Why I Like Jane Lindskold's Wolves
by Teresa Nielsen Hayden
We're about to publish Wolf's Blood, the sixth and last (for now, at any rate) book in its series. Here's the original setup: There's a gap in the kingdom's dynastic succession. One faction sends an expedition into the wilds to look for the missing prince and heir, last seen heading that way with a party of settlers. They don't find the prince. Instead they find the ruins of the settlement, the settlers' graves, and a feral girl--Firekeeper--who's been raised by a pack of oversized intelligent talking wolves, and may be the prince's daughter. The expedition takes her back with them. Her foster brother and best friend, the wolf Blind Seer, comes along to keep her company. He watches her back and snarks at her in equal measure. They're a great pair.
Odd fact: I was briefly worried before I read the first book. "A long-lost princess raised in the wild by magic talking wolves" sounded a bit like wish-fulfillment fantasy. That never works. No one but the author wants to read about the many perfections of Princess Mary Sue and her animal friends. Happily, I was wrong. Firekeeper is tough, plausible, and imperfect, and the wolves are real wolves: carnivorous, social pack animals, whose pragmatism and sense of hierarchy color all their interactions. Turns out being raised in a wolf pack gives you a useful new slant on human dynastic intrigues.
It's the realism that makes it work. Animal characters aren't all that hard to write, but they're hard to write well. We forget that they're alien species because we're used to having them around. We can't know what goes on in their heads. All we can do is imagine it, the same way we imagine strange technologies and distant planets. This means they come under the same rules that govern magic, invented technology, and life-on-other-planets aliens: they can't be arbitrary, and they have to feel at least as real as the rest of the stuff in the book.
Beast fables are one way to handle this. Think Watership Down, The Wind in the Willows, Animal Farm, and most of Cordwainer Smith. In them, societies of animals talk and behave more or less like humans, with species standing in for character types. It's a durable form. When all the characters are animals, the animals get handled like any other character, which is fine. After that, all you need is is a good grasp of tone, plus enough forward plot momentum to keep the reader from wondering about the point of the exercise.
Firekeeper and Blind Seer belong in another category, one I'll call companion animals. They live in mostly-human societies. The animals speak, or are telepathic, or are the viewpoint characters. The effect is like hearing the dialogue we imagine for the animals with whom we live. Your cat takes an embarrassingly clumsy fall, then gathers herself up and licks her paws composedly: "I meant to do that." Your dog meets you at the door with that anxious cheesy dog-grin and tentatively wagging tail that says "Hi! I dug up a dead squirrel and played with it in the kitchen! Tell me you love me anyway?"
They make great second voices and useful points of view. Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog belongs here. So does Steve Brust's Vlad Taltos series, Fritz Leiber's "Space Time for Springers," and all mystery novels narrated by cats.
Is there a point? Undoubtedly. I just hate having to pin it down. This is how I think it works, and I think Jane Lindskold does it well.
The last novel (for now) in Jane Lindskold's Firekeeper series, Wolf's Blood, (0-765-31480-0, $27.95 / $34.95) is a March hardcover from Tor.
Move over, Heroes and X-Men, award-winning children's author David Lubar has brought a new gang of superheroes to town...A letter from David Lubar
To paraphrase Jeopardy, allow me to introduce myself in the form of some questions.
Q. Why did you write a sequel to Hidden Talents?
A. Because they wouldn't let me write a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs.
Q. Seriously, why did you write True Talents?
A. There was a lot of demand from readers to find out what happened to the characters. And a lot of demand from my family for food and shelter.
Q. Hidden Talents has become well established as a popular choice with teens and with teachers. It's often recommended both to reluctant and voracious readers. How did you manage to write a book with such broad appeal?
A. Quite by accident. I set out to write a rollicking adventure. Somehow, a fair amount of depth and substance snuck past my guard. By the time I realized what I'd done, it was too late to stop the presses. The next thing I knew, I was respectable.
