Normalcy Doesn’t Work

Hey Guys!

It’s been a while since I’ve had publication news to share, but I’m back to say my short story Kaleidoscope was published in Shift the Zine! I couldn’t have been happier to receive their email saying they accepted my work.

I’m not sure what I was expecting to come from this piece when I wrote it. It was done in one sitting, but as I reread it, I felt like it wasn’t quite right. This story was originally double in length and jumped around a lot. Before I chopped at it in the editing process, it was definitely a realistic fiction/contemporary piece.

I’ve written contemporary pieces before and I love reading them, but something about this story begged for a new genre. There was a little inkling in my brain that slowly turned into: “hey, why don’t you make Jared’s painting come to life?”

I promise you’ll understand that question once you read my story.

pexels-photo-94736Once I decided to go through with the plan, the story read easier. I cut most of the original draft and settled on an odder, more emotionally charged piece. For the main character Jared, who I’ve written before, but never in a story I submitted, he’s an artistic guy. He heals through what he creates. He takes his emotions and shoves them onto a canvas. My desire to alter the story came from the needed exploration of what Jared’s art can do for him especially after suffering from heartbreak.

This story couldn’t have been possible without the help of one of my dear friends Kristie, who created the character of Ash and through her, I have been inspired to create so many things.

If you’d like to give Kaleidoscope a read, click here, and be sure to share your thoughts with me (if you’d like), in the comments.

Xx

Megan

A Little Change Can Go A Long Way

Hello Everyone,

Welcome to 2017! I am wishing everyone a happy and healthy year. I hope all of your writing, reading, and personal goals become a reality or you get closer to obtaining them. I have a few to reach myself, my biggest one being to finish my book that I started in April of last year.

Instead of making a post about resolutions or a look back on my year, I thought I would add on to my young adult series by sharing a personal story. It’s a positive one and I figured we all couldn’t go wrong with some inspiration and good vibes.

Anyone who has gone to college or experienced education in any form knows a teacher can be a big influence as to whether a class is enjoyable or miserable, despite the material. One also knows how rigid a set curriculum can be, especially when it has been repeated time and time again or contains subject matter that doesn’t feel relevant to contemporary culture. I found myself thinking that a lot as I went through an education in humanities – reading books in the romantic and medieval era. I always managed to find one or two per lecture that I liked, but I also yearned to read something current. They could be equally discussed and valued as literature from previous centuries.

It was why I was intrigued when I was signing up for classes and I saw a seminar in Young Adult and Children’s literature. With a handful of praying and violent clicking, I secured myself a spot in the class. There were only twenty spots so you could say I Hunger Gamed it out.

I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the class. I knew some freshman were assigned to read The Hunger Games or Perks of Being A Wallflower (books I highly recommend). I had no idea what upperclassmen would be assigned. It turned out that when I saw the syllabus, my hopes were instantly ignited. Some of the books on the list were Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and Alice in Wonderland by  Lewis Carroll. The class experimented with picture books, graphic novels, long works, short works. My teacher did her best to not only demonstrate her love for books geared towards younger audiences, but also the different kinds of outlets that existed other than full fledged novels. She even had a guest speaker come to our class to push for diversity in literature since the numbers were not looking good.

Going to that class was always something I looked forward to because I knew the book would be worth reading and the class discussion would be alive. The class also became a therapy session, some of my peers and myself, venting issues and personal stories that remained in the classroom. It became a space that was inviting and comforting. We learned a lot about each other, but also about the variety of texts that were out there.

I was exposed to young adult books for quite a while, but for others in my class, it was their first time. They were blown away by how much creativity went into these books. I’ll use the example of Wonderstruck which was told with both full fledged illustrations and texts, the storytelling intersecting to create a cohesive children’s tale. I will also mention A Monster Calls that though had text accompanying photos would not be the same without the illustrations. The illustrations gave the story even more of a pulse. These books became the medium of which we were able to learn about the publishing world and ourselves.

