Muse du Jour

My name is Marianne Plumridge. I am an artist of mythic fantasy works and fine art images. I also satisfy my creative muse with sewing, cooking, writing and reading. These are my thoughts and adventures with whichever muse drives me each day. You can find more of my art at

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Location: New England, United States

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature...a Book Review

Edited by Philip Martin.
The Writer Books, an imprint of Kalmbach Publishing Co., USA
Limpback; ISBN 0-87116-195-8; $16.95 USD240 pages; 2002; Cover Art – Greg and Tim Hildebrandt.
Reviewed by Marianne Plumridge.
I found this book on the shelves of our local bookstore on a day when I was feeling rather despondent about revising one of my own manuscripts. I remember looking for information on how to write professional outlines, when I spotted “The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature’ ”. It can’t hurt to have a look, I thought, and discovered in the text where this sort of thing was being discussed. Within minutes I was transported. I was delighted to find some of my favourite authors discussing their methods, and an answer to my question of preparing outlines. The answer was ‘that there is no right way to write a story’ or an outline. Every author, professionally published or not, wildly successful or not, beginner or seasoned writer, creates differently. I immediately felt much better, and bought the book.

“The Writer’s Guide’ “, upon further reading, is not so much of a general ‘how to’ tome, but more of a sharing of practical creativity. Certainly there are chapters about what actually goes into creating a good work of fantasy, but the essays, interviews and methods are far from being condescending. There are examples from authors’ experiences and also from written works that are pleasingly easy to relate to.

The first chapter is a study of “Pottermania”. An in-depth look at the Harry Potter books, written by J.K. Rowling, which have taken the world by storm. The study is concise and objective in a friendly way, and gives the reasons behind their success as stories, with more than a passing nod to the mythological reasoning of Joseph Campbell and J.R.R. Tolkien. There are quotations and comparisons with other writers and works along the way as well.

Following that are five articles, in either interview or essay form, on writing High Fantasy, Adventure Fantasy, Fairy-tale, Magic Realism, and Dark Fantasy. There are quotes and excerpts from some of the best know names in Fantasy fiction, interwoven with a wonderful dialogue of what defines the genre without actually boxing it in. I found that very refreshing.

The subsequent chapters offer two viewpoints a piece upon the themes of: Characters – Franny Billingsly and Kiji Johnson; Places – Jane Yolen and Ursula K. Le Guin; Patterns – Peter S. Beagle and Susan Cooper; and Plot/Purpose – by Midori Snyder and Gregory Maguire. These essays and interviews are full of a wealth of common sense and humour, and are, on the whole, inspiring. There was an accompanying challenge to my own self as a writer as well: when you write, sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t – the only way you’re going to find out is if you write, write, write.

Chapters Eight to Eleven cover the nuts and bolts of the technical aspects of Fantasy writing. Mr Martin has written an encouraging dialogue on Generating Ideas, Planning and Preparation, Start Writing, and Revising your work, again interspersed with quotes from Fantasy writers from throughout history.

Chapter Twelve begins with an introduction by Mr Martin that encompasses the more sobering facts of rejection slips, editors, agents and submitting your work. However, this monologue is followed by two items that really made me smile: an interview with Terry Pratchett and an essay written by the irrepressible Ray Bradbury. In fact this quote from Mr Bradbury stayed with me long after I finished reading his words:

“I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will
last a lifetime.
I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.
May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories.

Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

How appropriate.

At the end of all of this comes another valuable section: Resources. In Part Five, you will find names and addresses of publishers who publish Fantasy fiction, on paper and also on-line. Resources for ‘how-to’ books and articles, and sources to find that elusive piece of information you were recently looking for. And also contact information for groups of creative people just like you. The index of authors quoted in the book and where to find them in the text is also quite extensive.

In short, "The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature" is akin to putting the kettle on and calling up a writer friend and having a long conversation over coffee about philosophy, technique, ideas, and many other wondrous things. I found this book immensely satisfying and one that I will go back and read again and again.


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