Transcription work: my new challenge

I haven’t had a day job for a while. Food service isn’t known for providing a stable life for its workers, and I’ve had an exceptionally bad run of jobs throwing me under the bus after 2 or 3 months. What’s a writer to do?

Well, I stumbled into a freelance gig as an online transcriptionist, so there’s that.

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My desk is a real mess. You might even say it’s a sty! Thank you, remember to tip your waitress.

The work is pretty simple: listen to an audio file and type down all of its discernable English speech (using clean formatting, punctuation and speaker tags). I turn in my work and, if it meets the QA checker’s standards, I get about 50 cents per minute of audio.

The listening part is … weirdly entertaining? Even when the audio file is a subject I’m not really interested in, like legal texts. Listening in on these random speakers reminds me of sitting in a coffee shop, eavesdropping on strangers — which isn’t creepy as long as you’re doing it for writerly purposes, right? Right …?

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“You’d make a GREAT minor character.”

People’s speech patterns are a tricky thing to capture in fiction. What sounds like “real conversation” in a book isn’t actually realistic at all, because real conversation often proceeds faster than our brains can manage. Listen to any casual conversation and you’ll hear a lot of “um”, “well”, stumbling on words, starting over, and other indicators that we’re trying to wrangle our thoughts into coherent order.

Transcription pays close attention to that. I was told in the style guide to remove false starts and other word-sounds that aren’t contributing any meaning. No problem! That’s editing! I’ve done several novels’ worth of that! Economy of words means that every phrase has its place.

My biggest struggle right now is speed. The QA checkers are giving me high scores on accuracy, so now, I just need to complete more than one file per hour and maybe I’ll be able to earn minimum wage.

But hey, whether or not this transcription work is a practical way to pay the bills, it’s definitely a workout for my writer muscles.


How people view dogs: what’s the story?

The Wolf and his Master, by Harrison Weir

The Wolf and his Master, by Harrison Weir

Lately, science has been uncovering more evidence of how humans domesticated dogs. It’s been an interesting few thousand years of evolution! From this article:

This reflects a more complicated history than the popular story that early farmers adopted a few docile, friendly wolves that later became our beloved, modern-day companions. Instead, the earliest dogs may have first lived among hunter-gatherer societies and adapted to agricultural life later.

“Dog domestication is more complex than we originally thought,” said John Novembre, associate professor in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago and a senior author on the study. “In this analysis we didn’t see clear evidence in favor of a multi-regional model, or a single origin from one of the living wolves that we sampled. It makes the field of dog domestication very intriguing going forward.”

Even before humans started developing highly specialized breeds of dog, there were changes being made on the social and genetic levels. Also, here’s another article suggesting that wolf domestication made use of the wolves’ ability to watch humans and learn from them, even before the two species had friendly relations.

What I find interesting about this is the way humans have pretty much forgotten how we first made allegiance with dogs. We need to go back and examine our own remains to remember. Most of the insights require modern science, since we didn’t have genetic theory in our early farming days. But still — we didn’t really pass down any lore about how wolves were tamed and developed into domestic dogs. As far as we’re concerned, man and dog are (usually) allies because we just are. “Man’s best friend”, we say.

A bronze statue of Hachikō, a real dog whose loyalty became a well-known Japanese folk tale.

A bronze statue of Hachikō, a real dog whose loyalty inspires people to this day.

But during our animal domesticating pre-history, a lot must have happened! Imagine all our ancestors adjusting their perception of wolves, and deciding to allow those dangerous wild animals into their lives. There must have been so many individual humans who took chances on wolf-dogs and found it a surprisingly workable arrangement. I find it weird that we don’t have a lot of stories about humans and dogs becoming friends. Maybe humans just liked the fact that dogs are our companions now — so much that they neglected to immortalize how we made dogs our companions. (Then again, human history has a lot of documentation gaps, so this particular gap might not mean anything at all.)

There’s even been a discovery of a human buried with what appears to be a pet fox — and the grave dates back to well before dogs were domesticated. Foxes are different from wolves and dogs, and that particular human and fox seemed to be an isolated instance of one person who had a random wild animal friend. But still, that human and fox are a small fragment of a greater cultural story of pet animals. A story we used to know, but we don’t anymore — not yet.

Because I find this subject interesting, I made dogs part of my Aligare world. The domestication process is directly talked about in Render (A story of Aligare). Hear more about the Aligare world’s relationship with dogs in these previous posts:

◦Dogs in Aligare

◦The legend of Juniper


Why do we have “the usual” fantasy stories?

