Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fantasy & Escapism -- & my first book signing!!!


My first book signing! Jim and I just got back from the ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter Conference in Seattle, where I got to meet my editor in person for the first time, talk to lots of librarians, sign advance copies of my book AND fill in on a panel at the last minute for Mercedes Lackey, who couldn't make it. Wow! It was SUCH FUN. The panel topic was: the rise in popularity of sci-fi and fantasy in the post-9/11 world, and the other writers on the panel were R. A. Salvatore and Timothy Zahn, both seasoned sci-fi/fantasy writers and wonderfully nice guys! Here we all are:

A big "hello" to everyone I met yesterday, and if you're one of the people who got a copy of Blackbringer, I hope you enjoy it! It's so exciting for me to know you're out there in the world with my book in your hands and I would love to hear from you when you've read it! I said I would post the text of my talk, so here it is:

Escapism
I wish a dragon egg would hatch at my feet. I wish I would grow wings, and maybe even a tail. I wish I could study magic at Hogwarts, and ride an armored polar bear across the arctic tundra. I want to fight Thread in the skies of Pern, and I want to hunt devils with a gang of crows. I wish a tree could tell me everything it knows, and I wish that I could distill moonlight into a liquor that helps you remember your dreams. I wish people wore hooded cloaks, and strapped knives to their thighs. A part of me even kind of wishes vampires were real. Just a small part. Faeries definitely though. Right now, at this moment, I idly wish and want these things. I whimsically want them. But there are times when I’m under the spell of fantasy that I really WANT them, that I want to climb inside a book and live in it, and when that book ends and the spell begins to evaporate, my heart aches a little.

I read fantasy and I write fantasy because it’s the funnest thing there is. I don’t know why everybody doesn’t do it. There are certain things in life I can’t get my mind around. One of them is why people don’t paint their houses brighter colors, and another is why more people don’t read fantasy. (I secretly suspect these might be the same people.)

Sometimes these people use the term “escapism” and there can be a note of disdain in that, as if there’s something wrong with wanting to hightail it to another world for a while. I certainly want to. I mean, I adore this earth that has brought us miracles like mangoes and snow and silkmoths and Komodo dragons, just to name some of its greatest hits, but it’s a terrible world too, going through a terrible time, a highly televised terrible time. War and hatred and doom seem to be rolling toward us like thunderheads, and the news teams are there to show us all the bloody details, and instruct us on the newest and best things to be afraid of.

I said I read and write fantasy because it’s fun, but there’s more to it than that. I grew up between wars, if you don’t count the Cold War, which was an easy kind of war for a kid to ignore. I was a Navy brat and I heard things. I always knew that in Vietnam my father had killed people, and that my mother’s first fiance had sent her home polaroids of all his marine buddies and later, when he came home, had gone through the stack pointing out dead, dead, dead, dead, to just about everyone in them.

I knew my way around a ship as a kid, how to go up and down the ladders like a monkey. One of my favorite things to do was watch horror movies in the officer’s mess, and once when I was ten I was held at gunpoint for minutes because I wandered off during a security drill and the guard didn’t know what to do with me. And when the marine barracks in Beirut were bombed in 1983, my father’s ship was one of the first sent to Lebanon in response. My highschool in Belgium had an army guard who walked down the aisle of every incoming schoolbus with a machine gun. We had bomb threats and were told not to wear our school letter jackets into town because anti-American sentiment was too high. Later, when the wars of my lifetime -- so far -- really kicked off, I watched on TV, knowing my father was there.

But I don’t remember ever really being afraid, then. I didn’t develop my current sense of doom until the last few years. I’ve always loved to escape into fantasy, but that escape didn’t have the same urgency of wishfulness that it has now. Even though I know myself to be a rational adult and a skeptic, I still catch myself wishing fiercely for impossible things. Not expecting my wishes will come true, but feeling a surge of wretchedness at the injustice of it, nonetheless. When I saw the recent Superman movie, there was a scene in which an earthquake had rippled through Manhattan and Superman zipped around, catching window-washers as they fell off their platforms, rescuing people willy nilly, and I felt a kind of despair that there wasn’t someone to catch real people.

