Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/27/18: Harry Potter Books

Harry Potter and his colon polyp

Spoof cover for a middle-aged Harry Potter adventure.

There’s no doubt the Harry Potter series of books is one of the world’s most popular fantasy epics, transcending age, nationality, and socioeconomic status. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, which I reviewed here, features a similar series called Simon Snow as a plot element, Simon Snow being a boy wizard at an English boarding school for magic. Similar characters and settings abound on Wattpad and similar sites. Even porn writers got into the act when the Harry Potter series was fresh — one memorably titled character, Harriet Hotter, was a schoolgirl who was continuously being spanked for her perceived misdeeds.

Sometimes a writer needs to mention a similar childrens’ book as part of the plot or for local color. Here’s some randomly-generated ones to use.

Harry Potter Knock-offs

Charley Potkeen and the Route of Seamanship

Henry Potrich and the Hourglass of Sorcery

Harry Potkit and the Mirror of Death

Hershey Hookster and the Lame Gorgon

Harly Pitter and the Basilisk of Breakberry

Henry Patter and the Ancient Satyr

Helmsley Potcan and the Gypsy of Greyadder

Harley Cardster and the Unmentionable Sea Serpent

Harry Potkins and the Elves of Greenriver

Harquin Pastor and the Foul Weasel

Harold Pots and the Bald Cat

Henry Potovich and the Trickster Toad

Maxie Pointer and the Brooch of Illumination

Harlan Spotter and the Cobbler Of Coomspell

Harby Popper and the Paintbox of Plentitude

Horace Pacer and the Honey-tongued Harpy

Hardy Hornpiper and the Many-eyed Wyvern

Harry Poster and the Blacksmith of Plumraven

Ossie Whistler and the Minstrel’s Flame

Harrie Potsy and the Goblin’s Keep

Hensley Poker and the Unlucky Chameleon

Fangirl [Review]


Fangirl

by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press, 2013

I had high hopes for Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl when I bought it, but because of disappointments with other YA books, I tempered my expectations. But it turns out I didn’t need to. I enjoyed Fangirl every bit as much as I’d hoped I would, and then some.

Fangirl is the story of a young woman’s first year away at college as she stretches her wings and becomes more of an individual away from her home, family, and twin sister/best friend. It’s also the story of how she develops into a writer, which is cool because it’s not a common topic for a YA novel. Cather (her twin sister is named Wren, Cather-wren, get it?) is a long-time fan of the fictional British YA series Simon Snow, written by one Gemma T. Leslie. Simon Snow is a Harry Potter clone, both series featuring orphaned boy wizards attending magical boarding schools. Cather has risen through fanfic ranks to become one of the best and most prolific writers, and it’s clear she uses her writing to deal with her trauma – a bipolar father, a mother who walked out on her children. Cather has used it as a coping mechanism for so long that when she takes a “real” writing class given by a well-regarded novelist she freaks out:

“… I don’t want to write my own fiction,” Cath said, as emphatically as she could. “I don’t want to write my own characters or my own worlds—I don’t care about them.” She clenched her fists in her lap. “I care about Simon Snow. And I know he’s not mine, but that doesn’t matter to me. I’d rather pour myself into a world I love and understand than try to make something up out of nothing.”

 

Many fanfic writers could say the same thing.

Rowell’s style is quiet and deceptively simple. There are no whambams of melodrama on display, no gushes of MFA technique. I liked it; it was a relief after the hammered histrionics of Children of Blood and Bone. And Cather’s problems are quiet ones. She feels awkward at college and doesn’t know how to deal with her more mature and worldly roommate. Her twin abandons her, becoming a stereotypical party-hardy freshman, and so Cather hides in her room and first and hoards energy bars so she won’t have to socialize in the dorm cafeteria. It’s not that anxiety cripples her, she just doesn’t want to deal – she prefers her world of fiction, and to the book’s credit, this is never portrayed as abhorrent or something that she must outgrow. It was fun to read about the ways she deals with her situation and chooses, or doesn’t choose, to mature — whether it’s accepting a stranger’s invitation or examining her own motivations.

