September 12, 2012

Dungeons and dragons, armour and underwear

Filed under: links,things I read on the internet,things Rhiannon does not like — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 11:43 am

Image from WitchbladeRoleplaying games (RPGs) are one of the most popular ways to experiment with your own stories. Unlike most computer games they are designed to be customisable. You can choose your character, your race, your skills, your weapons and your future. Playing in a group of people with a games master (GM) your characters explore a fantasy world.

But unfortunately for girls and women the fantasy worlds of roleplaying seem to share some of the worst characteristics of this one. This fantasy space is a male fantasy in which the men are armoured and the women go to battle in their underwear. For people of colour fantasy worlds are even more problematic. The glamourous “good” races like elves are typically described as whitefolk and it’s ugly conniving “bad” races like orcs and goblins who have skin tones of darker hues.

What’s worse is that many female roleplayers think there’s nothing wrong with this. One woman writes:

“Think about all of the fantasy, sci-fi, and comic book images of characters. The guys look tough and the girls look sexy. That’s how it is, and that’s how it should be.” – Misty

image by FernacularThat’s how it is, for sure. But it’s not how things should be. If toughness is the province of one gender and sexiness the other everyone is impoverished. Imagine if the boot was on the other foot. What if the women got the armour and the men the armour: could Batman take himself seriously in the outfit Fernacular has sketched? (See more reimaginings here)

And if the sexism argument doesn’t move you what about the racism one? Are you comfortable with people of colour being portrayed as brutish monsters and white people as civilised high races? No, I didn’t think so.

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is one of the most successful roleplaying franchises and the company that produces the game guides, Wizards of the Coast, is preparing for a new edition. A friend of mine has launched a petition to be sent to their CEO asking for artwork which reflects the diversity of the real world.

You can sign the petition here: D&D should be for everyone, not just white men.

September 10, 2012

The quintet that isn’t

Filed under: articles,bloggery,eBooks,how I write,Rights of Passage — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 8:16 pm

I have written three Rights of Passage novels: Borderland (2002), Outland (2003) and Shadowland (2005). It is now 2012 and I haven’t completed the quintet.

There are many reasons for series fiction to remain incomplete.

Sometimes the author has an open ended series (e.g. Discworld or The Culture) in which case it’s not so much incomplete as each book can stand alone. This is not true of the Rights of Passage series although ironically it is true of the Hex/Void trilogy which has since been bound up as a single volume. Right of Passage was my first and only attempt at writing a series with cliff-hangers. Perhaps this is why its sales were disappointing? Either way I haven’t embarked on another series since.

Perhaps the author has other projects on the go. George R R Martin and his fan base fell out with each other over the fans demands for more Ice and Fire novels and their criticism of Martin for working on anything else. On the one hand I completely appreciate (and share) their frustration, on the other hand writing cannot be produced on command.

Perhaps the author can’t afford to write it. You need funding to write professionally. Each of my Rights of Passage novels was funded via an advance on royalties from the publishing company and they can’t afford to fund future books if the sales of the first three don’t merit it. These are lean times for publishing and unfortunately the audience isn’t always there for every book. But without someone paying me to do it, I cannot afford to write. I put aside time for my writing and rely on other work for a regular income stream. This means that for me to invest time in writing I need to know the work is viable: in that there is an audience and a market for it. This is the same, but writ large for publishers.

Perhaps the author doesn’t know how to finish the books. After a gap of seven years this is entirely a possibility for me but it’s not been tested. I had a plan for how to finish these books and I remember a lot of it and I even have notes towards them. But with each year that passes it becomes less likely that I will complete the series if only because my writing evolves and I might be danger of pastiching my own style in returning to an earlier one. These are the risks of series fiction and why I now concentrate on novels which don’t depend on sequels.
The quintet that isn’t consists of three published titles: Borderland, Shadowland and Outland. Two books remain unwritten: Heartland and Lands End.

Is indie publishing the way to get these books into reality?

June 25, 2012

My top ten XYZ: favourite songs

Filed under: bloggery,things Rhiannon likes,top ten — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 8:00 am

According to iTunes my top ten favourite songs are

All These Things That I’ve Done, The Killers
Clint Eastwood, Gorillaz
Give Me Novacaine, Green Day
Hit That, The Offspring
Killer, ATB
Mack the Knife, Bobby Darin
Ready for the Floor, Hot Chip
Rock Me Amadeus, Falco
Woke Up This Morning, Alabama 3
Video Killed The Radio Star, The Buggles

So. Very. Random.

June 8, 2012

My top ten favourite XYZ: computer games

Filed under: bloggery,things Rhiannon likes,top ten — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 8:00 am

In the spirit of random bloggery… I used to post “tenlists” on a previous website and I’ve decided to revive them. Check out my recommended reading posts for top tens of different types of books. But now here appearing also my top tens in alphabetical order.