My despair was perhaps a tiny version of the despair that gave rise to Superman in the first place, a genesis that Michael Chabon explored so beautifully in Kavalier & Clay, in which he imagines what might prompt two young Jewish men to dream up a savior in the early years of WWII. Batman, and Captain America came out of those years, too; and Spiderman, the Hulk, and the X-Men were born during Vietnam. And it’s not just superheroes. I've known for a long time that Tolkien fought in World War I, but I only just found out he was in the front lines at the Somme, a hellish four-and-a-half month battle in which the British lost 20,000 men on the first day alone, which remains a one-day casualty record even now, ninety years later. Part of the battle’s strategic purpose was to draw German power away from Verdun where the French were suffering terrible losses, and the great tragedy is that at the Somme many more lives ended up being lost than even at Verdun. All told over 600,000 men died there -- a staggering number, and Tolkien walked among those bodies. And when I think of Aragorn and the soldiers of Gondor fighting an impossible war to draw the enemy’s attention away from Frodo and Sam, I can’t help but think of Tolkien at the Somme, and the loyalty and bravery of the characters in The Lord of the Rings are that much more heartbreaking. When I remember how Gandalf showed up with the exiled Rohirrim to save the day at Helm’s Deep, I can’t help but think of all the young men nobody saved in the French mud in those months. I can’t help but think of all the people, every single day, in wars all over the world, who nobody saves.

There’s nothing silly about “escapism.” It’s rooted in a deep and penetrating feeling of powerlessness, like Joseph Kavalier dreaming up the Escapist while his own family is trapped in Czechoslovakia. It’s important to remember that when readers escape into fantasy fiction, they’re not going into peaceful meadows to braid daisy chains with unicorns. They’re going to fight battles and fulfill destinies. Those other worlds are war-torn too, haunted by grave evil, and threatened with doom. The difference is that in those worlds the reader is not powerless. The reader gets to live in the characters’ skin, and ride in with Gandalf on Shadowfax to save Helm’s Deep. The reader gets to rescue the kidnapped kids from Bolvanger. The reader gets to save the world.

What could be more satisfying than that?

Fantasy readers also get to exist for a time in a place where the big, huge, beautiful human things like honor, sacrifice, loyalty, and deep, undying, soul-to-soul love, still exist. These big things seem kind of silly in mainstream fiction -- they have a tinge of unreality and even ridiculousness, like the modern world is “too cool” for honor and true love. They’re not “believable.” But in the context of fantasy, they can be. And people still want to believe in those things, so it’s lovely to create a framework within which they can exist and thrive.

I don’t know if fantasy has become more popular since September 11. As a hermit writer I have very little contact with the outside world. I don’t know if sales are up, but I suspect they are, and I think they would have been even if September 11 hadn’t happened. The snowball was already rolling down that hill -- the Harry Potter phenomenon was well underway; the first Lord of the Rings movie was eagerly awaited; Spiderman was in production and the landslide of other superhero movies had begun.

But I do think that there is a growing sense of doom, tied to environmental devastation and global warming, the feeling that we’re destroying our planet, and the sense of vulnerability that comes of knowing our country is hated so deeply, that war in the Middle East is on track to escalate to massive proportions, that our economy is losing its grip on the world, that our place in the scheme of things isn’t so assured as maybe we once thought. I have a terrible feeling that our golden age as Americans and as humans is in the past; I’m not sure exactly when it was, but I have a really hard time imagining that it’s in our future.

In my book, faeries have been on the far side of their own golden age for many, many, many years and the future isn’t looking too bright for them either. Their world is literally unraveling from neglect and misuse. The dragons are extinct, the faerie champions are long dead, magic is a sad shadow of what it once was, that pest species humans is cutting down the forests and fouling the rivers, and now devils are escaping from their ancient prisons. The world is, to quote myself, “sliding down the far slope of nothing back into the nothing that was before.” It seems a hopeless case.

But I have the extraordinarily great job, as a writer, of dreaming up hope, of cooking up a new golden age and the ones who will usher it in -- a golden age that still lies ahead of us, not behind. I get to save the world -- and so does everyone who reads my book.

That is certainly escapism, and I highly recommend it.

(for more thoughts on "fantasy" see Sunday Scribblings.)

More pictures:


And I loved this -- after I said I wished people wore hooded cloaks, a woman from the audience came up to say hi -- in her hooded cloak!

41 comments:

Remiman said...

Laini,
Gee, I'm the first commenter. The joy of being an early riser. I'm not sure if I'm glad I read your speech before I wrote my piece for today's SS or not. You have encapsulated my thoughts much more eloquently than I will. I agree 100% with every thought you've put forth here, I even learned some new things...like Tolkien fighting at the Somme.
I've been an escapist since I started, at age 9, to read Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan. That was 52 years ago and I doubt that that will ever change.
Kudos to you! I wish you and your book much success. (I will read it. Is it available thriugh Amazon?) I do hope that you will find continued succes in your future books.
rel

megg said...