My teacher had a firm belief that if children and teens were given the right books, it could make a difference in their lives and how they developed as adults. She fought for this class to be possible because she believed there needed to be more offered than standard literature classes. And my writer friends, she won, because of her passion and drive. But not only that, she made a hell of a lot of friends along the way. She was more than a teacher. She was someone who inspired, someone who challenged one’s thoughts and opened their eyes to literature.

alone-1822474_1280

The reason for sharing this memory of my seminar was because just because a book is geared towards a younger audience doesn’t mean its worth suddenly goes out the window. Sometimes, we need to reawaken the kid in ourselves or maybe find something that needs maturing that we didn’t even know about. Sometimes, we need one person to show us something even if we protest or are uncertain.

Not to mention for children and teens who are struggling, a book could be the key to easing a burden, solving a problem.

So when I say I love young adult books, I think back to all the books I’ve read, but I also look back at this class that I took in college, where my mind was broadened even further and I found a teacher who understood exactly how I felt.

Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep creating.

Xx

Megan

A Little Sprinkle of Horror

“What is one thing Megan cannot do?”

If you ask my family and friends, they will reply with, “Watch horror movies.” With Halloween creeping around the corner, I know many readers will gasp in disbelief at this, but I must admit the truth. I can watch movies with gore in it, depressing and dark features, but present me with jump-scares or the supernatural and I am calling it quits. My adult self has not bit the bullet and faced my fear because it would probably end with me hiding in my room for weeks on end.

The irony of this all is my short story that has been released today by Fantastia Divinity Magazine is in fact a horror story.

DUN! DUN! DUN!

There are no ghosts or demons, but I did write this with an eerie feel in mind. The story was inspired by one of my best friends while we were doing a little exploring at a field near our homes. The entire area was and still is being built up and remade for guests: a circus for families, gardens that can be rented out for anyone wanting to take up a hobby, even an ice skating rink. The construction workers have not made their way through the entire field just yet so there are still buildings that require serious redoing, including abandoned air hangers.

Seeing them up close was creepy. Having my best friend and I spout ideas about a story taking place in them was even creepier. However, that night I came home and the story wrote itself. There was a brief intermission I took on the piece to work out some last minute details as well as write other things, but last year it was finished, edited, and shipped out.

It was odd for me, who dabbles in endless Fantasy and Sci-Fiction, to take on a different genre. I never expected it to happen, but I will not protest my muse when it wishes to get something done. I think a large appeal behind writing the story was having the ability to take a place from my life and tweak it with my imagination. I didn’t have to make up a setting. It was already available for me to play with. The rest of the details filled themselves in.

If you’re interested in checking out the story, which is called Unreturned, it can be found here. A kindle version will be uploaded within a few days which I’ll be sure to place here too. For a spookier experience, I’ve attached a picture of the actual air hangar. Happy reading.

20160821_171008.jpg

Xx

Megan

YA For Everyone- Introduction

Attention bloggers, readers, and writers! If you are a fan of YA literature, these upcoming posts are going to be for you.

I’ve decided to begin a series on the Young Adult genre which will shuffle through a variety of topics such as tropes, issues, and benefits of young adult literature. I am hoping to include guest posts along this journey so if you are interested, don’t be shy to send me a message on any of my social media platforms.

The idea for this feature on my blog came during a car ride to the countryside where I had amazing Fall weather and an endless amount of trees surrounding me. It is no surprise to anyone that I love books, but I also enjoy another aspect of the book world: recommendations. Being able to give someone a book to read and watch as they devour it leaves me feeling quite satisfied. I like to think you learn a lot about someone through the books they read and favor. What I realized after this was most of the books I recommend are Young Adult. Why you ask? Well, it is about ninety five percent of what I read and am familiar with myself.

