The Literary world is an ever-changing place to be. Last month we touched on Christian Fiction, and how far it’s come in such a short time. Fall is the perfect time to talk about Science Fiction/Fantasy, and the exciting journey it’s allowed us to travel.
My earliest recollection of this genre is running home from my cousin’s house after dark right after watching The Night of the Living Dead. YIKES! The memory still causes a shiver down my spine….
The Thing, or any movie about a blob that mysteriously appears and gradually overtakes society made an impact in my life that will never leave. What makes a forty-four year old still afraid of the dark? I think it’s a lingering effect that only a special writer or creator of a character can originate.
Still, my lingering effect has been seasonable at best. I still watch, and read, but don’t write Sci-fi/fantasy. I leave that to the die-hard fans. Those who might possibly even live in their own little world, with characters they’ve created and developed.
A couple of people come to mind. One is A.C. Crispin, author of the bestselling Star Trek novels Yesterday's Son, Time for Yesterday, and The Eyes of the Beholders. A. C. was 28 years old when she began writing. I was priviledged this past week to interview her for MyShelf.com.
C. shared that all of her published
books have been SF or fantasy, with the exception of one girl and horse
story that was a film novelization. I was curious as to where her ideas come from, and she said the
question “What if?” just seems
to pop into her head.
Ann has authored several works, of which I will list below, but her favorite is her Starbridge series. Visit A. C. Crispin’s website at www.sfwa.org/members/crispin.
C. E. Winterland, creator and developer of the Mindsight Series is another author who’s surrounded by Sci-fi/fantasy. I recently to ask him several questions regarding sci-fi/fantasy, as well as his series and its first book, Awareness.
Vickie: What's your earliest recollection of science fiction/fantasy?
CEW: Well, I think my earliest recollection is seeing the Disney movie The Black Hole which scared me silly. I watched it again about a year ago and fell asleep. My earliest staying memory would have to be C. S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. To me, nothing fires up the imagination of a 3rd grader like being led through the back of someone's closet and into a whole new world.
Vickie: Did you have a desire to write sci-fi/fantasy when you were younger, and if so, were you influenced by TV, movies, or any particular book?
CEW: I started writing at fourteen. Influences? Tons of them. I wouldn't know where to begin... Well, for starters, there was Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Tarzan" series. They were small, but there were many of them. When I was still in grade school, my older brother told me about TSR's Dungeons and Dragons. I thought it was cool that people did that stuff, but never really got into it... although I did spend a couple of years designing worlds (because I couldn't afford the books). Then there was what I would call a more serious turn to my reading habits, and one which remains with me to this day. My mother handed me Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear, which is fictionalized anthropology, in a way, but had all of the elements of speculative fiction. Then my friend and neighbor, T-John, told me about David Eddings' Belgariad series, and if Mr. Eddings should ever happen to see this... thanks for giving me my first hit. After that, I was addicted... so much so that I started at fourteen to begin fabricating the stuff in my parents' basement.
Vickie: Does your love for the genre limit your desire to read others?
CEW: Interesting question. Yes, and no. I love to read. Actually, I love to get lost in a story, and revere good storytellers. Thanks to C. S. Lewis, I suppose, and to Roald Dahl, and a fourth grade teacher named Mr. Lee, who read to us aloud several great books throughout the year. I do love speculative fiction though. That escapist in me wants to get totally lost in the tale. Speculative fiction gives you that on a platter a lot of the time. Still, mainstream fiction, literary fiction, poetry... I love them all. In the end, a good story is a good story. If you tell me about a good storyteller, I will probably check them out. Fantasy and Sci-Fi will usually get to the top of the list with me, though. Maybe it's the extremist in me that wants to push the envelope of possibility, stretch the imagination to its fullest, so that the next one can stretch it further. Or perhaps it is the analyst in me that wants to pick it apart and mine it for possibility. That's the one question that gets me started... what if this was possible?
Vickie: What is the biggest change you've noticed, and how or how not is it an improvement?
CEW: The biggest change in speculative fiction? The first thing that comes to mind is its size. I used to have a pretty good handle on who all the names were in the genre... now I look at the big names and wonder if I'll scratch the surface of them all in my lifetime. As far as capturing any other change... it's a genre about change, or at least the possibility of it. The fact that it's growing is both an improvement and a detriment, to my way of thinking. There's more to feed my habit, but there's also more to tackle as well. Actually, I just thought of something... it's been pretty widely popularized lately; movies, TV... That's a change. It's good and bad as well. The publicity is nice from the author perspective, and the fact that it's there both shows that it gets to people, and that it will generate more fans. Still, if you've seen 5 Sci-Fi or Fantasy movies or TV shows... the chance at least 2 of them were badly portrayed is pretty high.
