Derek Newman-Stille, over at Speculating Canada, a hot new-ish site for reviewing Canadian science fiction/fantasy and horror, gave me a really fun set of questions for this interview, asking me to think pretty deeply about the motivations I had when writing three of my stories, as well as asking me farther-reaching questions about the power of science fiction to change society! Pretty heavy stuff, but I did my best to come up with answers. We all hope to sound intelligent during interviews, at least interesting. It helps to have good questions.
We cover subjects as diverse as the American educational system, healthcare and the difference to science it would make if animals really did talk. (What would that grizzly be saying to you?)
Thanks to Derek for doing what he does to help get more science fiction reviewed, and read, by those looking for it!
(photo is from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, a display of grizzlies in the North American Mammals section. I do believe Theodore Roosevelt brought these in.)
Yes, this should ease JK Rowling’s mind and set a new standard for anyone pursuing copyright claims against her. If they can’t get as close as the Barry Levinson directed, Steven Spielberg produced, Chris Columbus penned, Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), then they have absolutely no case. If Chris hasn’t pursued a claim, no one should.
Young Sherlock Holmes was a fantastic movie for its time. But it could never have been made AFTER Harry Potter. Let’s look at it through Post Potter eyes.
Taking place in a boarding school, it involves two boys and a girl who uncover magic mystery that involves the duplicity of one of their teachers. A beloved, befuddled mentor figure dies. One of the boys is short and has glasses, looking very Harry Potter. A lot of running to the library to figure out what teachers and detectives won’t tell them, and Holmes is the most famous kid in class, whose rival is the rich, pompous Dudley, every bit the Malfoy look alike. His hair is even died ice blond as Holmes’ revenge. The young Watson, who looks too much like Potter, is called a Weasel at one point, and his character works like that of Ron Weasley, comic relief, loyal buddy, and always trying to get out of adventure. The girl, Elizabeth, is no Hermoine, but then Rowling admitted that Hermoine is herself in the Harry Potter series. The kids spend most of their time with a retired schoolteacher, WaxFlatter who serves as both Dumbledore and Hagrid. The kids are threatened with expulsion for all their snooping around. A cult is the culprit and the villain is their own professor. Magic, in the form of hallucinations, is the staple of the film. Many of the scenes are set as they would be on Harry Potter–including an identical Great Hall scene, though cramped, and a Professor of Chemistry that reminds me of any of the professors from Potter, especially the Potions room (though I imagine many are typical boarding school sets). There is a Diagon Alley full of shops and crowds of consumers. Even a shopkeeper who closely examines their blowpipe reminds one of the wand seller. The set up in this movie is that Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty will continue to plague him, even as the Potter/Voldemort must occupy the series.
This is NOT to say that Rowling copies anything or even saw this movie, but that Chris Columbus, her first director knew this kind of film intimately. Though Wikipedia claims that he was selected based on Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone, no one can miss the Harry Potterness of Young Sherlock Holmes. Spielberg, who was in negotiations, it is said, to direct Potter 1 ultimately wanted to make it animated–according to this source. Why would he say that? Young Sherlock Holmes does everything that Harry Potter did–except the story and casting are weaker–he could have just rinsed and repeated. Rowling had a better story, but the sets and the structure would have been very familiar to Columbus and Spielberg.
If you see the film, you’ll realize this could not have been made post Harry Potter–too many elements are the same. Columbus wrote the script for Holmes, so it was conceived as a movie first, which means that it was built to be filmed not read.
My biggest question is that when Potter came out as a book, then a film, people asked themselves–why did this strike such a chord? And my question is why didn’t Young Sherlock Holmes grab that same audience in a film first.
It could be that Holmes and Watson were already established characters–they had no freshness to them. But a boarding school mystery with magic and the occult—with two boys and a girl. It’s the formula that wins in Potter. One can’t merely say that it was that combination that finally became a hit with audiences and children. ONe has to look at the execution of that kind of story.
