The Fantasy Genre

1) What is it about the fantasy genre that you think is attractive to readers?

I could say that it’s all about escapism, but I feel like that’s too easy to say, and it’s also a little dismissive to those who love the genre. That implies that those who love fantasy can’t deal with real life and need to escape somewhere that’s better.

I think fantasy is attractive to readers because of the natural human need to discover things that are new. It brings different cultures to an entirely new level. It’s like a new country, zoo, natural history museum, and super-advanced science (magic) lab all rolled into one. When everything is new, a reader gets to experience things with the same amazement as when they were discovering the real world. It’s exciting.

2) To you as a writer?

If I wanted to be as unfair to myself as literary fiction tends to be on fantasy readers, I would say that fantasy appeals to me, because I have control issues, and I like to play God. When you write literary fiction, you have to play by certain rules. “What is the difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” Fantasy allows me to make the rules. I get to be a master of destinies without all that fancy pants believability.

But I’m frequently told that I’m far too hard on myself, and I can’t whittle myself down to a semi-insulting psychological construct. As much as reading fantasy isn’t as simple as escapism, writing fantasy shouldn’t be as simple as craving control.

For me, the fantasy genre is all about wonder. I enjoy making worlds. When you make a different world, there are so many details to think about and research to be done. It allows me to explore different ways of thinking and ways of life. It’s like putting together a giant puzzle. I have all of these fantastic things all in my mind, and I get to spend so much time seeing how they fit together and what they represent. I get to visualize people and places completely unbound by reality. The more that I uncover, the more that I want to see. I get to spend hours discovering freely.

3) As a writer in the fantasy genre, what negative stereotypes do you find yourself dealing with from other authors? From readers?

The biggest negative experience I’ve had was with my Creative Writing professor in college. Believing that genre writers were formula and relied too much on gimmicks, he absolutely would not allow anyone to write genre fiction in his class. He told us that any story you could tell in genre fiction could be told in literary fiction and that changing genres took away from the “utterance”. He loved that word. He said that every word you write should be “dripping with meaning” and turning your characters into elves was unnecessary.

On way, I wrote a short story for his class. It was last minute and very Juno-esque. He said to me, “Colleen, this is it! This is your debut. This is what you should be writing, not that fantasy trash that you’re so in love with.” The sad part was that he almost destroyed my love of writing with these backhanded compliments. It was because of this man that I changed my major from English Creative Writing to English Language and Discourse. While he kept harping on symbolism, he simply failed to acknowledge fantasy as being complex and symbolic.

Colleen

Do you base your characters off of people you know or do they just come to you? Where do you get the inspiration for your characters?

1) Do you base your characters off of people you know?

Well, I used to. I think every author starts out doing so. Especially as children.

“This is you. This is me. And this is our magic bobsled. I named him Fred. And we go on exciting adventures together.”

Why? Because it’s a really easy way to make them whole people. You already know a lot about them. Motives and mannerisms are all built in. For me, it was a visual issue. I have a hard time visualizing faces; I can’t come up with a face from thin air. And if I cannot visualize their face, they don’t become whole. They are incomplete, which is unacceptable. So, using a friend as a template made a lot of sense. In my early novels (y’know, the ones that will never see the light of day), I even based entire species and cultures on the preferences of one of my friends.

The reason I don’t anymore is simple. Due to the fact that sometimes one might get into a disagreement with a certain person (your husband, for example), the character based on said person might end up very, very dead… Once you make up, and you’d love for them to read the latest book you just finished, you get to have this lovely conversation:

A: Y-You killed me?!
B: You told me to. (And he did.)
A: Yeah, but I didn’t think you’d do it!
B: So, you’re saying that I shouldn’t listen to you?
A: No! …I can’t believe you killed me!

2) Do they just come to you?

I don’t like the phrase, “just come to you”, because it implies that I haven’t done any work into forming these characters. When people ask me that, it makes me think of the goddess, Athena, springing forth full grown from Zeus’ forehead. That’s probably weird, but you have to admit, it’s a perfect analogy.

No, you have to think of all the things that go into people: how they look, how they speak, word choices, their likes and dislikes, outgoing or introverted, motivations, occupations, history, relationships. And that doesn’t even touch how they’re going to fit into your story or how you’re going to build a story around them. This isn’t to say that sudden bursts of inspiration don’t strike where you just know that you have gold, but if I waited for that to happen for every character, I’d be waiting for a long time.

3) Where do you get the inspiration for your characters?

Since I have trouble visualizing, when creating my own characters, I tend to work backwards. In the early stages of character development, I will start out with a vague inclination. About eighty percent of the time, I will pick an aesthetically pleasing (or displeasing as the case may be) actor or actress and use them for my visual template that matches the same general feel of the character. Dark and brooding? Feisty? Fun-loving? Depending on the visuals, I tend to just go from there, putting together the puzzle and thinking about who that I need this character to be. A lot authors work the other way around, trying to match an actor or actress who most closely resembles what they’re trying to achieve.

Where I get into trouble is when I don’t intend to keep a character, but then as I use them they start to amuse me. Daisuke was like this. He just wouldn’t die! But I guess that’s a blog post for another day.

Colleen

Why Gaelic?

What language did you use for the Wingéd? Why not use Latin?

There are a few things that contributed to me picking Irish Gaelic as the Wingéd language, although most of those things were either by accident or ignorant, not properly by design.

1) Latin isn’t pretty. As wonderful as the romantic languages are, Latin itself isn’t pretty, and I needed the Wingéd language to almost be like the elven language that Tolkien created from Finnish. I wanted it to be ethereal and beautiful sounding to the ear.

I did briefly entertain the idea of creating my own language, but I quickly realized what a huge undertaking that would be. I just lacked the patience and the knowledge in order to pull it off as effectively as I wanted. So another language was chosen.

2) Gaelic had síneadh fada/diacritical accent marks. It was very important to me that the audience read the word “Wingéd” as I intended it, as “Wing-ed”. I couldn’t bear the idea of them just being “Winged” like a winged fish. So, I took a page out of Shakespeare’s book. When he wanted the word “blessed” to be pronounced “bless-ed” he placed an acute accent marker there. And this diacritical coincided with the fada already present in Gaelic.

The best part is… this didn’t work at all. At all.

3) Harry Potter used Latin. This was during the huge Harry Potter boom or directly after it, and I couldn’t just use Latin. It seemed like such an obvious choice. Need an ancient language? Use Latin! I wanted to be original.

4) My misconceptions about Gaelic. So… I believed Gaelic was a dead language when I started. Oh yeah? Well, tell that to the 80,000 native speakers still over in Ireland. So, while that’s one of the reasons I picked it, I was wrong, wrong, wrongity-wrong. This is related to another reason: Latin is hard. I had a lot of friends who had taken Latin in high school, and I believed that there were fewer people in this world who could look at my butchered Gaelic phrases that I’d strung together out of the dictionary and say, “That’s bad Gaelic”, than there were people who could say, “That’s bad Latin”.

I discovered my error shortly after I’d decided on Gaelic, but by then it was already entrenched in the story. Wingéd wasn’t Wingéd without it, so I kept it. It was wrong, but it was right.

Colleen