Category Archives: ghost raven

The big push – an update

Dateline: 28 April 2014

Status of Raven’s Blood draft:

IT’S FINISHED

IT’S FINISHED

IT’S FINISHED

45 CHAPTERS (AND AN EPILOGUE)

82 954 WORDS

IT STILL NEEDS TO BE THOROUGHLY PICKED APART BY ALPHA-READERS AND CAREFULLY REVISED TO FIX A NUMBER OF FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEMS

I MEAN, IT’S FINISHED

NOW THERE IS ONLY SLEEP

Night, folks.

The write-finer monologues

So what’s up man?

Cooling, man.

Chillin’ chillin’? Yo you know I had to call, you know why right?

To reprise the opening lines from the Wu-Tang Clan’s classic track ‘Protect Ya Neck’?

Well, yes, but also to see how the writing’s going. Are you doing it? The big push to finish Raven’s Blood?

I’m doing my best.

Which is… what?

Three chapters since the start of the month, which is, um… 7000 words in 13 days.

Hey, that’s pretty good!

Thanks. I’m not 100% happy with the level of polish, but I gotta put that aside for the moment. That’s what later drafts are for.

How much do you have left to do?

Probably five more chapters and an epilogue. I’d say about… 11 000 words? Maybe 12 000?

And you’ve got 17 days until the end of April? That sounds doable if you work a little bit harder, do a thousand words a day.

I hope so. I’m trying to wrap it up by the 28th so I can give the finished MS to my wife as a birthday present.

How romantic.

It was her idea, okay?

Fine, whatever. Still, you should be able to make it if you stay focused.

Yeah. ‘If”. Assuming I don’t lose any time to distractions.

Is that likely?

Oh shit yeah. I’ve already lost plenty of time in these last two weeks.

I thought you were working hard at this!

I am! But hey, it’s Comedy Festival season, you know?

Slacker. Any show recommendations?

Yep – Ben McKenzie, Laura Davis and Justin Hamilton all have terrific shows this year. You should go see them next week before the Festival finishes.

I’ll try, but as a figment of your imagination I find it tricky to get out on my own. But that’s been your only distraction, right? Right?

…I might have gone to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Oh for god’s sake. 

Come on, this surely comes as no real surprise to anyone. And I worked on the book before and after!

Fine, fine. Was it any good?

Oh yeah, it’s terrific. A top-notch superhero movie with great performances and a solid thriller aesthetic. And Batroc the Leaper!

Shit, really?

Well, he doesn’t do much leaping, or any savate. Still cool, though. Best Marvel Studios/Avengers-family movie so far – top of the rankings list!

There’s a list?

Yep. The official ranking is:

  1. Captain America: Winter Soldier
  2. Captain America
  3. Iron Man 3
  4. Iron Man
  5. The Avengers
  6. Thor 2
  7. Thor 
  8. Incredible Hulk
  9. Iron Man 2

Hmm. Interesting. Official in what sense?

In the sense that it’s my bloody blog.

Jeez, fine, settle down. But that’s it, right? Knuckling down from this point?

Definitely. Largely. Probably. Okay, look, I’m going to lose some time to shows and gaming and day job stuff, but that’s the way it goes. Nobody gets to just lock themselves in the writing box and only come out when it’s done, okay? Not unless they live in a shack in the woods, peeing into bottles and working on a manifesto. Life has its own demands, and you have to roll with them rather than beating yourself up for being human. The important thing is to work as hard and effectively as you can, when you can, and keep the deadline in mind. It’s like the inverse of Parkinson’s Law, you know? ‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ So if you have a set amount of time available to work, your work level will rise to make use of it.

Hopefully.

Well, yeah.

Is talking to yourself on your blog one of the ways you’re expanding to fill the time available to you?

It’s this or talking to the dog.

I probably would have done that. He’s less critical than I am.

This is true.

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Have yourself a Ghost Raven little Christmas

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favourite time of the year

Actually, wait a second – jumped the gun on that. Christmas is still about 2.5 weeks away, which is kind of a relief because I haven’t brought any presents yet.

But I come bearing gifts nonetheless – a gift for you! The gift of words!

Having just knocked off another good chunk of work on Raven’s Blood this morning, I thought it was a good time to show y’all a bit of what I’ve been working (far too slowly and haphazardly) over the last 18 months. So here, in its entirety, is the entire first chapter of Raven’s Blood, offered as an exclusive preview to all you folks who’ve stuck with me and this here blog for so long.

Hope you like it.

(Note: extract is short on Christmas cheer and long on horrible things.)

ONE

Two Warrant-guards had Kember in their grip, each one holding an arm, and she was trying to come up with an escape plan when the body fell from the sky and smashed through a run-down market stall in front of them. Screams and cries erupted throughout the Carnaby Court fruit market as blood and apricots spilled out across the cobblestones, panic washing across the crowd like a shock of cold river-water.

The guard on Kember’s right let go of her elbow to draw his sword. ‘Blood of the Host!’ he swore as he advanced on the wrecked stall. ‘What was that?’

In a finer world the one on her left would have done the same, but as in all things this world was less than it could be, and the grizzle-faced guard on her left was Sergeant Jesseck, a woman all too familiar with Kember and her habits. Surely this was what led her to not just maintain but tighten her grip on Kember’s upper arm in the face of such distraction. The milling crowd buffeted them like waves, and Kember tried to let them pull her away in their wake, but Jesseck stood resolute and her hand tightened like a vice.

‘Damn you, Jesseck,’ Kember said, ‘no need to rip my blessed arm off! How about you let me go and attend to your swordmate like a proper Warrant-leader?’

‘Quiet, girl,’ Jesseck replied. ‘We don’t need none of your lip this day! No disaster or murder will stop me from delivering you to the Mayor for judgement – and ’tis better you face his wrath than I do!’

‘Sergeant, come here! You’ve got to have a look at this!’ the watchman called from the smashed stall. Jesseck made her way across, dragging Kember by her side – without much difficulty, since she too wanted to see exactly what kind of disaster had livened up an otherwise ordinary early-spring day in Crosswater.

Before looking down, Kember looked up, just in time to see a figure silhouetted against the sky atop the nearest rooftop, three storeys above the street. A figure shaped like a man except for its massive left arm and shoulder, bulging out from its torso like a gargoyle jutting from a tower. But before she could utter a word the shape drew back and vanished from sight. She thought for a moment to tell Jesseck, but then forgot about that as soon as she looked down to see the body lying in a heap of broken fruit boxes and crushed apples.