There’s a romance as well, and that too is very cute and true to life. The love interest is a real person and very different from Cather, yet that’s all right; each has valid reasons, and speaks them, for being attracted to the other. I had to laugh because Levi, the young man she eventually falls for, is the sort of character everyone encounters at least once in their lives: the eternal smiler, who is always so nice, and so polite, it is hard to know whether it means his attraction or just business as usual. Cather, naturally, is confused, seeing males in general as a species of strange, foreign animal. The two bond in a natural way when he expresses an interest in hearing her fanfic – he enjoys narration, not reading. Later, when she realizes it’s all right to show and express her affection for him, fireworks go off.

The book is set in the Midwest Neverland of Nebraska State University, as exotic to me as Orisha or Earthsea was. It had its own character in a way that the other YA contemporary I read, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which was set in an Atlanta suburb, did not.

Passages from the Simon Snow books were given at the beginning of each chapter and Cather’s own Simon Snow fanfic was sprinkled throughout. There’s even slashy fanon portrayed with Simon’s love-hate relationship with his roommate Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch, who just happens to be a vampire (as if you didn’t know that by the name.)  Rowell never gives us a complete overview of the series, so the reader has to infer the plot and characters by the hints given in the excerpts… a smart move to prevent the fictional world from taking over the book. (I found Cather’s story more interesting anyway.) If I had to make a criticism, it’s that the writing style of the actual book, the fictional book, and the fanfic of the fictional book were too similar. That Cather’s style was similar to Gemma T. Leslie’s shows her worship of the book series, but it’s also too close to Rowell’s actual one.

Although it was good Fangirl didn’t let Simon Snow overwhelm the real-life elements, it also meant the intricacies of fannish subculture barely received attention. Many fans have very active online social lives; they correspond and write stories together, swap artwork, and many times even meet in real life. Cather seemed to have none of that going on. It’s possible, I guess, that she was satisfied at having Wren, her twin sister, as her writing partner and sounding board throughout her prime writing years. (Wren makes a show of abandoning the fandom when they go off to college.) But perhaps the author was already juggling too many story elements and to add another one. A fanfic-writing girl attending college and coming of age, who lets her experiences influence her fan writing, and whose fan writing acts as a foil to real life, would be a very promising and interesting story, but Fangirl wasn’t that kind of book, nor did it set out to be.

It also offered no moralizing or conclusions, which was refreshing since the writing on the wall seemed to be “Fanfic writing is bad because it keeps you from experiencing real life.” Cather already knows her fanfic days are numbered because Gemma T. Leslie is drawing the Simon Snow series to a conclusion with the eighth and final book, and Cather wants to finish her own fanfic version of events before that. Wisely, Rowell never states if she will retire from fanfic or move on to another fandom. And though Cather declaims throughout the book that “real-life” writing is not for her, at the end of the book, as a coda, it’s revealed she wins a prize for an original short story she wrote for her school’s literary journal. So… something must have sunk in, somewhere. I like to think Cather has her cake and eats it too, seeing both kinds of writing as sides of the same coin.

All that, in sum, was what made the book interesting for me: how the fictional and passionate intersects with the real and mundane. How it can take it over at times, and sometimes transform it.

(It’s still a little odd to me that the YA I’ve liked the most were contemporaries, not SF or Fantasy, the genres which composed the majority of what I’ve read and written up to this point in my life. )


NOTE: Since publishing Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell has written and released the fanfic novel Cather Avery had been worked on in Fangirl. Like hers, it’s called Carry On and features Gemma T. Leslie’s magic school of Watford and characters Simon Snow, Baz, Agatha, and Penelope. It’s the first case ever of a professionally published fanfic based on a fanfic of a fictional book featured as a plot element in a professionally published book.