If you read online reviews of fantasy books, you tend to see a lot of comments about “typical fantasy”. Reviewers have mixed opinions about some of mainstream fantasy’s most well-known fixtures — such as elves, dwarves, wizards, orcs, and the combination thereof.

Something like this! (Image cobbled together from OpenClipArt.org images.)

Something like this! (Image cobbled together from OpenClipArt.org images. I won’t lie: the cutting and pasting was fun.)

Fantasy has existed since humans first started telling stories. Legends, monsters and epic adventure stories were around long before paperbacks were ever printed. But J. R. R. Tolkien’s works came along and codified the Western fantasy genre. The Lord of the Rings set a precident in the entertainment market and made the general public aware of fantasy as something other than assorted fairy tales. Naturally, other people were inspired by Tolkien’s vision of elves, dwarves and noble quests (or they were at least interested in ripping them off to make money). When movies and video games came along, those media were also happy to adopt the ideas of humanoid races waging wars to save the world.

Over the last 70-ish years, we’ve seen many slight variations on Tolkien’s worldbuilding. A lot of people are unaware that fantasy is anything but some sword-wielding medieval guys battling to save the world. Maybe those people read a few poorly-crafted Tolkien knockoffs with cardboard characters, and decided that all fantasy stories are the same. But fantasy is a form of speculative fiction. Shouldn’t it speculate? Shouldn’t it grow, and break new ground, and explore new ideas?

Sure, it should. And new niches can and do emerge. Just look at how urban fantasy and paranormal romance are their own recognized, defined categories now. And how China Miéville is strongly associated with the New Weird concept of fantasy, which has similarities to urban sci-fi.

But fantasy literature naturally has its roots in the past. Fantasy embodies legends, mythology and traditional ways. Fantasy takes us back to simpler times when the world couldn’t be fully understood: that’s generally what distinguishes fantasy from science fiction. So the settings, struggles and creatures of fantasy are often things we recognize and know off by heart — even though they’re not even real. Maybe the reuse of elves and dwarves is just a kind of nostalgia. Like visiting old friends, or rereading Shakespeare’s classics.

A reprinted version of Beowulf, one of the most prominent stories in Anglo-Saxon history and one of Tolkien's sources of inspirations.

A reprinted version of Beowulf, one of the most prominent stories in Anglo-Saxon history and one of Tolkien’s sources of inspiration.

Sometimes people compliment my Stories of Aligare by saying that they’re not like “the usual” fantasy stories — as though it’s still rare to find a fantasy book that doesn’t crib all its ideas and furnishings from Mr. Tolkien. I mean, I do appreciate the thought that my magical secondary world is pleasingly different. Scraping out a new niche is exactly what I’m trying to do. But it always makes me sad that fantasy literature has this well-worn cliché haunting its image.

It’s one thing if modern writers choose to tell classically styled stories of men, elves and dwarves. I think we should be innovating more than that, but that’s just my opinion and I’m sure plenty of readers disagree. Maybe the problem is the very fact that fantasy is getting so many subgenres? If a story doesn’t have a clearly demarkated category like “romance involving a supernatural being”, it often falls into the catch-all category called Fantasy: General. And what do we think of when we imagine a general fantasy story? Yep, probably something like Middle Earth. (And we probably don’t remember all of Tolkien’s hard work and craftsmanship, which is a whole other bucket of unfortunateness.)

I wonder what the next few decades will bring. What’s going to happen when werewolves, vampires and Harry Potter are considered old archetypes? Will Lord of the Rings fade from influence, or only become more tightly tied into our ideas of mystical worlds? Personally, I’m just going to keep looking for new twists. It’s great to have roots, and fine to be inspired by classics, but fantasy still has a lot of space to grow into.

There’s more reading materal coming out every day, from independents and dark horses of all varieties. And fantasy can touch on any subject we can imagine. In my lifetime, I hope to see the idea of a “usual fantasy story” cease to mean anything.

Related articles:

Origin of the term “adventurer” (heidicvlach.com)

What do dragons represent to us? (heidicvlach.com)

Writing gods I don’t believe in: how atheism gets along with fantasy (heidicvlach.com)


My interview with Eye on Ashenclaw

Whew, well. Thanksgiving weekend was much busier than I anticipated. I’m usually too optimistic about how my holidays will go and whether I’ll be able to write some kind of coherent blog content.

But I did answer some interview questions! I’m hosted today by Gary Vanucci, author of the Realm of Ashenclaw series. We met on Twitter — as fantasy authors often do.

