So as I think I promised, I'm going to share with you everything I heard at the Tucson Festival of Books! Preface: I attended most panels because of an interest in the TOPICS, not the speakers. So some of the people you may see referenced may not write things that are in line with my beliefs, and me mentioning an author here isn't any sort of endorsement at all unless I state otherwise. OK?
I roughly outlined the festival earlier. There are tons of "workshops" and "panels." Most look something like this one.
So I was tempted to go to the panel that author Dave Cullen commented on my blog was on at 10 AM Saturday. But I thought that would be a good compromise on something that would kind of interest my mom and kind of interest me. Except she wasn't interested! So with the fear of potential crowds I ended up at Yvonne Navarro and Janni Lee Simner's "History Meets Fantasy - When to Research and When to Make It Up" panel. (They're both TusCon regulars so I've certainly heard them both speak quite a bit.)
Yvonne Navarro said that you have to take what's real and twist it to fit your purposes.
Janni noted that Thief Eyes was well-researched (at one point she noted that she had to run it by an Icelandic reader to make sure it rang true!). She said that sometimes you start writing a story and realize it takes a lot more research than you thought. She also noted that you have to set up reader expectations. There are lots of different kinds of fairies and vampires, and these portrayals are influenced by legends, by the conversations authors have with each other on the page, and what you bring to them. Overall, you have to know your canon, whether you're writing history or a licensed property.
Janni also noted that it can be easier to have a character who doesn't know everything, so that things can be explained. ((Aside: I do that myself but I wonder if that's something more acceptable in children's and YA novels; I know in adult fantasy it's considered a cliche to have the farm boy who doesn't know anything come onto the scene.... Cliche or not, though, it does seem to work.))
On the topic of vampires, Yvonne noted that not all vampires drink blood (they may take life force, memories, youth--"anything that you, as a writer, could want them to take.") But you have to use the right words, whether or not they are historically accurate (some words that are accurate might not feel right.)
As far as writing goes, Janni said, "You can't write for every reader."
Yvonne replied, "You try, but there are just too many people." She noted that genres cycle through, so what you love may be popular in a few years. Right now zombies are popular, although they have changed quite a bit from their earlier portrayals (namely, they have gotten faster).
Janni and Yvonne joked that the zombies would pick off the smokers. Janni added that it could make a good ad campaign: "I gave up smoking and I survived the zombie apocalypse."
Again, back to writing, Janni said that it's very hard to figure out what people want. Write what you love. It's not a guarantee, but you'll have a better chance of selling, and you get the experience of writing it. (She noted this came from experience, where she tried to write what would sell, and couldn't sell it.)
Yvonne added, write what you love; tell the story you want to tell. "If you don't like what you're doing, if you're not enjoying what you're writing, you might as well work at an office somewhere ... you have to write what you want to write." She said you have to grab readers in the first paragraph. She also suggests new writers read their work all out loud, like it's happening, to help catch typos.
I'm actually kind of remiss in not having read anything by Janni Lee Simner in particular. I've been to a couple of her readings at TusCon and they're always excellent. I need to remedy that deficiency fairly soon. She's always been very friendly to me. Actually, at her last reading I attended, she did a drawing and I won a journal she made herself!
My concern with journals is the pressure of finding something worthwhile with which to fill them, though...someday!
And I think I'll make a trip to my library soon.