Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Meeting of Science and Fantasy

With all the "reality" TV around paranormal events, mythbusting urban legends, and even NOVA and the History Channel trying to get ratings with spurious science claims it is hard to know what is science and what is fantasy in today's world.  I think that's also why the paranormal, Science Fiction, and fantasy genres continue to sell so well--particularly in young adult novels.

The four novels pictured here are some of my favorites--though I must admit, I probably have 100 favorites. All of them, except the Heinlein novel, are parts of series where I loved the entire series. I began my serious novel reading with Science Fiction. I loved it because it was the world of ideas, the world of what could be in our best selves or what might horrors we might bring with our worst selves.  I also loved Social Science Fiction--the type of story that commented on mores of today's society by putting it in the future and exaggerating consequences.

My upbringing included an odd combination of good Christian faith and church going with a belief in the paranormal, numerology, and psychics.  So, I've always had that niggling part of my subconscious saying, "Yes, all this stuff could be explained as paranormal experience. Yes, it is possible my mother really is psychic."  For the most part, in my early adult years I stayed with Science Fiction and spurned Fantasy as too unreal.  My only fantasies were carried out in romance novels.

As I've gotten older, I've found some comfort in the Fantasy genre. I like the idea of worlds that actually have rules--even though they might still be complex.  But most of all I like stories where the protagonists face long odds, puzzles to solve, and trials to overcome. Yet they persist in their quest because they believe it will turn out well in the end. They believe that what they do will make a difference.  Below are some of the books I've read recently that I really found unique, loved the characters, and loved their persistence toward making the world better.  Again, some of these are parts of series where I've read the entire series and still loved the characters. I am anxiously awaiting the next book in The Girl of Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson.


Do you have any SF or Fantasy you've read recently you would recommend?  How about classic favorites?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Life, Death, Family, and Friends

This past week, culminating in a very busy weekend has been an emotional rollercoaster as I, my family and friends, navigated so much around life and death.  I kept hearing that wonderful Peter Yarrow lyric from the Great Mandala--"Take your place on the great Mandala as it moves through your brief moment of time."

It actually began before the weekend, when a good friend of mine came to visit.

Michele is transitioning to a new time in her life, a time of being single again, a time of post-retirement, and preparing to enter a new career of service.  She is one of those friends that I may not see for years and then when we get together, the same level of depth and sharing still exists as easily as it did 15 years ago when we met--maybe more so as we've matured. Michele left midweek to spend three or four days rafting on the Rogue River.

Next, an author I've known for about 8 years was admitted to the hospital on Friday with emergency surgery.  Chris had to be transported from the Oregon coast to Portland (about a two hour ride by car).  Though the surgery ended up to be a fairly common one -- gall bladder and multiple hernias--it could have been life threatening if not performed.  She is still in the hospital because of the complicated surgery and her recovery is not as quick as it would be with only one procedure. Her husband has been living in a hotel nearby.  Often it is even more difficult for the spouse who worries, wants to help, and feels completely out of control.

On Saturday, an Uncle of my step-sons was hit by a car while on vacation in Indiana. He did not survive his injuries. Fortunately, his 18 year old son sustained only minor injuries. Though anytime one is in an accident and is the only one who survives, the mental toll is difficult. Cy was a year younger than me, leaving behind a son who had just graduated from High School this year, and a wife, sisters, brothers, parents, nieces and nephews, and an extended family of friends around the world.  He is a man I have admired as being kind and always a good teacher and listener. His Academic career took him around the world to serve in places like Africa, Egypt and, most recently, Bulgaria. He made it a part of his service to help build local schools and be sure education was implemented for the poor--the first one in Ghana in the 1970's with Crossroads Africa,  It is always hard when someone younger than me dies, and as I get older it happens more often.  It was too soon for him to go and I pray for all those who will miss him so dearly.

Also this weekend I was looking forward to a once a decade family reunion with my mother's side of the family, which is strong and has always had plenty of children.  In 2001 we had people come, cousins I've never met before. This side of my family originates in Germany and Norway, and we've been fortunate to have a historian in the family who has traced the tree back to the 1400's. I am one of nine children, so this event is also a time when I can be guaranteed to see all my alive siblings at once.  I think we had more people in 2001. This year it was more difficult for some to travel, and others have passed away. Yet others were working and couldn't get off. But still we had nearly 50 people there.

