspiration for their stories: that the female is only in there to provide sexual service.” There comes a time when this mythical inspiration is exposed for doing exactly what it’s truthfully doing: to underscore and reinforce cultural structures, or I’d say, cultural asymmetry.”

What we should do with that knowledge is realize how broadly it applies and constantly question our cultural structures.

8.) Things you’d most like people to get out of your writing:

An elevated heart rate. Because they liked it, because it made them think, because anything. If my work makes someone question their assumptions, I’ve succeeded. If I ever found out someone felt a  sense of wonder at my writing, I’d probably cry.

9.) In many of your pieces that I’ve read, you incorporate folkloric ideas, along with ideas about the nature of storytelling. What draws you to these themes? What are some of your favorite folklore tropes or stories?

The nature of storytelling is something I’m obsessed with. I always love finding a new story or a story told in a new way. Like I mentioned above, I’m fascinated with how folklore and storytelling link us to the past and how they create a connection between cultures and peoples. The only thing more astounding than the Aarne-Thompson classification system is that we, over thousands of years, developed a storytelling framework robust enough to support it. The similarities, the differences, they’re impossibly complex. It says to me that storytelling has been foundational in our development as a species.

In my writing, I’m often trying to learn more about these traditions and do my part to extend and continue them.

Favorites are so hard. I think in general, my favorites are always stories about deception. Either being deceived or deceiving others. I also like talking animals.

10.) Writer or writers you’d most like to meet:

China Miéville, Haruki Murakami, Ursula K. LeGuin, Angélica Gorodischer, Junot Díaz

Sad fact: Could’ve met Miéville at Socialism 2012 in Chicago but I ended up not going. Terrible idea.

Then, there’s a list of writers that, because I follow on Twitter and occasionally interact with, I feel are people that could in some alternate reality be my peers. They’re doing the type of fantastic work I like to pretend I’ll be doing some day. I’d love to meet some of them.

They are: Sofia Samatar, Aliette de Bodard, Usman T. Malik, Alyssa Wong, Ken Liu

11.) Thing you are most proud of in your writing?

Two things.

  1. That I’ve stuck with it.
  2. That other people have enjoyed it.

12.) Question you wish I would have asked?

Favorite thing I’ve read this year and favorite thing I’ve written this year.

Read: definitely Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon by Kirin Narayan, which I reviewed on my blog. It’s outstanding.

Written: a story that you and about three others have read so far called “Bilingual Cooking Night #1, Banana Bread.” I will optimistically say, be on the lookout for this one in the next year!

13.) The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less.

Editing. Forcing myself to write. Not using the internet.

14.) What is up next in the world of Brontë Wieland?

A lot less writing than usual, actually. From now until June, I’m trying to live as much in the moment as possible. In June I’m leaving Spain, so I want to take in everything I can until then. In June I’m flying to Singapore, then Tokyo, then Manila, then Melbourne. So I’ll be trading writing time for experiences until August when I fly back to Chicago and work my way down to Iowa, where I’m starting in the Creative Writing and Environment program at ISU. From there, who knows? Hopefully fame, fortune, and glory.

To find out more about Brontë , visit his website here or follow him on Twitter @BeezyAl

Brontë Christopher Wieland is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Raised in Wisconsin, he’s living in Spain until August when he begins the Creative Writing and Environment MFA at Iowa State University. 

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Dan Pankratz: The Interview

I met Dan Pankratz years (wow…that’s weird to write) ago. He is one of those writers who always makes me want to read just one more thing by him and so luckily he lets me be his friend and read his stuff. I think he deserves a much wider audience though (I know despite my awesomeness, Dear Reader, I do not equal out to every reader in the world) and so for my second Extremely Brilliant Creative Person interview (EBCP), I have selected him. Dan was willing to answer some questions and give us a sneak peek into the unique world of his novel series that he has been working on. So, enjoy Dear Reader, and please check out links to more of his work.

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When did you begin writing? And why?

I started creating things in second grade. I was a huge fan of the Captain Underpants series then, so I drew comics. I created a Marvel-sized universe of superheroes—Flame, Windgirl, Waterboy, to name a few. Flame was my favorite. He was a ninja garbed character with a hand cannon. I was terrible at drawing, though. My best friend Keith in grade school used to draw a lot of things back-to-back with me, but eventually we split the work and I did the writing while he drew. By the time I was in sixth grade I’d turned completely to full-length prose. I started off by writing a really bad high fantasy novel. Though I’ve kept the scripts, I don’t think I’d even show them to a future spouse if it comes to it.

I started writing because I was compelled. Writing made me feel powerful, too, which is super important for kids. Writing gave me the space to play god in a social hemisphere where I was otherwise powerless. Kids at my elementary school were vicious, and I didn’t have many friends. A lot of kids got bullied worse than me, though. I was lucky. I was just the kid that wrote in the corner. Nobody really paid any attention to me.

When I went to high school I stopped writing for two years. I’d like to think that was because of the necessary adjustments my life had to make. I was figuring out who I was and where I was going. After visiting Italy with my mother my junior year, I started writing a fantistorical (we’re not sure if this is a real term…but I, dear reader, want it to be a real term…so we’re going to just go with it)  novel set in a realistic Roman Empire type universe. Even though I’ve long abandoned the project, I’ve been writing every day since.

Describe how you approach an idea for something you’re going to write.

Hey Dan, are you having fun? Yeah, seems like. Will others have fun reading this? If yes, then get to work, fool.

