Archive for the tag “fortun”

I write fantasy and I demand to be taken seriously

Whenever interested folks ask about Boot Hill--which is literally almost every single time I mention that I’m writing a novel–I tend to play up the western/American Old West elements of the story because that is outwardly what the story looks like: a bunch of cowboys and gunslingers in a desert setting, stirring up trouble and escaping a whole mess of predicaments by the skin of their teeth. How exciting!

But what I often fail to inform people is that, at its very core, Boot Hill is a fantasy novel.

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How I often feel when trying to defend the fantasy genre.

For a while I was admittedly ashamed to tell people that I am writing a fantasy novel. Especially when said people were professors or otherwise associated with academia. After all, genre fiction is, by far and large, either looked down upon as a lesser form of writing or flat-out ignored in the academic world.

Fantasy seems to get the shortest end of the genre stick in my opinion, and I think a lot of it stems from this strange idea that writing fantasy is amateur hour because the author doesn’t have to abide by the rules of our universe. While some fantasy indeed might not have to abide by our rules, there still needs to be rules. As a fantasy author, you have to create those rules and then convince your reader that the rules are believable. If you are writing within the confines of our world, you have to find a way to suspend disbelief in such a way that readers can accept the changes you have made. If the world you are writing about is not of this universe, you are tasked with building the world and making sure it rings true with readers. Believe me when I tell you that world-building is one of the most difficult–but also one of the most fun–aspects of writing a fantasy novel.

I feel like another reason why fantasy isn’t taken seriously is because of the influx of young adult fantasy in recent years, most of which are centered around teenage angst, love triangles, and sexy supernaturals. This reason is precisely why I have expressed embarrassment in being associated with the fantasy genre: I don’t want people to assume that this is what I am writing. While there is nothing wrong with the story elements I’ve described, I fear that the vast majority of young adult fantasy relies too heavily on such tropes to succeed rather than focusing on a good story. As a result, the stories themselves suffer, the characters aren’t well-drawn, and you’re looking at underwhelming novel after underwhelming novel. This is not what I want to achieve with my writing.

But I know not all hope is lost for the genre. Not even close. After all, when I stumble upon a well-written fantasy novel, I am not only immersed–I am transported in a way other genres simply can’t measure up to. Essentially, that is my goal in writing Boot Hill. I know I have a long way to go before I get there, but if I aim high, I don’t see why I can’t get there in time.

I write fantasy and I demand to be taken seriously.

Here is a snippet of the first time the reader meets Bastian, perhaps the most fantastical/supernatural character in the novel. Let me know what your first impressions of him are! I apologize if there are any errors; this is my first draft of this particular scene. Enjoy!

As I round the corner, a tall, masculine form in the doorway brings me to an abrupt halt. My heart nearly leaps into my throat before I realize that it is none other than The Bastian himself who is standing in the open door, his Holy Coronet cradled under an arm.

He smiles when he sees me, brushing a strand of white hair away from his face and hooking it behind his ear with his spindly fingers.

“Fortun,” he says warmly, a trace of smoke trickling out from his open mouth. The smoke wafts upward into the light filtered through the clock face’s stained glass, taking the rough shape of a soaring bird. When I blink, the smoke vanishes. I rub my eyes and take a step back from the Bastian.

“My Liege,” I say with a shallow bow, placing a hand over my heart and leaning against the door frame, out of breath. “Are you all right?”

The Bastian tilts his head and his smile disappears. He presses a forefinger to the side of his lips and draws his pale eyebrows together in thought. “Yes,” he says, the modulation in his voice almost as if he is posing a question. He squints his red eyes at me and cranes his neck so that he can get a better look at me. I turn my head away before he can see the telltale sign of the vignoire apparent in my eyes. “Are you all right?” He points at my face. He must know by now.

“The doors are wide open,” I say, stepping aside and gesturing to the door I just walked through. “All thirteen of them. My Liege, you can’t leave the doors open like this. What if someone slipped past the guards and came for you?”

His eyebrows raise. “Then I suppose they could find me here,” he says. “But I suppose anyone who wants to see me could find a way, locked doors or no. Isn’t that right?”

