A list of fantasy books, part 8

The Sirens of Titan

Next up on my list of Favorite Fantasy Novels is Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut.  A riotous adventure through the universe that, like all Vonnegut’s novels, has something deeper to say.

Here’s the official book description:

The Sirens of Titan an outrageous romp through space, time, and morality. The richest, most depraved man on Earth, Malachi Constant, is offered a chance to take a space journey to distant worlds with a beautiful woman at his side. Of course there’s a catch to the invitation–and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life that only Vonnegut has the courage to tell.

A list of fantasy books, part six

The Last UnicornAnother of my favorite fantasy novels, No. 6. The Last Unicorn—Peter Beagle.

Probably the first fantasy I ever read.  Schmendrick the magician captured my heart.

We’ve been celebrating fantasy novels because I’ve delved into that genre.

Here’s an insightful review of the book on The Mountain Echo.

On Fantasy: Susan Fletcher

Susan FletcherFor a few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. Today, you can read Susan Fletcher’s answers. She’s the author of many fine books, including Alphabet of Dreams.

Q: What was (is) the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: Some fantasy writers revel in the details of the geography, costume, politics, technology and architecture of their made-up worlds. Me? Not so much. I love fantasy, but what come naturally to me are character, dialog, language—things like that. Designing an entire fantasy world from whole cloth is really daunting to me.

Flight of the Dragon KynSo I pick up great whole chunks of the “real” world for use in my fantasy novels. Elythia in my dragon books is based on the country Wales. (Loosely.) Kragrom is medieval Scandinavia. (Sort of.) Eric Kimmel loaned me a beautiful coffee table book on the Vikings, and I borrowed liberally from that.  There are three caves in my dragon books, and each is based on a real cave that I have visited. Dragon’s Milk‘s cave is a lava tube in central Oregon. Flight of the Dragon Kyn‘s cave is a huge cavern in southern Oregon. Sign of the Dove‘s cave is a sea cave on the Oregon coast. The draclings (not coincidentally) resemble my old cat Nimbus, the way they thrum in their throats and knead Kaeldra’s legs with their talons.

I pilfer—steal—so liberally from the real world partly because my imagination is not up to the task of creating a whole world all by itself, and partly because I believe that connecting my fantasy worlds to this one helps to make them feel real.

For me, world creation in fantasy is not so very different from world creation in historical fiction. In both cases, you fashion your fictional worlds from a combination of research, imagination, and alchemy!

Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

A: In fantasy, you have the advantage of freedom; you can design your fictional worlds to fit the needs of your characters and their stories. In my dragon novels, for instance, I didn’t have to research medieval politics or ship building techniques in a particular time and place. By contrast, the historical novel I am writing now takes place specifically in 1252 A.D., and I have to know exactly who was the king of where, and what languages were spoken in the various locales where my characters find themselves, and whether, on a ship voyage, passengers would sleep above or below decks.

But the freedom of writing fantasy comes with a price. And the price is that your fantasy world has to make sense on its own terms. And part of what this entails is a coherent magic system. You have to create the rules—and stick to them. Rules in which the magic is internally logical, has clear limits, and has a significant price.

Q: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your book? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?

The MoorchildI read a bit of fantasy as a child but began to delve into it seriously later on, when I began writing for kids and young adults. Some of my early favorites were Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a masterpiece I have loved ever since the first time I read it, when I was in college. The books of David Almond and Philip Pullman were later favorites. But I think that the fantasy novel I love most is Eloise McGraw’s The Moorchild. Eloise was a friend, and in Moorchild she was writing at the peak of her considerable powers. Saaski, the protagonist, is half-human and half-folk, and doesn’t really belong in either world. The Moorchild is about being different from those around us—something we’ve all felt. It is about the difficulty and necessity of finding one’s place in the world, and living with integrity—all of which speak to me.