Another influence behind the start of this idea was a post I published last year on the love triangle trope that occurs in YA. It was one of my favorite blog posts to date and I found myself wondering why I hadn’t written more posts like it. These two threads of inspiration were tied together and I found myself coming home from my trip to begin this introductory post.

ya131007_by_numbers_1_560

The Five: The Young-Adult Bubble (NY Times)

One of the main facts to know about YA literature is it has grown in readership within the last four years. There was a particularly sharp increase (22.4% to be exact) in book sales from 2013 – 2014. If we take a glance at the entertainment industry, we find that a lot of YA books are being made into television shows and movies. A few examples include: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and a soon to be released production, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. These books and films aren’t being viewed by young adults and children. There are adult viewers too, all thanks to an expansion of mature themes that are gracing the young adult market. The changes in the genre and the representation of them through varied styles and characters are the big hook. No longer are there merely adult books to represent particular themes, but they are trickling downward into YA. This has caused the field to gain speed, solidarity, and presence in today’s publishing market.

Though these are overviewing figures, they are important to consider as we move forward in my blog series. There will be posts about what works for YA, what makes the voice of the genre powerful, why it would appeal to an older audience, even book recommendations and what they can offer a potential reader. All credit for photos and facts have been linked if you are keen on diving further into this powerful literary genre.

Stay tuned for part two where I plan to explore what I’ve found through reading YA.

Xx

Megan

Literature & The Mind

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. I am sorry for the delay on this post as well as posts recently. I have been dealing with the end of school rush which means projects, tests, and no time for myself. Moving past that, I am back once again to talk about something that is beyond important in literature, particularly in the Young Adult genre.

Growing up is hard enough, let alone having mental illness at a tumblr_mbycvawhV71r41umoyoung age. Unfortunately, even in today’s society, there is stigma against mental illness. If one can’t see it, they don’t believe it exists. I know for a fact, from both personal experience and from the experiences of those around me, that mental illness is real and affects the person dealing with it and those around them. That is why it is important that it is represented in a way that does not glorify it or idolize it, but in a way that is realistic and can connect with those who deal with such issues.

What do I mean by glorification or idolization? I simply mean that this is a practice where books, television shows, or movies make it appear as if it is cool or romantic to have a mental illness. This can also include media that makes mental illness something that goes away easily or when the right person comes along. Mental illness isn’t fixable through a change of scenery or through someone telling you to “snap out of it.” If it were that easy, this conversation wouldn’t be needed nor would awareness have to be made. Mental illness comes from changes of the chemicals within the brain, trauma, genetics — there are so many factors to take into account, unique to each individual.

Why are having books that represent mental illness – and not only represent, but represent them well — matter? Young adults and even adults who read these books need to feel as if their problems are understood and that they are not alone in what they may be dealing with. Writers who take on mental illness should leave the door open for someone to step through and see themselves within the character. If repeatedly they are seeing examples that their story doesn’t matter (and this goes for anyone), they will start to believe it. Maybe not consciously at first, but subconsciously. Sometimes it only takes one voice to make someone feel as if they are important and their issues too are important. For teenagers especially, they need to know that they are not crazy. There is always help that can be sought. Mental illness is not the definition of a person. Mental illness does not equate with weakness.

This topic is a personal one for me because I found the book that spoke to me, the book in which I saw myself and for the first time saw everything I needed to. The book was The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. There was something so raw about the main character and his tale that I couldn’t help other than to cry and feel so many emotions at once. The book takes the reader, through a series of letters, into the main character’s head as he navigates through trauma, repressed memories, finding friends, and starting high school. You will grow to love the main character by the end and all of his discoveries. You will also get a punch in the gut, but that to me qualifies the book as a great piece of writing.

There are others books, some of which I will list below that I have read personally. This just happened to be the book that touched me first and made me understand all of what I felt was okay. It led me to acceptance of my issues and put me on a path in life which I am still on — where I decided I want to write and edit and pour all of my experiences into the works I create.

For those who are dealing with issues of any kind, it is okay to not dive into the books that may trigger you. The last thing to advocate for is reliving experiences best left where they are. However, what young adult literature can offer is an outlet, a sense of untangling what is inside. That is the key here; there should always be representation and accurately done so. An author may never know who they are helping or in which ways they are impacting an individual. Having the option however is a beautiful thing especially when the difference is positive.