My instincts have never failed me when it comes to understanding the difference between personal writing and the kind of writing that can be shared. A lot of my poetry is personal and will never see the light of day. It’s the kind of stuff I write to help myself cope and understand the universe. But that’s for me. My writing that I consider shareable has some personal elements, but it’s more disguised.

You’re currently working on a series of novels…tell me everything about that process and also what you’re working on.

This seems like a tease for information about book two. I’m not biting. (It totally was a lure, of course. Curses! Foiled again!)

At current, I’m finishing up revisions for book one. It’s an insane amount of work. The novel is almost at 800 pages now, with nine unique perspective characters and almost forty or so others on the side. It’s hard to keep things consistent.

My schedule every day goes like this: I wake up at about eight, then write or edit until lunch. A lot of times I’ll write beyond that, or have an evening crunch, but I do my best work in the morning. I have several types of days beyond that, depending on where I am with a particular writing project.

First and foremost, I have free-write days. On those I just spew crude drafts of chapters. These usually happen when I’m starting a novel. The further I get in, the more specific certain days become. For instance, in my upcoming novel House of Spiders, I have seven perspective characters that I alternate between for each chapter, sort of like how Game of Thrones. Some days I’ll write or edit only from a specific character’s viewpoint. This morning was a Ben day, for instance, while yesterday was a Desna day, and so forth. It helps keep things consistent.

Right now I’m finishing up the end of Part Two for my novel and digging into Part Three, though by the time this interview gets posted on the internet I’ll hopefully be done with the whole thing. Halloween is my absolute deadline for the entire book, after all, so I should be in the thicket of writing the crude draft of book two, Garden of Fire. That’s the hope, anyway.

Do you mostly want to work within the bounds of novels? Do you write anything else (poetry, nonfiction, scripts, etc)?

My next project after finishing the five novels that comprise The Glass Towers will be either be a series of television scripts and/or a graphic novel. I think I’m lucky among writers in that I have way too many ideas. It makes me excited.

Could you describe the style/ types of writing you do:

I focus almost entirely on character and as diverse a cast as possible. I infuse a lot of personal questions and issues from my life into my writing, usually disguised. I like visual descriptions, probably more than you would like, or so you’ve told me! (Pints is kind of a harsh critiquer, folks. It’s shocking but true)

I like capturing the most important moments of a person’s life in a bottle, and letting that firefly blink or wither. That’s what my scenes feel like to me, at any rate.

What got you interested in the idea of doing a series of novels?

This might sound insane and egomaniacal, but I want The Glass Towers to cast a shadow alongside Harry Potter and Twilight (Twilight? Maybe Pints is a little frightened about recommending him now…). The level of prestige and depth that can be obtained from writing is staggering, and the stakes are high. I crave that. Above all, though, I want to reach people and make them feel something valuable. Urban fantasy has a horrible reputation for being all about vampires and shitty romance, and that territory needs to be taken back. There’s treasure to be found beyond all the bad gothic make-up and fake plastic teeth. I just know it.

Dream projects you’d like to work on

There’s a graphic novel series about anthropomorphic fish that I intend to write and draw before I die. It’ll probably end up being a web comic, but we’ll see.

You do a lot of visual work to incorporate into your writing (character sketches and such). What got you into adding that component?

I play a lot of video games and watch a lot of television, probably more than I read novels, I think. There are just so many amazing stories on so many platforms that I can’t help but explore a wide berth. It’s wired my brain towards specific visual interpretation, though, and that definitely appears in my writing. I had a professor once refer to my writing as cinematic.

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Thing you think every writer should know.

Whenever you resume working on a particular project, don’t ask yourself, where do I pick up from here, but rather, why did I stop?

Also, if you’re not writing on a daily basis, you’re doing it wrong.

Things you’d most like people to get out of your work.

Value, mostly. I want people to forget who they are and dissolve in the page until they’re done with the book.

Writer you’d most like to meet.

Patrick Rothfuss. Because, beard. No, more than that. He’s like my chaplain of the word. His writing is a cornucopia of radical. I bow at his altar. But most importantly, I just want to be friends with him. He’s a phenomenal guy, and I’m not friends with many fellow writers. (Well, thanks, Dan…Dear Reader, your easily offended blogger storms off the set).

Thing you are most proud of in your writing.

I think I write children in a unique and fresh way. I always have the most fun writing from their perspective, at any rate. I also think I handle the introduction and understanding of fantasy elements at a natural pace. A lot of fantasy writers throw strange things at the reader too early, and that’s part of the reason why I love urban fantasy over high fantasy. It takes the world we know and slowly coaxes you in like a warm bath—at least, that is, until you realize those bubbles aren’t exactly what you thought they were.

What is coming up next for the world of Dan Pankratz?

After House of Spiders is done, I need to find a stable job for now and seduce an agent into taking up the introduction of the book to the publishing world. I’m honestly terrified in a sharp, knife-sinking sort of way. It’s really hard to publish right now and this is all I ever really want to do with my life. We’ll see how things go.

The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less.

Writing women for what they are: as people, as human. (The blogger sighs…. But, seriously, Dan is making himself sound like more of a man-jerk than he actually is. I think?)

 

For more information check out Dan’s blog or feel free to send an e-mail!

Dan Pankratz is an alumnus of University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in English-Creative Writing. He is currently seeking an agent for his first novel, House of Spiders, while working on the book’s sequel. Be sure to check out his blog at http://danpankratz.blogspot.com/

Contact him: Danwpankratz@gmail.com

 

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