Even this celebration, of family and life through many generations, brought us a scare as my mother suffered her third heart event and ended up getting taken by ambulance to the hospital.  It was a medication change over the past week that induced this heart attack and it is now again under control.  She was released after 48 hours of monitoring and getting her medication settled once again.  Fortunately, there were people around to care for her and get her the help she needed. Then the sad news about the random killing in Colorado at the Batman film opening.  If one ever thought they had control over life and death, this is another reminder of how little control we have and how much living each day as if it's our last is so important.  I don't mean by partying as if there is no tomorrow, but by making every day choices that on your death bed you can be proud of.  Again, retuning to the Peter Yarrow lyrics:
Take your place on The Great Mandala
As it moves through your brief moment of time.
Win or lose now you must choose now
And if you lose you're only losing your life.

You might be thinking about now that this post is soooooo depressing.  Actually, its not. It is scary to realize how fleeting life is. It is scary to know that a car accident, a heart attack, a random shooting can end the life of someone I love--or take my own life. I'm fortunate in some ways because I lost two younger brothers early in life--one at age five and the other at age fifteen.  From those early experiences, I came to a peace about life and death and the brief moment of time that we each inhabit.  In the end, despite the anger and grief and seeming unfairness of it all, I always find the outpouring of love and prayer to also be life affirming.

People reached out to Uncle Cy with thoughts and prayers for his family, many people around the world they'd never met.  People reached out to my writer friend, Chris, as well. Other writers she has met across the country and around the world sent flowers, cards, gifts, and messages of support. Many supported her husband through a tough time of being here in Portland. When my mother had her heart attack, she was at the family reunion with plenty of people to tend to her, call 911, and care for her until the ambulance arrived.  They then visited her in the hospital, and those who are still camping here in Oregon have visited her at home. And the people of Colorado are, once again, experiencing the outpouring of love and prayers from those they know and people around the world they will never meet.

In the end, life is affirmed. We care because we are human. We support each other because we share a common experience, no matter where in the world we live and who our family and friends may be.  We share the experience of life and death, and of knowing that our time is brief and must be tended. Ten years from now, when the next family reunion happens, it is likely my parents won't be there or that some of my aunts, uncles, or cousins will have passed from this life. But there will be remembrances of each of them and their brief moment of time with us.  There will also be more children, grandchildren, and a continuation of good people doing the right thing. People making choices--choices that are ultimately life affirming. Thank God.  In the end, I really am blessed.



Friday, July 20, 2012

Combining my Peeps

If you are a man or woman who has a family and more than one full or part-time job, I think you'll understand the type of multiple personality lives we live.  Writers especially live that type of life, and it is often realized by actually having different names for each persona.  

My writing career has also been one of multiple personalities.  Soon after college, I began writing Science Fiction short stories. I loved the "what if" scenarios and it was a time when I truly believed discovering new worlds (whether in the oceans of earth or in the planets of the universe), was imminent.  At the same time, I was exploring romantic relationships and also wrote romance short stories. This was in the days when women's magazines used to actually pay for romance short stories. They rarely do that now. Back then, my SF friends thought romance was stupid. My romance friends thought SF was stupid.  So, the two groups didn't often come together.

As my Academic career took off, my fiction took a back seat to nonfiction works.  In colleges and university, your status is enhanced by writing journal articles and doing research in your field, and writing textbooks. So, I did. And I published them fairly successfully. I was told several times that being a genre writer was not something most people valued in Academia and that I would be wise not to mention it if I wanted tenure.  Though in Information Technology there was some appreciation for my Science Fiction short stories, but that was rare. Consequently, until about five years ago, I didn't tell anyone that I wrote genre fiction.  Not that I was ashamed of it, but I just didn't think my friends in Academia would be interested. I'm not sure if times have changed, or I just misjudged them all those years. Once the word got out, many were interested in my writing--including the romances.