Q. That book has been called such things as Holes meets X Men, and recently compared to the hit TV show Heroes. How and when did you come up with the idea?
A. Way back in the last century, I was brainstorming, trying to think up something that a group of kids could have in common. As I listed various ideas, I wrote "discipline problems" followed by "gifted." When I saw those two things side by side, I was hit with a whopping idea: what if there are kids who have amazing, undiagnosed gifts that everyone treats the kids as discipline problems? That's that sort of idea that screams to become into a novel.
Q. Can you tell us about some of these strangely gifted kids?
A. Sure. Martin, who narrates Hidden Talents, has the ability to instantly infuriate any adult. While this might seem to be a talent shared by all teens, he takes it to new heights. Cheater can read minds. This is how he earned his nickname, since his test answers often matched those of students seated around him. Trash is telekinetic. Torchie starts fires with his mind. Flinch sees just far enough into the future to make him seem twitchy. Lucky finds lost objects because he hears them. Naturally, everyone thinks he's a thief.
Q. Then what happens?
A. They all end up in an alternative school, where they discover their talents, triumph over assorted bad guys, create a minor explosion or two, and learn the disadvantages of rope ladders.
Q. Sounds like fun.
A. That was my plan.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about the sequel?
A. Twist me arm. True Talents takes place a year later. It opens when Trash wakes up from a drugged stupor to discover he's a captive in a research lab. Obviously, the vow of secrecy that the guys made has gone awry in some manner. Trash escapes, the bad guys go after him, and then a lot of things blow up. Not that I equate literary quality with explosions. But special effects are so much cheaper on paper than in film, so I like to use lots of them.
Q. Any last words you'd like to leave us with?
A. Well, I hope I have a few years before my last words. But I will say True Talents offers everything a reader could want; a twisty plot, great characters, drama, humor, warped villains, and plenty of surprises. And explosions. Big explosions.
True Talents (A Starscape hardcover; 0-765-30977-7, $17.95 / $34.95) by David Lubar hit bookstores in early March. Click here to watch a short video interview with David as he discusses True Talents and the rise of the teen superhero.
Just Another Idea
by A. Lee Martinez
"Where do you get your ideas?"
It's a question every writer gets asked. And we get it asked a lot.
I usually reply, "I don't know. Just wherever."
There's always a bit of disappointment in the asker then. It's as if they expect me to wave them in closer and whisper some writer's secret. Perhaps they're hoping I'll teach them some meditative trance that puts creative folks in direct contact with the muses. Or maybe they expect me to admit that I steal them all from the Morlocks I keep locked away in my basement.
The honest truth is that I get them wherever they are. Ideas are all over the place. You just have to be looking for them. "A dog fights vampires." "The earth is attacked by giant space leeches." "Everyone on the planet suddenly has telekinesis." "A man wakes up one day to discover he can play every musical instrument in the universe and that when he does, it makes inanimate objects dance and controls the weather." That's four ideas right there, and I wasn't even trying very hard. Sure, they aren't great ideas, but a writer with sufficient skill and inclination could turn them into something decent. A great writer could make them into wonderful fiction.
A lot of readers and aspiring writers think the idea is the most important part of the story. Dozens of aspiring writers have approached me and remarked "I've got a great idea for a story!" They usually follow this up with: "But I can't tell anyone about it because I don't want it stolen."
I usually humor these folks, then back away slowly.
I'd say that the idea is probably the least important part of the story. Take the classics, for example. If you boil them down to their most basic premise, they just don't sound like much. "Boy raised by apes becomes lord of the jungle." "A genteel Southern lady experiences love and loss during the Civil War." "Some fuzzy-toed guys throw a ring into a volcano." "A cat in a top hat causes a bunch of trouble." None of these ideas are exceptional in themselves. They're just notions, thoughts, raw possibility. They aren't anything at all until a writer makes them into stories, and that's where the magic of writing happens.