Laini, you should be a politician! I think you have the right attitude to get things going!! Wait... but then you wouldn't be able to write more & I actually think that the world needs as MUCH of your writing as it can POSSIBLY get. Your piece gave me shivers. It made me nod, it made me feel sad. I wish I could have been there to see you give your talk!! (SOMEDAY I will be in one of your audiences!!)

Well done to you and I CAN NOT WAIT for my copy of your book!!

xo

Marilyn said...

Laini, this is a fabulous speech and a thought-provoking post...and one I would typically steer very clear from commenting on, because I've never read fantasy and don't watch fantasy films. But reading your post, I realized why I don't. "But I don’t remember ever really being afraid, then." Unlike your childhood, mine (and many years of my adulthood) was filled with a lot of fear and a sense of doom. And coupled with an overly-active imagination, those were not relaxing, happy times for me. "Those other worlds are war-torn too, haunted by grave evil, and threatened with doom." And THAT'S why I don't read or watch fantasy. We have HBO...I've tried watching even a few minutes of the "Rings" or "Harry Potter" movies, but they seem filled with such fear-inducing images for me that I can't. So it's not because I think it's 'silly' or 'escapist'...I'm looking for escapism in fiction! But I tend to steer clear of media that will feed my overly-active dreaming mind with more fuel for nightmares. That's not to say that I won't read YOUR book--you know that I will. And I'm thrilled you got to experience that ALA event and be on that panel, and wish you nothing but the greatest success with your book! Just thought you might like to hear one perspective on what could create a non-fantasy reader.

January said...

Congratulations Laini! Good luck with the book--you certainly deserve it. You're an inspiration.

I don't own a hooded cloak but I may have to get one after seeing the photos

Sophie said...

So beautifully said -
I love fantasy - when you
experience these marvels through
fantasy you can "imagine"
magnificent things into reality -
and make poetry of life rather
than the other way around as
Octavio Paz has said -

You look so beautiful signing
books - i cannot wait to read
your book - my little guy is
quite excited as well!

hugs, have a wonderful Sunday:)

Alexandra S said...

I can see why your speech brought tears to people's eyes in the audience.(You are a BAD PERSON Loonitoot. You made librarians, the nicest people on earth, CRY!) Anywaym this speech is so incredibly beautifully expressed, so true, and I am so glad that many who normally don't read fantasy are going to read your book anyway because once they are read it, they will wonder "And why wasn't I reading more fantasy all along?" (Only problem with that is that after they read Blackbrinbger they will be looking all over for something as equally mesmerizing and they will be hard-pressed to find it!) Magpie made me want to be a better person, to save a piece of the world myself, and that to me is the best part of a great book- a character that you want to be, whose world and perspective is so true that you are inspired to emulate them, and YOU did that with your own fantasy book! yay!! I'll always remember reading one of your more final drafts of Dreamdark at PDX and on the flight to LA and there were two points, one where she is flying back and arriving in Dreamdark for the first time and another was a specific exchange with the Magruwen and I thought to myself, "Oh my god! SHe's done it! Where was this masterpiece hiding in this (relatively) tiny brain I've known all these years?") getting long so I will close but I just want to say this is a beautiful speech and so glad you posted it and hope it gets published as well!

Cate said...

I'm very happy for you, Laini! Congratulations!

Frances said...

Sometimes I wish vampires were just a little bit real.
Wonderful talk - I did not know that all those super heroes were born during times of war.
You know Monopoly was born during the height of the Depression.
Thanks for sharing your talk.
And again- Congratulations!

Kelly said...

Laini, I for one can't wait to read your book! I'm sure it will be a book that I just wont be able to put down, then once I do, I'll let my sons read it. lol
And I have to agree with you about escapism...I "escape" every so often in my own imagination to a place that's a cross between etthereal and dark, romantic yet violent (think damsels in distress and knights in armour)...ok, maybe I'm twisted!! lol!! I draw inspiration from EVEYWHERE!!
I would have loved to lived during the Middle Ages. Anyways...keep on keeping on, you're an awesome inspiration and I love to read your posts, they're cool!!

Left-handed Trees... said...

