Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Category Archives: new fables

New Fables News

For those of you who may be patiently waiting for news of New Fables, I apologize. I have been working through the slushpile with the aid of my trusty staff this past month and have narrowed down the candidates for issue 5. I am hoping to get some work done this weekend and get final acceptances and such mailed out.

The biggest problem with submissions to New Fables continues to be people who just don’t get the theme. It is “character-driven stories in which the nature of the animal character is related to the theme/message of the story.” It’s not “fables” or “myths” (I get a fair number of “how X came to be” stories). It’s not furry relationship stories (although some of those, like “Reattachment,” use the concept of animal species to represent movement through lives, which was a neat world).

Also I have a pretty high standard for the writing, which I’m sure doesn’t help with finding slush stories, but I thank my staff for keeping me true to that standard when desperation tempts me to waver.

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When Do You Need A Good Dose Of Reality?

In trying to write a story for “New Fables“, I found myself falling into my regular pattern of thinking through the reality and logic of the world, only I didn’t (or may not have) done it quite enough. These worlds always have an underlying internal consistency to me, and I think the problem in this case is not that there’s a big giant flaw in that consistency, but that I didn’t give the reader enough of it to let them see it. So I need to work on that.

But it got me thinking about one of my limitations, which is that all of my worlds need to have a pretty strong underlying reality. I’m not so good with the wacky or surreal fantasy worlds, because I always start thinking “but where did the swarm of blue winged thockwarblers come from? And what do they eat when there aren’t any yellow linen shirts around? What’s their reproductive cycle?” and so forth. I can’t even write fantasy stories with magic without thinking way too much in depth about how magic works. One of the things that always sort of bugged me about the Harry Potter books is that she never goes into depth about that. It seems like magic is basically a combination of an inherited ability to tap into it plus a long series of vocabulary lessons. As soon as you know the right words (and wand motions, yes) for a spell, you can do it. Harry learns the “Sectumsempra” spell from a few words in a book, for example, and carries it off pretty well the first time. Magic doesn’t seem to take a lot out of the wizards, unless it’s convenient for the plot to do so. Nor does it seem particularly hard to learn, unless the kids need to learn it for a plot point.

But here’s the thing: none of that matters to the story. A quick Google of “harry potter theory of magic” turns up only one vaguely relevant link on the first page, which itself links to the really relevant article, a critique of Rowling’s economics of magic by an economist (Megan McArdle). This is kind of how I feel as a trained engineer writing and reading fantasy. I think McArdle misses a point, however much she protests that “Children are great systemisers.” Children are also able to discard systems and invent new ones. In the absence of Rowling giving us a consistent theory of magic, I’m sure most of the fans of the books have constructed some mechanism in their own minds that makes most of the facts fit.

Perhaps the spells are hardest early on, or some people just have a knack for them. Or some spells require a certain concentration component that isn’t really described in detail. Maybe the DA (in book five) had an easier time with the Patronus charm than Harry did because they were able to practice it together en masse, and it’s the kind of charm that requires confidence and positive thinking. Whatever your rationale, it’s clear that the lack of a consistent magical system has not hurt the books.

And what I need to do, perhaps, is learn better what details can be left to the reader’s imagination, and which I need to supply. There are certain things that are going to bother certain readers no matter what, but if you give the story a fabulist sort of feel, and make it work, people will be more willing to let the rest of it slide. The more realism you put into your world, the more people will demand from it. So that’s what I’ll try to do: give my story a bit more magic, and see if I can restrain my inner engineer long enough to let a few things slide.

Episodic Stories

The workshop met last night and reviewed the last chapter of the first part of the novel. Reactions were generally very positive, with a lot of good points brought up that I will need to work on in editing. My big question for the group was: could the story stand on its own as the first novel in a series of three? The answer was a fairly emphatic “no.” They did note that the character seems to have completed a story arc of her own, but the intrigue outside her is just heating up to the point that it would be unfair to drop the reader out of it. I can see the point, though I’ve known “first in a series” novels that did the same. Not as drastically, I suppose. So it looks like I’ll keep up with Aya for a bit longer before considering her story complete.

I am taking a break, however, in order to try to write something for New Fables #2. And all of you should try too! Poems, essays, stories, anything that uses anthropomorphic animals to get its message across is welcome. Check out the mission statement and the first issue, if you can, and send something by December 15th to editor@sofawolf.com, or to me directly at tsusman@sofawolf.com.

Return from ComicCon / New book on sale


San Diego Comic-Con International is quite the event now, making national headlines and attracting Hollywood and its satellite industries (now including video game producers and toy companies). I love comics, and my favorite part of Comic-Con (apart from all the restaurants in San Diego) is walking around the independent publishers and small press tables to see what the individual creative spirits are up to this year.

This also awakens in me a yearly desire to Do A Comic, mainly because any story without a graphical component is largely ignored here. That desire gets worse when you spend the entire weekend sitting behind a table watching your novel be ignored while people coo over some (admittedly very good) graphic novels. At any rate, I’ve had a comic idea in mind for, oh, years now, and though I can’t draw quickly or all that well, I can draw passably and in the past week I’ve fleshed out the world and plot of this comic considerably (in past years it had never really gotten beyond the layout for page 1, followed by “and then some stuff happens”). So we’ll see how it goes–I will update more in this space as time goes on.

Speaking of projects that don’t require me to draw, though, my literary journal New Fables is now on sale online from Sofawolf. This project grew out of a Fabulist Fiction class I took at Stanford, when some friends and I realized that “furry” stories with literary merit could be classified as fabulist, and when our classmates in that class really enjoyed our stories without questioning too much why they all involved talking animal people.

Neither of those stories are in this anthology, but in addition to my own contribution (which is set in a future Earth in between our time and the time of New Tibet, intended to be in the same world though nothing really establishes that), there are stories by Michael Payne, Kevin Frane (my former classmate), and Ryan Campbell. In addition, Phil Geusz and I wrote essays; Ryan, David Cowan, and Elizabeth Barrette contributed poems; and Sara Palmer and Heather Bruton added one-page illustrated stories. Ursula Husted drew a lovely cover for us, and the ever-talented Blotch and Jill C. also helped with interior illustrations.

I’m really proud of it. Please go check it out!