Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Geeks And Gamers’ Guide To World-Building


By Eilis Flynn
The problem with staring at the computer screen for hours on end is what you end up thinking about. Not necessarily the project at hand; instead, it’s quite possible you end up musing about totally unrelated things.

Like world-building. When you write fiction, you always build new worlds. No matter if you’re writing fantasy or you’re writing contemporary, you have to craft an existence other than the one you’re living in. Sometimes the existence you’re describing looks like the one you’re in but with some notable differences, and sometimes the one you’re describing looks nothing like yours, but whatever the situation, you have to make it interesting enough for the reader to want to stay in it for a while.

Welcome to world-building 101, the geeks and gamers edition. What’s the deal with world-building? Too much detail and nobody wants to hear about it; too little and your audience turns away, saying that they can’t “see” the world. What’s a good balance? What makes one created world memorable and another so very forgettable?

Could it be the type of world—you know, historical versus futuristic versus fantasy? What about the contemporary world? What about in comic books and video games and board games, for that matter? What makes each of them memorable or forgettable?

The specific genre or medium doesn’t really matter. Each has specific strengths and weaknesses, and it’s our job to identify, locate, and implement those strengths and overcome those weaknesses. Sometimes, when we are lucky, we can even identify and implement those strengths, and if we’re very, very lucky, we can even implement a strength from one genre or medium and make it work in another. But we have to identify them first.

No matter what you’re writing, the truth is that you have to establish and make your readers believe the world you’re writing about. Comic books and video games (and games in general, for that matter) have been particularly successful in doing this. After all that musing and staring at the computer screen, my friend Jacquie and I decided to examine the worlds and universes that comics and games have built, try to figure out why they work so well (sometimes even across media to film), and how we can use those concepts in our own writing, and we put it all into a workshop for the San Diego romance writers.

We’ll be taking a look at the worlds and universes of comic books and world-building from the viewpoint of games and video games. Is there some carryover? Of course there is. We’ll examine that too. Check out http://rwasd.com/training/index_flynn2.html and sign up. It starts July 6!

Elizabeth Flynn/Eilis Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for almost 40 years, working with academia, technology, finance, and science fiction, fantasy, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be reached at emsflynn.com. If you’re curious about her books, check out eilisflynn.com. In any case, she can be reached at eilisflynn@aol.com.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Looking At The Differences Between Super-Heroines And Super-Heroes


By Eilis Flynn

Why is building a super-heroine so different from building a super-hero?

Before I answer that, when you’re about to start writing a new story, how do you create a hero and heroine? Do you start with your hero, or do you start with your heroine? Depends on any number of factors, doesn’t it? Depends on the story you want to tell, right? Same thing with super-heroines and super-heroes.

First of all, you have to understand that they’re not the same. One isn’t better than the other; one isn’t more important than the other; one isn’t preferable to the other. Heroes and heroines are just different. And that is the case with super-heroes and super-heroines.

How are super-heroines created? To get some idea, let’s look at some Qs and their As about some super-heroines in pop culture!

Q: Who was the first super-heroine of the 20th century? (See, I have to be specific about the century, but I’ll get into that later.)
A. Wonder Woman
B. Miss Fury
C. Edith Cavell
D. Sonya

The answer is (B). Believe it or not, it wasn’t Wonder Woman. Journalist Tarpe Mills came out with Miss Fury almost a year before psychiatrist Charles Moulton Marston, the developer of the X-ray machine, introduced Wonder Woman. And Mills came out with her character on her own, as opposed to Marston, who spearheaded a committee to come up with Wondie. Wonder Woman is notable because she battled evil through the 1940s and the 1950s and went on from there, never really going away to this day, while Miss Fury fought crime in one incarnation or another before she went off into the sunset in 1953. (Wonder Woman, of course, continues to live, no matter how many versions of male creators try to kill her off.)

Edith Cavell was a real-life hero of World War I, a nurse who worked on the front. Amazing woman! But not our topic today.

Of course, Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, also introduced a woman warrior in a short story. It wasn’t a very big intro in 1934, and only diehard fans remembered her, but decades later, in 1973, Marvel Comics came up with Red Sonja, based on Howard’s character. There were big differences between Howard’s Sonya and Marvel Comics’ Red Sonja. Howard’s feisty character, who showed up in just one short story, was based in modern times, while Marvel’s Sonja was a contemporary of Conan the Barbarian and also held her own in a fight. Also interesting, but also not our topic today.