Inevitably a huge nod in Rowling’s direction must be given for taking a combination that had been seen before and making it fresh and more complex. Whereas Columbus was restricted by Doyle, to a certain extent, on the way he could craft the characters of Watson and Holmes, Rowling’s development of the main three characters, as well as a believable world is to her credit. Columbus was good in his writing of Young Sherlock Holmes, but Rowling was amazing with the same elements in Harry Potter.
So when I hear of silly people who think Rowling copied them–one can point back to an earlier model for all of them–and say that it’s not the material you have, it’s not the little elements that add up because no one beats Columbus for more elements. It’s what you do with it that’s important.
Rowling is not in the set pieces; Rowling is in the writing.
Really thrilled that Speculating Canada reviewed my short story, “One Nation Under Gods” which appeared in Tesseracts 14. It’s hard to get short fiction reviews and they are so valuable. The SF/F/H community should hold tight and nurture as many reviewers as we can. With a growing market of books, the discerning reader looks to reviews to help choose what to read. And reviewers who choose short fiction, new authors, and anthologies help support beginning writers who are starting their careers, hoping that someone notices. So we can’t fete reviewers enough–we need them, we love them, we should be very kind to them.
I’d say this for any thoughtful reviewer, even if Derek had NOT liked my work. It’s the way he liked my work that makes me happy.
Speculating Canada has a really great aim:
This site has been created in response to the overwhelming number of people who are surprised that Canadian literature includes the fantastic. Canadian SF, fantasy, and horror have been cast into a literary ghetto under the power structure of CanLit, and cast as either inferior literatures, or literatures that are not ‘of here’, i.e. from abroad. Yet, Canadian speculative fiction has a long history in Canada and engages with ideas of Canadian identity, belonging, and concepts of nationhood, place and space (both ‘the final frontier’ type, and the geographical).
Realist fiction is often seen as the only ‘truly’ Canadian fiction, but even realist fiction speculates, postulates and creates a fantastic idea, just one that is based more closely on the normative world around us than most SF authors are inclined to do.
Canadian SF allows for the engagement with ideas such as What is Canada? What does belonging mean? What is the nature of ‘human’? Why are things the way they are? How do we change things? Can things change?
The appeal of Canadian SF is not just regional, but has implications for a wider audience. Canadians, long un/comfortable with our identity as a hybrid of the American and English, Francophones and Anglophones, Aboriginal and settlers, and the multicultural mix that is embedded in our philosophy, means that we are comfortable with questions of identity and the exploration of our place, ideas that naturally lend themselves to science fiction, fantasy, and horror. We live in a world that is unsure of itself, and uncomfortable with ideas of belonging, and Canadian SF plays with ideas of belonging, disrupts the normal (or what has come to be seen as normal) and allows for a new way of experiencing the world.
As for the review–well, I’ll let you read most of it as his site, but here’s a nice chunk:
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Deeply touched by the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata. Veda Hille and Bill Richardson have written a non-linear musical that uses actual Craigslist ads for its lyrics. Craigslist, in case you’ve been in a hole, is an online one-stop-shopping for finding whatever it is you want— from someone you saw on the train that day, to an old trumpet, to homes for your cats. It’s a pared down, non-glitzy site—just text–where you have to use words to sell what it is you want to sell, or get what you want. Ads are quirky. I think with the number of them, people have to come up with newer and more outlandish ways to make their ad stand out. It’s not a Tumblr site so there’s no pics in your subject line to make you stand out–just a line of text. What is Craigslist anyway?
The musical is episodic, going from ad to ad, occasionally reverberating or repeating a motif in another ad, enough to make it stick together well. There are a number of “characters” who have very specific and ludicrous (sometimes even strange) desires and wants. It would be easy just to laugh at all of them–and we do. Audience tonight was having a great time laughing it up at the woman trying to sell her 300 stuffed penguins, singing an alphabetical list of the different species of penguins and hoping to find a special child who might want them all. Or the man who wants someone to sit in his bathtub of cooked noodles… Or the wanderers who keep missing each other–though having a brief moment with someone they fall for.
