Too many characters?

Lovereading.co.uk once wrote that they love epic books with swathes of characters creating a wonderfully complex plot, but asked rather plaintively:

“Sometimes is it all too much?”

They produced a wonderful infographic about books like Shogun, Bleak House, The Stand, Game of Thrones.

You can see the infographics at the link below, but first I decided to look at a few of my own books as to number of characters.

The Secrets of Jin-shei:

Eight protagonists, or nine if you count the ghost, and several times that number of named characters. When asked about the writing of it, I sometimes suggest that if I ever have a similar idea for another book with so many major characters, I plan to go lay down until the impulse passes.

Embers of Heaven:

The sequel-that-is-not-a sequel to the The Secrets of Jin -shei — it takes place in the same world but hundreds of years later — has only two major protagonists, but more than twenty named characters.

Abducticon:

On the other hand, my science-fiction romp has an entire SF/fantasy con of named characters and ensemble protagonists, at least half a dozen other important named
characters and four time-traveling androids.

Empress coverEmpress:

 

My newest book has two main protagonists,                         at least four secondary “important” characters                   with agency on the plot, and more than twenty              named characters

The Were Chronicles:

It is a series and thus tougher to count. There are three MAIN protags, one per book, but each one also features as characters in each other’s books, so it’s hard to know if you’re counting them twice. And numerous other named characters, of course

Worldweavers:

There is only one main protagonist in this four-part series, unless you want to count Coyote The Trickster and other characters from Native American mythology —  along with 25+named characters, some of them from other worlds.

Midnight at Spanish Gardens:

There are five protagonists, or perhaps six counting the enigmatic bartender named Ariel, and several other named characters, although they are less importance in the scheme of things.

You can find ALL my books HERE

Check out the Lovereading infographic HERE

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Children of a Different Sky

Children Title banner

The fantasy anthology, “Children of a Different Sky”, is a collection of stories which illuminate the lot of the lost, bewildered and abandoned refugees and immigrants of our time.

If you wish to help, and don’t know how, pick up a copy of this book, both for the inspiration and insight the stories will give you, and the material aid you will offer by your purchase. All profits go to aid groups.

To pre-order “Children of a Different Sky”, click on the book cover HERE

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Just what is YA?

Children’s Book Week – June 12-16

When books were just books

When I was growing up, there was no such thing as “young adult” as a marketing niche.

In my house, there were just books. Never was I told that any of those books were not for me. I was reading fully “grown-up” literature when I was 7. I read my mother’s Pearl Buck collection before I was 10 and I didn’t have any difficulty with any of it.

Children who are encouraged to read and permitted to read will find their own level. They might well enjoy today’s “age-appropriate” middle grade or YA offerings, But then, if the books are good enough, so will many people who have long since left their teens behind. A good story can be read by anybody who loves to read, from age 12 to 92, without any artificial age boundaries in there.

And I’m using 12 as a beginning with a distinct sense that it is fungible. There are precocious readers who can read this stuff much younger, as I did, The relationship between a book and its reader is always very individual and specific and quite often unpredictable.

Age distinctions are a recent development, and since their arrival we have had kidlit fragment into picture books for VERY young readers, chapter books, middle grade, YA, New Adult.

People are constantly asking where are the lines? And that is a good question because it simply isn’t true that a young protagonist is all that it takes for a book to be YA. You could look at “Lolita” through that lens and because it has a young girl center stage – she’s even the title – you might throw a wholly undeserved YA label on it.

For a long time Harry Potter was pretty much THE YA genre. Everyone knew about Harry. And a generation grew up having picked up the first book when they were Harry’s age and then aged concurrently with it, adding their years just as Harry did his.

But the Harry Potter books and movies are very much a ladder and the first one feels almost simplistic. The subsequent books are much darker, much more complicated while still rated YA. Young readers are expected to cope with a very broad range of material, and this is often underestimated when it comes to “children’s literature”. Children can understand so very much – especially if you root it in familiar tropes.

My first YA series

Worldweavers coversThe first series I wrote for a YA audience was Worldweavers (“Gift of the Unmage”, “Spellspam”, “Cybermage”, “Dawn of Magic”) It was born out of a YA panel at the 2002 Fantasy Worldcon, where Jane Yolen, the grande dame of children’s lit, said at one point that she didn’t like the way the Potter books treated their girls. I lost the rest of the panel completely because that was all it took for Thea Winthrop to step out of the shadows and introduce herself to me.

Her story had all the tropes. Thea went to a school known as the Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent, a place for the weird and geekish in her magical world. Thea was a Double Seventh, the seventh child of two seventh children, and her magical gifts were expected to be profound. Instead, she grew up as the Girl Who Couldn’t Do Magic.