Q: Who’s the comic chick who went from girl to woman to girl?
A: Wonder Woman
B: Hawkgirl
C: Supergirl
D: Disco Dazzler

Sorry for the broad hint! Ahem. The answer, of course, is (B). Before super-heroines were big—and super-heroes had barely come on the scene themselves—there was Shiera Sanders, introduced in 1940, just a while after Superman and Batman. But she wasn’t super yet; she was super-hero Hawkman’s girlfriend. By 1941 she had gained super-powers and she fought alongside Hawkman as Hawkgirl. She faded after World War II, but a new version was introduced in 1963, by then Hawkman’s wife—but she was still Hawkgirl. Twenty years later, Hawkgirl became Hawkwoman, but she wasn’t any stronger and she was still very much a sidekick. Another twenty years later, she was Hawkgirl again—but there wasn’t a Hawkman in sight. She was also more likely than not to relax by starting a brawl than taking a bubble bath. (Her secret identity moniker went between Shiera and Shayera, but again, not the point.) The latest version of Hawkgirl will be part of the TV series Legends of Tomorrow, debuting in 2016. She’s as persistent as Wonder Woman herself!

Wonder Woman, of course, was always Wonder Woman (A). There were Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot too, but they were different characters.

Supergirl was always Supergirl (C). There has been a “Superwoman” from time to time, but only for a single story line, and never for long. And of course, she’s got a TV series of her own, starting in a few months on CBS!

Disco Dazzler (D)…oh, that’s a topic for a whole ‘nother workshop!

Q: For those of you who’ve seen the Marvelverse movies, what about the character that Scarlett Johansson portrays? Codenamed Black Widow, Natasha Romanova (1964) was:
A: A Russian spy
B: A ballerina
C: An actual widow
D: All of the above, depending on whom you ask

Natasha has been a complex and many-lived character (D). That black catsuit she often sports? Not original to her. That costume she’s become best known for only began to be her usual outfit in 1970. No, Emma Peel (1965) of the British TV adventure series The Avengers(!) wore the sleek black catsuit before the Black Widow. Natasha started off as a Russian spy who later defected, becoming at one point a freelance agent of the government agency SHIELD. At one point she was implanted with false memories of having been a ballerina; at another point it was revealed she was married, but her husband faked his death before he ultimately died; and she dated Daredevil, Hawkeye, and others. Busy, but when you’re one of a relatively small pool of super-heroines in a mostly male genre, you probably have your pick.

Q: Why was 1976 a notable year for heroines of all stripes?
A: Miss Piggy was introduced
B: The original Charlie’s Angels debuted
C: Phoenix of the X-Men was revealed
D: Apple Computer was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak

Kidding! A, B, C, and D all happened. (For those of you who are curious, Jean Grey of the X-Men was first known as Marvel Girl, then became known as Phoenix or Dark Phoenix in the “new” X-Men depending on whether she was threatening to destroy all of humanity, but mostly as Jean Grey. Also popping up in the Marvelverse are Miss Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Captain Marvel, all female. There was a male Captain Marvel, but he was killed off. Also not to be confused with DC Comics’ Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel—male—both of whom must be the topic of yet another workshop, and that Captain Marvel was recently renamed Shazam. So if you’re a longtime Marvel Comics fan, their favorite phrase “Make Mine Marvel” has many layers.)

Q: Why do we remember Supergirl (1959) and Batgirl (1967)?
A: One is Superman’s cousin and the other is not related to Batman at all
B: From their movies. Oops, sorry, Batgirl never had her own movie, and the Supergirl movie is not spoken of in polite company. Alicia Silverstone as “Batgirl” in the Clooney version of Batman isn’t spoken of, either
C: No idea
D: The possibilities are endless!

It’s (D)! Remember when I mentioned that “Superwoman” as a character has popped up from time to time, but never for long? Supergirl has been the cousin since her introduction in the late 1950s, and she’s stayed that way. (She does have a doppelganger of sorts in the form of Power Girl, the slightly older and definitely more zaftig clone/parallel dimension version, who has gone through a number of different changes.) The same isn’t true for Batgirl. Since the version you’re probably most familiar with is Barbara Gordon (Commissioner Gordon’s daughter or niece, depending on the writer), it may come as a surprise to you that before a series of recent company-wide resets of the DC universe, Barbara fought crime as wheelchair-bound Oracle, leaving the titles of “Batgirl” and “Batwoman” to others. For the moment, anyway.

Q: Not precisely a super-heroine, but she’s pretty darn super nonetheless: How many incarnations has the declared dead ex-junkie turned deadly assassin Nikita had since she was first introduced in 1990?
A: One
B: Two
C: Three
D: Four

Oh, this one’s a gimme (D). La Femme Nikita was the original French film, which came out in 1990 (with Annie Parillaud); Americans were so intrigued by it that they came up with their own version under the title Point of No Return in 1993 (with Bridget Fonda as the lead character, renamed Nina); TV got interested in the character and came up with Peta Wilson (1997–2001); and the latest one on TV just ended with Maggie Q as Nikita (2010–13). It’s had four incarnations in 20 years. Why is this character so popular? We’ll discuss it in my workshop coming up next month for the Carolina Romance Writers, “Building a Super-Heroine”!