Says the author,

“The most common question I’ve been asked is whether I’m writing as Cath or as Gemma T. Leslie … The answer is, I’m writing as me.

After I finished writing Fangirl, I kept thinking about Simon and Baz and the World of Mages … I wanted to write more about them, but I didn’t want to write the full series GTL-style. And I also didn’t want to write through Cath’s hands and brain.

I wanted to explore what I would do with this world and these characters.

So, even though I’m writing a book that was inspired by fictional fanfiction of a fictional series …

… I think what I’m writing now is canon.”

 

A sequel to Carry On, Wayward Son, has recently been announced.

Out of Circulation

“I’ve been out of circulation for too long,” she thought.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/20/18: Gems and Minerals

opafire

Opafire is the rarest of gems.

Gems and jewels often serve as a Macguffin in fantasy stories. Recovery of the myserious gray Arkenstone is what motivates the dwarves on their quest in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and in his Silmarillion, the Silmarils that embody the light of the great tree. Similarly, the theft of the rose-colored diamond called The Pink Panther motivates Inspector Clousseau in the movie of the same name. Kryptonite serves to make Superman vulnerable in the comics and the movies. Adamantine, a fictional mineral stronger than steel, makes the ultimate suit of armor in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons universe. Dilithium crystals power the USS Enterprise.

Gems can also add evocative local color. Opafire, a rare gem, was prized by the Padishah Emporers in Frank Herbert’s Dune.

If you’re curious, a random gem and mineral generator is here and can be used. But I like to think my random gems sound a lot nicer.

Gems and Minerals

Chryberyl

Glamethyst

Ambraster

Teardrop Verdiglass

Everfire

Refracting Phadronyx

Pearlgris

Sky Tear

Cyazina

Gods-Eye Azurthyst

Pyrogarnet

Solaglass

Ylangite

Berydris

Hasadrite

Glaecifer

Zullaza Beryl

Flecked Ruby

Cheloite

Milk Beryl

Scarlet Quartz

Spiderweb Phadrine

Yzirion

Chrysonyx

Cat’s Eye Sapphire

Mossglass

Diachryso

Vesperyx

Seagreen Jet

Heart Beryl

White Rosafire

Imperial Fadeflame

Ganzasine

Citriquoise

Kunzabite

Stormy Opal

Skyprism

Glittering Cyaninth

Azaquartz

Vermipheris

Moonwhite Topaz

Moon Citrine

Cyanoruby

Dragon’s Blood Onyx

Sunjade

Bushfire Garnetine

Chryacinth

Rainbow Sunrock

Cloudy Amber

Tangrumite

Rhomplite

Phagemite

Lemuthrite

Jadeflame

Lava Alpaz

Bellathyst

Maseritrine

Azathoth

Azathoth, by Ian Miller

… that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.

                                                          — H.P. Lovecraft

Above: British artist Ian Miller’s version of Azathoth, from the Lovecraft Mythos. Miller is known more for his Tolkien illustrations, but this one is very nice and brings to mind 1950s SF illustrator Virgil Findlay’s work.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/13/18: Let’s Talk About Christopher

Christopher Marlowe, who was a dish.

Christopher is one of those names it’s easier to find modern times than in in the past. There’s Christopher Columbus of course, but since his fall from American grace over racism and slavery concerns, I don’t feel too comfortable giving him publicity, so Christopher Marlowe, whose picture is here, will be my go-to man for historical Christopher-ness. Some scholars think he was the one who actually wrote the plays of William Shakespeare. I don’t know about that, but he is certainly more attractive than Shakespeare with his pointy beard and balding dome.

There’s also Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral and many other buildings in early Modern Age  London, who cuts an impressive figure in his curly black wig.

Moden Christophers are easier to find. There’s A. A. Milne’s Christopher Robin, Christopher Plummer, and Christopher Lee, for starters. The slacker variant of Topher has its namesakes, like actor Topher Grace. Kris and Krystof are also popular, as in the musician and Princess Anna’s would-be boyfriend in Frozen.