Vickie: What sci-fi or fantasy author has most influenced you as a writer?
CEW: Undoubtedly, the answer here is Tolkien. He was the grandpappy of fantasy. That's kind of interesting too, because I didn't read the Lord of the Rings series until about five years ago. I read The Hobbit when I was younger, and loved the animated movie as a kid. There's some truth in saying that all fantasy has its roots there. As I mentioned before though, Eddings played a big part as well.
Influence is not a finite thing. I am influenced all the time by other writers, both in Sci-Fi/Fantasy and in other genres (or non-genres) as well. I learned a sense of humor from Shakespeare, for example, a sense of characterization from Robert Jordan, a sense of rhythm from various poets, a sense of darkness from John Milton... and that list goes on and on. The fact is, everything I read influences me. It used to be that I just absorbed bits and pieces here and there - without even knowing it, and now, as I struggle with my own characters, scenes, and emotions, I understand a little better how to take apart another great writer's craft and see what they do.
It's funny. I was just at a writer's conference where we were talking about learning the craft, and I said that learning to write is an awful lot like being a student of Zen. No one can tell you how to do it, or where to fix it, or why it's working or not working. You have to get it yourself, as a writer. You have to search for it, high and low, under the legs of crickets and in the breath of doves. A lot of the time, you have a flash of insight, and it's all you can do to get it down. Writing is like riding an invisible wave of insight at times... when you're on top of it, you can see far over what's there, you can take it all in and experience it - and when you're waiting for the wave, down in the valley, you can see them all around, towering above you like imposing gestures of potent deliverance, and when you attempt them, you either get on top, or you get drenched.
Vickie: Do you see this market ever peaking or fizzling out completely?
CEW: Fizzling out completely? Never. Manifest Destiny. The human mind yearns for what is over the next hill. We speculate about it. On any given night there are thousands of people looking up at the moon. Some of them see a flat disc. Some of them, maybe, think of cheese. But lots of them are realizing for the first time that what they are seeing is a huge orb that is not flat, nor cheese. They are realizing that out there are other places that, for now, only the imagination can capture. That idea takes them firm in hand like that of a guide through a carnival of possibility. There will always be speculation. There will always be those who imagine “what would it be like if...?” It's part of us. Even when we realize everything that's ever been written in a Sci-Fi tale, there will still be more to imagine. There will be writers putting theirs in books to drive the wonder in others.
Vickie: When writing, what stokes your creativity?
CEW: When writing? I've said this before in other places, but inspiration is everywhere, in everything, all the time. Most often my creativity is sparked when there's no way for me to write it down. It's very frustrating, that. I've learned to latch on to those thoughts when they come, and try to catalogue them in my mind until I CAN get to my computer. There's a story about how Socrates once fell into a well because he was staring up at the sky while he was walking. I haven't fallen into any wells, but I run into people a lot... Dwelling on your imaginations can have peculiar side effects whilst in public.
Usually it's something I see or hear. I've gotten inspiration from television commercials, from exchanges at the local 7-11, too many to count from my college days, and tons from memory. I get it from books, music, movies, conversations... Like I said, it's everywhere, all the time. Specifically while I'm writing, it all comes from the imagination and memory. I tend to just start writing, and live the scenes in my mind while my fingers type away. There's a formula, actually, for creating it. You take several ingredients from the average household, and some from other places a little more difficult to reach, mix them up in your bathtub, and voila! Inspiration. It's things like: plaster mix, coffee grounds, mud, melted wax, an apple core, hooves, worms, coconuts, chloroform, wicker, cork, toxic waste, and some purple paste... (OK, so I borrowed the recipe from a band called Phish - got ya thinkin' though, didn't it?)
Describe Gen for me. If you could pick an actor to play his
part, who would he be?
CEW: Gen strides through the world like a New Yorker in Times Square. He chooses a destination and moves for it via the path of least resistance, often quietly, but with determination. Gen watches with a gaze both relaxed and willful, with lapis lazuli eyes that can brighten a room, or cool you like an ice cube in the small of your back. He is a child at heart, sometimes playful like a fuzzy puppy, but skillful and quite able to pull seriousness about him like a workman's jacket; practical but able to withstand much. Gen is good, and terrible at times when the need arises.