I am once again facing that same personality dilemma now that I am writing both adult novels and YA novels.  At first, I thought the two groups of readers and writers were unlikely to mix.  Most writers I'd met over the past decade were firmly in one camp or the other, and there were all kinds of "rules" about keeping those identities separate. Why, I wondered? Is it because adult romances have sex in them and YA does not? Come to find out, some YA novels do have sex in them and many adult novels do not. Hmmm. Was it because the themes of adult novels were too "adult" for teens?  Let me tell you some of the YA novels I've read were very hard for ME to read. Nope, I don't think that' the themes are watered down at all for teens.  I finally determined, there really weren't rules, just opinions.

My adult novels are sexy, but it is always within the confines of a committed adult relationship where that next step makes sense.  And, it is a romance, so it always ends with marriage.  And, honestly, as much as I like sex, it is not the main part of the story.  My YA novels do NOT have sex in them.  Yes, I know some teens have sex, I just don't think its wise that they do and I don't want to suggest with my books that it should be the norm.  There's too many other things teens need to accomplish during those formative years--finding an identity, successfully separating from family without losing closeness, figuring out how to balance the call of their hormones with the rest of their responsible lives, and, most of all, putting all that amazing energy to good works.  That is plenty without adding sex to the equation.

But there are also some similarities in all my writing.  My suspense novels have a futuristic twist which harkens back to my SF writing. My SF novel has suspense and romantic elements, which harkens back to my romance writing. My contemporary romances look at finding identity, overcoming wounds from past relationships, navigating the space where one person ends and the other begins and what is shared. These are often the themes of YA novels.  So far my YA novels are fantasy, urban fantasy, or some might call them paranormals. They all have themes of finding identity and navigating relationships.  After all, that really is what most of life is about.

So YA peeps, Adult Romance peeps, SF peeps, Fantasy peeps, and maybe even an occasional Academic peep, I hope they will all stop by.  The truth is, even though I have these different interests, I've always been just Maggie--but Maggie with secrets that kept one group separated from the other. I have to admit, it's nice being one person again and not worrying about who knows what.:)

How do you deal with your different peeps? Even if you're not a writer, you likely have different personas for different parts of your life--business persona? family persona? PTA mom persona? sexy wife persona? church persona?  Do you combine them all, or do you keep them separate?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Do you remember that song?  It's originally from David Bowie, released in 1972, performed regularly through the mid 1980's, on any "best of Bowie" albums, and then had re-invention as a BMW commercial for the 2011 Superbowl.  It goes to show how things are remixed, reused, and revived. 

As writing careers move forward, new books come out, old books disappear, new ways of publishing become available, and authors are finding plenty of opportunities to get their books in the hands of readers.  I am in the midst of one of those changes as I continue to write and find publishers for my adult romance, suspense, and futuristic novels under the Maggie Jaimeson name, I am also starting a series of new young adult novels under the Maggie Faire name.  These will be fantasy, paranormals, and urban fantasy novels--all favorite genres of mine and where I've been reading extensively over the past two to three years.  They will still have a romance too, but it will be romance as 14 to 16 year olds might experience it--not as adults do. So, as I finished my first Maggie Faire novel and am getting ready to send it out to publishers, I decided I needed a new type of blog as well.

First, for all of you who frequented my Behind the Book blog, I thank you.  It was a good couple of years of interviewing authors and learning about the books they wrote.  I interviewed best sellers, solid mid-listers, and some indie published authors.  In every case, I read their books and could honestly recommend them because they were well-written and had great stories. I  had great fun and I hope most of you found some new authors to consider.  I've connected those archives to my blog here so anyone can go back and re-read those great interviews.

I will still occasionally interview authors on this blog and share their new books, but it won't be the primary feature as it was on Behind the Book.  Instead, this blog is a way for me to share daily thoughts on writing, crime, SF coming true today, and the intersection between fantasy and reality...and anything that comes to mind.  Also, by combining several blogs into one, it will allow me to spend more time writing and getting books into the hands of readers and less time worrying about blogging in several places.

I hope you will still hang in there with me.  Even more, I hope you will join in the conversation.