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Click here to read the interview. I touch on topics like how I got started writing, my favourite Aligare character, and whether I prefer chocolate or vanilla.


Flashback post: What maturity means

If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you! This was originally posted on November 26th, 2012.

There’s a problem with the way we categorize things — a problem I’ve struggled with for a long time now. Movies, books and video games are called “mature” when they have violence and/or sex in them. The horrors of war and the depths of sexuality are clearly not appropriate for small children, therefore they’re meant for adults.

Simple enough. But this distinction is often misconstrued — so that some people think if a work doesn’t have inappropriate content for children, it can’t possibly be meant for adults. If a work doesn’t have R-rated violence and sex, it must be boring Teletubby stuff.

There are a lot of factors at work here. Our marketing-driven world wants there to be clear lines between children’s entertainment and adult entertainment. And we have increasingly short attention spans in this day and age, so the public probably wants punchier content. And American culture strongly associates some forms (e.g. non-human characters, or colourful animated art) with children’s entertainment. Media is expected to fit into categories — and one of those category divisions is mature/not mature.

But what is maturity, really? The word has many connotations. It might mean mere physical maturity — so a pubescent 13-year-old could be called mature. Moreso if he plays “mature” video games about shooting Nazi soldiers, or watches a “mature” movie with a sex scene in it. That kid is probably fixated on violence and boobies at least partly because he’s grasping at adult concepts, thinking that by association, he’ll be less child-like.

C.S. Lewis had a thought on this subject that I’ve always liked:

“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

He didn’t use the word “mature”, but I think his point is the same. Insisting on some arbitrary type of “adult” content is the most childish thing a person can do. A truly mature person recognises that they like what they like and no one else gets a say in it. I mean, an adult can watch Barney the dinosaur if they damn well please. The show wasn’t intended for anyone over the age of 5, but if a 40-year-old sees something pleasing about the show, why not watch? Maybe they find it relaxing after a stressful day of work.

Because mature people are also discerning. They’re the quietly confident ones with taste and insight. They’re the polar opposite of the “mature” things that would traumatize a child. Revelling in fighting and sex isn’t necessarily a mature thing to do. Heck, it’s not even a psychologically balanced thing to do. I think that’s the real measure of an adult: the ability to look past flashy novelty and appreciate the nuances of things.

Just look at Harry Potter. The series was a surprise hit with adults, probably because that story of a destined boy had a lot of interesting detail that a kid would take for granted. The story has worldbuilding and social commentary. There were racial tensions, and elaborate cover-ups, and characters struggling to do the right thing. Just because the main character was a kid didn’t mean the saga lacked maturity. But some people are still ashamed to be seen reading those “kids’ books” in public. Part of the problem is probably the stylized cover art.

This isn't photorealistic at all! Where are the explosions?

This isn’t photorealistic at all! Where are the explosions?

Another part is probably the recent trendiness of dark, grim fantasy — under the belief that happiness, justice and noble ideals are somehow less suitable for adults than murder and rape. The people who think Harry Potter is exclusively for children probably don’t have a problem reading Game of Thrones on the bus.

This maturity connundrum is something I encounter a lot with my writing career. I have non-human characters full of peaceful intent, so many people draw a conclusion of, “Oh, so it’s a children’s book full of cute little woodland animals?” There isn’t a lot of precident for what I do, so I navigate a minefield of cultural assumptions. As for the covers, I’m careful not to include any of my Aligare characters in the cover designs. If I made the cover look edgy enough to counter the “cute animal people”, I’d contradict the peace, understanding and actual maturity I’m trying to convey inside that cover.

Pictured: Peregrine of Ruelle as played by Bruce Willis, in this summer's intense action thriller.

Pictured: Peregrine of Ruelle as played by Bruce Willis, in this summer’s intense action thriller.

Fortunately, every parent I’ve met has been wise enough to ask me if my work is actually appropriate for their elementary-school-aged kids. Not really, I tell them. Remedy doesn’t have gory battles or overt sex, but it does have some pretty graphic medical drama. Watching a character struggle to breathe isn’t glamorous or pleasant.

More importantly, I think a certain amount of maturity is needed to understand Peregrine, an older man with long-term responsibilities and a moral quandary. I can’t imagine that a kid under a certain age could grasp why Peregrine is unhappy at the beginning of the story, or why he tries to push his best friend Tillian out of his life. To empathize with people very different from oneself, maturity is needed. I’ve had a report that one particularly advanced 12-year-old reader enjoyed Remedy — which is cool, I guess, but I still found it surprising.