The origin of the name dates from early Christianity. Christos means Christ in Greek; phero, to bear or to carry. St. Christopher supposedly carried the Christ child across a river, earning him reverence of travelers. Figuratively, to Christians the name can also mean to carry Christ in one’s heart. It’s related closely to Christian, whose meaning is obvious.

But what makes Christopher such a nifty name is its mellifluousness and combination of syllables both hard and soft. It rolls nicely off the tongue, and is able to be shortened to one syllable for more casual conversation. It’s easy to say and appeals to the ear. In addition, it’s androgynous, and pairs nicely with one syllable surnames, or two syllable ones.

Here’s some fantasy variants on Christopher.

Variations on Christopher

Kivopher

Christellis

Christbren

Chrigamel

Crizopher

Rhonstopher

Christus

Chavenger

Christez

Christun

Minstopher

Falstopher

Sharstezer

Imsopher

Elsgopher

Clestopher

Cristello

Wynstopher

Christede

Chrizerny

Christdag

Christulus

Murstopher

Christerys

Christalfen

Maxopher

Damstopher

Chiringane

Chithumber

Izopher

Twilight [Reading Challenge 2018]

Twilight

by Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown, and Company, 2005

[Challenge # 29: A book by someone everyone else seems to have read but you have not.]

Well, well. What to say about Stephenie Myer’s YA vampire romance Twilight that hasn’t been said before? This book was bad. Execrably, horrifyingly, stultifyingly, bad. It was so dull I couldn’t even fall asleep by it; it was like an annoying bedmate droning on and on into my ear. When I tried to read Fifty Shades of Gray I had to stop for the same reason. Now I can see E. L. James had perfected Myer’s style to a T.

The book failed in suspense, pacing, tension, conflict, and plot logic. Those are big failures off the bat. I began dog-earing pages every time I found a new failure, and had I continued to the end, every damn page would have been dog-eared multiple times, folded over and over into origami.

The character of 17-year-old Bella Swan, the high school girl who narrates the book, is dull as dishwater. Never mind that contrived name, in no way, shape, or form is she a teenage girl. Her observations and narration are those of a priggish 30-something woman who has been dropped into the story to drift through it in weary ennui. She’s analytical, detached, and passively-aggressively contemptuous of her surroundings, especially her peers, who bore her, and her parents, who she refers to by their first names for no reason given by the author. Also for no reason she feels compelled to take care of them even though they are two healthy, normally functioning adults, and it was actually unintentionally humorous how they ignored her and mouthed platitudes when she makes her angst known to them. I guess mom and dad saw, as the reader isn’t supposed to, how dull Bella is. Seriously, the girl had no passion for anything.

I think what happened here was Myer wanted to publish the book using omniscient POV, but was advised not to. So she chose Bella as her viewpoint character. But writing successfully in first person involves actually becoming the character, having them narrate the things that are important to them through their own filters, and Myers couldn’t or wouldn’t pull it off. So what should be Bella-the-teen-girl-narrator is actually Myers-the-omniscient-writer who notes every little nod, wink, and detail, even when, logically, Bella shouldn’t, because she’s a teenage girl and would be filtering through a teen’s rather limited life experience. In fact, I actually read resentment into Bella’s depiction of high school life and her interactions with her parents, as if the author would just rather have not dealt with it, but had to write something, because this was a book about a teenage love story set partly in a high school. That it was so tedious perhaps expressed the author’s own prejudices. Clearly she didn’t think much of high school and saw it herself as boring. But then, why bore the reader with it?

