Liminal Fantasy and the Stupid Heroine

“I have the ability to tell the future.  I don’t know why or how, but I have it.”

“And what are you doing with this ability?”

“Selling peaches at a roadside stand and going to your Podunk school where I have no friends.”

– Any liminal fantasy book anywhere

BEWARE: Spoilers abound

I really like liminal fantasy.  Truly.  It’s like the marriage of realistic, issue-driven drama that I write and read, with the fantasy that the rest of the world writes and reads.  It’s a win-win compromise for all parties.  Something for everyone.

The definition of “liminal fantasy” is that the fantastic element is part of the normal universe and, though they may not like its effects, everybody seems to just accept it.  When literary fiction (click for definition) does fantasy, it’s usually liminal.

Common examples of this are the anime show Clannad: After Story.  It’s about as slice-of-life as anime comes, except for magical lights that can reverse time and change the course of the future at the end.

Freaky Friday is another one.  Here we have a normal world, normal teenager, and a normal mother (Well, as normal as Jamie Lee Curtis can be!), who suddenly find themselves with their bodies switched.  There is really no explanation for the magical occurrence, and you know, by the end, that it will never happen to this pair again.

Mary Poppins – involving one woman, a nanny, who can bend the laws of the universe a bit just for a chimney sweep and two kids, and who disappears into the air by the end of the movie

The Lake House – where one mailbox at one special glass house has the ability to send letters back and forward two years into the past or future

Click – a magical remote control lets a man mess with his life

Zapped – a dog training app lets a girl control all men

Death Note – a high school guy gets a notebook that lets him kill people by writing their name inside while thinking of their face.

You get the point.  Liminal fantasy is fun, because it takes a human being in his or her natural element, and gives reality a little twist.  It’s fun to think about what it would be like to have a little bit of a superhero power, or to watch people stumble around comically when their bodies change.

I just finished two recent liminal fantasy novels: When (by Victoria Laurie) and Ask Me (by Kimberly Pauley).

In When, Maddie can see the date when someone will die on their forehead.  In Ask Me, Aria has to answer any question she hears – even if it’s not directed at her – and has to answer honestly, meaning she often predicts the future.

Both girls are painfully, painfully shy, timid, and not very bright.  Unfortunately, both authors have to add the “smart trope,” which states that all main characters are geniuses.  Both girls get good grades, one is interested in an Ivy League school, etc.  This “intelligence” is pointless to the story, and utterly unbelievable.  Neither girl can figure out the murder mystery right in front of them, neither use their gifts and special abilities for much of anything, and neither girl can even make a friend if her life depended on it.  They are stuck in the proverbial box in the most painful way possible.

The main character is a super genius. Like, a SUPER DUPER genius. Mega smart. The smartest. Everything comes quickly and easily to them, and everyone wants them to be the center of their secret government organization or rebel movement. Maybe they’re even the youngest captain of a starship EVER. Be mindful of not making things too easy for your protagonist, whether it’s through super powers or super smarts. – YA Common Cliches by maybegenius.blogspot

The problem that can occur, with most liminal fantasy, is The Lazy Plot, otherwise known as Absent Worldbuilding or Lack of Ripple Effect.

A girl can tell the future by being asked questions she has to answer?  This is world-changing.  Not only would the government want to snatch her up, but she’d be a big commodity to anyone.  Forget solving small town murders.  She’s the next super detective, stopping crime completely.  Death Note does this well, with Light Yagami becoming a super villain and the secret dictator of earth – or at least Japan.

But American YA fiction falls completely flat usually.  Instead, our superhero protagonists spend their days barely scraping by (Aria can’t even afford a cell phone or new clothes, and Maddie spends her days trying to stop her mother from drinking herself to death, telling fortunes/death dates in a dinky back room).  They have no goals, dreams, or ideas of how to use their talents.  These are no Peter Parkers.  Otherwise we’d have another Marvel movie.

It is clear that the author desperately wants their story to involve average high schoolers in average situations.

Therefore, she has to dumb her entire world down – especially her in-the-know protagonist and the protagonist’s family members.  In order not to become a crime-fighting Spiderman alter ego, but to keep things simple and close-to-home in a teenage romance mystery, the main characters have to not only be as dull as dirt, but pretty self-absorbed as well.  Keeping their secrets to themselves, painfully shy, over-the-top introverted, and full of confused, angsty teenage thoughts, the girls fail to deliver.

The entire world fails to deliver.  Whether it’s FBI agents and police officers who are too stupid to do their job correctly, to love interests that suddenly take an interest in the main girl, to best friends who give lame small-minded advice, the entire world in the YA liminal fantasy novel is unbelieavable.