The dead man was wrapped in a cloak of feathers, mostly grey but speckled here and there with shades of black or white, all stitched unto a silk backing – and all tinged red with spatters of blood. Two crossbow bolts protruded from his side, plunged deep into brown leather that had proved too thin to deflect them. The hood of the cloak had fallen back to show his face, but it was hidden under a black mask, a broad domino that flared sharp by his temples.

The younger watchman took a step forward, slowly, almost like a step taken to genuflect in the Lunar Temple. ‘He’s dressed like… do you think it’s him?’ he asked.

‘Pull your head from your arse, boy,’ Jesseck snapped back. ‘He’s been gone for ten years and more!’

‘But I’ve heard stories…’

‘Swive your stories! Do your damn’ed job! Here, hold this rascal girl while I take a proper look!’ And with that Jesseck thrust Kember forward into her subordinate’s arms. The watchman staggered back, his grip loose as he fumbled with his sword, and if there was ever a time for Kember to escape it was now.

But she did not take it.

Jesseck bent to the side of the corpse, pears and gooseberries breaking to pulp under her knees, to peel away the mask from the man’s face. Under the black felt was the face of an Easterling man in his early twenties, his eyes closed, his checks pocked with freckles and a few acne scars. ‘I know this man,’ Jesseck said under her breath. And Kember said nothing, because she thought she recognised the face too.

The face that suddenly sprang to life, eyes snapping open to fix on her, mouth opening to gasp and then croak: ‘Tell him! Tell him! It was in the river! The golem-men of Bridgedown, they found it! They –’

Whatever he had left to say choked off in his throat, though his mouth stayed open. More, it opened wider and wider, as did his eyes that rolled in terror and agony. He locked eyes with Kember and she could not look away as a light began to burn in his sockets, in his mouth, through his skin as it outlined his bones.

A light that blazed white through red, so bright and pure that Kember had to pinch her eyes near-shut to stand it. A light too bright for the world to tolerate.

She knew what would happen next. Every child knew what would happen next. The light would burn and burn, burn away the flesh and blood of the man, burn his bones till they fused to red glass, and then the skeleton would rise to its feet and kill and kill and kill until smashed to glittering pieces. Just as they did during the War.

Kember screamed in panic, tried to wrestle herself from the watchman’s grip, but he was already backing away as fast as he could with her arm in his hands and screaming himself. Everyone left in Carnaby Court was doing the same, long-dead terrors rising from oblivion to wipe away all courage and thought.

But it didn’t happen. The light began to ebb, white fading into red and then to nothing, leaving only an awful heap of cooked flesh in the shape of a man, wrapped in a shroud of smoke that stank of blood and burnt feathers. No blood-glass skeleton ripped itself from the remains. It was only a lone man’s death, his terrible and grotesque death, and Kember knew she should feel sorry for him but she was too relieved at her own survival to spare him much thought.

As the remaining crowd slinked back into the market square and hubbub began to arise, Kember slowly, carefully slid her arm from the young watchman’s grasp. He was too fascinated by the impossible corpse to pay her heed, and she quietly turned to escape into the confusion. Only to find Sergeant Jesseck ready for her, clapping her wrists in gauntleted fists and pulling her in close.

‘Let’s go, girl,’ Jesseck said, and there was nothing forgiving in the woman’s eyes. ‘We need to go see the Mayor.’

A few notes, if you’re interested.

The core of this chapter has stayed the same since I first wrote it, but it’s gone through many iterative changes – as has pretty much the whole book, as I’ve been revising as I go rather than write discrete drafts. (Should probably write a blog post on that one day.) I’ve changed details and dialogue, fleshed out the descriptions of place a bit (and probably will again) and tried to make the scene more arresting and horrific – but still, this is largely what I wrote just after getting the idea for Raven’s Blood, and I can’t see it changing markedly.

Actually, wait – one major change is that Sergeant Jesseck was male in the first iteration of the story. But I got to a point later in writing where I felt that too much of the story revolved around male-female interactions with a paucity of female-female interactions, and that I couldn’t see a place to introduce a significant new female character in the story space I set up. So Jesseck changed gender – and became way more interesting to write about. In a setting where gender equality is standard – because stuff writing either gender as secondary citizens – it’s super fun to have the hard-bitten veteran also be someone’s grandmother, and for that to just be the way it is. I love it when Jesseck makes her way into scenes; she kicks all the arse.

This is a very different writing style than something like The Obituarist, or indeed pretty much anything else I’ve done. It’s a very direct style, with the story pointed right at the reader, and with more description than I usually prefer. But I think that’s a style that’s more appropriate for a YA audience, and as I continue with it I’m finding it more comfortable and enjoyable to write. It’s also got a few florid touches, both in dialogue and in voice, and that’s my attempt to conjure a slightly old-fashioned vernacular – nothing too authentically Elizabethan, but with just enough mannerism to convey that it’s a fantasy story. Hopefully it works; will find out soon enough.

Anyway, work continues apace on Raven’s Blood, and I think I’m on track to finish it by February. Assuming I keep at it.

And I think I will.

Month of maps – Raven’s Blood

What I wanted to do today was mostly drink bourbon in bed with the covers over my head and maybe keep doing that for the next three years.

But no, we must soldier on; there are new battles to fight and more work to be done. And I don’t have any bourbon in the house anyway.

Instead, let’s talk about maps some more.

I promised I’d spend the month creating and then discussing maps for some of the projects I’ve been working on. So here, in all its glory, is my map of Crosswater, the city that is the setting of Raven’s Blood:

Crosswater map

This is obviously a bit bare-bones, but it shows the core information about Crosswater’s geography – that it’s a town built around two rivers (the Dawn and the Dusk) that come together to let out into a harbour.

So what discussion points does this suggest?

Pretty and Useful Ain’t the Same Thing

If you’re looking at this map and thinking it looks like something I slapped together in MS Word in like twenty minutes, well, you’re perceptive. There’s no way this is going into the front pages of the book once it is snapped by Random Penguin and they print it to universal acclaim, or even if I end up publishing it myself and paying someone fifty bucks to do the map in Dundjinni or something.

But so what? This is a working document, not a finished product. Maps are tools, first and foremost, and this map does the job of presenting the relationship between places that I need it to do. If anything this is still more developed than it needs to be (note the sumptuous use of colour, after all); I could get just as much use out of a diagram, a mind map or some scribble in a notebook.