The second part of this question is quite a bit more difficult. Based on acting... I kind of like Ben Stiller these days. Matthew McConaughey is good too, though the hair's not right, that can be changed. (I'm sure these guys would love to see this question and have a chuckle). As I said, that's a hard question. If it were up to me, I'd have an audition and pick a guy who can act well but is not a big name in Hollywood. That sort of diamond in the rough... an actor looking for that doorway to open - I know what that feels like...
Vickie: So, what's your favorite sci-fi series (books), and why?
CEW: Somewhere it always comes to 'favorites', no? I really like C. S. Freidman's Coldfire trilogy, but that's mostly fantasy, with a Sci-Fi foundation. Stephen Donaldson's Gap series was very enjoyable as well. Donaldson seems to really like to push the limits with gritty, realistic characters, and the reluctant hero thing, but it works well for him. The ultimate Sci-Fi as far as what I know, is Frank Herbert's Dune series. In the Dune books you get social construct, political mazes, gadgetry to make your synapses snap, martial arts, climatology, philosophy, religion, and more hints of the underlying to everything than you can shake your bookmark at. Herbert was great. I haven't yet read his son's continuation of the series via prequel, but I've heard it's pretty good.
On the lighter, slightly more cock-eyed side of Sci-Fi, is Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the rest of the series really got me going. It's rather spoof-like in a decidedly English fashion, but still filled with good speculation. Adams also wrote the Dirk Gently series (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul) which was also quite good.
This is likely a good place to point out that while Sci-Fi and Fantasy are both "speculative fiction" there is a difference. There is a lot of Sci-Fi out there that I haven't had the pleasure to read yet. To all of you Sci-Fi fans, the above is simply based on what I've read, and is not an affront to the many great Sci-Fi authors out there. I simply can't address what I don't know yet. As any Sci-Fi and Fantasy readers will know from reading this, I read more Fantasy that Sci-Fi. One of the first Sci-Fi books I ever read, was Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed, which I actually read for a political science class. It was excellent as well.
Vickie: Do you think most authors write in their favorite genre?
Vickie: As you so often comment, heheheheh…..What are some of the sci-fi movies or TV shows that you watched as a child, and has your interest changed over the years?
CEW: Star Trek, Star Wars, Conan, Beastmaster, The Dark Crystal, The Wizard of Oz, Excalibur... if it has Sci-Fi or Fantasy content, I've seen it. I was weaned on television, and still watch a lot of it today. Now I watch a lot of stuff like Nova on PBS, lots of shows on nature, science, animals, oceans and sea creatures - you can find that kind of stuff on The Discovery Channel. I watch a lot of The Learning Channel as well - they have the Great Books Festival, which is good, and I love to watch all the robot shows and stuff like Junkyard Wars (I grew up in a construction family, and love to tinker with things, especially if I somehow get to use a power tool in the process). I'm pretty much an information sponge, which makes me a media junkie, though I'll generally watch anything but news. I recently got digital cable, and learned that The Discovery Channel folks have a new channel called The Science Channel. These days, if I have the TV on, it's most likely on that channel.
I'm also a HUGE cartoon fanatic. I remember bringing my wife to see things like Tarzan, The Lion King, and Fantasia 2000. 'Still can't figure out why we divorced. Cartoons often have a lot of the fantastical in them. I got started with Speed Racer when I was very young, and then graduated up to Star Blazers not long after. Come to think of it, Star Blazers (a Sci-Fi anime cartoon), is really probably my earliest contact with Sci-Fi. It followed an epic war over the course of at least two years (at the beginning it would be subtitled to say "Day 285 of the war" and whatnot). They flew around in this old ocean-going battle ship that they had refitted with engines for space and the dreaded "wave motion gun". I know there are places that still sell the episodes on video...
What's different today? Well, I would have found all of the war stuff that I watch on the History channel boring as a kid, and maybe some of the other informational programming, but as a kid I loved Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom (It's coming back, y'know), and today it's the Discovery Channel. I watch a lot less sports these days, but I'm still fanatical about basketball. I have always loved anything having to do with space and technology, and anything with martial arts and medieval stuff.
Vickie: Thanx A. C. and C. E. for sharing your thoughts with MyShelf.com, and for allowing us to enter your world…..
Seena is the love of his life. She is the queen of the elves and wise in the world, and also a figure of prophecy. It is the prophecy, in fact, that comes between them, leaving Gen forlorn and frustrated. When he learns that Seena must marry another, Gen flees the comforts he has known, and seeks out his prophesied enemy. Naturally his friends, a simple stablekeep with a steady hand for bow work, an apprentice spy with a wit as keen as his rapier, a dwarven monk whose suppressed emotions find welcome release in his axe, and an elven guardsman whose shortsword is less a weapon than his knowledge, all think he is an idiot. They follow him to keep him from getting his brains splattered on the wayside, and the quest for awareness begins.
The world and the paths through it are dangerous. Before they reach their first safe-haven, each of their skills are tried, and Gen comes to realize what he is getting himself and his friends into. With his peculiar gifts, and the promise of his unrelenting path in the prophecy, Gen enlists the aid of a sympathetic kingdom, whose king has been taken captive by the enemy Gen seeks.
Seena is not so lightly put-off, however. She finds Gen after he has had a few trysts, and has experienced a bit of the soldier's life, and reaffirms her love. But Gen must leave her yet again to move against his enemy, the ancient sorcerer Whitsinne, who grips the free world in an ever tightening clutch, suffocating the rich cultures and progress of society.
Time is critical, as the king's life is in danger. Spies lurk in the shadows of every lee. Waves of drakken soldiers wait for Gen and his companions to spring their traps. Will Gen come to realize who he is in time? Will Whitsinne overwhelm them all with his hordes and his sorcery? The answers are surprising, and waiting in the pages of Awareness: Book I of Mindsight.
John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) meets Star Wars
What happens when an unstable young man is told he must protect the world?
C. E. Winterland is currently seeking a publisher for the 2nd edition of Awareness, and the Mindsight Series. You may contact C. E. at http://www.mindsightseries.com
And now for all you Star Wars Fans, here’s Crispin’s bio.
A.C. Crispin is the author of the bestselling Star Trek novels Yesterday's Son, Time for Yesterday, and The Eyes of the Beholders. Her hardcover Star Trek novel, Sarek, spent five weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. In 1984, Crispin wrote the novelization of V, the million-copy bestseller based on the science-fiction television miniseries.
Crispin's major undertaking to date has been her original StarBridge series for Berkley/Ace. The series titles include StarBridge, Silent Dances, Shadow World, Serpent's Gift, Silent Songs, Voices of Chaos, and Ancestor's World. The books center around a school for young diplomats, translators and explorers, both alien and human, located on an asteroid far from Earth.
StarBridge Book One was placed on the American Library Association's Young Adult Services Division's list of Best Books of 1991, and Silent Dances (Book Two, co-authored with Kathleen O'Malley) made the 1991 Preliminary ballot for the Nebula, the award given by the Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Serpent's Gift (Book Four, with Deborah A. Marshall) was placed on the 1993 Recommended Books for the Teen Age by the New York Public Library. Book Five, Silent Songs (also written with Kathleen O'Malley) was nominated for the A.L.A Young Adults "Best Books" list.
Ann Crispin also scripted the audio tape versions of her novels Yesterday's Son, Time for Yesterday and Sarek.
Upcoming works include a fantasy trilogy for Avon Books, Exiles of Boq'urain. The titles for the individual books are Storms of Destiny, Winds of Vengeance and Flames of Chaos.
1995, Ms. Crispin wrote two short stories for the Bantam Books Star Wars
publishing program, "Play It Again, Figrin D'an" and
"Skin Deep" for the anthologies Tales from the Mos
Eisley Cantina and Tales from Jabba the Hutt's Palace.
These stories led to an invitation to write the Han Solo Trilogy about the pre-Star Wars adventures of Han Solo for Lucasfilm/Bantam: The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit and Rebel Dawn. Coming as they did during the 20th Anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars, these books represent a major breakthrough for the bestselling Star Wars franchise -- never before has Lucasfilm authorized a writer to "fill in the blanks" about a major character's history.
A.C. Crispin, in collaboration with Kathleen O'Malley, wrote the novelization for the movie Alien Resurrection.
Ms. Crispin served as Vice President of the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Her teaching credits include a semester-long "Writing for Profit" course at Charles County Community College, two two-day writing workshops for Harrisburg Area Community College, a two-day writing seminar at Towson State University, and numerous mini-workshops at science-fiction and Star Trek conventions, where she is a frequent guest.