Computer games:

Alpha Centauri
Caesar 3
Diablo 2
Escape Velocity Nova
Grand Theft Auto 3
Grand Tourismo
The Sims 3
Tropico 2
Ratchet and Clank

I’m now remembering how much I loved playing SimTower. Which is really just a CAD elevator simulator. And Dungeon of Doom.

June 7, 2012

Second book syndrome

Filed under: Advice for writers,articles,ask an author,bloggery,growing up,how I write,Q&A — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 6:50 pm

Lee Weatherly asked how second book syndrome affected me:
“By ‘second book syndrome’ I’m talking about the difficulties that come with writing your first commissioned title – usually with your first book, you write it on your own time, there’s no real pressure, etc – then with the second book, suddenly you have a deadline and a publisher’s expectations. What was once just your passion is now your job, with all the stress that can entail; how do you make the shift? Also, if your first book does very well or sells for a lot of money, that can (perversely) just make the second book far harder to write.”

Rhiannon Lassiter replies:
Hex: Shadows coverWhen I was 19 I was offered a two book contract on the basis of one book part written and one yet to be decided. Second book syndrome kicked in while I was still at university and still very unsure of my own ideas. I suggested a second book in the same series, a sequel to my first, or rather the middle book of a possible trilogy. It wasn’t my aim was to push the company into contracting me for a third. Although I had a number of new ideas I also wanted to continue the story I’d started with the characters of my first novel. Ultimately what decided the issue was that the first novel was selling well and the publishing company seemed keen to continue with more. They published the whole trilogy, which continues to sell well to this day.

However, in retrospect, I made the wrong decision about that second book. If I hadn’t been working on my first degree at the time and struggling with balancing academia and creative writing; or if I’d been more commercially minded, or thought more towards future development – I would have decided differently.

Most professional writers come to writing as their second career. They have some experience in the job market already. They’ve had a different career path and made time for their writing on the side, squeezing their evenings and weekends until they had something they could sell and make enough money to afford to write part time or full time.

I started writing full time straight out of university. I was working on my trilogy and was feeling positive about more contracts ahead. But once my only job was to write and I’d locked myself into this particular idea I started to notice an artistic issue with what I was writing. I was having so many ideas for so many new novels and new ways to write but in this particular trilogy I needed to stay true to the style and concept of the original book.

By the time I started writing my fourth novel I felt I ought have been much more developed as a creative artist than I was. The novel I wrote then was at a complete and wild variance to my previous work. My ideas have always spanned a wide range of genres and as my writing career has developed I’ve had published books across a range about half as wide. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to sell YA and junior, fantasy, SF and contemporary fiction ideas. But I should have started earlier.

Several years later a friend of mine published her first novel and told me she’d been offered another contract and the option of writing a sequel to her first book. I advised her against it. I suggested she write something completely different in another genre to avoid boxing herself in too soon. That’s what she did, and after three more successful novels returned to the world of her first book from the position of being much more assured in her craft, with a established list of novels in different styles and a new perspective on the earlier work.

My friend and I have both achieved success in writing across genres and styles but if you don’t want to be stereotyped early, I’d recommend avoiding series fiction as your entry into professional writing. As a newly published author – as any kind of author – your mind will be seething with ideas; you need to allow yourself time to experiment with them.

Writing full time is not the best career for a new graduate with no experience of the rest of the working world. I was incredible fortunate in that I had the opportunity to do this. But I started with no experience in managing my finances and planning my workload. The way that writers are paid advances (on signature, delivery and publication) and royalties (twice a year after advances have earned out) means that financial forward planning is virtually impossible because it all depends on the market. Don’t take for granted sales figures that make it possible to work full time as a writer; the period in which your book is on sale in bookshops, being reviewed and noticed and marketed is fleeting.

Ultimately second book syndrome leads to third book syndrome and fourth book syndrome and so on. I know authors who have published hundreds of books; but managing publishers expectations and your own expectations of your work never ends. The lessons that you learn are to give yourself space and to be kind to yourself about your workload and rigorous when it comes to your art. Every writer has to learn that individually but I’d recommend gaining self knowledge of what kind of writer you are by stretching the boundaries of possibility as soon as you can. Whether it’s your work space (and I redesigned mine on a yearly basis until about three years ago) or the time you set aside or your style, or genre or whatever makes you individual, expand to your boundaries, learn them and break them.

The second novel is too soon for you to decide your identity.