It wasn’t that she was bad at magic in her magical world – she could not do it at all. To her, it was like she was standing behind a glass wall, unable to reach or touch or practice it. The reason behind that initial paralysis drove the whole series.

I peopled my book with three different kinds of creatures.

There are humans, much like us who can’t do magic. And there are those who can. And some of the magic users were rather famous in our own world, like Nikola Tesla, known widely as the Wizard of the West during his life and, when he appears in my books, the only quad-Elemental mage in human history.

The second group group of creatures are those I wholly invented, like my Alphiri. They look like Tolkien’s elves but have the grasping souls of Star Trek’s Ferengi and a built-in conviction that everything is for sale.

The third group of creatures are drawn from the American mythos – creatures like Grandmother Spider, and Tawaha the Sun God, and Coyote the Trickster.

I wove a story around them all – a story which revolved around one thing: about Thea’s coming of age, and into her own.

In fact, she becomes powerful indeed – becomes something quite unique (no spoilers; you’ll have to read the books to find out what.) But this doesn’t happen overnight, or easily. There are things she has to be willing to sacrifice on her road to the apex of her existence. She has to be willing to offer things she cherishes deeply, in order to save a friend. And then in order to save her world, she has to make tough choices that will haunt her for the rest of her life. By the end of these books, my little girl is a little girl no longer. She is a grown, fully developed human being.

That is not to say she has become perfect – but that is not the point of a YA book. It is not to tell a young reader that one has to be flawless in order to survive. It is to assure them that flaws are inevitable, even necessary, but that it is possible to transcend them, or incorporate them into one’s being, and grow through that process.

Thea Winthrop is an amazing character who was a gift to work with. She is fourteen when we first meet her, and she is the perfect insecure teenager, one who disappoints her parents and knows it and is made miserable by it. She doesn’t quite know how to make it right. This is familiar territory to many young readers, who don’t live in a world of magic but who have, in their time, known that look of disappointment on their elders’ faces and have quailed at it. They will be standing right there next to Thea when she has her experiences. They understand – and they will be waiting for her to deal with that burden, to see how she does it, to see if they can learn something about how to deal with their own.

I wrote a book and series about choices and about growing up DIFFERENT and how to handle it all, even when you have to do it with fear, or with reluctance, or with only just enough grace to scrape by. And also with joy – the joy of discovery of one’s real identity, one’s real potential. The joy of friendship. The joy of learning, and of growing wise. And also the bitterness of betrayal, and the agony of failure, and what sometimes feels the almost unbearable burden of survival against the odds. It’s about proving something, both to oneself and to others.

In some ways, that journey is the best of “children’s literature” – the coming of age stories – and there are many out there, from Susan Cooper, to Madeleine L’Engle, to C S Lewis, to J K Rowling and the Potterverse. And I’m not talking about just fantasy. There are plenty of authors over there in the REAL “real” world who tell stories that could well have happened in our own real lives. But is something like “Stand by Me” or “The Outsiders” truly limited to a YA audience? Can the people who might already have passed the finish line of the “coming of age” race and are acknowledged as fully adult not be allowed to look back and remember the road they travelled to get there, in the worlds of “children’s literature”?

It’s all about the story

The best of children’s literature is basically a good story which can be enjoyed by a reader of any age. In the end, what it boils down to is whether your young reader can stand beside a character in a story, stand beside them and support them, at the same time stand beside them and learn from them what is possible, what is permitted and what is unthinkable – and why.

“Children’s literature” is formative, introducing the young to the realms of Story where they will either flourish and thrive or where they will founder – and foundering is easy enough, if the readers in question are bullied or forced into books. A fostered love of reading is essential when it comes to staying in love with the written word.

In my books, that translates into a certain complexity of story. Thea’s tale is layered and complicated, just like any “real” growing up would have been. I paint relationships there – very different ones – relationships where she is very much the acolyte, relationships where she is the adversary, and relationships where she is loved and cherished.

They are all necessary for the story to get woven together. They form as complex a backdrop as any “real” life might, and the reason they are necessary and the reason they work are the same – they sparkle with recognition, with tiny glittering pieces which a reader might pause and take a closer look at and find something very familiar in them, perhaps a reflection of themselves.

When we are adults, we assume that we understand the world we live in and are able to deal with what it throws at us because we are familiar with the context of it all. In “Children’s literature” the protagonist is just starting to come to terms with a world – that is often baffling and sometimes frightening.