If you’re sitting down to create a map for your project, don’t feel paralysed by any feeling that it requires visual polish. That comes at the end, when other people look at your stuff. When you make stuff to use, just do what works for you – anything more will distract you and is likely to need revising once you’re finished anyway.

Filling in Details as We Go

What are the names of the three untitled districts? Don’t know. What are the areas around the city? Don’t know. Are there additional districts and locations? How many ships are anchored at Dockside? Is there a wall to the north of the Commons? Don’t know, don’t know, don’t know (but probably). Bottom-up design is all about doing what’s required and no more, and this map shows everything that the narrative has demanded so far. Once I finish the book I’ll come in and fill in some of these blanks, because I’ll want to present a finished map, but there’s no need for that right now.

This map is also not to scale, because scale is also not something I really need yet. I know it takes about an hour to walk at night from the Arrowsmith manor to Kember’s house, because Kember does that, and that gives me some idea of Crosswater’s size. That idea will probably morph at the end; I think the town is a bit wider that this map implies. I’ll work that out once I get there.

If you’re more inclined to a top-down approach, this probably sounds like a terrible approach, in which case you should do what works for you. But if you prefer to work through the core of the story first and then fill in the rest, a map like this – bare-bones but with the important bits in the right place – can help you develop the flow of that story, rather than dictating it.

Fantasy Languages Need Not Apply

As you can see, Crosswater is lacking in polysyllabic and apostrophe-laden fantasy words, or even just words that aren’t in English. Part of this is a personal aesthetic; I tend to like portmanteaus, compound terms and colloquialisms much more than stuff in made-up languages. I can’t keep those words in my head when reading and can’t develop them in a logical sense when I write; better to work with word-components that actually engage me.

The other reason is thematic. Crosswater and the Westron Lands are meant to evoke Elizabethan London and England to some extent, although not exclusively. Using English words for place names helps with that, as so many locations of the period follow that model – and those that don’t are often derived from Roman or Celtic terms that were originally compound terms. (Manchester was basically called ‘breast-like hill’, at least according to Wikipedia.)

Not all of these words are set in stone. ‘Courtpark’ isn’t going to last, because it sounds like something you find in a basketball game. My original plan was ‘Kingspark’ but that didn’t click either; it doesn’t pull apart cleanly into ‘King’s Park’ rather than ‘King Spark’. And ‘Dockside’ is a bit bland; I need to bring something in to spice that up. Time to pull out my reference books – the Vulgar Tongue, the amazing Macquarie Thesaurus and Liza Picard’s Elizabeth’s London – and see what grabs my eye.

Bird’s Eye versus Boots on the Ground

This map is a useful tool in a lot of ways, especially as it helps me work out where all the various locations fit alongside each other.

But the map is not the territory, as they say, and this map – any map – doesn’t tell you or me what it’s like to live in Crosswater. It doesn’t say what the rivers smell like, how the food tastes, why the border between Greywharf and Wright’s Parish is erupting in violence; it doesn’t tell a story. Well, it doesn’t tell the story I want; maps can tell stories, but they are stories of grand scope and change, less stories about fist-fights with bronze cyborgs on collapsed bridges.

Evoking a location is something that happens in the text itself, rather than the map at the start. (Or at least it does if I do my job right.) That’s where the colour and shape comes out, where sights and sounds and smells enter play. But having said that, the birds-eye map still helps, because it shows you where that detail might be found. If I want to describe the feel of Dockside, I can see from the map that I need to reflect the presence of the harbour – the smell of the sea, the churn of the Dusk as it emerges into a nest of wharves, the warning bells as Warrant ferrymen take prisoners out to the jail of the Rock. Without a map to remind me, I might lose track of that – and that’s why my bodgy Word diagram is such a valuable tool.

In closing, Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous may have been awful trash, but it gave us some cool CGI visuals for Elizabethan London – so if you’re wondering what Crosswater looks like a bit lower to the rooftops, take the image below and add approximately 30% more masked superheroics and villainy. And some parkour. And maybe a giant snake. That’s pretty close.

East and west – the people of Crosswater

Now, where was I before I went off on a tangent about my hot new collection of flash fiction (oh go on buy one it’s really cheap papa needs a new pair of shoes)?

That’s right, worldbuilding. (Still.)

Two weeks ago I talked about how people are the most important part of worldbuilding, the thing that connects most strongly with readers, and gave a few rough tips on developing cultural elements and ideas. So here’s a post to sketch out the two main cultural groups in Crosswater, the town that is the setting of Raven’s Blood, and how I’ve applied those ideas in this case.

(Wow. I wrote that like I was some kind of expert, rather than someone half-arsedly fumbling through ideas he’s only just had and still can’t fully articulate. Go me.)

The Westrons

The Westrons are native to Crosswater and the lands to the west. They tend to have dark skin (ranging from olive to almond in complexion) and straight hair. Originally a loose collection of towns and city-states, Westron society gathered together over the last few centuries into a cohesive kingdom. Originally Crosswater was the seat of the kingdom, but after the War Against the Host the royal family relocated to another city further inland. Still, Crosswater remains the mercantile hub of the kingdom and a centre of trade, travel and intrigue.

I based Westron society on Elizabethan England – originally just because I loved the image of masked heroes in ruffs and surcoats, but I soon realised that that this also gave me a lot of other story options. Technologically, it let me include cannons, pistols, the printing press and other such devices without needing to justify their presence too much, letting me focus on magical anachronisms like golem-armour and grappling-hook guns. Patterning Crosswater after London gave me plays and culture, but also narrow alleys and bunched-together houses perfect for parkour scenes. And it gave me a society founded on business and trade but also with a strong military bent. I could have made all of things up whole cloth, but the shorthand of ‘it’s like Elizabethan England’ lets me get it across quickly so I can spend more words on action and explosions.

The stereotypes of Westrons align with their mercantile society – they care about money and business more than family, they see outsiders as opportunities (or threats) rather than as people, they always look for the profit or power in an interaction and they’re very concerned about status and wealth. Those stereotypes also tie back to the theme of Westron magic, that everything has a price. They’re a people who expect to pay for everything they get, and look at gifts with suspicion. The flip side is also a willingness to suffer losses to get ahead – most of the victories in the War Against the Host came from soldiers sacrificing themselves (or their subordinates) in order to make gains. That readiness to sacrifice can be a nobility in some Westrons and a callous ruthlessness in others.