This is a WONDERFUL post--your speech was amazing...so much I didn't know and you expressed it so beautifully. I was thinking about "fantasy" this morning--b/c I didn't do a post on it (yet)...b/c I thought, "Well, I don't know a thing about it--books, movies, etc." then, a little voice reminded me about how much I loved it when I was a child and adolescent. It has really started me thinking on when I made the shift over to "literary" and "serious" reading and why? (College maybe? All of those English classes where we sucked meaning dry like vampires from texts?) But, you've really stirred my thoughts up and I thank you for it. I cannot wait to read your book (and my Petunia is a die-hard faerie fan--so she's right there with me!)
Love,
D.

desert rat said...

Wonderfully written. I'm going to keep an eye out for that book of yours; if the writing in this post is any idication I'm sure it's amazing. Congrats on the signing! And keep dreaming up hope, we can all really use it these days.

kelly rae said...

laini! i am so proud of you! that speech is amazing! i bet you were the bees knees of all the speakers. you are a full-on natural at all of this and i am thrilled to watch it all unfold for you after sooo much hard work. this is just the beginning for you when it comes to speaking engagements, book signings, and so much more. how exciting!

liz elayne said...

laini,
this is wondrous. truly. a fantastic speech. as i read it i could hear you voice and i was just smiling the whole time. thank you for sharing it here.

congratulations on the opportunity to speak and be on the panel etc. those librarians with the advanced copies are going to be spreading the word! such an exciting time my friend!!!

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Laini, all I can say about this post is YEAH!!! Very inspiring and to the point and rich and vivid.

It sounds like you had a blast.

xo
J

Regina Clare Jane said...

This was just wonderful! I am so glad everything went so well for you and I hope you get to write lots and lots of books to share your fantasies with everyone!

ArtsyMama said...

Wow...look at you at ALA. How cool!!! Can't wait to read your book. Love this post.

Jamie said...

Congratulations, Laini! What a wonderful time. What a great opportunity to share your gifts. I'm sure you touched many with this talk. I know you touched me. May that magic follow your book wherever it goes.

shoofly said...

Oh my goodness, congratulations!

You speech was lovely, thanks so much for posting it and all the photos!

Mardougrrl said...

I am so happy for you and proud of you! You are an example that talent WILL OUT. Congratulations! And this speech brought tears to my eyes...it encapsulated why I write PERFECTLY, even though I don't write fantasy.

I am so happy I know you! I cannot WAIT to read your book.

chest of drawers said...

WOW! Look at you Mrs Author, looking all comfortable and right at home up there. I know it´s been a long way for you - you are the proof that hard work, listening to that creative voice within and holding onto your dreams is worth every moment. Very proud!

Lee said...

Congratulations, Laini...you must be very proud and very thrilled. Wonderful speech...I hope your book is published 'Down Under'...I'll keep an eye out for it. All the best with your dreams...dreams are most precious. (I came to your blog via Remiman (Rel)

Frida World said...

How fabulous, how exciting, how fantastic! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

I have so many thoughts in response to your post.

You look great up there in red!

My lovely man from Portland grew up with a military Dad as well - I'm learning a little bit about what that means from him.

Most of all - I love your speech. I have always read fantasy, lots of it - from "The Faraway Tree" to "LOTR" and "The Sword of Shanara" and as many others as I could find.

I have never "written" fantasy but I spent several of the happiest years of my life making up and telling faerie tales to children, at parties and special events - while dressed as a Faerie myself. How much more fun could it be possible to have?

How does that go together with being a human rights lawyer? Very well - and for all the reasons you expound in this beautiful speech.

Kavalier and Clay was the best book I read in 2005 - I'll recommend it to anyone who will listen.

Bravo! You are my heroine.

xegbp said...

Laini,

I wished I had been there. What a fabulous talk. I can not wait to read Dreamdark. I may have to fight Stephanie in a sword battle for the copy she has.

mipmup said...

congratulations on a momentous day!

sundaycynce said...

Laini,
What a fabulous and compelling presentation!!!!! I have learned (about my adored Tolkein's war experience) and been inspired. BRAVO and Congratulations to you!
Thanks for share with us all who could not be there. I will also be watching to snatch up a copy of your book.

Amber said...

WOW WOW WOWWW!! Laini, that was just your most perfect post ever. Really!!

I have been thinking about this SS topic...I remember that when I was young I read fantasy. My first books were fantasy, and I love dthem and was fed from them. And I was able to escape. And you know, I really needed to escape.

Then, as I got old, I fell away from fantasy, and I'm not sure why! It is like I needed to be more realistic. Like all my efforts needed to be put into living in the "real" world...Alot of things happened around this time, in my late teens. Your post made me realize that... I think I put down the fantasy novels, around the time I picked up Self-Help books. This should be funny...