My epic-fantasy author friends work at it from the reverse angle.  Instead of saying, “Wouldn’t it be neat to have a small town girl solve a murder mystery with this ability?” and forcing their entire world to bend at their whim to make that one scene happen, these authors create entire worlds from the ground up.  Some have put in many, many years (even a decade) – thinking of you, Bethany, Abby, Heidi, Heather, and Nikki – to create languages, politics, cause and effect, and characters to make their speculative fiction as believable as possible.  Their characters act like human beings.  There aren’t plot holes created in order to keep their teenage protagonists stuck in high schools where they are misunderstood and disregarded.

I respect my fantasy author friends!  I like to write realistic, non-fantasy stories to keep things as believable as possible, and I’m not sure I could do what they do.  To me, realism and humanity isn’t worth compromising, even to entertain.  I respect the great undertaking that is creating a new reality in your fictional story that truly works!

The liminal fantasy books I recently read can be enjoyable on a mere mystery level, as long as you suspend belief enough to realize that the whole world has dropped about 50 IQ points.  If you can put up with the selfish, reclusive inner fears of the main characters, you might enjoy one of these stories.

However, in these novels, the only characters, who have these sorts of realistic, intelligent thoughts and bigger ideas, are the bad guys.  If the author merely took time to give her characters some creativity and brains, no one would still be stuck in Podunk town going to high school.  They’d be out changing the world, which would instantly take it out of the slice-of-life genre.   Therefore, the goals of the liminal fantasy writer can often be mutually exclusive.  You either write realistic YA teenage drama, or you write fantasy.  The two rarely work well together.

The exception is when the liminal fantasy element is negative, and not a desired ability.  I can see how body-switching wouldn’t be anything but awkward, undesirable, and comedic.  No one would be out saving the world as a man in a woman’s body – that is, unless you become a counselor!

Or how about the fantasy element in one of my favorite books, Ella Enchanted (NOT the movie)?  Ella has to follow every command given her.  That’s something I’d want to hide and be selfish about in order to protect myself, if it were me!

Still, even if your character was cursed, I’d think anybody with half of a brain would want to go dissect it and figure it out.  WHY can I see death dates?  WHY do solar panels and water damage make my phone app control human beings? WHY does this nanny show up with a talking umbrella?  Where’s the science, people?

Maybe I haven’t learned how to shut off my brain yet and just be entertained.  🙂

Liebster Award – or an interview about me!

Thank you, TheGatheringFire!  What a treat this was to get to answer your eleven questions.  🙂

I’m sorry I took so long – being caught up in promoting Lucent Sylph.  But I’m going to try to get back into regular blogging again.  🙂

1. How long have you been writing?

I started telling stories almost from the moment I could talk, but I wrote my first story in my very first diary, the day before I turned seven years old.
Here’s the story, in its entirety, with all spelling mistakes included (although, I spelled really well for a 6 1/2 year old):

(Gotta to go dig up the tiny key for this diary.  It was one of those with a lock.  :-D)

I like pretending I’m a princess.  One time I pretended this: I didn’t do anything like a princess I do all the things people do.  But I was still a princess.  I had some friends they were princesses to.  But they did everything pricesses do.  One day I wanted to play with my friend he wasn’t a prince and his name was Mohab… Oops I forgot to tell you my friend’s names.  One’s name was Colleen and the other’s name was Victoria.  Well Colleen and Victoria liked playing with Mohab too.  They like playing with him every day.  But this time I wanted to play with him by myself.  But they wanted to play too.  So they tied me up.  Well I bit the rope and got out of there and told my mom.  My mom said we should all just play together.  But just then who should come around the corner but Colleen and Victoria!!  I started runing but before I coud go anywhere I got hit with a stone and I fell down.  Well mom saw me laid me on my bed and called the doctor.  The doctor said I was alright and Colleen + Victoria should be put in jail.  I hit Colleen + Victoria with a rock.  I didn’t go to jail and we all played nicey with Mohab. 

The End

I started typing on the computer by age 8, because my handwriting was bad and it took too long.  I got pretty fast with two fingers for a while.  My first chapter book was written at the age of 9.  It was called The Red Kids, and was about a group of triplets whose skin was permanently red because their parents never smacked them at birth to get them to breathe right.

I kid you not.

IMG_6597

This is me at age 7.  I look angelic, right?  Notice the Santa isn’t smiling, or even looking at the camera.  He’s reeling from the fact that I used my cleverly planned line on him a second earlier.

He said, “Were you a good girl this year?”
I said, “No.  I’m a sinner and I deserve hell.
I never believed in Santa Claus.