So I guess what I’m saying is that maturity is simple, and yet it’s not. And an actual mature adult should be able to handle that.

Related articles:

My favourite dialogue from Render (A story of Aligare) (heidicvlach.com)

Moodiness: A part of real life, not fiction (heidicvlach.com)

Trying to write colourfully (heidicvlach.com)


Flashback post: Playing the odds

If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you! This post originally appeared October 1st, 2012.

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My theory applies to everyone and everything, really. But it’s particularly relevant to writers. One of the first things everyone is told about the publishing business is that it’s hard, and that writing shouldn’t be something you do because you want fame or money.

Writers are also told that it’s unlikely they’ll make it big. Likelihood is a big factor. Publishing is an odds game of writers producing, publishing houses buying, number of readers in a given genre, marketing reach, and many more possible factors. But this isn’t even an known odds game with clearly defined Vegas stakes. No one can tell a fledgling writer that their first novel has, say, 400:1 odds. Even veteran New York publishers don’t know for sure whether a given book will break out or flop. No one can see the future.

This is why I believe that every social change is possible. Some changes are incredibly, astronomically unlikely. Some will require a lot of work, so they probably won’t happen in our lifetimes. But change is never truly impossible.

Because, I mean, “impossible” is something you say when you want history to remember you as a short-sighted idiot. Plenty of people thought it was impossible for humans to achieve flight because we aren’t born with wings. Flying wasn’t simple or likely for a terrestrial great ape, so there wasn’t an immediate path for us to follow. Imagine if no one had tried to prove that powered flight was possible? If the Wright brothers had decided not to bother with their crazy idea?

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We make advances when we take chances. To create something new, someone has to look at the unknown-but-not-favourable odds and say, “You know what? I’m going to try it anyway.” Like buying a lottery ticket, you can’t win if you don’t try. But unlike lottery tickets, every time we change our methods we can also improve the odds. Writers can take a writing course, hire an editor, change their cover art, try out a new social media site — all of these things might make their book easier to sell. Our efforts can give luck the foothold it needs.

This is why I self-publish. Traditional publishing wisdom says that my non-human stories don’t fit easily into existing categories of mainstream fantasy, so they Will Not Sell. People have told me, in tones of authority, that no adult would ever read my work. What they’re saying is that no one has built it yet, therefore no one will ever build it. Sounds like faulty logic to me. We’re talking about writing and marketing, here, not magically turning lead into gold. Someone just needs to try.

To all you who work at a strange art project or a risky business venture, I say more power to you. Do your research, build your skills, and check the wind before you make any big leaps. Your efforts can open up new possibilities — and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably just scared of change (or failure, or both). Nothing is guaranteed in our world and that’s why everything is worth a shot.

For more inspiration, check out the Bad Opinion Generator. It’s full of quotes from negative Nancys who thought nothing would ever catch on.

Are you currently flying against convention, or thinking of trying a crazy idea? Share in the comments!


Special formatting in ebooks

Once in a while, I get people asking about the formatting in their Stories of Aligare ebooks. A visitor to my What The Fur? table actually asked about it! There are these highly noticeable sections of underlined text — sometimes half-page chunks, in Remedy‘s case. And readers often wonder if this is a file conversion error of some kind. Because the underlines seem to show emphasis, but italics are normally used for that, right …?

Yes, italics are standard. And no, the underlines in my books aren’t errors. I chose to format my ebooks in this odd way and the choice didn’t happen quickly. While I was developing Remedy, every draft and rewrite had a different formatting pattern depending on the age of the writing guidelines I was working from (and believe me, some of these guidelines were old enough to be my parents). One custom I adopted was to use underlines in a manuscript instead of italics. If you mail off your submission to some overworked slushpile reader, the underlines will be easy to discern and less taxing on the eyes.

That made sense to me. I mean, depending on the font, italics can be a very subtle change. Arial font is a good example:

If I were tired or distracted while reading a dense page of text, I bet those italics would difficult to pick out. And Arial is a commonly used font! There must be plenty of other fonts where the italics are too subtle to be an effective form of emphasis.

When I began looking at Remedy with the eye of a self-publisher, I considered the effect of my underlined text. I was using the special formatting to indicate that hearing-impaired Peregrine was reading lips, which I felt was an important detail to imagine. Hearing spoken sounds is much different from watching mouth motions and piecing together the words. So I kept the visually punchy underlines to match the visual nature of Peregrine’s conversations.