Q: Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A: Oh, definitely: Shahrazad! I didn’t invent her; she is the heroine of the legend on which I based my novel Shadow Spinner. But what a wonderful character she is! Shahrazad is probably the most famous storyteller of all time, so I would talk with her about the art of telling stories. Because she told stories in order to save her own life, I would ask her about capturing the interest of listeners (or readers), keeping them engaged, and designing compelling cliffhangers. Because she had to come up with something new to tell for 1001 consecutive nights, I would talk to her about generating new ideas, being prolific, and meeting deadlines. Because she was telling stories in order to reform the character of a wicked king, I would talk to her about the conundrum of writing a “moral story,” a story that articulates meaning in a significant way without hitting listeners (or readers) over the head with a preachy moral. And then we would toss down some sharbat and just generally dish the dirt.

Thank you, Susan, for sharing your thoughts about fantasy as well as your book recommendations. I encourage you to read all of Susan books, including her most recent, Falcon in the Glass. She’s a wonderful story spinner. Learn more about Susan on her website.

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bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song was published June 7th and is available from Clarion Books, your favorite bookseller, and your local library. The BNKids blog said, “Readers who love taking their time to explore sometimes creepy, sometimes wonderfully magical fantasy worlds will be charmed. Grayling is one of the most relatable young heroines I’ve read about for ages. Give this one to a daydreamy nine or ten year old, who could use a bit of inspiration to set off with courage on their own perilous journey through adolescence!”

Associate: installmentloansbase.com

On Fantasy: Avi

For a few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering questions about their own writing. Today, I’m pleased to have Avi join the group. He’s the author of many fine books, including the Newbery Medal-winning Crispin: Cross of Lead.

AviQ: What was (is) the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: A very smart editor—Ruth Katcher—once said to me that, “A fantasy novel is like a work of historical fiction. It must have its own history, culture and rules, and be as consistent with those elements as any realistic fiction.”

Which is to say, to be successful, fantasy must create its own reality. It’s the reality that is hard to invent, not the fantasy.

Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

School of the DeadA: My fantasy writing ranges from animal stories (Poppy, The Good Dog) to tales of magic (The Book Without Words, Bright Shadow) to ghost stories (Something Upstairs, School of the Dead.) As per the comment above, I don’t think of them as fantasy, but rather as realistic fiction with a quirk—animals talking, the ability to have wishes, ghosts, etc.

Q: Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A: As for dinner with one of my fantasy characters I think I’d enjoy dinner with Ereth the porcupine. He is a curmudgeon, and I find curmudgeons always have interesting things and observation to offer. And all he’d want for dinner would be salt.

Thank you, Avi, for talking with us about your considerable experience writing fantasy novels. I encourage you to read all of Avi’s books, including the Poppy books and Old Wolf, as well as the others he mentions. Learn more about Avi on his website.

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bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song will be available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. School Library Journal wrote, “Rich in details that bring to life the magical woodland setting, Cushman’s latest novel is full of adventure and clever characters.”

On Fantasy: Linda Sue Park

lsp_72dpi_rgb_200pxFor a few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. Today, you can read Linda Sue Park’s answers. She’s the author of many fine books, including the Newbery Medal-winning A Single Shard.

Q: What was (is) the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: Making the magic consistent. I love reading fantasy novels, but frankly, in a great many of them I simply have to overlook the holes in the logic of the magic. It takes superb writing and strong characters to carry me over those bumps.

Forest of Wonders Wing & ClawAn example: At the very end of the third Lord of the Rings movie, with the terrible mission accomplished, an enormous eagle shows up to carry Frodo and Samwise to safety. Whaaa??? Where were you eleven minutes ago, when we were in far more desperate need of winged transport!?? NO reasonable explanation for why the eagle appears when it does.

It was very important to me that the magic in the Wing & Claw trilogy be logical and consistent. That meant limiting the magic to a very specific set of conditions: There are a few plants with magical capabilities that can only be released when they’re made into concoctions by skilled apothecaries. I believe that this kind of consistency is much fairer to the story and the readers!

Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

A: For me, writing fantasy is quite *similar* to historical fiction. With both, the world building is very important because the setting is unfamiliar to the reader: In fantasy, a world that never existed; in historical fiction, a world that no longer exists. You have to spend time and space on the page dealing with the setting. With contemporary realism, you can use a kind of shorthand because of assumptions you share with the reader. For example, if I write “kitchen” in a contemporary novel, I can be reasonably sure that my readers will picture something close to what I have in mind, or close enough, anyway. For both historical fiction and fantasy, I have to describe the kitchen in more detail—I can’t rely on those shared assumptions.