The Easterlings

Easterlings tend to have pale skin (ranging from light pink to almost white in complexion) and curly hair. Hailing from far-off lands, their society has suffered radical changes in a short time. Like the Westrons, they were originally a collection of independent states, ones more inclined towards sorcerous war than trade. But sorcery proved their undoing, as it brought the Host to the mortal plane, and those 27 evil angels conquered the Eastern states and made them into an empire, corrupting the lands in the process. The Easterlings lived as slaves to their blazing gods for three hundred years, until the Host were cast down in the war against the Westron armies. Twenty years later, the Easterlings in Crosswater (and other Western lands) bereft of roots and separated from the blighted lands their fathers called home.

Easterling society is a shaky mash-up of ancient Greece and ancient Egypt – almost as if the first abruptly morphed into the second, Zeus and the gods becoming manifest and demanding not just worship but utter servitude. It’s not a stable kind of change, but it’s not meant to be; it’s a reflection of the theme of Easterling magic, that change begets change. Pushed through worship into slavery and then out into an uncertain, penniless freedom in a land that doesn’t want them, Easterling society is shell-shocked and on the defensive, ready to change again if the situation allows it. (Greece and Egypt also inform Easterling aesthetics and technology, but not so much as with the Elizabethans/Westrons.)

The stereotypes of Easterlings in Crosswater are generally not pleasant – they’re a poor, untrusted underclass for the most part, sometimes derided as ‘worms’ due to their pale skin. Many Westrons assume that Easterlings still worship the Host and would continue their holy war against the West if given the opportunity. The truth is more complex. Some older Easterlings do venerate the memory of the Host on some level, but it’s a reverence born of fear (and a little Stockholm syndrome) rather than love. Younger Easterlings are generally glad to be free, but chafe against the social and political restrictions the Westrons impose on them. But where can they go? Their lands are gone, so they have to leave in the hot, hostile West – and more and more of them are ready to fight for what they need.

As you can see, the stereotypes are stronger on the Westron side, mostly because they’re more solidly anchored in real-world history and the context it brings with it. I have to do more work to make the Easterlings real, but at the same time they’re so strongly defined by recent events that I don’t have to look back too far to find (i.e. make up) inspiration and context for how characters act.

And when you get these two groups together  – say in a city where Easterling resentment is rising and where there are rumours that the Host have returned – then conflict is inevitable. And conflict is where the story happens.

That’s probably enough about worldbuilding for a while, and indeed Raven’s Blood. Time to focus on writing the book, rather than about the book.

Come back next week! No idea what I’ll be discussing then!

The magic of Raven’s Blood (part 2)

I don’t know about you, but I spent my Sunday afternoon running through a warehouse shooting zombies with a laser carbine – all as part of the IRL Shooter / Patient Zero project, which turned out to be excellent fun. As a result, though, I’m pretty freakin’ tired, as I’ve squandered all my adrenaline by lugging around a 4kg gun while screaming ‘contacts!’ every few moments. So as a result, I was too weary last night to finish this post, and that’s why it’s a day later than usual.

Now, where were we? Oh yes – talking about magic in the world of Raven’s Blood. Last week I talked about the magic of the Easterling lands; tonight’s it’s the turn of the Westrons.

The magic of the West

As before, there is a core principle behind Westron magic – everything comes with a price. In order to gain magical power or control over the world, or to channel that power through something else, one must make sacrifices and give up something in return. Minor or limited power may only require a small sacrifice, a cost in time or resources – but true power only comes after you give up the thing that matters most to you, perhaps the thing that made you seek power in the first place.

Story function: ‘Will this character succeed?’ really isn’t that engaging a question in fiction, because the answer is generally always yes – and if it’s no, then you usually have fair warning of what kind of downbeat sadface stuff you’re reading. ‘How much will this character sacrifice for victory?’ and ‘Is this character willing to lose in order to win?’ are much more interesting questions, and that’s what I’m hoping to emphasise with the principle of Westron magic.

Thaumaturgy

The esoteric, gross form of Western magic is thaumaturgy – bargaining with the spirits of the higher planes for power. Specifically, thaumaturges use rituals to call and then bargain with the 27 Lords of the Lunar Court, which are governed by the Queen of Night and Regret. These spirits have great power and can lend that power to mortals, but it always comes with a price. That price is always something that matters on a personal level to the thaumaturge, for the Lords are beings of fate and meaning, and it’s fate and meaning that they rework to fulfil the bargain. A thaumaturge might give up the chance of ever knowing true love, or the ability to know joy, or of ever sleeping without nightmares again.

In exchange, the Lords grant power, whether power over the self, over others or over the world. A thaumaturge may become strong enough to kick through a wall or fully recover from a wound within days. She might control flames or winds, cloud the minds of others to become invisible or coax obedient life into stone or wood. The extent of the bargain is up to the whim of the Lords and the nature of the sacrifice. Thaumaturgy is not a common art, and its practitioners are seen as forbidding, dangerous people, but not feared as much as monstrous ichor-sorcerers.

Story function: While sorcery gives me flashy, overt and scary superhumans, thaumaturgy allows for more subtle characters in the style of Captain America, Black Widow, Spider-Man or any of the Bat-family. These are the characters that seem normal until they reveal their secret side, for good or ill. Thematically, the nature of the bargain reflects a core motif of superhero comics, especially Marvel comics – power has an innate tragedy to it. Characters lose what matters to them, and as the story progresses, they have to consider whether the loss was worth the gain.

Artifice

The mundane, subtle form of Western magic is artifice – building tools and devices and then imbuing them with unusual or supernatural power. Artifice is a complex art that requires great study, but a skilled artificer can craft objects that are almost miraculous. The more powerful the item or its magic, the rarer and more valuable the materials needed to create it. In order to fund their projects and pay for their materials, many artificers sell their services and their creations; the most powerful are also the most wealthy – and the most in need of more wealth.

Story function: More toys, of course – magic swords, golems and crystal balls, but also exo-skeletons, rocket packs and lightning guns. Raven’s Blood is a gleeful mash-up of fantasy and supers, and awesome gadgets are a mainstay of both genres, so I knew I had to have some way of bringing those on board. I don’t have an Iron Man or Tony Stark character in mind yet, but you never know.

Artifice also gives me a more socially palatable alternative for Westrons to look up to. Everyone knows that thaumaturgy exists, and the rituals to call the Lords are simple to learn and perform, but the cost is high, too high for most people to bear. Artifice is a more difficult, more technical form of magic, but all it costs is time, effort and materials, and artificers are respected artisans. Well, until they decide to steal all the orichalcum in the city to create an army of robots…

(As an aside – I reserve the right to change the names of characters, ethnicities, magic systems and pretty much everything else as the book progresses.)