If you have any stories about books that changed your life or books you would recommend for readers involving mental illness, feel free to comment below. Some of mine that I recommend are:

Thirteen Reason Why by Jay Asher
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Until next time,

Xx Megan

The Dystopia of Today’s Popularity Cult

Though Virtual FantasyCon may have passed, I have another guest post to share with my fellow writers and readers. This one is by Arie Farnam and it’s quite the read. One of the biggest debates in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genre is how can a dystopia be contemporary? Arie attempts to explain this with the reference of her own work and other popular examples in the literary world.


I get some funny looks (and comments) when I say I write contemporary dystopia fantasy.

“Wait. Dystopia is supposed to be in the future, isn’t it?”

Let’s examine that notion for a moment. A dystopia is supposed to be an unjust society of some kind, usually one that ostracizes an individual for some random reason—looks, genes, odd abilities or lack of abilities, too smart, too dumb, too tall, too fat, too skinny, a lottery system, whatever. Then the story is all about the individual or a small group battling the status quo.

Yes, this is usually set in a grim futuristic world (because we all take after George Orwell and some of us were even born before 1984), but I don\t see anything in the general description that precludes it from being based on today’s world.

Let’s look at western (particularly US) society from the perspective of an outside observer, maybe an extraterrestrial or someone from the distant past.

Here’s a high school cafeteria with its ironclad rules about who sits where–tables for the gamers, the emos, the jocks or the geeks among the boys and for the girls the clusters around this or that social magnet. Most strive to fit in with one group or another or at least slip through relatively unnoticed. A few actually thrive in this acrid environment. And some are torn to bits.

Often one is picked out and hounded to utter psychological collapse, sometimes until they commit suicide. Their crime is being different–not abiding by the norms, not wearing the right clothes or the right makeup or sometimes having some sort of minor impairment or disability.

Obviously this part of society is immature and it can’t represent the whole. Can it?

But among adults our observer discovers mommy-cliques and business circles.

Mommy-cliques may look a tad more sophisticated, but the rules are still pretty much the same. The ammunition is still fashion and small talk, but you have to add in flashy birthday parties, magazine-quality Pinterest photos of crafts and cooking, kids fashions, kids behavior, parenting styles, how early you potty-trained and how well you can talk about it all without bragging too blatantly. The stakes are now isolation with screaming toddlers, children who ask “Mommy, why can’t I play with Johnny?” and the knowledge that the reason is that you are not cool enough for Johnny’s mom. You may not commit suicide because you wouldn’t do that to your kids, but that doesn’t mean it hurts less.

And as for business, if there was ever a world where who you know matters most, this is it. We call it “leadership” among adults and make it out to be honorable. But the old rules still apply. Social and economic classes remain very stable. Without wealthy friends of the family, a new business person is very unlikely to succeed, no matter how good their business plan. And if they do it will be largely due to people-climbing.

The stakes are the same as they were in high school–inclusion or exclusion, popularity or oblivion.

In this world, status is now measured in “likes.” The “likes” don’t necessarily do anything but how many “likes” you have determines how much or little you should be respected. And this society claims to be democratic. “Likes” are given by individuals, so the more you have the more people must support you, right?

But this too is an illusion.

Being a scientifically minded alien, I post two possible book logos on various fantasy and sci fi Facebook groups and ask members to vote by saying if they like the one on the left or the one on the right. In every group there is always an enthusiast who pipes up quickly and gives their answer, either  “right” or “left.” The first time this happens the observer is infused with belief in democracy. Hey, it works. People even find common ground. The first person chose “right” and there followed a stream of agreement, “right,” “right,” “yes, right’s the best,” a dozen or more responses. The society run on “likes” works after all!

But then the alien looks at another group. There the first person to answer said “left” and the whole string of replies agreed that the left-hand choice was the better one. Out of six different groups, the responses were about even, but they always followed the leader, like little ducks… or lemmings. So much for the democracy of “likes.”

After many similar experiences, the outside observer must conclude that “likes” are far from democratic. What is popular is popular because of how people follow the leaders, not because of popular appeal or true support. I call it “the cult of popularity,” But given that the same phenomenon that works with Facebook “likes” works in international politics, I might as well call it “the cult of power.”