Q: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your book? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?

I didn’t read fantasy specifically before writing Forest of Wonders; it’s just a natural part of all the reading I do. I have an awful lot of favorites. A short list:

The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud

Dogsbody, by Diana Wynne-Jones

Prophecy, by Ellen Oh

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge

Q: Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A: Well, of course, I’d love to have Echo the bat visit—even knowing that the conversation would be rather limited. Sometimes that’s exactly what I need!

Thank you, Linda Sue, for sharing your thoughts and your book recommendations. I encourage you to read Linda Sue’s new Wing & Claw series, The Long Walk to Water, Keeping Score, and so many others. (She writes terrific picture books, too.) Learn more about Linda Sue Park on her website.

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bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song will be available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. This story about Grayling’s quest to save her mother is a selection of the Junior Library Guild and is recommended by Columbus Parent.

On Fantasy: Susan Cooper

Susan CooperFor the next few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. Today, you can read Susan Cooper’s answers. She’s the author of many fine books, including the Newbery Medal-winning The Grey King.

Q: What was (is) the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: On the whole, it’s American writers who build a fantasy world; the British ones (including me) tend instead to bring fantasy into the real world.  Maybe it’s because we grew up in time-haunted islands full of mysterious reminders of 3,000 years of ancestors; if you visit Stonehenge in the middle of the night, as I once did, you can believe almost anything could happen there. The hard thing—but also the most fun—is to make your reader believe that the real world can also contain magic.

Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

A: I seem to be incapable of writing a realistic novel. I began life as a newspaper reporter, and I’ve written biographies and other non-fiction books, but whenever I write fiction, my imagination gives me fantasy—even in books set in the historical past, like King of Shadows and Victory. The only exception was Dawn of Fear, a book about World War 2,  but that wasn’t truly fiction because it was almost totally autobiographical.

The Dark is RIsingQ: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your books? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?

A: I was born a loooong time ago, so I grew up reading myth and legend and folktale rather than fantasy novels, and I don’t have a favorite. But I remember E. Nesbit’s books, like The Phoenix and the Carpet, and two fantasies by the English poet John Masefield, called The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights. I read Tolkien when I was at university; he lectured to us on Beowulf, and after a lovely shout of the poem’s first two lines in Anglo-Saxon, he mumbled. C.S.Lewis gave lectures too (on Renaissance literature) and was much easier to hear, because he boomed. I read his adult science fiction novels, but not the Narnia books.

Q: Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A: Since you have to think yourself inside the head of every character you invent, you know most of them as well as you know yourself. The only exception for me is Merriman Lyon, in the Dark is Rising sequence: he’s mysterious, remote, perhaps unknowable. But I’d never have the courage to invite him to dinner.

Thank you, Susan, for sharing your experiences and insight. I encourage you to read all of Susan Cooper’s books, including The Dark is Rising Sequence and Green Boy, as well as the others she mentions. Learn more about Susan Cooper on her website.

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bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song will be available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books said “The language gives the book the atmospheric flavor of historical fiction, and the land itself is wild and mysterious, exactly the type of place where magic could happen, children could wander around trying to fix the world, and tiny mice could shapeshift into mighty protectors if fed the right potion.”

On Fantasy: Anne Ursu

Anne UrsuFor the next few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. Today, I’m pleased to host Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs, which was featured on the NPR Backseat Book Club.

Q: What was (is) the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: I’m not practical in the least. I’ve spent my life daydreaming as opposed to paying attention to how things work, so the very practical aspects of making a coherent world is really hard for me. I have to work hard to remember that people need, for instance, food and material to build their houses and make their clothes and stuff. And I generally can’t be bothered with things like terrain and climate and any other thing people who have any observational ability at all notice about the world. For my high fantasy, I needed to come up with a specific place in the world (eastern Mediterranean) and year (1675) to build the world around so I always had real world references.

The Real BoyQ: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

A: I always think all stories are magic in their own way—Karen Cushman’s whole career is proof of that. But I think magic allows us more power to talk about reality, to use all the marvelous tools of the fantastic to deal with real world issues, whether epic or intimate. So I need to keep my sense of metaphor on high alert, to take emotional and societal issues and make them abstract and then concrete again. The real whispers underneath the fantastic, and you have to pay close attention to what you’re whispering.