And since I would be self-publishing an ebook, those striking underlines only made more arguments for themselves. If I bother to emphasize a word, I’d rather make that emphasis clear and distinct. And with an ebook, the reader can choose to read my books on a tiny cell phone screen, with their own choice of font. Better to stick with the clarity of underlines, I say. Paperback versions of the Stories of Aligare, on the other hand, use conventional italics because they have a set font and layout. And because the underline is so bold in print, it actually looks sort of unsettling. I’ll consider using underlines in print if I’m ever writing, say, the voice of a god speaking into a mortal’s mind.

In this growing ebook revolution, formatting can be an enormous stumbling block for everyone involved. Ebook files come in a wide variety of formats, and those files need to be legible on more devices than you can shake a tech support employee at. And while the conventional aesthetics of written words are important, I think the function of the written piece is equally vital. The whole point of ebooks is to adapt books to our changing needs. Not to cling stubbornly to old ways just for the sake of them.

And that’s why the ebook versions of Remedy, Ravel and Render look, at first glance, like the file conversion process mauled them. Particularly Remedy, because the emphasis formatting has such a sense of purpose in Peregrine’s scenes. My choices might not fit the standard but hey, I’ve never had a problem with that.


Fan conventions and why I love them

So, I’m back now from What The Fur? 2013, an anthropomorphic (a.k.a. furry) convention in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was the 4th year for the convention, and my 3rd year attending.

Conventions like these are mostly for people who identify as furries — that is, people who don’t feel that their true species is Homo sapiens, in some spiritual or emotional way. There isn’t a hard-and-fast ruling on what defines a furry. Some say you need a non-human avatar to represent yourself (a “fursona”). Others say that just liking anthropomorphic animals in stories is enough to qualify. Personally, I might not have a lot of regard for humans as an overall species but I’m pretty sure I am a human, and I consider myself simply fur-friendly. Which seems to be perfectly acceptable in the convention-going community. I like fantasy stuff that the mainstream considers weird? Cool! Furries do, too! We can spend a weekend hanging out and celebrating it!

(Some costumes, such as Kanthara’s character Vivienne in the above video, have a loose lower jaw that opens when the wearer opens their mouth. A relatively simple rig, mechanically speaking, but isn’t it amazing to see a “real” non-human speaking like that? Whenever I ask a fursuiter if I may take their photo, I’m extra delighted if their costume’s mouth moves when they say, “Sure.”)

 

So clearly enough, events like these are a far cry from the type of convention where suit-clad businesspeople talk about marketing. What The Fur? always has some organized events such as discussion panels — and I sat on a few of these panels this year, trying to make intelligent points about fantasy fiction without the use of a Backspace key. But this convention is basically a many-faceted social event. The whole point is for people to get together with friends old and new, show off their costumes, play some tabletop games, buy and sell personalized artwork, and speak the excited language of fandom. I go to What The Fur? to sell my books, but also to chat with other adults who consider it normal for a talking weasel to have something to say.

 

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been attending fan conventions with this same general attitude. At first, it was anime conventions such as Otakon and Anime North (which tend to embrace other media forms such as American animation, and video games). I loved the costuming most of all, that aspect of bringing your favourite character to life. As I began nosing around the publishing industry, I added a few literary conventions to my experience, beginning with Worldcon 2010. Those were alright, if a little …calm by my standards. Now, I’m mostly setting up my dealer’s tables at furry conventions. Anthropomorphism is a concept I enjoy a lot, and there are few greater joys than sharing enjoyment with other fannish folks.


Is it weird to be writing yet another book?

Times sure have changed. Writing a book used to be a laborious process available only to the rich and privileged, every letter of every word copied out meticulously by hand onto some animal hide. But now, anyone can put out a book in under a year! If you write that fast. And depending on the amount of research and development. Editing sometimes takes a few more years. And we should probably count the years of elementary school that teach us to read and write— Look, it’s complicated, but it’s nowhere near as complicated in 2013 as it used to be.

 

Escribano

And if a fiction author is trying to make anything resembling a living, they pretty much have to put out new writing on a regular basis. The list of authors who achieved bestsellerdom on one book is vanishingly small. And with over 100 million books — and counting — spread throughout human history, readers have no shortage of other things to do if an author they like doesn’t have anything more to offer. It’s easy to be forgotten unless you keep saying, “Hey, I made a new thing!” and keep providing new experiences.