The only times the book perks up is when Bella interacts with Edward Cullen, the immortal teen vampire, and his vampire family, who were very influenced by Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles antiheroes with their endless wealth and nomadic lifestyle. Other critics have pointed out how codependent Bella is, and how creepy and controlling Edward is, but even forgiving this—because it’s fiction—the story still wasn’t the sort of thing I would have bought into as either a teen or an adult. The theme of temptation and restraint didn’t resonate because we never see the vampires acting like, well, vampires, so the threat of Edward sucking Bella dry didn’t carry a lot of weight. Even when the two meet a stray vampire who intends to do just that the story is weightless. Bella doesn’t even evince any fear of him until a few pages have passed… she’s too busy describing everyone else’s speeches and reactions.

So, even though I began the book with an open mind, I couldn’t vicariously enjoy the experience of being a lovesick teenage girl with a crush on a vampire, because the character felt so false.

A few of the things the book was maligned for I actually liked. The concept of having vampires who glittered in the sunlight was cool, as was a baseball game they play in a thunderstorm, where the thunder hides the supersonic strikes of the bat. These bits were playful and fun, what the majority of the book should have been. Fun was evident in the early chapters, too, when Edward was being cryptic and infuriating in his attraction, and Bella rips him a new one over his mixed signals. I guess didn’t expect her to be so feisty. She surprised me again near the end of the book, where she notes the inequality in their relationship and asks him to make her a vampire so they can be on a more equal footing. But between these two parts, the dialogue was repetitive and didn’t serve to move the story along. Bella’s much-maligned clumsiness was repetitive too, a contrivance by the author to give her some relatable quirk. I was actually wondering if she had some neurological disease by the middle of the book.

The sheer repetitiveness was, in fact, the story’s biggest flaw after Bella herself. The reader is told endlessly what Bella is cooking or eating, what she plans to cook or eat, and what cars the other kids at her school are driving; we are told how fast they drive those cars and how it frightens her, how they carpool, how they fasten their seatbelts, etc., etc. The writing bits that should have been special, like the spooky atmosphere of the temperate rain forest, get lost in all this mundania. Even though Myers is not a good writer there were a few evocative passages of description, like a cookout on a chilly Pacific beach, that had promise, and it was a shame the dreck wasn’t pruned to let them shine.

Toward the last quarter of the book I gave up and started to skim, because the plot got too preposterous. Some random vampire decides he must have Bella for a snack, despite hundreds of easier, and more interesting, girls to feast from? And Bella’s hysterically afraid super-powered Edward is in danger from said vampire, despite having his super-powered family as backup? Then Bella runs away to give up her life to save her mom, despite being detached from said mom for the majority of the book? You don’t say!  And of course the reader never gets to see the flights, the flights, or any of this high drama, because Bella is either cooped up in a cheap hotel room or unconscious.

I could go on, but there’s no point, and I don’t want to refer back to the dog-eared pages and torment myself afresh.

Instead, this book is going to be doused with lighter fluid and thrown in the firepit.

 

Visual Creativity

The heart of an artist.

 

(Heartbrush, by Black 3G Raven)

Transformed Anthology


Nothing is quite so deliciously freeing as caving to your instincts.
For centuries, shapeshifters have personified our impulse to bow to our animalistic nature.

From lycans to skin-walkers and everything in between, shapeshifters give us a chance to connect with our inner-selves and celebrate our intriguing differences, our passions, and ultimately our humanity through their necessity of striking a balance between their human selves and supernatural selves.

My M/M erotic romance story “Tender Meat” under my other writing name of Trece Angulo is appearing in this new anthology from Pen and Kink Publishing.

You can order it here on Amazon.com.

“Tender Meat” is the tale of a knight, and a dragon… but neither the knight or the shape-shifting dragon are exactly what they seem:

Xephron opened his folio again. He did in fact draw his own kind, but in a fantastic way and not as the living, breathing creatures they really were. He wondered if this fool would know the difference.

When he turned back the knight had settled into the basin. The Wyrm Ironblood had indeed hurt him sore, the scar very pink, almost red, against the creamy pallor of his torso. Xephron had seen naked villagers before, of course, when they were washing in the stream or urinating. But the knight was of different stock from them. His health and vigor gave him the appearance of having a deep, kindling glow within.