A great writer can take a terrible idea and come up with something worthwhile. A bad writer can take a great idea and turn it into rubbish. It's only through da Vinci's brush that the Mona Lisa became something more. We don't admire Mona Lisa's smile. We admire the work and talent that went into it.
Writing is the same. I have never read a book that was poorly written that could be saved by a clever idea, and I have read many that (on the surface at least) were based on the most unoriginal concept, only to discover that a talented author made them into something truly exceptional.
I pride myself on having ideas. Tons of them. So many that I don't even know what to do with them. I think most successful writers do. This answer won't satisfy those folks looking for a writer's secret though. Nor will it please those fans looking for an insight into the creative spark. Fortunately, I think I have a solution for the next time I'm asked this puzzling (albeit understandable) question.
Leprechauns. I get my ideas from leprechauns.
A. Lee Martinez's latest ideas can be found in
In the Company of Ogres (Tor paperback, 0-765-35457-8, $6.99 / $8.99 CAN).
A Tor newsletter exclusive: David Langford, author of The End of Harry Potter?, is interviewed by the far-flung staff of the SF newsletter Ansible
Q. Your book deals with "the mysteries that remain" in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga. Would you, broadly, agree with this Random Burblings weblog summary? "A bloke who isn't J.K.Rowling, and who has probably never met J.K. Rowling, and who has no more idea than you or I about what may or may not be passing through J.K. Rowling's head at any given moment, takes blind wild guesses about what J.K. Rowling might write in the last Harry Potter book, based on absolutely no inside information or significant evidence whatsoever."
A. I prefer "vaguely informed blind wild guesses"--based on a slow and squinty-eyed rereading of Rowling's first six novels. I'd done this with the complete works of Terry Pratchett when constructing the official Discworld quizbooks, so I have experience of falling off that fine line between obsessive geekery and stark madness.
Q. Would you like to dwell on the anguish and suffering of your lonely task? Our readers enjoy a good laugh.
A. I was sustained by that spiritual wellspring of an author with a contract: the inspirational thought of payment on delivery. Actually it would be silly to pretend the research was all mental agony. Rowling's writing slips down very easily--she may be fond of what carping critics call Traditional Narrative Elements, but she has an instinctive sense of how to lure readers into her magical alternate England. Even people who think they don't like fantasy.
Q. I hope the Langford sense of humour broke in from time to time?
A. Indeed there are moments of silliness. The discovery that "Muggles" used to mean marihuana cigarettes led inevitably to Omar Khayyam's line "Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?" And even diehard Rowling fans liked the reprehensible "Tolkien does Harry Potter?" scenario that I slipped in before my final analysis of Book Seven's possibilities.
Q. How did you come to write The End of Harry Potter?
A. It arose from a conversation with Malcolm Edwards of Gollancz (my British publisher for this and the Discworld quizbooks) at the 2005 World SF Convention. Owing to the excitement of winning two Hugo awards that weekend, I don't remember any more ...
Q. What about the choice of title?
A. A certain academic anthology began as Harry Potter and the Ivory Tower but had to be published as The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter. It is for this reason that my book is not called Harry Potter and the End Of?
Q. Are you looking forward to the final Potter volume?
A. I'd like to read it but don't know whether I dare. Despite the relentless research and logical analysis behind my blind wild guesses, I've doubtless committed several major howlers.
Q. But then, so has J.K. Rowling in the story so far. As you make clear in your fifteenth chapter...
Q. What will you do next with the pointless and annoying skills that you've honed on analysis of the Potterverse?
A. John Clute and Peter Nicholls, co-editors of the monumental 1993 Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, have roped me in to work on the third edition. I may be gone for some time.
Q. Thank you, David "27 Hugos" Langford, and goodbye.
David Langford's The End of Harry Potter?
(Tor paperback, 0-765-31934-9, $12.95 / $15.95 CAN) arrived in bookstores across North America in late March 2007.