East meets West

It’s easy to see similarities between the two forms of magic, both on a narrative and a conceptual level. That’s deliberate. I like developing a structure and then seeing how it can be filled, so breaking each set of ideas down in the same way – core principle, esoteric form, mundane form – is conceptually satisfying to me and lets me think about ways to apply that approach to different ideas in the future. If I did a sequel and wanted to involve necromancy or dwarven iron-lore (oh yeah, the dwarves, forgot to mention them), then I have a framework to start developing those and drawing out core themes.

I also like drawing parallels between things, which is another reason why the structure is repeated along with some core narrative elements. Why are there 27 Hosts and 27 Lords of the Lunar Court? What’s the connection there? Do people in the setting see the similarity? Those are questions I want readers to ask, and they’re questions I will probably address at some point. Once I work out the answers.

Themes aside, the two forms also interact narratively within the story in various ways. Artifice and alchemy pair up nicely, and it’s possible to learn both skills and draw on both disciplines – the creation of pistols and rifles after the war was just such a project, packing explosive burn-salt into hand-crafted iron tubes and stocks. It also means our heroes can (and do) happily use both smoke bombs and magic swords at the same time. Sorcery and thuamaturgy, on the other hand, are completely incompatible – the use of one forever precludes the other. Is that a physical incompatibility or a supernatural one? That’s a good question, and again the kind of thing I want readers (and characters) to ask.

Okay, that’s enough on the subject of magic. Hopefully it’s got you intrigued as to how I develop those ideas and use them to evoke kick-arse scenes and drive interesting stories; if not, well, we probably both could have found better uses of our time than this blog post.

I for one do have better things to do next weekend – I’ll be flying off to Shanghai for a week, along with my lovely wife! We’ll be hanging out with friends and celebrating a 40th birthday by exploring the Paris of the East (and taking a bullet train to Beijing and back). As a result of this, and because I’m going deliberately internetless for the duration, there’ll be no PODcom update next weekend – and depending how late we get back, maybe not the weekend after. We shall see.

It’s okay to tell me you’ll miss me. You’re among friends here. Just try to soldier on while I’m gone.

The magic of Raven’s Blood (part 1)

Chekhov’s Law is generally couched as “if one shows a loaded gun on stage in the first act of a play, it should be fired in a later act”.

Here’s my corollary law for fantasy: if your wizard character casts an ice spell in chapter 5, they should have to freeze a lake solid to save the day before the end of the book. The fact that Merlin-9000 uses ice magic needs to matter, and it needs to create a meaningfully different story than if he used fire magic or forcibly converted all his enemies to Mormonism.

Or, more succinctly – magic needs to shape and be shaped by the narrative.

Yes, this is one of those places where my theories on worldbuilding bubble up and make me massively fucking annoying to talk to at parties.

In keeping with my bottom-up approach to worldbuilding, my primary thought as I’ve come up with the magical bits of Raven’s Blood is not ‘what kind of magic would make sense in this world?’ but ‘what kind of magic would best reflect the themes and tropes of the story I want to tell?’ To develop that, I’ve thought a lot about what those themes are, what kind of principles could support narratively interesting cores, and what might engage a YA audience without replicating stuff they’ve seen before. Most of all – what kind of magic makes for an exciting fantasy superhero story?

So tonight, here’s a look at one of the two schools/fields of magic in the world of Raven’s Blood – what they are, what principle drives them, and how they feed into the story I want to tell. Hope you find it interesting.

The magic of the East

The magical traditions of the Eastern lands all rest on a single principle – change begets change. When a person, object or substance undergoes physical changes, they may mentally or supernaturally change in turn, and that change may foster and force more changes to follow.

Story function: The Easterlings and the Host were the enemies of the West, but that was 20 years ago; now the two cultures live in relative harmony in Crosswater. But invasions bring change in their aftermath, whether physical or social, and one theme of Raven’s Blood is looking at those changes and seeing how stable and/or how genuine they truly are. Basing Easterling magic on change – often degenerative, uncontrollable change – underlines that theme and pushes characters to think about their reactions to change and the Other.

Plus, hey, this is a YA story – the way I see it, such stories should always be about change in some way.

Sorcery

The esoteric, gross form of Eastern magic is sorcery – the direct channeling of otherworldly power through a human agent. Sorcerers deliberately induce changes in their bodies (or their minds, in some rare instances) in order to change their natures, opening themselves up to the powers of the Otherworld. There are various techniques for this, all risky, painful and difficult, but if they succeed then the sorcerer permanently gains a number of magical abilities. The process can also change the world around the sorcerer, bleeding into the land, mutating wildlife or weakening the fabric of reality – which is how the 27 members of the Host were able to enter from the Otherworld 300 years ago and enslave the Easterlings. The Host are masters of sorcery, agents of change that alter and corrupt the world just by existing, and the ichor in their veins is the most powerful of mutagens. Those changed by ichor – especially those changed involuntarily, perhaps due to being wounded by the Hosts’ powers or ichor-stained weapons – are called the blight-touched.

Sorcery is not a flexible form of magic – a sorcerer may manifest a handful of magical abilities that can only be used in a few ways. But it is powerful, especially when ichor is the mutagen that changes the sorcerer’s body – a blight-touched warrior might be totally impervious to blades, strong enough to toss a horse across a river or able to vomit clouds of gas strong and large enough to poison a regiment. In order to channel and contain that power, though, the warrior is changed – he might be nine feet tall, bulging with muscle, constantly streaming noxious vapours from his mouth and eyes or (of course) totally mad from constant pain or from the corrosive, inhuman influence of the ichor in his system. And that influence may warp him even further in future.

Story function: Sorcery gives me a way to include bizarre, twisted superhuman characters in Raven’s Blood, the kind that make for great villains. Brutes like Killer Croc or the Hulk are obvious options, but so are Poison Ivy, the Red Skull, Two-Face, the Human Torch, the Silver Swan, the Parasite… pretty much anyone that wears their power on their sleeve and doesn’t just look like a normal person. The corrosive effects of gaining power also let me include monsters, blighted lands and other unnatural phenomena, and I can tie it all back to the Host, the terrible reverse-Ringwraiths that are my spooky-as-hell boss monsters.