Over the years, Eilis Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, a young adult, a graphic novella, and self-published historical fantasies and short stories (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). Check out eilisflynn.com if you’re curious about them. As Elizabeth Flynn, she’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, finance, romance fiction, and comic books. She can be reached at emsflynn.com. Most days, she hangs out at Facebook at eilis.flynn. Hope to see you there!


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

BOOK LOG 44: GRAVE ON GRAND AVENUE (An Ellie Rush Mystery)


by Naomi Hirahara

This is the followup to the introductory novel about LAPD Officer Ellie Rush, a young bicycle cop assigned to an ethnically diverse area. I was pleased and intrigued by Ellie’s first book, and I was pleased to discover that the second, about skulduggery in the fancy-pants musical world involving Chinese musicians and their instruments and the death of a gardener working on a major concert venue in Los Angeles, not only expands on the world around Ellie and her friends, it stretches a little more in her search for the truth about what happened with the gardener (with a special guest appearance by Hirahara’s first detective, the delightfully grumpy Mas Arai—and therein my only complaint. The deceased was Mas’s friend, but he wasn’t involved in the case somehow? Really? I found that hard to believe).

Also in this story is an exploration about Ellie’s friends from college, who are lollygagging still in college (not the sort who rush through sch…hey, I see what Hirahara did there!). Her best friend, who’s a bit of a leech, but when she gets involved in something, she does hang on determinedly, turns out to be a surprise, and in some ways, her shift into having more focus vaguely reminded me of the CW’s interpretation of Iris West on The Flash, because both characters’ decision to go into journalism made me go “Huh?” Iris West’s enough of a blank slate (and the character is one who hasn’t impressed anyone, I gather, with her smarts or personality, unlike the original comic character) that I can accept it. But Ellie’s friend’s decision did surprise me. The author has background, so I can accept it. (Don’t get me started on The Flash, a show I enjoy very much and about which apparently will accept almost anything. Almost.)

Anyway. Looking for a mystery? Try this one, and the one that preceded it! They’re both wonderful reads!

COMING UP: So hard to choose!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

BOOK LOG 43: A DESPERATE FORTUNE


by Susanna Kearsley

There are few more wonderful things than the anticipation of a favored author’s latest novel. And as you may have gathered by now, Susanna Kearsley is one of my favorites. This novel I found myself sort of torn about. Like many of her stories, this one has two stories, one in the present and the one in the historical past (specifically, about the Jacobites in British history, and in this case, the intrigues of the Scottish exiles as they travel to meet with the exiled royal). The present plotline had enough interesting threads—ciphers! Asperger’s (the heroine)!—that I found myself disappointed when we went back to the historical story, although a plotline involving a financial scheme back in London did keep my interest. Considering how many schemes, frauds, and out-and-out thefts have littered the financial world over the centuries, I was hoping there was going to be more about that, but it turned out to be a minor minor plotline. But that’s my interest, so YMMV.

I would love to have Kearsley use one of the major financial frauds in her books—Tulipomania! South Sea Bubble! And there are more, but those are what pop up in my mind right off—but adding something like that has got to be organic.

Overall, however, I did enjoy the book. It is a testament to the skill of the author that I can enjoy even parts of the novel that I was less than thrilled about, and hope for more.

Coming up: Right now I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle’s YA. I think her Young Unicorns may have inspired me to go to Columbia grad school. Now if only it had inspired me to stay there.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Turn turn turn


It’s April, and spring is on the way. That’s theoretical for a lot of people out there on the East Coast out there, of course, are finally free from a long winter of slogging through foot after foot of snow. In the Pacific Northwest, we’re nervously crossing our fingers and staring up at the sky, which goes between milky blue and gray and dark gray, but all we get is rain, rain, rain (just the way we like it, actually, nine months out of the year). (The other three months are oddly warm and dry, and we worry about drought. We’re complainers, we really are.)

For those of you finally free of the white stuff—my condolences to you for the winter just past. I know it’s been record-breaking cold and snow for many of you, and I know someone in Erie, PA, who was of the opinion that her town won’t be seeing flowers and grass until May. Her husband I think commutes to New York for work, so that must be not just a chore, but frightening to boot. But I know, even as they (and you) do, that the snow will go away eventually, and the skies will be free of that horrifying white stuff. The more I read about this past winter and remember the problems of the previous one, the more I understand why George RR Martin lives in a desert climate these days and why his Song of Ice and Fire (also known as the source work for cable’s Game of Thrones) resonates. Because that slogan of his, “’Winter is coming,” is terrifying, and not because of the characters, but just the thought of what winter brings with it.