“I will post a member of the noble guard at each door,” I say, “just to be safe.”

The Bastian nods slowly and looks away from me. “If that’s what you think is best, Fortun.”

“But right now, we need to prepare you for the festivities,” I say, pacing across the room to the armoire containing the Bastian’s formal regalia. I throw the wooden doors open and remove the white robes from a hanger, careful not to let the hem drag on the floor. The fabric is unbelievably heavy and ostentatious, embroidered with beads, lined with mink fur and gods know what else; It’s no wonder he tries to avoid wearing the garments when he can. He has always gotten a thrill out of that damned headpiece, however, perching it atop his head or running his fingers over the immaculate beading. I’ve never seen him hold it under his arm quite like this, though–like how mothers hold their children.

I offer the undergarments to him. “You’re not even close to ready, My Liege. And I thought we threw out those rags you’re wearing.”

The Bastian looks down and pinches the fabric of the threadbare tunic. “But I like these,” he says. “They were yours and now they’re mine. I will keep them, I think.”

Amid the sounds of the clock tower churning, I pinpoint a gentle twittering sound nearby. “What is that?” The sound stops. I hear it once more, a bit louder. The Bastian is trying to stifle a laugh but his eyes betray him, glowing a spirited bright red.

“I have a surprise for you,” he says. He looks inside the headpiece thoughtfully before holding it out to me. Inside, an adolescent bluebird flits its wings, its beak open and its chest heaving. It chirrups and preens itself.

“I found it on the floor this morning,” he says. More smoke pours from his nose. I’ve never seen him so pleased in all the years I’ve cared for him. “Do you like it?”

“It looks like it’s fledging,” I say, noticing its newly formed, long feathers. The bird blinks, its entirely black eyes gazing up at me, probably terrified. “It will probably fly away soon.”

“Yes,” says Bastian, tilting his hat back toward him so he can look down at the creature once more. “I would like that very much.”

My character is a drug addict. Now what?

About a year ago, I read through a popular thread in the Absolute Write Water Cooler forum entitled, “Characteristics You Hate in Main Characters.” As I read through the thread, it became pretty clear that every possible character trait is on someone’s hate list:

Personally, I don’t like underdogs.

I don’t like characters with low self-esteem.

I hate Holden Caulfield and any character who reminds me of him.

I strongly disagree with all three of the above opinions (especially all the hate for poor Holden), and they were ripped straight from the first two pages of comments. I understand that everyone has their likes and dislikes. But as I skimmed through the vast majority of comments, I noted a characteristic that at least five or six posters agreed on: addicts. Not many people like an addict for a main character–save for House and Sherlock Holmes. Why is this? Is it because people believe that, by writing a main character as an addict, he or she is simply too unappealing or too difficult to sympathize with? Are “moral sins” impossible to overlook for many readers because of the societal stigmas associated with them?

I’ve always been a huge advocate for (sometimes overly) flawed characters or characters with difficult character traits because perfect characters bore me to tears. People aren’t perfect, so why should your characters be the very best at whatever they do, the strongest, the most beautiful? Flaws bring characters down to a level that readers can sympathize with, not the other way around; just like any person, characters need to be fleshed out and given traits–the good along with the bad.

Though not the main character of the novel, the main antagonist of Boot Hill, Fortun, is a (mostly) functional addict. He is addicted to a fictitious drug in the world of the story called vignoire. I’ll spare the explanation, but suffice it to say that it’s kind of like a much less appealing combination of marijuana and acid because of its nightmarish addictive properties. While I understand that addiction may be unappealing to certain readership, it is an essential part of Fortun’s characterization: it affects the way he makes decisions and interacts with other characters, which heavily affects the outcome of the novel. I wouldn’t get rid of this character trait for anything in the world. However, I am not using his addiction as a means to vilify him. In fact, I would argue that the novel’s protagonists, Finch and Linds, are a bit more flawed than most of my antagonists overall. Imagine that!