“Why do you stare so, young Zef?” Argaive said with some humor. The servant had left him a knotted rag and he took it up to wash himself.

“I had no idea you knights were so … uninhibited.”

“Uninhibited? As in what?” Argaive laughed. “We are a celibate
order.”

“A pity,” Xephron murmured.

“With women.” With unexpected strength he grabbed Xephron’s arm, drawing him down to the level of the basin, his earnest, bearded face but a hand’s length from Xephron’s. “The Holy Lore says nothing against the joys of masculine sex.”

Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/6/18: Cooking with Magic

From left to right: Jesrick’s Magical Cheese Tower; cupcake decorated with Perula’s Starry Sugar, and roast unicorn meat served at the Letchlake Solstice Festival.

Inspired by a thread on the useful AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler forums.

Magic can be used for a lot of things, but rarely in a story is it mentioned for cooking… and Medieval cooking often sorely needed it. Here are some randomly-generated food-related items to have fun with.

Food-related Magic Items

Nose of the Chef: This small clay model of a human schnozz is able to sniff food odors and tell the wielder exactly what is cooking. Silver noses can also list the ingredients of the dish, and gold ones, both that and what is needed for improvement.

Tapestry of the Whispering Beekeeper: This marvelous artifact measures 10’ x 10’ and depicts a garden in full bloom stitched in rainbow threads. It can be used to harmlessly capture a swarm of honeybees, no matter how big, by throwing it over the cloud.

Perula’s Starry Sugar: Useful to bakers, this enchanted sugar will twinkle like stars when it is sprinkled on top of a dessert item.

Illeshiva’s Diabolic Biscuits: These biscuits taste so good the eater is compelled to eat more than one, but for every one eaten, their appetite only increases.

Wand of Instant Sanitizing: Cleans and disinfects any kitchen item it is pointed at.

Snacktime Shoe: Only one of these shoes is ever found. When worn it conforms to the shoe on the wearer’s other foot. When the heel is stamped firmly on the ground, an apple and an energy bar appear in the wearer’s hand. The quick snack restores +1 hit points when eaten and gives a temporary +1 to Constituition for up to an hour afterward.

Jesrick’s Magical Cheese Tower: Creates an ornate, picturesque tower out of a like amount of cheese. Sure to be a hit at parties.

Knife of Pastry Folding: When wielded by a pastry chef, this knife quickly folds dough for strudels, croissants, phyllo rolls, etc. When wielded as a weapon, it rolls the opponent’s clothing up while they are wearing it, causing them to trip over their own pants, or get tangled up in their tunics.

Invisible Heat: This spell creates an odorless, smokeless, invisible campfire from ordinary wood. Intended for travelers who wish to remain concealed.

Ghanelan’s Stomach of the Flea: This spell shrinks the recipient’s stomach to the size of a flea’s stomach for the duration of the spell. Useful for dieters.

Magistrate Pio’s Pie Detection: The pastry-loving Captain of the Guard of the wizard town of Whittelwoorl created this spell, which detects any kind of pie within a half-mile radius.

Letchlake’s Unicorn Oven: A priceless artifact of the town of Letchlake, this room-sized oven, which resides in the kitchen of the baker’s guild, can completely roast a gutted unicorn in just under twelve hours with all the creature’s magical properties intact. Only a dozen unicorns have been roasted over the years and the feasts memorialized in the town’s history. Because of this, elves will not trade there.

Nutcracker of Doom: Looks like an ordinary nutcracker (think of the one from the ballet) and works like one, too – for the first few uses. But after that, don’t put your finger between its jaws, or you will lose it.

Cooling Trousers of the Chef: These enchanted white pants will keep kitchen staff comfortable in even the hottest kitchen.

Iseart’s Fantastic Bacon: Bacon is a common item to eat on long journeys and country inns, and it can get tiring. But this spell makes common bacon taste truly delicious, giving a bonus to morale and strength for hours afterward.