2. What is your favorite genre to read?

Realistic, issue-driven fiction.  Psychological drama.  Real, gut-wrenching emotion.  With a good love story.

Favorite authors: Susan Vaught, Ted Dekker, and Tachibana Higuchi.

I’ll read just about any genre though (except erotica), because I love new ideas and experiences in fiction.  🙂

3. What genre do you primarily write?

Issue-driven fiction.  Some evangelical, a sci-fi or two, some with a bit of a mystery, and some with a comedic romance.  But all have to have psychological dilemmas and is emotion-driven, inter-personal and introspective.

4. What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to and/or your dream destination?

My favorite vacations always involve visiting other people, but my favorite has to be my honeymoon to Grand Cayman with my favorite person.  🙂  I’d LOVE to visit more of the world.  There are so many places I want to go to and write about.

5. Who is your favorite author?

Woops.  I answered that above.

I have favorite books by other authors, but my favorite authors are at the top because I like 75% or so of their writing.

6. What is your favorite movie?

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (the OLD Danny Kaye version, please!) and Chicken Run.

In Secret Life, Danny Kaye is a dreamy writer.  I identify with him in some ways, although I’m far more practical than he is.  I love the clever story.

Chicken Run has gorgeous music, and the story just encourages me when I’m down.  It holds a dear place in my heart.  Even listening to the music can motivate and enliven me.

7. What hobbies/pastimes do you enjoy?

Writing.  😀

Playing the piano and singing.  I was a piano and voice teacher for ten years, so I’ve done even more music than I have writing.  That’s not something a lot of people currently know about me.  But I adore music.  🙂

I love social networks and getting together with people.

I LOVE homeschooling my kids.

8. Rain or sunshine?

Sunshine.  I’m a Californian.  🙂

9. Where is your favorite writing spot?

Hawaii.  My family took a trip there back when I was in my late teens.  I wrote some fictional futuristic memoirs of myself then.  (Yep, like what my husband would be like and my future kids).  I will always remember the beauty, peace, and fun writing in that gorgeous location.

10. Describe your favorite childhood memory.

Only one?

I don’t know if it counts as a childhood memory, but we moved to Texas when I was 17, due to my dad’s work.  I was devastated, and my life, future college plans, and everything came crashing down.  I was a miserable mess.

Six months later, for my highschool graduation and for turning 18, my dad took the whole family back to California.  We attended a homeschool conference (I was homeschooled all the way up) and Dad make sure we got to see, and spend time with, all of our friends.

Due to his super generous nature, and his love for my hurting heart, he took a bunch of my best friends and me out to Knotts Berry Farm (amusement park) to celebrate graduation and my birthday.  His love was not lost on me, and I remember it being the absolute most perfect day with my dearest and truest friends (girls who still love me to this day: Joey, Tiffany, Heidi…)

I will never forget, though, leaving that group of girls for one quick fling with my little brother and my friend’s little brother (who was like a brother to me).  We were going to go ride the big wooden roller coaster together, in the dark, by ourselves.  Leaving the pack of girls without telling anyone, we ran through the park as a threesome, jumping trashcans and park benches.  We made it to the ride, which had no line, and rode that thing, the wind whipping through our hair.  Even I, the girl whose voice is too low to scream, yelped and howled.

I remember feeling absolute contentment in that moment, and thought, “This is what heaven’s going to be like.  I’ve got my wonderful friends to go back to, AND, in this moment, I’m with my two little brothers, deliciously happy, flying through the night air.  In a few days, I’ll have to go back to Texas, but, for now, I have it all.”

Does that answer your question?  *going off to grab a tissue*  *sniff*

11. And finally, the most important of all…cake or pie?

BOTH.  I frequently have multiple desserts for my birthday.  I have quite the sweet tooth.  White cake with white icing.  And pecan pie.  ❤

Now it’s my turn to elect eleven others to answer eleven questions!

Except my questions are going to be WEIRD. 

Because I feel like it.  😀

Here are the nominees:

Motivational Giraffe, A Smith’s World, Beth Steury, Beneath the Tangles, The Monday Heretic, Old Things R New, Lydia Thomas, Arpad Gordon, Sparks of Ember, IANFJAY, and Bemilyjane.  Hooray for all of you!

Here are my 11 questions for all of you:

1. What do you believe with all of your heart – and no one can convince you otherwise?

2. Have you ever read the book of John in the Bible?  Why or why not?

3. Who is your best friend?  Why?

4. What would (or did) you name your first daughter?  What does that name mean?

5. Have you ever prayed?  What did you say?

6. Who do you honestly love the most?  Why?

7. Why do you blog?  What started it for you?

8. What purpose where you made for?  And how do you know?

9. What’s your worst fear?

10. What’s the worst nightmare you ever had?

11. Do you know that Jesus Christ died for you?  Do you know He loves you?  And I do too.

Comment and tell me when you’ve answered the questions! 

