REALM OF HEROES–Brenda Drake’s Writer’s Voice Contest

Hello visitors! Make sure you check out my fellow contestants here.

Query:

Dear Writer’s Voice Judges,

Complete at 98,000 words, REALM OF HEROES combines elements of both fantasy and literary fiction into a  standalone upmarket contemporary with series potential.

Most Saturdays, Helen dons her wizard costume and defends Thornvaal from evil, reveling in her power to hold back both demon hordes and reality for a few hours. But come Monday morning, the live action roleplaying (LARPing) is over. Helen’s still a star, but in reality most of her energy goes into protecting her son from Louis, her sociopathic brother. Louis runs the business based on her work and controls her financials. She knows she should leave, but she has nowhere to go and no money of her own. And she loves being a celebrity.

When Helen’s ex-lover reappears after a six-year absence, their hurried, secret encounter demonstrates he still knows how to give her exactly what she wants; this time it’s cash and her estranged mother’s phone number. Her real quest begins immediately afterward when she rescues herself and her son. On horseback.

Throughout Realm of Heroes, Helen imagines herself a spunky, witty heroine who must train under a stoic mentor (her mother) and capture the heart of a sexy, untamable man (her ex-lover) before she wrests back her realm from an oppressive usurper (Louis). However, the demons she must battle in the real world are internal. Mental illness, single parenthood, and the constant temptation to return to Thornvaal both inspire and undermine Helen’s quest to get back her royalties, keep her son, and win her freedom.

First 250

Sweeping my hair over one shoulder before I sit on a toilet should be instinct. I’ve had butt-length hair for fifteen years, after all. Yet, just now, I didn’t, and the ends dipped into the bowl.

Quoth the Universe: This was a metaphor; please exit your living situation at your earliest convenience. (PS—cut your hair.)

When I go to the medicine cabinet for hair-cutting scissors, I catch my reflection. My eyebrows need plucking in a major way, and I never totally washed off the eye make-up from Saturday night. I look like a junkie. Hell, I feel like a junkie. With the glory of the weekend already worn off, I’m craving another fix just to maintain my basic health. Another moment where the players’ battle cries turn shrill, desperate, terrified as their characters’ fears and desires bleed into, take over their own, and our combined efforts make porous the wall between actual Thornvaal and imaginary Thornvaal moving us as close to magic as we’ll ever get.

Saturday night, I was alive and sparkling as I wandered among the PCs like Henry V. Monday morning, I can’t manage low-level hygine tasks.

“Mom?” Dmitri tugs on my hand. “You’ve been up here half an hour.”

Fuck. I’ve had another “episode” (as a Tennessee Williams character might call it) of staring at nothing, like an android that’s run out of batteries. They happen, well, I hate to use the word “constantly”; “daily” would suffice. At least I didn’t have a flashback this time.

 

Advertisements

Why Thornvaal isn’t SF

As part of #PitchWars, C.M Franklin suggested each contestant write a blog post about his/her PW novel. I’ve been planning to write a series of posts analyzing how genre and fantastic elements enhance storytelling, so I decided to start with my own book, which, oddly enough, went from SciFi to realism.

The first time I wrote a novel about Helen Vencor’s escape from the live action roleplaying (LARP) world she’d created and the manipulative man who controlled it (and her), I was nineteen and my favorite books were 1984, Brave New World, and Handmaid’s Tale. It follows then that the first version of Thornvaal was a SciFi/Dystopian.

It went like this….

Something (to be figured out later, or maybe just referred to ominously from time to time) had happened to the US, and Helen and Louis founded a new society based on LARPing.  Instead of soma, Louis feeds the citizens LARPing to keep them off the scent of his increasingly invasive, paranoid security measures; whenever possible, he blurs the in-game/out-of-game lines.  When Helen escapes in the opening scene of the novel, she finds a city full of people who are perpetually half in-character.  Louis catches her, but when she escapes a second time–this time more permanently–she joins the Revolution against the Administration (the capital letters said it all), which was a crusade to remind people of reality.

I still like the basic concept of the world, and I miss the scene of Helen going into a church and seeing people using prayers and rituals she wrote to worship gods she made up. However, the worldbuilding created structural issues: Helen begins the novel literally being held prisoner in the Administration’s Palace. Louis is supporting his tiny LARP country by creating and selling cutting edge security and surveillance techniques, so after her escape, she has few opportunities to interact with other people. After all, Louis is the guy everyone else hires to find people. In order to stay within the bounds of believability, Helen ends up living in an underground bunker, writing a memoir.

In short, the SciFi elements rendered my protagonist a passive victim. And, as I tell my students, protagonist is a structural term.  It doesn’t mean “hero” or “good guy,” but rather “the character whose actions drive the plot forward.”

As I grew up, the characters and the world gained depth and complication, but the fundamental dynamic of Helen-as-victim remained stubbornly true. The SF elements simplified rather than enhanced her story. But I wanted to write a genre novel and use the world I’d built, so I kept at it.

(Disclaimer: I’m not saying all SF/genre elements simplify stories.  In fact, I find SF elements often open pockets in a story, create conversations that weren’t possible in a realistic world. I’ll write blog posts in the future on this topic).