Q: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your book? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?

A: When I was a kid, I was in plays of The Phantom Tollbooth (I was Humbug) and A Wrinkle In Time (I was Charles Wallace!). The structure and language of those books are deeply embedded in my psyche. Still, I was more of a realistic fiction reader then. In my adult life I fell in love with Harry Potter and then found Phillip Pullman and was hooked on this kind of story. Recent favorites include Hoodoo by Ronald Smith, The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith, and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. For all time favorite, I think I have to go with Phantom Tollbooth—that, Star Wars, and the Muppets pretty much formed the storytelling part of my brain.

Q: Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A: I do really miss Philonecron, the villain of my trilogy. He was a half Greek god, half demon who longed to rule the universe and wear really nice tuxedos. Though I could not possibly serve a meal fine enough for him (and I’m guessing he wouldn’t be amused by my vegetarianism) I would enjoy hearing about his plans for world domination.

Thank you, Anne, for answering these questions with such candor. Do read all of Anne’s books, including The Chronus Chronicles, a wildly popular series in which Charlotte and Zee save the world from certain destruction and Greek myths gone wild.  Learn more about Anne Ursu on her website.

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bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song will be available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. School Library Journal said “Young fans of magic will revel in delving into this new world with its cast of unique characters.”

On Fantasy: Gennifer Choldenko

For the next few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. Next up, Gennifer Choldenko, whose book No Passengers Beyond This Point is set in an original fantasy world.

Gennifer CholdenkoQ: What is the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: The most challenging part is developing a completely original fantasy world. There are a lot of novels based on fantasy worlds that seem closely aligned with previous works. While you can make a case that a familiar trope fantasy can still be engaging, it isn’t what I am interested in writing or in reading. But how do you create something totally original? I believe fantasy worlds are a gift. I don’t think you can “try” to write a fantasy, so much as open your mind and your heart to the possibility.

Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

A: In some ways, writing fantasy is remarkably similar to historical fiction. In both, you create a place and a sensibility which is not in a reader’s frame of reference. In both you have to give your reader a lot of carefully selected details that make the world come to life for him or for her. With historical fiction you can depend on research to feed your process at every stage of the game. There may be parts of your fantasy world which are fed by research—and if there are, lucky you—but that is not a given. The pure creative idea generation is at its most powerful in the fantasy genre.

No Passengers Beyond This PointQ: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your book? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?

A: I love to read. I especially love reading (and listening to) middle grade fiction. Generally, I read everything I can before I start writing. But I stay away from books I think might be similar to what I’m planning to do. I don’t want to inadvertently plagiarize. As for a favorite, I never like this question. Who has a favorite book? I adore: The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Oz books, A Wrinkle in Time and Charlotte’s Web. These are all books I read as a child. One of the reasons I write for kids is because I believe books you love during the ages eight to fourteen become a profound part of who you are. Certainly that is true of me.

Q. Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A. Kids always ask me what is my favorite of my novels. Generally I say: “the one I’m working on right now” which is true. On the other hand I have a special place in my heart for No Passengers Beyond This Point. Partly this is because writing it was such an incredibly intense experience. The ideas came to me as if I were looking through a kaleidoscope: a thousand different pictures I couldn’t write down fast enough. One of the characters in the novel is named Bing. He is the imaginary friend of the character Mouse. Since I had an imaginary friend when I was little who was named Bing, I would really like to invite him to dinner. I would ask him why he came to me. And why he left.

Thank you, Gennifer, for answering these questions with such candor. Do read all of Gennifer’s books: the historical Al Capone series, the contemporary If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, and her recent and exciting historical thriller Chasing Secrets. Learn more about Gennifer Choldenko on her website.

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bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song will be available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. Lena Dunham wrote, “Like all Karen Cushman’s gorgeous novels, Grayling’s Song delves into the past to let us know what we must ask of our future. I want Cushman’s books to raise my children for me: that way I can be assured they’ll grow up witty, vastly knowledgeable, and tough as nails.”