The first panel of the day was Family-Friendly Fantasy: Keeping it PG in the Age of Grimdark & Game of Thrones.
Most of the fantasy works we discovered as readers new to the genre were books the whole family could read together, without worrying about graphic descriptions of rape, torture, or violence. But many of the popular fantasy works being created today contain images that are simply too graphic for some readers. There’s a place for gritty realism in fantasy, but how much is too much?
Colleen Lindsay was the moderator and Katherine Arden, Emily R. King, and Elle Katherine White were speakers.
Katherine Arden wrote the Winternight Trilogy. Emily R. King wrote The Hundredth Queen Series. Elle Katherine White wrote the Heartstone Series.
Something all their books have in common is that the protagonists are female. The panel kicked off with a conversation about how female protagonists are described on the book jackets, reviews, etc. The Buzz Words are: Strong female, independent, femme fatal. “Strong” and “independent” aren’t used to describe male characters. It’s tiresome.
It also seems that a woman can only be strong or independent if she has a sword or a gun. She doesn’t need to wield a weapon to be strong, nor does it mean she cannot be vulnerable sometimes. Every strong character should also be flawed.
What these Buzz Words really means that the female character(s) are not a damsels in distress, or stereotypes, or a cardboard cut outs.
It really got me thinking about the reviews I write. From now on I will be aware of how I describe the female characters because they made an excellent point.
Another theme throughout these authors’ books is that the women are confined by a patriarchy.
In the Winternight Trilogy that takes place in Medieval Russia females are prominent in folklore but aristocratic women were confined in towers. The main character, Vasilisa, is given a choice to either marry or go to a convent. She does neither.
Emily R. King, who described her series as The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games says she wrote her series as a way for her to have an adventure. She has four children and when she is at home folding laundry she thinks about her stories to break out of normal everyday life.
Elle Katherine White described her series as Pride and Prejudice meets dragons. Her character Eliza doesn’t want to marry but has little choice. Slowly over the course of the first book she does fall in love and she only marries when she is an equal to the man she falls for.
Usually sex and romance are not written as separate things for women. Katherine remembers learning that attraction and romance were the same thing, but that is not true.
It is usually the norm that marriage ends the story. That’s it – “happily ever after.” Very few stories begin with the marriage and tell the tales of the relationship afterwards: the romance, the struggles, the compromises. The only novel that deals with marriage that the panelists could think of off the top of their heads was Outlander.
If a woman puts romance in a science fiction/fantasy story then it gets categorized as a romance. Emily said she knows a man who will absolutely not read any sci-fi/fantasy book written by a woman. Which goes to show how completely closed minded the masses can be.
The author Robin Hobb was brought up. She has an ambiguous name and men bought her books and loved them. When they showed up to a signing were confused to see a female writer. Which made me laugh. To see the looks on their faces…
A great topic that was discussed was what content to allow your kids to read and I thought their advice was smart. Don’t shelter or coddle kids. It is better if they learn about harsh topics from their parents rather than from friends or TV. Use the story as a tool to talk about different topics with them. Talk about the stories, answer their questions, but most of the time if they don’t understand something it will go over their heads.
Katherine used to read her grandma’s romance novels and thought they were adventure stories. The sex scenes went over her head. Which made me think of how when my sister and I were children we had no idea there was an abortion subplot in Dirty Dancing. We just liked the music and the dancing.
YA is a relatively new genre. Katherine recalled that she went from reading Goosebumps to Pet Cemetery. Now there is a genre in between.
There were some really great questions from the audience.
One was about how to incorporate contemporary curse words or made up curse words in a fantasy novel. Because if it is a fantasy realm then does a contemporary curse word take you out of the world?
If it is a contemporary curse word make sure to establish early on that it is part of the character’s vocabulary. (This made me think of Daughters of the Storm
. The world it exists in is made up, but the eldest daughter uses the F-word a lot. So it worked.)
If it’s a made up word, (e.g. Mudblood, Frak) then it’s the reactions that others have toward the word that establish it as bad language.
There was a question, I can’t remember the exact wording, but it had to do with being careful about what to write because how it might trigger the reader who may have had a traumatic experience.
Their answers were perfect. Set the tone from the beginning. Set up the stakes so the readers know the danger and show the consequences of the violence, whether it is from something sexual or from war.