May 12, 2012

Book Buying Binge

Filed under: bloggery,life,recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 7:49 pm

Well of Books via SuperpunchI’ve been on a book buying binge. I blame Amazon recommendations – which were actually spot on for a change instead of suggesting books based on presents I bought for other people. I came back from Wales to a heap of oblongs all for me:

  • Wither by Lauren DeStafano (I’ve already greedied this one up, first of a trilogy in which women die at 20 and boys at 25)
  • Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough (Tamsin should be a powerful witch but appears to have no magic at all)
  • Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George (re-imagining of the 12 Dancing Princesses)
  • Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh (I’ve never read Brideshead, shocking – I know)

But that’s not all of it. More oblongs are eagerly expected including:

  • Wired by Robin Wasserman
  • Crashed by Robin Wasserman (both are sequels to Skinned, which is awesome)
  • Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce
  • Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce (more in the Tortall universe in which I already have 3 other series about Alanna, Daine and Keladry respectively)

It’s not as though I’ve finished my “to read” pile which is actually more of a “to read” shelf nowadays. I think I’m going to have to have another clear out, always painful, to fit the new stuff in. And now I’m going to have to get the sequels to Wither as well. I am being sucked into a vortex of books.

March 28, 2012

No Enid Blyton allowed!

Filed under: growing up,things I read on the internet,things Rhiannon does not like — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 8:40 am

Like Michael Morpurgo, I was banned from reading Enid Blyton as a child.

Morpurgo’s stepfather, an academic, believed her too superficial and, consequently, not good for him.
“But he was wrong,” says Morpurgo. “Her books were terrific page-turners in the way no others were. I had all sorts put into my hands when I was very little – I was offered Dickens at eight – that were not suitable for boys my age at all. But with Enid Blyton, I found I could actually get into the story, and finish it. They moved fast, almost as fast as comics, and there was satisfaction to be had on every single page. Were they great literature? Of course not. But they didn’t need to be.”

This comment from Morpurgo, in the Guardian, gives me deja vu. It seems as though only a couple of weeks ago I had at this question from the other side when I said that I found Dickens very readable as a child. I also read Brave New World at eight abd although I’m sure I missed nuances I understood it.

But Enid Blyton? The only appeal was that I’d been banned from reading her. My mother, author Mary Hoffman, didn’t think much of Blyton and wouldn’t have her writing in the house. But friends had it and the school library was full of the stuff so I naturally had to see what was being forbidden. I read the Faraway Tree (limp fantasy) and several the …of Adventure series: as in Island of Adventure, Castle of Adventure, etc. But they were clearly formulaic. One child loves animals and keeps ferrets down his trousers and owls in his hat which may or may not usefully save the day if a sudden need for ferrets or owls arises. I can’t remember much more than that -except that wherever the Location of Adventure was there were always caves involved.

My mother was also anti reading scheme books and from what I hear from a friend with primary school aged children those haven’t changed much either. I think even the Village with Three Corners is still kicking around in school libraries. Who else remembers Billy Blue Hat and Roger Red Hat? And did they seriously introduce a white turbanned character later on?

25 years on (oh dear lord I am old) I still endorse the Enid Blyton ban. I’ll go further and say that formulaic lumpen children’s fiction is like junk food. You can read it, you can enjoy it, but it’s lacking essential elements of literary nutrition. Take the Rainbow Fairies series. Yes, I know little girls love them. And, no, that is not enough for me to spare them my ire. Their appeal is a mixture of peer pressure and completism. And perhaps curiosity: why is there one fairy (Gertrude?) for Gerbils while another takes on all the rest of the small rodents.

I agree with Morpurgo and disagree with Gove, that demanding children read “good” literature is a sure way to turn them off the stuff. That said, a list of 50 great books sounds like a better thing to have forced on you than Messers Blue Hat and Red Hat. Despite reading fluently my junior school wouldn’t allow me to pass on to “free reading” until I had had every single reading scheme book ticked off in my reading book. A Herculean feat when the whole school was reading their way through the things (out of order) and some simply didn’t seem to exist.

Ultimately “free reading” is the goal. You should read what you want to read. No matter who calls it dross. (Including me.) Read Harry Potter and Twilight. Read Enid Blyton and the Rainbow Fairy books. Read banned books like Forever and Speak. Read The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (which kids at my school passed around like Lady Chatterly’s Lover to avoid parental bans). Read Huysman’s A Rebours (the book that corrupted Dorian Grey). Read Gove’s list of 50 books (if he comes up with one) and all the other lists of books to read before you die. This is how you develop a critical faculty: by reading books until you know which ones you think are good and bad and, more importantly, why you think so.

There’s still no Enid Blyton in my house. But I wouldn’t bother to ban it. Why give it the allure of the forbidden? The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin – there’s a novel to avoid, you’re probably not ready for it, it’s not all that great anyway, I’ll just put it on this high shelf out of your reach and leave the room…

February 8, 2012

Ask an author: an occasional feature

Filed under: ask an author,bloggery — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 7:45 pm

Got a question for an author. Ask it here!
Caution: all #askanauthor advice contains high levels of honesty and should be taken with care.

I’m thinking of quitting my job and spending a year writing a book. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Should I follow my dream?”