Then I took a six year hiatus from fiction, got really into theatre and celebrity gossip.  I watched social media become a thing, saw how it allowed people to become a Big Deal in a certain corner of the internet.  I wondered: What if Helen were trapped in Thornvaal not only because Louis was controlling her, but also because she liked being a star?  Liked being the center of a small universe?  What if it was celebrity, not roleplaying, that made people lose sight of reality?

With these questions in mind, I gritted my teeth, pulled Helen and company out of the dystopia, put them in Western Massachusetts, and started over with Camp NaNoWriMo in July 2013.  And that’s the story of Thornvaal.

And below you’ll find links to the PitchWars blog hop.

 

Carleen Karanovic: HOPE ON A FEATHER

Heather Truett: RENASCENCE

Tracie Martin: WILD IS THE WIND

Susan Bickford: FRAMED

Rachel Sarah: RULES FOR RUNNING AWAY

Amanda Rawson Hill: GRIMM AND BEAR IT

Charlotte Gruber: CODE OF SILENCE

Kip Wilson: THE MOST DAZZLING GIRL IN BERLIN

Mary Ann Nicholson: CALAMITY

Nikki Roberti: THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO-SHOES

Anna Patel: EXODUS

A. Reynolds: LE CIRQUE DU LITERATI

Susan Crispell: WISHES TO NOWHERE

Ron Walters: THE GOLEM INITIATIVE

Rosalyn Eves: THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION

Ashley Poston: HEART OF IRON

Mara Rutherford: WINTERSOUL

Janet Walden-West: Damned If She Do

Kazul Wolf: SUMMER THUNDER

D. Grimm: WITCHER

Tara Sim: TIMEKEEPER

Elliah Terry: POCKET FULL OF POPPIES

Alessa Hinlo: THE HONEST THIEF

Rachel Horwitz: THE BOOTLEGGER’S BIBLE

Whitney Taylor: DEFINITIONS OF INDEFINABLE THINGS

Lyra Selene: REVERIE

Natalie Williamson: SET IN STONE

Robin Lemke: THE DANCE OF THE PALMS

Stephanie Herman: CLIFF WITH NO EDGE

Shannon Cooley: A FROG, A WHISTLE, AND A VIAL OF SAND

Ruth Anne Snow: THE GIRLS OF MARCH

Elizabeth Dimit: PHOEBE FRANZ’S GUIDE TO PASSPORTS, PAGEANTS, & PARENTAL DISASTERS

Gwen C. Katz: AMONG THE RED STARS

Jennifer Hawkins: FALSE START

Kelly DeVos: THE WHITE LEHUA

Gina Denny: SANDS OF IMMORTALITY

Natasha M. Heck: FOLLOW THE MOON

Esher Hogan – Walking After Midnight

D.A. Mages: THE MEMORY OF OBJECTS

 

 

 

 

 

NanoWriMo and teaching

At a recent faculty gathering, a colleague asked me if I’d heard of the terrible thing where you write a novel in a month.  Instead of saying saying NaNoWriMo changed my life a year and a half ago! I said, “Yes.”  It seemed more professional somehow.  The conversation continued and others joined in–who can write a novel in a month? What does that teach people?

I know where they’re coming from. We, the faculty, are highly trained people who value our training and have been hired to train our students. Meanwhile, NaNoWriMo forces the writer to leave behind instruction and write willy-nilly, giving a finger to the rules for the sake of quantity.  And do we really want to encourage quantity over quality?

Also the novel one produces during NaNoWriMo is, well, rushed and sloppy. If someone brought her unedited NaNo novel to any one of us (including me), red ink would collect in grim noir-y pools all over the manuscript.

So, yes, in the big picture, there are many, many problems. But, having done NaNoWriMo myself, I know it teaches valuable lessons about writing in an organic way.  And those lessons will sink in more deeply when my students discover them on their own (as much as I’d like to believe my workshop tangents and impromptu lectures are equally as profound).

What are those lessons, you ask?  My students learn:

  1. Writing is fun.  It can be breathless and exhilarating. It’s an awesome way to spend free time.
  2. How to form communities around creative projects.  My students are planning gatherings throughout the month to meet up in person and also finding user names so they can meet up online. They’re excited about other people’s success. They might want to read their peers’ books. They’re learning how to be good literary citizens through personal experience.
  3. Writing takes discipline. To get to the 50,000 word goal, one must produce roughly 1,700 words a day. That means sitting down, carving out time, making writing a priority.  It means fighting through the tough patch mid-month when the initial euphoria wears off.
  4. Writing a novel takes organization. Many of my students will discover the value of outlines. And when students discover the magic of outlines on their own, they keep using them.
  5. Writing takes patience.  That awesome outline is going to get undermined at some point–in a big way. Characters are going to say and do lame, cliched stuff.  Because word count is the only thing that matters, students learn how to turn off their inner editors, hit enter, and keep going.
  6. It gets their ideas out of their heads and down on paper so we can begin the real work of writing.
  7. It may ease students into a higher level of editing by showing them how much fun it is to cut things out of a manuscript. Killing the darlings is that much easier if  many of the darlings aren’t very dear.

So, write like the wind students!  Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t make the 50,000 words.  Very few do.  And you still have homework you need to get done (ahem).