Political organization, social structures and economic entities all use the psychology of high school cliques. Those who are popular get there by being or appearing popular already. When a leader degrades another, crowds quickly turn to follow suit.

So, are humans just wired to ostracize – to pick sides, pick out and pick on? When will those who are bullied stand up together instead of fighting one another for a place at the “tolerated” table? Will bystanders ever wake up and say enough is enough? For as long as there have been poets and bards and storytellers by a fire, some of us have tackled the tough questions of our times with stories and fantasy.

That’s how contemporary dystopia was born. A writer takes the realities of today and turns them in the prism of imagination, changes a factor here or there, comes up with reasons for the events and norms of today or adds some “special physics” (generally meaning either magic, the paranormal, alternative history or some foreseeable twist of science).

You can, of course, do this by creating a world that sort of looks like today’s world and taking all the liberties you want, changing the names of countries, the social norms, the political systems and even the gravity of the planet. But this is essentially writing fantasy or science fiction based on a world that is just at a similar technological level to our own. It isn’t true “contemporary” fantasy or science fiction, let alone contemporary dystopia.

There are two forms of contemporary dystopia which I personally find most interesting. Those are either based on alternative history or alternative explanations/magic. If it’s neither of these it’s probably contemporary literature with a depressing outlook on society and neither science fiction nor fantasy related. (That can be good too but it’s beyond the scope of this post.)

Alternative history is the type of contemporary dystopia in which you ask “what if” questions about history. What if the Nazis had won WWII? What if Joan of Arc had not died? And then you extrapolate the consequences of this different history until today. Depending on the skill and historical/and sociopolitical knowledge of the author this can be fantastic. It can involve magic in history but usually doesn’t.

Dystopia by alternative explanation is less common and there are only really a few good examples. Alternative-explanation dystopia doesn’t change anything about widely known historical events. Instead it suggests underlying explanations for the current state of society based on fantasy, a conspiracy theory, magic or some other special physics. It generally requires a premise of secrecy or conspiracy of some kind. The world appears as it does today but there is something fishy going on under the surface.

Harry Potter is an example of alternative-explanation contemporary fantasy and it shares a lot with dystopia but isn’t usually categorized as such. It also uses humor and exaggeration of social norms rather than attempting to make the existence of the Wizarding Community literally plausible, which is a mark of adult versions of this genre. Still J. K. Rowling is an excellent pioneer in the field.

The trick with an alternative-explanation story is to keep the norms of the outside world near to reality, while making a hidden fantasy or science fiction premise utterly plausible. Done well, this is the kind of story that can give readers nightmares or make them think about the book all day and return to it compulsively.

This is my basis for calling a set of books “contemporary dystopian fantasy.” The Kyrennei Series falls into the second category—alternative-explanation dystopia and it is also broadly defined as urban fantasy because the alternative explanation involves magic.

Everything appears on the surface just as it does in today’s world, but behind the scenes things are darker than most people know. From high school cliques to international business, the social and political games of today are played for the purposes of a mind-control cult that usurps the wills of individuals, causing them to desire what the cult desires–unmitigated power and wealth for cult leaders.

12170371_906815179397001_1366684771_nI started Book One (The Soul and the Seed) a few years ago with that simple premise. I like “what if” stories, and I tutor both teenagers and adults in foreign language. When we talk, I often ask my students if they like popular culture. Almost everyone feels out of touch with what the media claims is most popular. And sometimes you see it happening. Online polls show Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic primary debate by a landslide, but those polls are deleted and headlines proclaiming the wild popularity of Hilary Clinton replace them.

This is the real world, and yes, there are real-world political and economic undercurrents to explain these things. But what if they explanations we are given were not true?

How many people really like the popular soft drinks, clothes, music and reality TV? Some do but many, and in my experience most, actually don’t. If media and clothing companies are truly motivated by the free desires of consumers, why would they force feed us things we don’t like and claim that they are popular?

At the heart of it, is the power cult called the Addin (at least in my dystopian fantasy). And from that all other things flow. But that’s only half the premise.