Rhiannon says: Don’t quit your job! 60% of professional authors don’t make enough to support themselves on their writing income alone. Start by working on your book in evenings and weekends, set aside time to write it and get a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook for lists of professional contacts and submission advice. If you get a good response from agents consider approaching your employer about going part time.
Following your dream is much more possible when your bills are paid. It’s hard to manufacture inspiration when you’re fretting about the rent cheque.

I want to write a book about a vampire family in New Orleans or a game in which teenagers compete to the death.

Rhiannon says: Let me stop you there. It’s really important to know the market. Every genre of fiction has classics and current top sellers. Make a note of them. You want to write something that appeals to the same audience as these books – but don’t end up rewriting them. Even if you came across the idea independently, if it’s like something else that already exists you need to find a radical new twist or route into that kind of story to persuade a publisher to buy a book that’s too like an existing title.

Do you think it is a good or a bad idea to take real life events and people and put them in your writing?

Rhiannon says: That depends on how you use them. I’ve drawn on real life events in my writing, for example the first time I had really bad vertigo. But events and situations that involve other people can be tricky. There are events that occur in most people’s lives from the first day of school to the first really bad breakup. Drawing on your own experience adds depth to these events but if you find yourself retelling a real life situation or putting someone you know into a book stop and consider if you want to write this kind of autobiographical fiction. It exposes you – especially if one of your characters becomes a thinly veiled authorial self-insertion. Do you want to be judged on your witty/truthful/insightful retelling or real life or on your creation of situations characters who you invent who you hope will feel real to the reader. What kind of author do you want to be?

September 15, 2011

Q&A Friday

Filed under: bloggery,Q&A,recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 11:50 pm

Rhiannon answers your questions here on her blog.

What have you been reading recently?
Rhiannon: More Steph Swainston: The Modern World and Above the Snowline.

What have you been writing recently?
Rhiannon: Nothing significant but thoughts are percolating.

What else have you been doing?
Rhiannon: I attended an inspirational and thought-provoking conference: Women + Leadership, hosted by Oxford Brookes University. I’ve also been revising my school visits and preparing a new set of creative writing workshops.

What would you like to ask your readers today?
Rhiannon: What would you like a writer’s workshop to include?

September 2, 2011

Q&A Friday

Filed under: bloggery,how I write,Q&A — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 1:21 pm

Rhiannon answers your questions here on her blog.

What have you been reading recently?
Rhiannon replies: I’ve just finished two novels by Steph Swainston: In The Year of Our War and No Present Like Time. They’re urban fantasy – a sort of cross between Joan D. Vinge’s Catspaw and Steven Brust’s Taltos series. I acquired them at a friendly bookswap and liked them so much I’ve just ordered the next two from Amazon. I’ve also read a detective story Why Shoot a Butler by Georgette Heyer, a YA novel The Devil you Know by Leonie Norrington (which I’ll be reviewing for Armadillo) and Seaworld, real world fiction by Ursula Le Guin.

What have you been writing recently?
Rhiannon replies: I’m still working on SPIN, but haven’t written words because I was in a field without computers over the August bank holiday.

Why were you in a field?
Rhiannon replies: I was at the Reading Festival – listening to bands and dodging rain showers.

Thomas asks: What inspires you?
Rhiannon replies: Unusual situations. They inspire me to come up with stories about them. Children in unusual situations are an example of this. Celebrity children, gifted children, independent children. But I’m inspired by everywhere I go and whatever I do. Recently at the Reading Festival I wondered if I wanted to write a novel about a music festival in space and sketched out the first chapter in my head.

Sarah asks: How do you get into the right frame of mind for what you’re writing?
Rhiannon replies: Reading books in the right sort of area helps… as long as they are not too close to my own ideas. Listening to music is sometimes helpful. The weather is also surprisingly relevant. I find it difficult to write about frozen winters on a hot sunny day and vice versa.

Sarah asks: Which is harder: plot or characterisation?
Rhiannon replies: I don’t find either more difficult than the other. There are different challenges. Plots come quickly for me because my head is stuffed with ideas. Characterisation sometimes comes more slowly as I get to know a character. But later on in the book I have to do a lot of work on making a plot work out the way it should, while characterisation gets easier as I go on.

Sarah asks: Have you ever been tempted to write something that stars your cat?
Rhiannon replies: No. Recently I was reading Palace Without Chairs in which a (fictional) writer character says that to write about a fictional cat would feel untrue to his own real cat. For me, while I can write happily about fictional cats (Rameses in Ghost of a Chance for example) I wouldn’t want to write about my own cat.

Thomas asks: What age did you start writing? And what was your first ever story?
Rhiannon replies: I started writing at 7. My story began like this “The night the old priestess died the soldjers souljers soljars solljeers solders ….” until I gave up in frustration.

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