It would be easy to laugh, except Hille and Richardson don’t let us off that easy. They have found a way to make that search poignant, a statement on 21st Century technology becoming the medium for expressing our desires. There’s a song though that Hille sings in the middle–a quite surprising song about Noah and the doves he sends out into the world to find land. And this becomes the central metaphor that pulls the show together in a quite exposing, vulnerable, emotional way— that Craigslist is a collection of those doves, sent out–with no replies, really. “No one learns how the story ends. Did they find each other? We don’t know,” Hille says in the Artist talkback tonight. There are only beginning moments–story starters, if you will–but we don’t know if any of the missed connections actually connect.
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Definitely Not the Opera, (DNTO) a CBC Radio One program devoted to the art of storytelling in Canada, asked me to tell my story of coming out to my church for their Nov 3 show “Lost Causes”.
I had pitched the idea to them last year for a different show called “Making Enemies” but withdrew the pitch because a) I don’t think I meant to make enemies, nor do I think I have made enemies; and 2) because I didn’t want to restir a pot that has finally calmed down.
But they remembered my pitch. And they sought me out. Which is humbling, and cool. We recorded on Friday morning and they are editing my lengthy story to 3-4 minutes. I appreciate Andrew Friesen’s belief that my story was important and needed to be told. I feel like the story is more appropriate under “Lost Causes” because trying to reason with people who don’t want to listen to you, or discuss with you–and believing that you alone have to spark change–well, it can feel like a “Lost Cause”. But in the end–and the end hasn’t come yet–who knows if the cause is lost? I think every person who says the church must look at the evidence, must consider the Christian testimonies of LGBT folks in the discussion, is a step towards change. We need more people who realize how many people have fallen away from the faith, have decided against Christ, have been repelled from the church, and who, sometimes when there is no hope left, taken their own lives, all because the Church has historically refused to consider the scriptures in an accepting light–and this causes their members to refuse to accept their children in an accepting light. This splits familes. My God and my Christ are not what I encounter when I come into a Baptist Church anymore. I daresay they wouldn’t recognize it. Churches are not all one defined Mass though–as many churches are beginning to change their minds about LGBT people. Episcopals, Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Church of Canada–all have begun seeing that this is just the next issue the church has to rethink. As it did slavery, race, and its treatment of Women. And divorce. Change comes when people inside churches decide they can’t hold false doctrine anymore. Christianity and Faith are not the problem. Interpretation is.
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Here's Dave White's interview with Karen Fowler and I about our team of writers helping raise money for the very well known Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop. They're creating scholarships--so us alumni, we're helping out! And new writers as well!
You might recognize these two intrepid writers if you live in Whitehorse! Zeb and Santana Berryman have great talent. I’ve been privileged to have been working with them now for five years! And they keep surprising me.
I met them first when I offered a Saturday science fiction/fantasy creative writing class in October 2007. They were teens…in fact, I think Santana was eleven? Incredibly well-read in science fiction and fantasy, and horror and manga, etc., this brother and sister went on to spin some novels of their own. Both of them write a novel every September in the three-day novel contest, as well as the November Novel writing month, and short stories, their own novels, and a novella with me.
Now they’ve decided to spur on their shorter works by joining up with the Write-A-Thon happening through Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop. First link there will take you to the Write-A-Thon page–where YOU can help these writers by spurring them on! They are using their writing drive to help Clarion with their Fundraising drive. Folks can click on the “Support a Writer” and will be taken to this page. There, they can click on the different teams–and Zeb and Santana are hiding in the Team Bears Discover Fire–click on show members.
Or you can go directly to Zeb Berryman’s page here.
Or to Santana Berryman’s page here.