That is what makes the Worldweavers books the “youngest” books I have ever written, not because of a simplistic measure like the age of their protagonist but because this isn’t about a journey finished and now remembered, being, instead, about the journey AS IT HAPPENS, counting the steps it takes to cross a room, a river, or a world. The young readers of such books are sharing that journey themselves, in real time, and that is why a good “kid” book is going to appeal to them – they will recognize themselves in the protagonist and that protagonist’s position in the story they’re reading.

In the space of a few short days devoted to a Children’s Literature Week, it is impossible to cover all the books that matter in this context – but what is important is simply this: that there are certain books which are The Beginning, the origin station for a lifelong journey into the world of the word. And that is to be celebrated.

My second YA series is The Were Chronicles – but that’s for another time.

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Quote of the Day

“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you have been.” ~ Novelist Madeleine L’Engle

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Girls can. Girls SHOULD

How Thea Winthrop became the world’s greatest wizard

Back in 2002, back when Harry Potter WAS the YA genre – (Number One, and then twenty empty spaces behind it before the next contender), I attended that year’s World Fantasy Convention.

At that time, I had no real interest in paddling in the YA pool. My writing was aimed at an adult readership, not least because of the way I have always used language, rich and lush and peppered with words that might send some readers to a dictionary.

But then I heard Jane Yolen say during a panel discussion that she had never particularly liked the way that the Potter books had treated girls. I missed the rest of the panel because I was sitting in the back with a story flowering in my head. A story as American as Harry Potter was British. A story not about a boy but a GIRL…a girl named Thea Winthrop.

The story became the Worldweavers trilogy, published by HarperCollins.

Spellspam HarperCollins coverThea was a rare thing, a Double Seventh, a seventh child of two seventh children. In her world, her potential was unlimited, and its manifestation eagerly awaited. Except that she…COULDN’T. It wasn’t even that she was BAD at magic, it was that she couldn’t do ANY.

As a final attempt at triggering something, her father sends her back in time to the tender mercies of a shaman from a long vanished tribe, the Anasazi. Cheveyo of the Anasazi awakens something long sleeping in Thea, and introduces her to the world of the Elder Days and ancient magic rooted in Native American lore.

It is this that becomes the first part of the solid bedrock on which Thea learns to take a stand. That took up most of the first book, “The Gift of the Unmage” – that, and this glorious concept of the Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent, a school where untalented children of magical families are warehoused, safely out of the way of their more endowed siblings.

The second part of Thea’s coming of age is her unexpected ability to channel something that looks very like magic through computers. In her world, computers are almost the only thing that is proof against magic – they are practical and rooted in the empirical world, and they have been used to store magic spells because it’s safer than storing them in the classic grimoire books. Magic locked up inside a computer was supposedly tamper proof and escape proof.

Until that stops being the case. In the second book, “Spellspam”, the spam familiar to all of us start bearing real live spells. In the opening scene of that book,  an email offering “The clearest skin you can ever imagine” delivers precisely that – skin that turns TRANSPARENT. (Oh, I had fun with these.) It seems that Thea is no longer the only one who can tamper with magic through computers. There Is Another. And she is roped in to help find that other, and stop them.

In the process of doing this, a white cube is found that is clearly full of magic but which nobody can figure out how to open. Until Thea does in the third Worldweavers book, Cybermage, and discovers Nikola Tesla, the only human Wizard who could command all four of the elements, Air, Water, Earth, and Fire.

Thea helps Nikola Tesla, who had been tricked into losing his Elemental magic to regain it in the face of attempts of the grasping greedy race called the Alphiri (think High Elves with the souls of Star Trek’s Ferengi) to steal it for themselves. The Alphiri are defeated, Nikola Tesla is redeemed, and Thea finds her place in the world.

That seemed to be the end of it, a nice tidy place to finish, except… that it wasn’t.

Some years later a fourth book would come knocking, demanding to be written, the rest of Thea’s story, taking the whole tale neatly back to its beginnings. “Dawn of Magic” concludes the Worldweavers saga in epic fashion, and is one of my favorites amongst my books, because of the way that the main triad of characters – Thea, Tesla, and Coyote the Trickster who goes by the name of Corey – carry the story.

This book is all about human magic, and what it is, and what it means, and where it hides. There is a luminousness to it, a quiet shine.

Going back to that panel in 2002… I wrote a book about American magic, about an American girl. I wrote that book that Jane Yolen whispered about between the lines in that panel. I wrote a book about the GIRL who had the adventures. And it was good. Girls can. Girls SHOULD.