To those of you who may be writing characters with difficult character traits: it’s okay. Actually, it’s more than okay. I personally recommend it. Focus on making your characters rounded rather than the simple black or white of “good” and “evil.” Tapping into what society considers morally or socially deplorable characteristics just to make a blanket statement about a character isn’t typically a good idea because it can be a sign of a lazy author. It’s easy to say, “So-and-so killed an entire race of peoples, so he’s evil.” But why does the character do this? There has to be a reason, and I guarantee you the reason will need to be more interesting than “because he’s evil” to make readers believe the character. By delving further into a character’s psyche, an author is able to uncover the gray area that exists there–the coexistence of “good” and “bad.” And I believe that that makes for a much more interesting character than the alternative.

Here is a small snippet of Boot Hill from the perspective of a drugged-up Fortun, the main antagonist:

“We have arrived, Talont Rustreil-lis-Signes,” Gratien says with a sigh, bringing the vehicle to an abrupt halt. He shakes his head slowly, keeping his gaze forward and his hands tight on the steering wheel. He hasn’t looked at me since he pulled up into the central station parkway and I slumped into the seat beside him, staring wide-eyed at the roof of the car in silence.

The door lever shrinks away from me as I fumble with the cool metal. I finally manage to grasp the lever and pull it down, pushing the door open, and I lift myself out of the seat. The vehicle’s metal frame creaks as I stumble off of the running board and onto the cobblestone walkway. I lean against the door and, despite my swirling sight, spot the golden glow of the distinguished clock tower a few blocks away, partially hidden behind a number of buildings.

“This isn’t where I asked to be taken,” I say through the half-open window, pointing at the clock tower. Gratien smooths his graying mustache and then leans across the width of the car, finally looking at me.

“Your parents were fortunate that they didn’t have to see you like this,” he says. “I can’t imagine what your sister thinks.”

I reach for the door handle to let myself back in but Gratien straightens and propels the car forward, parting the sea of people hastening toward the city square with a high-pitched honk of the horn. Crowds draped in vibrant reds, oranges and yellows trickle into the area once occupied by the car as if it was never there. I grit my teeth and watch the hood of my car quickly fall out of sight as it plummets down the steep roadway.

I begin to walk toward the clock tower, falling in line with the crowds. Street musicians strum guitars and rattle tambourines against their wrists while passersby shout and sing in wandering circles around me. Children wail for their parents. The sounds all culminate into the brief memory of waves crashing against a cliff. The watchtower, five years ago. The blistered bodies of my soldiers. Rhys.

Glancing down, the cobblestones bend and stretch beneath my feet–this isn’t right. I squeeze my eyes shut and then look up at the huge, glowing clock face looming above me and try to make out the time. The hour and minute hands wobble and drip into the numbers the longer I stare. Its golden glow ripples out into the sky. After a few deliberate blinks I can focus enough to determine that it’s a quarter past four. The effects of the vignoire should have subsided more than an hour ago. Anxiety spreads through my stomach as I trudge across the remaining length of the city square, fretting over the prospect of the Holy Bastian seeing me like this.

I breathe in deeply, shake my head, and shrug my way through the bustling crowds until I’m within the clock tower’s long, afternoon shadow. As I approach the base of the tower, the chaos around me collapses into the background and the familiar hum of wheels and cogs clanking from within the building swells to a low whir like a tumultuous beehive.

A whole mess of character cheat sheets (with artwork!)

Want to know more about the characters I’m writing about this summer?

As an attempt to organize my story and the characters that run the show, I have started to compile little fact sheets about the major (and minor) players of Boot Hill. These sheets give a brief overview of each character, a picture (drawn by the wonderful Hunter Bonyun), the character’s purpose in the story, and his or her relationships with other characters. Just for fun, I’ve also included each character’s likes, dislikes, and fears. I hope you find them all as interesting as I do! These are a lot of fun to make, and they are helping me solidify individual character details as the cast of characters grows.

Characters added so far:

Lindsey Madoc
Riley Finch
Cornelius “Neil” Chapman
Ev Morris
Raleigh “Rally” Jambeaux
Fortun Rustreil-lis-Sygnes
Bastian

I will be updating the comprehensive character page throughout the summer, but I will be sure make note of any additional characters on my blog postings. Stay tuned!

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