You can spur them on in their writing–as well as lead them to win an iPad–by pledging a bit of money per word or per story or per whatever their writing is divided into. It doesn’t have to be more than a dollar a story! And that money goes to develop scholarships for writers to come to Clarion for the summer.
Every year the workshop invites about 18 writers to come join them and gives them real science fiction and fantasy writers working in the field to be their mentors. Those writers get individualized attention for six weeks! Six weeks, a different writer every week.
If you want to hear my testimonial about Clarion, and this page on Clarion, I am an alumni and can testify how great it is for propelling a writer forward.
These two writers are going to be great! I have every confidence in them. I believe one day, they too might enjoy Clarion. We three are raising money for that possibility–or the possibility for someone to recieve a scholarship for Clarion some year.
Look for them on that webpage–and then look for them soon in a bookstore!
I found the newspaper Ray Bradbury signed for me. Love how he broke his signature into segments to make it fit.
Just wanted to add this as my souvenir from that day in March 1992. Let’s hope his blessing hasn’t lost any power from my neglect.
Wanna light a fire under your writer’s bum and do a good deed?
Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop has developed the Write-a-Thon to help YOU and to help THEM.
You might be in a place in your life where you haven’t been writing much, but you wish, wish, wish, that you could–or that you had the time. What we need, rarely, is the time—we need encouragement. The time will magically appear when we feel people in our life actually WANT us to write.
So Clarion has developed teams of writers to help you reach your writing goal—AND help Clarion reach their fundraising goals.
Here’s how it works:
1. You say to yourself, I give myself permission to write for six weeks as much as I can. I don’t have to take off from work, but I will find some time–with the help of my spouse, my significant other, my parents–to cordon off even a smidgen of time a day to write.
2. You sign up with Clarion Write-A-Thon by clicking on those words.
3. (from the Clarion write-a-thon website)
- First, sign up to write! Fill out as many of the fields as you can. It’s especially important to include a bio and excerpts. A link to your website and/or personal blog helps, too. Your name and a link to your new writer’s page will appear automatically on the Browse Writers page of the Write-a-Thon site.
- Be sure to upload a recent photo of yourself. A .jpg that is a maximum of 200 pixels in width is ideal. But our software can resize it for you if necessary.
- Post frequent updates everywhere. Refresh your Write-a-Thon writer’s page often with new excerpts. Post writing progress reports on your personal website, your blog, your Facebook page, and your Twitter feed. Make sure all of your efforts link to your Clarion Write-a-Thon writer’s page.
- Line up your sponsors. Contact friends, family and fans to let them know you’re raising money for Clarion while nurturing your writing life. Your writer page comes complete with personalized donation buttons to make it easy for your supporters. Feel awkward about asking? Here’s a model letter to use as a starting point.
- Participate as both a Writer and a Sponsor. When you support others, they’ll support you in return.
- Join a team and get a mentor. Once you have $20 in donations, you’ll have the option of joining a small group of eight Write-a-Thon writers. Each group is mentored by a Clarion Workshop instructor or graduate, ready and waiting with advice and encouragement. To join a team, wait for your emailed invitation, or write to email@example.com.
- Get Write-a-Thon badges for your blog and your website.
- Remember, there are prizes! We’re giving away iTunes, Amazon, or B&N gift cards to our top earners, along with Write-a-Thon keepsakes. And each writer who brings in $250 or more gets a free story critique from a Clarion author!
- You can also earn Write-a-Thon merit badges. You can begin writing any time. But beginning on the June 24, the official start of the Write-a-Thon, we have a special treat for you. On your Write-a-Thon writer’s page, you’ll see a grid with a question mark in each square. You can earn a maximum of one merit point every 24 hours by clicking the “I WROTE TODAY” button that will soon appear near the grid. As your merit point total passes certain milestones, merit badges will appear in your grid. We’re keeping the formula secret, so you never know when a badge will appear or what it will be. It’s all part of the motivational fun. We’re also trusting you to be honest. Only click the button if you really did some writing!