Here’s another question. Why are there legends about light, graceful people with pointed ears in widely separated cultures like Ireland and Vietnam? And while we’re at it, why are there many different subspecies of dogs or apes, but no other subspecies close to humans? Why are there no non-human races such as those in Tolkien’s Middle Earth but there are so many similar legends about them?

In my story the answer is that there were such people, and they were annihilated by the power cult. Even their memory was wiped from history.

Why? Because they were immune to mind control.

And now you’re off and running with a terrifying tale that is so close to your reality that you can taste it. No need to change the facts of history. Mix in a little speculative science fiction about dormant layers of genes recalling ancient interspecies ancestors (based on a real theory involving cancer cells) and you can even have the extinct non-human race reappear in today’s suburbia.

That’s the logic behind one contemporary dystopia. There are plenty of other ways to run with the ideas of this subgenre and many interesting (and wonderfully creepy) avenues to explore. Contemporary science fiction/fantasy is a very new genre and its depths have yet to be charted. And that’s why I love it.

Join the discussion. What’s your favorite contemporary science fiction or fantasy? Is there anything about today’s world that stands out as strange, unexplained or dystopian to you?

About Arie Farnam:

12179055_906814959397023_272118803_n

Arie Farnam is a former war correspondent and urban documentary filmmaker turned fantasy and dystopia writer, living in Prague. She is the author of The Kyrennei Series, which presents a magical and frighteningly realistic alternative take on contemporary international affairs and social dynamics. She also writes about practical herb lore and things that arouse her passions at www.ariefarnam.com. When not setting keyboards on fire with speed typing, Farnam practices urban homesteading, chases her two awesome children and concocts herbal medicines. You can sign up to get one of her books for free at www.ariefarnam.com/signup and she can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/arieanna.farnam.

In a World…

This post was inspired by Justine Manzano’s “Genre Choice” which can be found here.

As a child, I was obsessed with being transported to different places. Other worlds, space, some kind of alternative universe. The qualifications for me liking something were as follows: it shouldn’t be a mirror of reality.

The fact I wasn’t the most outgoing child fueled this need as well. I preferred being home. I had my television, books, video games, and computer (though my parents hated when I was online for they could never use the phone). I was exposed to a variety of different outlets daily. My mind was never vacant. For when I got bored of a universe, I jumped into another one. It was a comfort to me and one of the biggest influences for how I wound up where I am as a writer.

I love science fiction and fantasy. It’s what I can write with ease. I can take what is around me and spin it. As a child, I have notebooks filled with robot societies, fairies, international space trial. Name something and I’ve probably thought about it or written about it somewhere.

I feel as if I was lucky to have these ideas bearing down on my mind. I didn’t have to find my interests. They found me and  overwhelmingly took hostage of my mind. Though perhaps hostage is not the right word for I did nothing to cease their existence. I laid down a welcome mat in front of the door. I provided food and drink. If these ideas hadn’t chose to come in, I’d be genuinely surprised.

What I had to do for myself was take these ideas seriously. I had to reach a point in my life where I knew that these were not just ideas, but they would become a story, multiple stories. I had to realize that writing was the life I had both been given and chose. When I have thoughts about genetic manipulation, spell books, magic, and memory alteration, I probably shouldn’t keep those to myself.

My main muse is for a character named Aleks. He appeared when I was sixteen and underwent a journey that was both heartbreaking and enlightening. I had to build him back up from his lowest point. He became a person to me whose struggles I shared. He lost who he was and who he loved in a world that was corrupt. He had dark days, such as contemplating why life was worth living, and he had better days, like caring for his newly found best friend’s child. He lived through fighting for his life and accepting that the world can sometimes be a terrible place. Where this version of Aleks is, he is safe. He’s managed his issues to where he can manage life and where the world has began to heal from its chaos.

The Aleks I’m working with now, for the novel I plan to write, is starting from a midpoint between sustainable and broken. He’s in a world that has decided to treat people more like malleable toys than thinking and existing entities. He’s reclaiming what he lost with a vegence.

None of this would have been possible without the influences that I had. To put it simply, what you write will come without thought. You will find your interests and they will ignite. They may shock you, but run with them and it will be better in the long run.

Xx, Megan