 

This has been common knowledge to me since I was old enough to drink. But a lot of people seem to find it surprising that I’m always thinking about the next book. I’ve been mentioning Render‘s release to coworkers and they usually say, “You’re writing another book?!” Which blows my mind because I can’t imagine writing only one book — especially when my first book was a fantasy world with a lot of constructed elements. Unless I got sick of that creative process — or hated it to begin with — I can’t imagine just walking away and finding some other use for my time.

 

I guess people are surprised that I’m still writing because of way novel-writing and authors can seem so mysterious.  A book is often thought to be a singular work you produce when you’re retired and writing your memoir. Or that one lightning strike of divine inspiration — that one “great idea for a book” that supposedly shoots a person to stardom. Finishing a book at all, ever, is an achievement most folks find impressive. So it’s not that they expect me to spend the rest of my life hawking Remedy and only Remedy  — gawd, I hope not. It’s just that finishing one book is, itself, something not everyone does. It’s like I’m stating, “I climbed a mountain. It was an incredible experience that took resources and skill, and I could have died. But I did it. So, yeah, I’m gonna do it again next month.” Next month?!

 

I am definitely taking a break before I start on my next project. I’ve been taking a little more Internet browsing time and writing some just-for-fun stuff that’ll never have a cover, or an ISBN. But there’ll be more books. I’ve got more to say and more weird premises to dig into. The Aligare world alone has a lifetime of material for me to explore, but I don’t plan on limiting to myself to one invented world.

 

After 3 works published, I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be providing new reading experiences for some time to come.


Why fantasy?

whyfantasyinthissky2

The other day, I got chatting with a random guy in a restaurant. He overheard the waitress asking what I was working on, and me talking a bit about my work-in-progress fantasy novel. Once the waitress left, Random Guy closed his political nonfiction book and he asked me, “Why fantasy?” I asked what he meant, and he just repeated, “Why fantasy?”, squinting thoughtfully at me.

For someone who grew up on video games, it’s like being asked why people eat food, or why I’m wearing clothes right now. Why ever not fantasy? But hey, I approve of questioning seemingly basic things, so I’m not one to judge. And Random Guy seemed as genuinely curious as the waitress had. Do tell, Heidi. Why fantasy?

So I told him this facet of the many-sided truth: fantasy is a way of examining the real world. Criticize our society too directly and people often don’t want to hear it; the criticism hits too close to home. It’s hard to, say, think objectively about economic responsibility if you’re worrying about your own student loans. But if you use fantasy to pose the same question, just with some psychological distance, people are often more willing to think and open their minds. If we’re discussing a far-away land where a king is trying to bring his impoverished realm back to wealth and health, well, that’s a much safer subject for us 21st century Earth folk to talk about. We can draw conclusions at our leisure.

That’s a part of my motivation to write Stories of Aligare. I figure that my cooperative world and its positive values can raise some helpful questions about our own lives. We might look at the day-to-day efforts of aemets, korvi and ferrin and think, “Huh. Humans don’t live like that. Could we live like that?” It might be a meaningful revelation for some people. Or, y’know, maybe they’ll find some other revelation I hadn’t planned on. But that’s not the reason I began making a writer of myself. I wasn’t trying to pass along some grandiose moral through the concepts of dragons and magic. Then why fantasy, Heidi?

Since that evening in the restaurant, I’ve been thinking about what makes fantasy such a deeply rooted part of my thoughts. And the only conclusions I can draw is that, well, we all live in varying degrees of fantasy. Everyone perceives the world in their own way. We imagine what tomorrow’s haircut will look like, or how our lives would change if we win the lottery. We look at other human beings and form mental caricatures of them — sometimes accurate, sometimes pure fiction. People believe in various combinations of gods, ghosts, reincarnation, lake monsters and astral phenomena. There might be other planes of existence out there, other timelines full of any possibility we can imagine. So when we talk about elves or magic spells and call that “fantasy”, it’s a pretty arbitrary line we’re drawing. Fantasy has as much presence and meaning as we choose to see.

Fantasy can still be cool battles, fireball spells and dramatic chases on dragonback. I mean, just because the genre can support deep thought doesn’t mean it should be deadly serious all the time. But I wouldn’t be putting so much of myself into fantasy books if there wasn’t a lot to genuinely wonder about. And that potential allowed me to have a nice, intelligent conversation with that random guy in the restaurant. I’m glad he thought to ask me why.

(Edit: Almost forgot to credit my image sources! The nighttime landscape picture came from here and the dragon clipart came from here. Composition was done by yours truly.)