Thea Winthrop was nobody’s sidekick – she went out and grasped things with her own two hands. She didn’t follow – she sometimes walked beside (one can’t do better than that, with Nikola Tesla), but more often than that, she was in the lead. She did the difficult things that others shied from doing, and lived with the consequences. She could be hurt. She could falter. She could fall. But she had known the bitter taste of defeat once, and she would never go back there again.

The books, when they came out, garnered two very different sets of reviews. On the heels of the fade of the HP phenomenon, some reviewers came up with various iterations of “For those suffering from Harry Potter withdrawal, this is just the ticket”, implying that the books were more of the same HP juggernaut stuff.

Others begged to differ and specifically described the books as wholly original, owing nothing to Harry Potter. Either way, they were hitting SOME sort of target.

Because Thea isn’t (yet?) a household name, you will gather that they didn’t hit the HP bullseye. But for those who found and treasured them, the books seemed to find a very special niche.

Thea Winthrop was the girl who held her own against anybody.

There would be absolutely no problem in the way the Worldweavers books treated girls. They treated them as equals, as worthy, as real. These books treat girls as people. And I’m proud of that.

The essay in full can be read at the Book View Cafe HERE

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At BuzzFeed, Chelsey Pippin offers us

27 Literary Prints To Hang In Your Home Library

“For all the wallspace that isn’t already taken up by bookshelves.”
Books Are Dreams Neil Gaiman wall hangingSee them all at Buzzfeed HERE

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Quote of the Day
Who Won the West? posterIt all depends…

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Too many characters?

Books Of Character illustrationFrom Lovereading infographic

The Lovereading site explains that they love epic books with swathes of characters creating a wonderfully complex plot, but ask rather plaintively:

“Sometimes is it all too much?”

They have created an infographic about 15 books with increasing casts of characters. Books like: Shogun, Bleak House, The Stand, and Game of Thrones.

You can see the infographics at the link below, but first I decided to look at a few of my own books as to number of characters.

The Secrets of Jin-shei:
Eight protagonists, or nine if you count the ghost, and several times that number of named characters. When asked about the writing of it, I sometimes suggest that if I ever have a similar idea for another book with so many major characters, I plan to go lay down until the impulse passes.

Embers of Heaven:
The sequel-that-is-not-a sequel to the The Secrets of Jin -shei — it takes place in the same world but hundreds of years later — has only two major protagonists, but more than twenty named characters.

Abducticon:
On the other hand, my science-fiction romp has an entire SF/fantasy con of named characters and ensemble protagonists, at least half a dozen other important named
characters and four time-traveling androids.

Empress:
My newest book, coming out next month, has two main protagonists, at least four secondary “important” characters with agency on the plot, and more than twenty named characters

The Were Chronicles:
It is a series and thus tougher to count. There are three MAIN protags, one per book, but each one also features as characters in each other’s books, so it’s hard to know if you’re counting them twice. And numerous other named characters, of course

Worldweavers:
There is only one main protagonist in this four-part series, unless you want to count Coyote The Trickster, along with 25+named characters, some of them from other worlds.

Spanish Gardens:
There are five protagonists, or perhaps six counting the enigmatic bartender named Ariel, and several other named characters, although they are less importance in the scheme of things

Check out the Lovereading infographic HERE

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Man Vs Robot photoBoston Dynamics’ new robots don’t give a damn about weak human attacks.

But then…are we really sure they’ll ever forget this ridicule?

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS & THAT

Lucy is going to the park and she is taking the dog for a walk.“Why it’s impossible for you not to read this sentence”

A psychologist explains how we’re all brainwashed by words

Read the explanation HERE

 

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Bitcoins are Cheaper & Healthier than Cash

photo of dollar bills sleepBills, coins and credit cards are dirty, carrying bacteria, fecal matter and drugs, The Optimist reports.

In 94 percent of bills tested, pathogens, including staphylococcus, were found.

Using bitcoins has many intended and unintended benefits. But one such unintended benefit is minimizing your risk of bacteria exposure and becoming sick.

Read more HERE

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extinct squash grown from seeds in  ancient potA native American Pot full of extinct squash seeds found by archaeologists

 

So they planted the 800-year-old seeds..

Read the whole story HERE

 

 

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Denmark opens first food waste supermarket selling surplus produce

‘It’s ridiculous that food is just thrown out or goes to waste,” says Danish minister.

Read the whole story HERE

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illustration of a master Penman at workHe Does Something Only 12 People In The World Can Do…

…and you will just have to see it to believe it.

The story and video HERE

 

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New York Public Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online

More HERE

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Quote of the Day

Einstein Quote photoWell, even I knew that!  🙂

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