Sorcery also allows me to add a note of horror into the story (which I always have to do) thanks to both the grotesqueness of the blight-touched and the contagious nature of their powers. A character like Jack Twist the Scavenger Prince isn’t just disturbing because he can manifest a nest of whips around his mutilated left fist, glowing and writhing with ichor-blight, but because even if you survive the touch of his whips you may end up blight-touched in the process. That horror of involuntary change will, I hope, speak to the YA audience as much as it speaks to my YA protagonist.

Alchemy

The mundane, subtle form of Eastern magic is alchemy – altering the properties of normal substances in order to create new effects. In its simplest, stablest form, alchemy simply creates stable and mundane substances with unusual uses, like curative poultices  smoke-powder or the burn-salt the Easterlings used to make explosives. More unusual alchemical substances are harder to make but can have limited supernatural effects, like oils that briefly render metal transparent or drugs that send you into a clairvoyant trance. The most powerful of these substances cause permanent changes when taken or used, opening the body to receive sorcerous power – and so, of course, they are forbidden.

Story function: Smoke bombs, baby, smoke bombs all the way. You can’t have fantasy Batman without smoke bombs and grenades and knockout gas and all those other wonderful toys. Alchemical tricks are a good way to give non- or lower-powered characters an advantage when dealing with their enemies, allowing me to write scenes where a careful, smart hero overcomes a monstrous, blight-touched villain and have those feel believable.

Alchemy also lets me present a more socially-acceptable, less terrifying facet of Eastern magic, in turn giving me story options for portraying the role of Easterlings in Crosswater society. They can be doctors, engineers, apothecaries and sages, capable of small miracles – but because alchemy can be directed into the service of sorcery, they still aren’t liked or trusted. And that distrust propels the social tension and fear that springs up when the threat of sorcery returns to the city…

Huh. That was wordier than expected. These things are so simple and straightforward in my head; it’s only when trying to explain them that they become long and complicated.

Anyhoo, tune in next week for a discussion of Westron magic and its story functions, as well as a bit of compare-and-contrast between the two world of magic and some thoughts on where else I could take things.

As always, comments are greatly appreciated so that I know I’m not just mumbling into an empty room after all the punters have gone home HELLO HELLO IS THIS THING ON

Head down, bum up, build a world

I hate worldbuilding.

Well, okay, ‘hate’ is too strong a word. ‘Don’t enjoy or care about’ is probably more accurate. As I’ve mentioned before, my taste in fantasy runs less to Tolkien and more to Borges, who emphasised the ability to create ‘poetic faith’ in the reader rather than convince them that anything they were reading was or pretended to be ‘real’. Fiction is all about making things up, and I like to acknowledge that.

And that’s all well and good in theory, but I’m writing a fantasy novel right now, and worldbuilding isn’t optional. I get that – fantasy is based on things are not as you know, and any kind of consistent narrative has to position the reader in a space where the impossible, magical turns feel not just believable but justified. Events are supported by the setting, and the setting is in turn defined by events. Also, fantasy readers really, really care about worldbuilding, and I’d like them to buy read my book. So Raven’s Blood is making me confront my antipathy towards worldbuilding and work to overcome it, and that’s something I’d like to talk about – not just tonight, but for maybe the next half-dozen posts, assuming y’all don’t get bored.

To begin, let’s talk about what worldbuilding actually means and how you (and by you I mean me) go about it.

Look anywhere online and you’ll see that worldbuilding can be approached from two directions – top down and bottom up, both of which sound slightly homoerotic. (And there’s nothing wrong with that.) But in truth they’re less about manlove than about direction and priority.

If you’ve never heard of these two approaches, well, Wikipedia has a pretty good article on them and you should read that. But in summary, top-down means starting on the large macro scale – city, country, world, ENTIRE UNIVERSE OMG – and determining its parameters, then drilling down through the implications to detail things on an ever-smaller level until you reach the boundaries of your story. Going bottom-up means starting on the local level and filling in the details as you go, building upwards and adding on detail as the story or focus moves. Both approaches have value, and they have more in common than some people think – because let’s face it, in both cases you’re just making things up. On the whole, though, it seems like most fantasy authors like the top-down approach – to start with the world writ large and then pushing through to see the way that world shapes the story within.

I, of course, have to be different. I’m bottom up all the way AND STOP SNIGGERING UP THE BACK THERE.

I’ve done top-down world design before, though – as part of my freelance RPG writing days. I’m thinking of the World of Darkness but even more of Freeport, which were created from day one to support a range of possible stories. Because that’s the way top-down approaches go – you make a world (or a country, or city etc) and then find or develop stories within that platform, and that’s what you need in an RPG setting, a platform and toolkit for making your own stories. In fact, I’d probably go so far as to say that commercial RPG worldbuilding has to be top-down – it’s what the market wants and it’s the only way to make a setting sourcebook broadly useful. On the other hand, I think most RPG campaigns tend to be bottom-up on some level, because in actual play you start fleshing out and exploring a core narrative thread and building new details around it.

Incidentally, I just want to mention that I’m totally goddamn stoked by the news today that Evil Hat and Green Ronin are teaming up for a Fate Core Companion for Freeport! Well, they will team up for one if the Fate Core Kickstarter reaches its next stretch goal, and I really hope it does. It’s a great, flexible game system, and I remain incredibly proud of the work I did on the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, perhaps the single best bit of game writing I ever did.

So if either of those things appeal to you, you should put ten bucks into the Kickstarter. You’ll get a whole lot of gaming for bugger-all cash.

Now, back to the meandering.

From my POV, worldbuilding is always about invention. Sometimes it’s about exploring implications, sure, but it’s exploring the implications of things you decide to include in the first place. So top-down versus bottom-up is less about scale and scope and more about workload and direction. It’s about whether you make them up before or as you need them, and whether you start with the things that should be in there and then move to the things you want to be in there or vice versa. Neither is better than the other.

But I struggle with top-down creation, as both a writer and reader, because of the implication that the story presented at the end is a story that can be told in that world, not the story that must be told. I can’t shake that niggling lack of urgency that comes with knowing that the world is a bigger canvas than this one painting; the choice to focus on this particular narrative feels spurious on some level, and I find it harder to connect with what’s going on. I have the same problem sometimes with RPGs, although there it manifests as dithering and paralysis as I try to justify a specific choice of ideas to myself – why this, rather that that? And so I have to cut down the setting info I take in or acknowledge until I reach a point where the options are curtailed and a specific narrative thread seems not just logical but unavoidable.

Yeah. It’s weird. I know.

So in building the world of Raven’s Blood, I’m going bottoms-up all the way.