Now I am excited to pick up fantasy again, because of you. I think I have been HUNGERING to return to magic, but for totally different reasons! More hopeful and happy reasons, and just because I want to feel the magic and hope again. This is why I like to visit you, and cheer you on so...

:)

You

Brandi said...

Laini - Congratulations! I cant imagine how excited you must be! That is just amazing! You are so talented and well deserving of this.

deirdre said...

Laini, this is just perfect, beautiful, thought-provoking. What a wonderful experience for you to be at the convention. Wow. You did so well. I'm counting the months until your book is out.

Jerri said...

Wish I'd been there, Laini. Reading your speech, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Best to you always.

Kim G. said...

YAY for YOU! What a wonderful opportunity and the speech was incredible. (Did you really make librarians cry? There must be some kind of award for that. Those folks see it all!) I'm so excited to read your book and let my kids read it also. I think I'm more open to fantasy than any other time in my life as my little guy is going through a dragon phase at the moment. (I know you didn't care for Eragon but we loved it. We're looking forward to adding your dragon recommendations to our list though.) I loved what Alexandra said about the character in your book. Regardless of the genre, there is nothing so moving and rewarding as finding a book with characters that inspire you to be more. Congrats on the great honor and can't wait for your local book signings in the future!

Deb R said...

Your speech made my cry, Laini - in a good way. It was really wonderful! And I love the photos you posted too. Congrats on the panel and book signing and all of it!

ceanandjen said...

A warm congratulations to you...both on your book, as well as this astounding speech.

stephanie said...

Hey Laini, it was so great to meet you, if only briefly, at the signing (sorry I had to rush off to do work!). We were so glad to have you, and from what I heard, our librarians loved you! I'm mailing you a disk with all the pictures our photographer took, along with a couple of copies of the Meeting newspaper we produce, that you are in.

If you want to see the paper now, it's online in PDF form at http://www.ala.org/cognotes. You are in the Midwinter 2007 Saturday issue on page 8, in a photo with Tim Zahn, and in the article on the front page of the Midwinter 2007 Sunday issue. Hope you enjoy.

I just finished your book (a life-saver on the 4 hour plane ride home from Seattle) and it was wonderful! Congratulations. Hopefully you'll make it out to our summer conference in Washington D.C.

Thanks!
Stephanie

Hel said...

fight battles and fulfill destinies - so true.

Paris Parfait said...

Congrats, Laini! What a fantasically beautiful magical speech! And the photos are great and sounds like the whole experience was fantastic!

Crafty Green Poet said...

Firstly congratulations! Secondly thanks for a great post. I think escapism in literature is very important, though fantasy is not where I generally choose to go. Thirdly, I'll look out for your book and I'm sure my partner will pick it up as soon as he can....

gerry rosser said...

Congratulations!
Yay!

MoJoKat said...

Hi, Laini!

I ended up in your Blog through a path of "Clicks" that I doubt I could retrace, but I am thrilled that I did. I thoroughly enjoyed your post and am eagerly awaiting the ability to purchase your upcoming book.

You're definitely doing your part to keep the fantasy world alive and opening it up to many who have never experienced it!

Many thanks to you for the joy your post brought to my morning.

I hope you will not mind if I add you to my list of "Visited posts" on my blog page.

Thank you, again!

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Anonymous said...

First of all, I have to challenge your suggestion that Spider-man, the Hulk, and the X-Men were created during the Viet Nam War. These characters were first published between 1962-1963 (OK, not certain about the Hulk). The Gulf of Tonkin incident, which kicked off the big time involvement of the US, wasn't until 1964. We may have had advisors there, but that's not the Viet Nam War we remember (draft, protestors, body counts, etc.).

Second, I have to challenge the doom and gloom attitude in general. I saw the threat of environmental doom when I was in high school and it loomed large. (Soylent Green?) Then there was the ever present threat of nuclear doom (The Time Machine (1960's movie version) or Planet of the Apes). But here it is almost 40 years later, and there's been environmental action taken, and the threat of nuclear holocast is gone. Things aren't perfect -- not by a long shot -- but I don't exactly perceive us as on a terrible downhill slide. In the midst of my doom and gloom youth, I talked to an elderly aunt once. She said, after someone sees all the kinds of things she had seen, one just can't accept the view that things are getting worse and are necessarily going to continue that way. I think she has a point.

Ariella said...

Good words.