Worlds Collide: A Fairy Tale

Today I get to interview the longest friend I’ve ever had.  We’ve known each for 17 years now, going on 18!  That’s way over half my life.  😀

Heidi Joelle (Her website, Homemade Mythology, is here!) wrote a giant epic sci-fi novel, called Worlds Collide (Click on the title to buy it on Amazon), about fairy-like aliens and their interactions with a group of people on earth.  There was mystery, romance, sinister plots, assassins, ambassadors, and orphans!  But it was given a hiatus from the shelves, and made more beautiful to be released again this month!

I have wanted to recommend this book to all young adults, and now I can again!  On top of that, I have an interview with the author for you below.

Go check out her work!

RJ:  Heidi!  We published our first novels together, back in 2006.  It’s so exciting to see Worlds Collide back on the shelves.  I keep wanting to recommend it to friends of young adults, but haven’t been able to do so!  So tell me, way back when, what inspired you to write Worlds Collide?
Heidi: Thank you! I am very excited to have this story back ‘out in the world’ again.

I had been trying to write this overarching story for years. Each time I would get about ten pages in and have no idea how to continue. When I sat down to try again in 2006, I had the idea to maybe start much later in the story and maybe to write it as if my characters were telling the story themselves. The idea worked and six months later the story was on paper.

RJ: The winged creatures, the ‘dunami, whose world intrigue us so much in your novel, are actually very human in spirit.  Do you have a picture to share on what they look like?

Heidi:  I was very fortunate to have two friends who drew some of my characters. This is my favorite picture sketched by my friend, Amber. The ability to draw/sketch/doodle is not something that I am talented at, so it was very exciting to see others visualization of my characters…especially when it matched so closely to how I pictured them!

smalldunami

RJ: I was impressed with the political and scientific take you took on the portal/medicinal references in your book.  What type of research did you do on that?

Heid: I watched alot of Stargate SG1 and Stargate: Atlantis 

RJ: Those are the best shows ever.  🙂
My favorite character in Worlds Collide, is a mysterious, black-winged INTP.   I was attracted to his personality way back when, and I married a sweet Christian version of him a few years later.  😀  What was your inspiration for him?

Heidi: It never fails to crack me up how everyone has an opinion about that character! I still don’t get it. I had put countless hours into figuring out most of the characters in this book, this one? He was literally a ‘hmm…this works…yes…I’ll do that.’ He was one of those characters who ‘wrote themselves’.
The whole ‘dunami culture is one that is built on honesty being a huge deal. So in a cultural where lying would be seen as morally twisted as murder, I wanted to portray a character who didn’t ‘cut corners’. Who lived as honorable (to his own code) as he possibly could. And had little patience for those who said one thing…but lived another way.
RJ: Besides Dra, who reminds me so much of yourself, who was your favorite character?

Heidi: Jer. Definitely Jer. He has a good heart from the beginning and grows so much.

RJ: Who was your least favorite character, and needed to grow on you?  (Personally, I like all of them!)

Heidi: Ryan. There is just nothing to like about him at the beginning. Which was the point.

RJ: What overarching theme does your book explore, and why is this important to you?

Heidi: Unconditional friendship and love. So much of communities/life has conditions placed on you, you will be accepted if you will be loved if. And that wears on a person, and worse, you can think you deserve those conditional friendships/love. I wanted to explore that, and show a community that even under extraordinary conditions, their care for each other stays the same. In that, my story is nothing new, there have been many other authors/stories who have had those themes, and told amazing stories that touch peoples hearts. I just hope Worlds Collide: A Fairy Tale will encourage as well as entertain those who sit down to read it.
To buy the book for kindle on Amazon, click here!

Homemade Mythology Interview!

Welcome to my first interview on my blog tour!

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FOLLOW THE BLOG TOUR!  There will be five blogs that I am featured on this month.  Subscribe to each blog, and post here when you do.  At the end, those who have subscribed to every blog will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of The Hotline Girl!  So subscribe to these amazing writers!

For an excerpt of the interview:

Before I get to the interview, you are officially invited to the Facebook party for the book release.  Click here.

1) When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?

Honestly, the first profession I really wanted to be was an actress.  I think, inherently, that I am ill-equipped to be a writer in my natural personality.  I’m very extroverted, outgoing, and hate to be cooped up in a house all day.  But I never…[read more here]