- Sign up for the Clarion E-bulletin mailing list. It’s the best way to keep up with the latest Write-a-Thon news
See that part about “JOIN A TEAM”— that’s where I come in. I’ve volunteered to be a mentor–with advice and encouragement! My team is called TEAM BEARS DISCOVER FIRE after Terry Bisson’s story, “Bears Discover Fire.” You’re going to discover fire in this group–as I’ll encourage you to write every day. I’ll give prompts for those who want them, and encouraging little notes as we go along. You’ll be in a group of people just like you who are pushing themselves for six weeks! It’s just six weeks. I wonder what YOU could do in six weeks if you had the encouragement from family and friends to do a little writing.
MY goal is to churn out six stories—they’re trunk stories, for the most part, but I need to get them finished. And Clarion is the way to do it!
You might have a book that needs more chapters. You might have some stories that need to get out. You might have an idea that needs a story!
This Write-a-Thon is Write Up Your Alley.
Join my team and light the fire you need to get some stories and writing done.
BEARS! Go light that fire!
[Visit the TEAM BEARS DISCOVER FIRE on WordPress and see what we're up to!]
I was sad to hear of the passing of Ray Bradbury, a giant in my life. He was 91, so he lived a good long life, and he gave us amazing writing like Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451. But I will always remember him for his collections of short stories, The Illustrated Man, Martian Chronicles, R is for Rocket, S is for Space, Medicine for Melancholy, and others. They fueled my imagination–as I’m sure they did many people. But I can truthfully say that Ray Bradbury–with his lyrical writing, his vivid description and interesting stories–shaped me as a writer. I heard he was one of those bridge writers–the ones that transcended genre. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he took me places, expanded my imagination, urged me to tell stories.
We met once.
I was in Lubbock, working, I think, on my last year at a degree at Wayland Baptist University. It was 1992. Ray was speaking at a Young Author’s conference, but also as a public speaker. I was there to meet my hero. I brought a copy of Martian Chronicles with me, and the picture of him in the paper.
He talked about his time working for the Smithsonian, designing famous garages of inventors; his work on the Moby Dick screenplay for John Huston. He didn’t talk much about making science fiction… but I was rapt nonetheless. This man had produced so much. His imagination was so vivid.
Afterwards, there was of course a line up to get signatures. Ray sat behind a small table, and I worked my way up to him. While I was still a couple of people away, a woman came out of nowhere and jumped the line–with a stack of ten books, all open to the front page. These she plunked down in front of Ray, saying “These won’t take you but a minute.” Then she grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him sideways so her daughter could snap a picture. I think Ray was a bit miffed–a whole line of people trailed out in front of him.
After quickly signing all her books, while she babbled, he turned back to the line with a huge amount of graciousness for our patience. When I got up there, I put my newspaper and book in front of him, and said, “You’re the reason I started writing.”
He looked up. “Are you sending stuff out?”
“Well, I’m trying to…I mean…” I stammered. I wasn’t a very confident writer in 1992, with no sales to my name, but thirty bad stories completed and sitting around somewhere.
“You have to send them out. Send one out a week. That’s what I did. I wrote one story a week–started on Sunday and mailed it on Saturday. I did this for years. That way I had 52 stories in the mail and some of them had to sell!”
He laughed. He shook my hand. I assured him I would do that. I didn’t keep that promise. I went on to college, studied writing, but never writing one story a week–until I got to Clarion Writing Workshop and had to write one story a week–(I got five out of six weeks!)
That day back in 1992 I felt blessed by Ray Bradbury. My hero took time with me, gave me advice. Perhaps he was fueled by the woman who had taken the time he wanted to give us–maybe he felt an extra special need to be encouraging to me. I don’t know, but I’ll never forget it.
Bless you, Ray Bradbury. Bless you for blessing me that day. And bless you for all the wonderful stories and novels and essays you left us. And how you crafted magic out of an ordinary day.