Someone, somewhere will be triggered by something. Spiders, clowns, etc. So set the tone in the beginning so the reader knows if they can handle it or not.
For example, Harry Potter starts off pretty dark. He’s an orphan, abused by his aunt and uncle and sleeping in a cupboard. By the time you get to Deathly Hallows, you know it will be much darker.
Which leads to another question about how J.K. Rowling didn’t mention Dumbledore was gay until after all the books were published. So how can a writer include more diverse characters?
It shouldn’t just be about checking off a box to fill a quota. Nor should their race, religion, or sexual orientation be their only characteristic. They should have many other good and bad qualities. It should feel organic and the best way to do that is to talk to people in real life so as to write diverse characters as real people.
After the panel there was a signing. I bought Katherine Arden’s book Small Spaces and had the ARC of The Winter of the Witch for her to sign.
When my sister and I went up we talked about the Buzz words to describe female characters. Katherine said she also has a drinking game with common words used in YA titles. I can’t remember all the ones she said, but “smoke” was one of them.
Now I cannot remember how this topic came up during the panel but it was something I had to bring up again when talking to Katherine face to face because she hit the nail on the head for me.
In the last book of The Hunger Games, Mockingjay, Katniss loses her agency. She was moving her story forward in the first two, and then in the third things were happening around her and she didn’t have much involvement. Katherine wanted Katniss to take charge of the rebellion, not just follow along. Maybe it was done on purpose because of the trauma Katniss had been through.
Katherine said it felt wrong to criticize other people’s work but that the risk Suzanne Collins took didn’t work out for some.
I personally feel that Mockingjay is weakest and I have always said the end was rushed. But I could never really figure out why I felt that way until Katherine said it was because Katniss had no agency.
Katherine joked that she shouldn’t talk because maybe we won’t like The Winter of the Witch.
She also signed a poster that combines all the covers of the Winternight Trilogy. It is so pretty. She designed the cover for the last book. For the first, The Bear and the Nightingale
, she just asked that they change the sky from day to night to make it more ominous.
Small Spaces will be a series of four books, for all four seasons. She said this after I said that Small Spaces is a good read for Halloween.
The rest of the day was not crazy. The Sunday crowds certainly felt crazier than Saturday, but my sister and I didn’t have to run all over the place.
We saw Neil deGrasse Tyson talk at the SyFy Wire Live Stage. That area was packed and we were off standing at the side of the stage.
The only thing I remember is Neil talked about growing up in the Bronx and seeing the stars for the first time at the Hayden Planetarium. I love that place.
My sister and I split up for a bit. She went to the Audible Harry Potter Pensive and I went to the Twilight 10th Anniversary panel. Catherine Hardwicke, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Edi Gathegi, and Josh Horowitz were there.
There was a lot of reminiscing about filming the first movie: Twilight Tuesdays on MTV, the auditions, the cold and crappy weather when filming.
They also talked about how Catherine broke the glass ceiling for female directors and how the success of Twilight opened the doors for The Hunger Games and Divergent.
When asked what they took away from their experience working on Twilight Jackson graciously said it was like he was paid to go to film school. He learned a lot from Catherine and is now directing and producing himself.
My favorite parts were when Catherine showed her personal photos from on set and pre-production. That was really cute to see. I liked the photo of Kristen and Jackson doing a role reversal. He was human and she was the vampire.
Top left, Kellan is doing push ups.
If you want to know what Jackson is doing in thatlower left photo he is describing what they had to do in Cat Class. It was to learn how to move like a vampire and losen them up.
There was a pre-recorded video from Kristen and a Skype call from Robert, which had a really bad connection and made for some comedic moments.
I recorded the “budget internet” Skype call.
Picked up two free books on Sunday. Tomorrow War by J.L. Bourne from Simon & Schuster.
My sister and I also did the mystery give away at the Penguin Booth. She got Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne. I got an ARC of Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan.
We also participated in a guessing game at one of the publishing booths. We had to guess the total number of pages of a stack of books. I guessed 7,659. The answer was 8,240!
List of all the books:
Tomorrow War by J.L. Bourne
The Waking Land by Callie Bates
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Green Rider by Kristen Britain
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan.
The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
Not pictured -Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne.