Clarion has announced…

Clarion has announced its line-up for next summer, and I'm delighted to note that I'll be teaching there, along with a truly stellar line-up of other instructors: Kelly Link, James Patrick Kelly, Neil Gaiman (one week each). The final two weeks will be the responsibility of the teaching team of Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman. Whee!

And speaking of f/sf, here's a question for you:

In the YA fantasy novel, one of the crits I got at the workshop was that the fantasy world didn't feel like a fantasy world -- it just felt like ancient Sri Lanka. Which is true. So I'm trying to think of ways that I can make the world feel more 'background magical,' without either a) having dragons in the sky (or other typical Western magic tropes), or b) adding in big new plot elements (like either/both sides in the war trying to work with demons, which Sri Lankan folklore does have a tradition of).

This is mostly an issue in the early section of the book, where our heroines are wandering through a forest, and I want to establish quickly that this is a magical place. Kevin suggested demon monkeys, which I laughed at, but now think I might actually use. Any other thoughts? I'm feeling a bit imagination-starved at the moment.

15 thoughts on “Clarion has announced…”

  1. How much magic do you want to add — like a whole system of wizards and such, or just the notion that there are fantastical elements that are part of everyday life? An example of the latter might be Seventh Son et al, where there aren’t like wizards and dragons flying around, but ordinary folks make little charms and hexes, and once in a while someone ends up working some kind of big magic. Sort of as if the traditional folk beliefs of the American settlers had actually worked. What’s the traditional folk magic of Sri Lanka?

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Yes, I already have something like that, in that the royal family has big magic, and palace servants (who are all essentially descended from bastard children of the house) have smaller magics, and the everyday folk make hexes and the like which may or may not actually work. And they’re scared of demons, which they believe bring illness and misfortune and the like. So I think I’m all set on the humans-interacting-with-magic part.

    But what I’d like is more ambient magic, the kind that my characters can encounter when they’re just out in the wilderness, if that makes sense. If you woke up in a fantas world, before you met people, how would you know that it was a fantasy world?

  3. How about things like trees moving in ways they shouldn’t or making noises? Or animals that should be enemies interacting peacefully in some way? Or strange glints of light that turn out not to be the reflection off of something but just little floaty glowy maybe-sprite-like things?

  4. Talking (or tool-using, or clothes-wearing) animals are always good, if you use them sparingly and take the time to do ’em right. Nagas? Garudas? Castles in the air? Can you use the flying mountains from the Ramayana, or is that only a mainland thing? (I always loved the idea that Mainaka was the “last of the flying mountains.”)

  5. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Hmmm…I don’t think there’s any flying mountain stuff in Sri Lanka, though to be honest, I don’t remember it from the Ramayana either. Now I have to go look it up…

    Talking animals seemed like an obvious way to go, but I’m hesitant; every way I think about using them seems sort of cartoonish, or too folk-tale-esque. Appropriate to a more little kid story, but not to a literary tale geared towards older teens, I think. Which isn’t to say it can’t be done, just that I’m having trouble envisioning how…

    Laura, it’s funny you mention little glints of glowy light; I actually have that in the book already, but apparently it wasn’t obvious enough, ’cause all my first readers totally missed it. 🙂

    What I really want is something with elephants, I think. Hmmm… though the tree thing is good too. The tamarind tree is sacred to evil demons, I know. Not sure how to use that in the book, though…

  6. I think Laura is on the right track: The two ways I’d know I was in a fantasy world was if I saw something that wasn’t from the real world (like a dragon), or something doing something that it doesn’t do in the real world (like a talking monkey).

  7. Can you combine this with the poly thing? Maybe have an animal (magical elephant?) which makes people fall hopelessly in love with each other if they encounter it in the wild together, and have three or more people together meet up with one of the creatures at the same time.

  8. Actually, I was about to say what Sean did, although more wordy and less tongue-in-cheek. I agree with you that talking animals is difficult to pull off well post-Narnia, but what about minor animal demons that work small, useful-to-their-species magics and don’t get involved in human affairs?

    The image that comes to my mind is your protagonist stumbling on a pod of elephants while one of them summons up a drinking hole that wasn’t there before.

  9. I like Dan’s idea.

    Perhaps something as simple as the protagonists observing a small carnivore mesmerizing prey by a simple ritual, or hypnotic sound or motion?

  10. Although I know what you mean and all, I’m finding myself somewhat resistant to the whole notion of “it’s a fantasy world– put some immediately obvious magic in!”

    Not in the sense that you shouldn’t, but just in the sense that it’s the wrong question. What is “magic”? Why is “magic” what is salient about “fantasy” worlds? The people in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, when they go around shooting exploding anti-missile ice arrows and so on, don’t think of themselves as using “magic” and being in a “fantasy” world. That is, they don’t think “look over here, this is the special stuff that works differently from how the world really works!” For them it’s all how the world works.

    So it seems to me it has to be rooted in the experience of your character. She shows up in what seems like ancient Sri Lanka. How would *she* know she’s not in Kansas anymore? And in what way *is* she not in Kansas anymore?

    I might be tempted to have it be massively overt and obvious — mountains that are clearly higher than the sun (you can see the sun threading through them), hosts of cloudborne gandharvas serenading our heroes…. just absolutely impossible, big things going on, which eventually, after you spend long enough there, come to seem unremarkable…

  11. It’s quite a challenge to sprinkle magic into a story without changing the story itself. Is the magic so minor that it’s not noticed, or is it so powerful that it affects the plot? How do you find something inbetween that doesn’t sound like an afterthought?

    Building from the previous ideas of singing/moving trees and demon squirrels, I’d suggest having background plants/animals that do similar things that real ones do, but magically. This way, they’re not so strong that they would be used in the war, but still interesting enough for the reader to think, “Hey, that’s really cool.”

    So, just some thoughts off the top of my head…
    – a squirrel/chipmunk/mouse that can “teleport” short distances, which would explain how they move so fast
    – a rabbit that can become “invisible”, which is just an extreme use of camoflage
    – a bird which can instantly mimic anything it hears, like a super parrot or mynna bird or whatever
    – flowers that follow bugs around, like real-life flowers that track the sun
    – trees that hum actual songs, like a breeze rustling real-life leaves
    – fish that can “swim” short distances through the air, the inverse of us swimming in the water

    All these are just reminders of the magic all around, but nothing major enough that people would want to harness those talents, thus making them important to the story. They could easily be sprinkled about as characters happen to notice things around them.

    Hope that helps.

    – Tim/Rad

  12. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Thanks all for the suggestions! 🙂 I think I have settled on:

    – the landscape is more intensely real in feeling than our world; everyone (including our heroines) look more beautiful, etc.

    – the plants and animals have their own magic, some good and some not-so-good; early in the book, the girls encounter carnivorous vines and demon squirrels; later, if I can find a good place, I want an elephant funeral, where the elephants cast a spell to make the earth crack so that they can bury one of their own, and then close up again

    – many of the humans have magic powers, from very minor hearth magic that actually works (saying a few of the right words makes the curry taste better, etc.) to major blow-’em-up powers

    Fun! Although now I think many of you should also be writing your own fantasy novels, since you are clearly so full of good ideas… 🙂

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