I started with what I knew I wanted – a story about a brave girl, a weary hero and a terrible threat. And I’ve let the story and the character dictate the world around – well, the city around them (Crosswater) to be exact, with the world behind that sketched in as lightly as I could get away with. I knew I wanted a story about the aftermath of conflict, so Crosswater still bears the scars of war. I knew I wanted an inhuman enemy and human faces for it, so that war was against the burning Host and their mortal servants – and that in turn led me to sketching a world with dawn-lands and dusk-lands and different societies and spirits in the East and West. I knew I wanted parkour and stunts and weird magic and superheroic action, and I knew I wanted everything to feed back and reinforce the themes I wanted to explore in the story.

And once I knew that, filling in the details was easy. Everything came from what I wanted to write about, rather than what I felt I should include for the sake of verisimilitude. And that may not make a world that feels ‘real’ enough for some readers, but hopefully it makes for a world that feels interesting.

And I for one prefer interesting to real. That’s the whole point of fiction.

The point of all this waffle, of course, is not to say ‘this is the right/best way to write’, because as always there are no best or right ways to write – there are just the ways that work. This works for me. So what works for you? C’mon, leave a comment and tell me you totally disagree with me. That would make me so happy.

(It really would.)

Next week, I’m heading further down the world-building path with the first of two posts about the magic of Crosswater and Raven’s Blood, as well as talking about the point of magic in fantasy stories. Yes, once again I’m defining a whole genre and telling other writers that they’re DOING IT WRONG. I hope you’ll join me.

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is an ongoing chain letter / blog virus / networking project, where writers answer ten set questions about their current work-in-progress and then tag more writers to do the same a week later.

I was tagged last week by Jason Nahrung, who talked about his amazing-sounding outback vampire novel Blood and Dust; now it’s my turn!

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Raven’s Blood

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Earlier this year I published The Obituarist, which is a crime novella focusing on social media, technology and identity theft. I wanted to write another short-ish genre piece, but something completely different that could speak to a different audience. Despite reading and enjoying fantasy for decades, I’d never written any, and I started wondering about that genre and what I could possibly say that hadn’t been said a thousand times before. I thought about the ‘hero’s journey’ concept and that made me think about superheroes – because I love superheroes and will think about them given any excuse – and the possibility of bringing some of the conventions and tropes of the supers genre into a traditional fantasy story.

At the same time, I was getting more engaged with Goodreads while talking up The Obituarist, and noticed that YA fiction is huge at that site, with a massive, passionate readership. So I decided it would be worthwhile trying to write a YA story – not (just) because I want to tap that big market, but because I didn’t have any knowledge or experience in the YA subgenre and would have to learn all about it from scratch. Which is a challenge, and I like being challenged.

Once I’d decided on those genre parameters, and that I wanted a story that focused on a teenaged, female protagonist… I dunno, most of the rest of the idea jumped into my head fully-formed, from the start of the book to its end. Ideas do that; they wait for an opening and then they pounce.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy – specifically YA fantasy, and swords-and-magic YA fantasy at that.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This one’s tricky, because I decided early on that I wanted to get away from some of the ethnic, cultural and gender stereotypes of the fantasy genre. My main characters are of sort-of-kind-of Hispanic/Lebanese/Middle Eastern descent – and to my shame, I don’t know many actors from those areas.

TO THE GOOGLES!

Hmm…

The main protagonist is 17-year-old Kember Arrowsmith, a driven young woman who loves theatre and justice. I think Ivana Baquero would be a great choice; she seems to have so much energy and life, but she can still be serious when it counts. And she was great in Pan’s Labyrinth.

The other primary character – not quite antagonist, but close enough – is her father, Mayor Roland Arrowsmith, an ex-soldier in his late 40s or even early 50s. Serious, brooding, grizzled, weary… you know what? Let’s blow all the way through to pure fantasyland and cast Javier Bardem! We have all the budgets! Give us all the Oscars now!

Oh, and we need to throw in Danny Trejo as Jerrick, a hardbitten and weary Sergeant of the Warrant (city Watch)! And Tristan Wilds as Roland’s assistant (who I haven’t named yet)! And then there’s Idana and the Ghost Raven and the Coglord of the Golem-Men and and and oh god make me stop.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

As inhuman invaders reappear in the city of Crosswater, Kember Arrowsmith searches for the truth about the Ghost Raven, the city’s long-lost masked defender – but can she fight past lies, conspiracies and golem-men to learn his secret?

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

At this stage I’m looking at self-publishing Raven’s Blood as an independent ebook, just as I’ve done with my other projects. But that could certainly change if any publisher/agency wanted to talk to me about putting it out.

You can talk to me anytime, guys.

Our lines are open.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I’m still writing it! I got off to a good start with it in June but then got distracted and lazy; I’m back at work on it now and I want to get a first draft nailed down by January. So about four months of actual writing and four months of foot-dragging. Which is much too long, frankly, and I’ll try to get any sequels done in a more timely fashion.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

As previously admitted, I’m a complete dunce about the YA fantasy genre; I haven’t even read any of the Harry Potter novels (and still don’t plan to). I’m slowly fixing that, and I did just read (and enjoy) Garth Nix’s Sabriel, but Raven’s Blood isn’t much like that.

You know what it is like? Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. I never set out in any way to emulate that work, but my story does involve a teenage girl investigating a retired masked crime-fighter as her city begins to crumble into riots and anarchy. There’s a fair amount of overlap in that Venn diagram.

Mind you, I’m not an Islamophobic right-wing fuckbag who can only write female characters as whores, so I think that makes a difference.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I started reading superhero comics when I was eight.

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was twelve.

You want influences? Those are the big ones.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is a book where fantasy-Batman wields a +1 sword to fight reverse-Ringwraiths on the rooftops of Elizabethan London.

If that doesn’t sell you on it, nothing will.

But it’s also a story about making your place in the world, about working out who you are and what matters to you. It’s about friendships, and how they can buckle under pressure. It’s about children and parents, and how doing the opposite of what they want is still defining yourself in their terms. It’s about becoming an adult – because, fool that I might be, I kinda think that’s the point of all YA fiction.

Oh, and it has parkour too. Parkour is cool.

Okay, that’s enough out of me – less blogging, more actual writing of said novel.

But next Wednesday (December 5th), you should check in with these four awesome writers and see what they’re working on:

Also, one last quick aside – I’m guest-tweeting all this week and into next week on @WeMelbourne! Follow for, um, much of the same sort of thing you’d get from my regular Twitter account, but more of it!