But the flowers are on their way. In these parts, we had a mild winter, mild enough that the blossoms and the trees were tricked into blooming in February, and I think that’s alarming enough. Because while much of the rest of the country was buried under literally feet and feet of snow, nature thought it was spring here. Who knows what else it might think in later months? Rain we can deal with. Other forms of weather we’re lost with.

And of course, it’s snowed here in April in the past. (It’s snowed in Yankee Stadium on Opening Day, so it’s still a possibility in New York, but New Yorkers are tough.) It’s just something else for us to worry about. Here, we worry that it’s going to be sunny during the summer. Yes, we’re complainers. We really are!

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at emsflynn.com and reached at emsflynn@aol.com. If you’re curious about her books, check out eilisflynn.com. In any case, she can be reached at eilisflynn@aol.com.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

BOOK LOG 42: THE SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN


by Naomi Hirahara

Another entry in the Mas Arai mysteries, about the geriatric Japanese-American detective whose English nor his Japanese are neither so good. But he nevertheless manages to find the culprit! Hiroshima survivor Mas Arai is a widower and longtime resident of Southern California, whose daughter lives in New York City. He lives alone and while his clientele is steadily dwindling (either they move or they find someone cheaper or they die off), he nonetheless knows a lot of people. In this story, an acquaintance has won the lottery! Literally, he’s won the lottery, and to celebrate, he throws a party, complete with musicians, one of whom plays an Asian stringed instrument. The Japanese call it a shamisen, but the Okinawans call it a sanshin. One covered with snakeskin is unusual (but not necessarily unique) and catches our hero’s eye shortly before The Incident, and this particular instrument is the crux of the story.

And once more, I really appreciate Hirahara’s work. Through all her Mas Arai books she has the characters use Japanese terms, with small, inobtrusive translations. She reminds those of us who may have forgotten, and she explains to those who never did, about Japanese terms and cultural references and historical bits (only some about the atom bomb, referred to as pikadon, a reference to the blinding light and then the noise). And in this story, we learn about the Okinawans, who aren’t Japanese, even though they’ve been classified as such by the Americans, and about their particular culture and communities here in the US. We also learn about the Red scare in the 1950s and how that played out in the Asian community back then. We also find out about the Japanese Peruvians and how they tried to start a new life down there—only to be kidnapped by government forces and used for their own nefarious purposes.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Hirahara’s books make me want to visit Southern California again and completely ignore the part that everyone hears about. I want to try Japanese Peruvian cuisine and hear a sanshin. And I look forward to another Mas Arai story.

COMING UP: THE SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, GASA-GASA GIRL, STRAWBERRY YELLOW, 1,001 CRANES

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

BOOK LOG 41: BLOOD HINA (A Mas Arai Mystery)


by Naomi Hirahara
I read the introductory novel of Hirahara’s new series, about LAPD’s Officer Ellie Rush, a young bicycle cop assigned to an ethnically diverse area, and on then became interested in her previous series, about Hiroshima survivor Mas Arai, whose advancing age and dwindling Southern California clientele (he’s a gardener) nonetheless has him investigating in things that are none of his business (sometimes). I chose this book to start reading about this amateur detective simply because of the title—not the blood part, the hina part (in this case, it’s a reference to the formal figurines you see set up for the Japanese holiday of Girls’ Day, not dolls to be played with, but deep tradition). The sociocultural intricacies of Japanese-American society are fascinating, and while I knew about some of it, a lot of it came as a surprise. For instance, I had no idea there was a particular term for Japanese-Americans born in the US but educated in Japan, which is Mas’s background (the term is kibei, in case you’re interested). And of course, since he was in Japan during World War II, an American but not, Japanese but not, the character’s constant sensation of being out of place shapes the character.

The characters are well written, the descriptive details of Mas’s world are clear and distinct (like my first reaction after reading Ellie Rush’s introduction, Murder on Bamboo Lane) and I wanted to visit the area (but not too much, because, after all, there’s a lot of disturbing murders there). I finished this and promptly picked up another in the series, a testament to the intriguing world and characters of the society that Hirahara has created. (And the cherry on top is the mention of someone I knew mentioned in the acknowledgments, whom I knew was a gardener, but I didn’t realize he was known for his talents! I asked him how to keep my plants alive, since they kept committing suicide. He suggested hosta, and gave me a few. And I killed them pretty steadily. RIP, Frank!)

COMING UP: The Snakeskin Shamisen!