Getting my ya-yas out

I don’t understand young-adult (YA) fiction.

I mean, I used to think I did. YA fiction was fiction written for young adults – or teenagers, as we used to call them back in my day. Stories about teenagers, for teenagers, at a teenage reading level. That makes sense, right?

But the eager degree to which less-young adults swoop up and devour YA fiction shows that it’s not as simple as all that. Books like The Hunger Games and Twilight have many, many adult readers, from those in their 20s to those in their 50s. These are stories that resonate with adults, even if adults perhaps do not read them for the same purposes as teenagers – or maybe they do, I don’t know. Look at the way Twilight got snapped up by adult readers, its sexual elements strengthened and made more overt via fanfic, to finally transmogrify into Fifty Shades of Grey and have its pages filled with boners rather than sparkle-vampires while still retaining much of the characterisation and language level of the original. (Or so I assume, anyway, which probably means I’m making an ass of myself, so feel free to correct me.) That suggests that there’s something in those stories (or perhaps the writing approach of those stories) that speaks to adults, and they’ll take those stories and make them theirs by whatever means necessary, often by adding a whole bunch of fucking.

So anyway, many adults read YA fiction and enjoy it. But not me. I read YA books when I was a teenager, but these days I’m in my 40s and pretty much only read adult-adult books. The few times I’ve accidentally started a YA book in the last decade or so, I’ve quickly stopped when I realised that this wasn’t a story that resonated with me. That’s not a judgement on my part… okay, let’s be honest, it probably is a judgement and me looking down on YA books. Because I can be a lit-snob sometimes, even though I try to fight that urge.

But I’m trying to change that, because right now I’m trying to write a YA book, Raven’s Blood. Or, more accurately, what I think might be a YA book. Because, as noted, I don’t read YA and don’t get it. But I think this story might fit nicely into that category, and I’d like to see what working within those genre boundaries is like – which is why I’d like to work out what those boundaries are.

And I think I need some help with that.

So this is not a post where I sit you all down and educate you on what YA really means. This is a post where I hold things up, say ‘Is this it? What about this?’ and hope that you (the collective you) tells me what you think and whether I’m right – or, more importantly, where I’m wrong. Because I mostly learn by getting things wrong.

(I could probably also learn by reading some YA fiction, and I will do that at some point, but I like to get a grounding in theory before moving into practice. Which probably explains why it took so long for me to get a girlfriend in my teens. But I digress.)

This is what I think about when I hear ‘young adult’:

Characters

A protagonist that is a teenager, first and foremost, probably around the 17-18 mark. Obviously that varies down a bit (early Harry Potter) and up a little (late Twilight), but nonetheless YA books are almost always about young adults. (Although books about young adults aren’t necessarily YA, of course.) And this makes sense, because the assumed audience want to read about characters that they can personally identify with, characters their own age and with similar problems – making sense of the world, finding love, coping with the fact that their parents are STUPID.

Similarly, the antagonists should be similar to the enemies of teenagers – parents, authority figures, the forces of the adult world that try to dictate and reshape their lives before they’re fully-formed. They don’t have to specifically be those people, but they should fill a similar role. Alternatively, the other great enemy of teenagers is always other teenagers, who chip away at their identity and self-image from the other side and occasionally pants you in front of the class. Adults tell you what you should be; teenagers tell you what you shouldn’t be. Both are there to be overcome, possibly with lightning bolts.

Plot and themes

Does ‘coming-of-age story’ make me sound like Cranky Grandpa? Because that’s honestly what I figure most YA stories have – what they should have – at the core of their plots. They should reflect the lives and concerns of teenagers – the quest for identity, the need to love and be loved, the lure of booze and drugs and internet porn, and pretty much everyone in the world trying to tell you what to do and who to be.

Sometimes those concerns are presented as is; other times they’re reflected through genre tropes, so that there are vampires and aliens and spy agencies and killer bears and all of them are trying to boss you around and stop you from seeing that girl you like. Using genre like this is fun and makes for an engaging story, but can also let you use tropes as metaphors for the sturm und drang of teenage life. From that POV, it makes sense that so many YA stories are dystopias – growing up is always about inheriting the world that older people already fucked up.

And at the end of the story, the teenage protagonist should be that bit closer to adulthood – an adulthood hopefully defined on their terms, rather than just their parents’ or society’s terms. Unless it’s one of those books with a really bummer ending.

Prose style

Look, this is the point where people are going to tell me I’m an arsehole, because my first thought when I hear ‘YA’ is ‘unsophisticated writing style’.

Not, I want to be clear, an unpolished or poorly-written style – just one that is pitched at a teenage reading level. A style that primarily promotes an accessibility of voice and language, that clearly describes the appearance of people and places in mentally-reproducible details, that presents the characters and story and then gets out of the way. It is not the kind of thing we get from Don deLillo or Milorad Pavic, is what I’m saying. (Although now I’m wondering how you could use Pavic’s ergodic approach on YA fiction – like a longer, more complex Choose Your Own Adventure story. Hmm.)

This is certainly the bit where I struggle with YA, because I like my prose to be interesting in and of itself, as both writer and reader. I don’t much like transparent writing; I like stunt-writing that shows off its tricks and puts technique in the spotlight, which is not what I think YA is about.

And this is where I draw my line in the sand between the two books I’m writing right now, Arcadia and Raven’s Blood. Both are about young women trying to define themselves and their place in the world, but they have very different prose styles. Arcadia is all about exploring voice, the use of nested narratives, drawing story from structure – all that kind of high-falutin’ stuff that is probably going to alienate or irritate a lot of adult readers, let alone teenagers. Raven’s Blood, meanwhile, is where I’m trying to write in a clear, straightforward style (with occasional dips into moderate ornament), and that’s why I think that it could be considered YA and why it’s worthwhile trying to write more towards that genre and that market. Once, you know, I actually understand it.

So these are the elements I think of when I think about YA fiction. Am I right or wrong? How would you define the genre – or would you even bother? Most of all, if you’re a YA reader – why do you read it, and what about it speaks to you? If any of what I’ve written is correct, why do those elements appeal to you as an adult reader?

Get in there and leave comments, people – I’d really appreciate it.

(Seriously, comment. I don’t get enough comments, and it leaves me feeling like I’m typing into a void and that the world is empty and the darkness has leaked down from the moon to drown everyone else’s souls and I’m alone SO ALONE if a trees falls onto the blog and nobody comments then my words don’t make a sound.)