Tag Archives: Olga Godim

Magic = Responsibility

When we hear the word ‘magic’ in our mundane world, we always imagine something pleasing, like a magic show, or our massage therapist’s magic hands, or a fantasy book we have read recently. But in Fantasyland, magic has a different connotation. In fantasy stories, magic is a gift and a responsibility.

AlmostAdep180x270JIn my novel Almost Adept, the protagonist, young magician Eriale often encounters situations where her magic is the best choice to deal with a problem. And she can’t shirk that responsibility, no matter how much she might want to.

Once, en route to visit her relatives, she came upon a burning village. Of course, her first action was to extinguish the fire with her magic. After that, she searched for the source of the fire and found it too—a five-year-old boy, gifted with fire magic but untrained. She didn’t want to play a babysitter to a grubby, sulky urchin, didn’t want to leave the village in a hurry, without rest or food, but she did both. She considered it her responsibility to take care of the fledging mage, to whisk him out of peril’s way. If she didn’t, the angry villages might’ve killed the kid in retaliation, even though his fire that had almost burned the village was unintentional. Eriale was the only one who could help the boy, so she did. She grumbled, of course, but she never hesitated.

Later in the novel, Eriale experienced her first love affair just before she discovered a corrupt mage abusing his magic apprentices. Again, because of her magic, she was the only one who could help them. She knew that confronting the evil and powerful mage was very dangerous but she couldn’t see any other option. Nobody but her could help those kids. She had to try, even though her sweetheart had enemies of his own and he could die without her help. Faced with such a devastating choice—him or the apprentices—she made the only possible decision, even though it tore her heart apart: she left to deal with the monstrous sorcerer and abandoned her beloved. He might find others to help him…or not, but the apprentices had no advocate except her. Her magical abilities dictated her actions.

Unlike Eriale in her imaginary, quasi-medieval world, Darya, the protagonist of my short story collection Squirrel of Magic lives in modern Canada. Darya is a good witch, and like Eriale, she feels it her responsibility to help people in trouble. Some of those she helps are her friends. Others are strangers. It makes no difference. If her magic can help them, she must get involved, no matter her personal cost. Even if that cost includes the good opinion of her boyfriend or a risk of getting arrested.

Neither of my magical heroines can ignore her magic. It rules their lives, brings unique joys and unique sorrows. Like any power, their magic implies responsibilities: to the people around them as well as to themselves.

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Readers’ perception

When a reader opens a book, in many cases he doesn’t see what the author envisioned when she wrote her story. He sees his own interpretation of the book through the lens of his personality. He filters the story through his own life experience. Sometimes the reader’s and writer’s versions are almost the same. Other times, they’re vastly different.

I recently had a review of my novel which really surprised me. It wasn’t a bad review, far from it. It was a nice review, but the reviewer mentioned a fact that made me open my mouth in astonishment. What? Have I written it so badly that she didn’t see the main point of the novel? Did she even read it before writing her review?

Some writers engage in disputes with readers over the unwanted reviews or fling accusations around. I think it’s a pointless practice. But I ask myself: what should I do so the readers see the book the way I see it? Is it even possible?

There is a well-known axiom among writers: you can’t please everyone. I’d take it one step further: you can’t deliver the same version of your book to everyone, even though the words and grammar are exactly the same. People are bound to see it differently, to read different revelations into it. Every man and woman, when they open a book, are on a quest for a mysterious artifact, but no one searches for the same object or the same emotion.

Some try to find absolution. Others strive to prove their own worth. Still others long for a spiritual guidance or just want an escape from life worries. And the more people manage to achieve their goals through my book, the better writer I am, no matter what they perceive in my writing. I wish all my readers luck in their search.

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Love always wins, but which one?

When people hear the L word, most often they associate it with an amorous setting, chocolate, and flowers, especially around Feb 14. But there’re many different kinds of love. Love for your children and your parents. Love for your land. Love for poetry or music or any other artistic endeavor, your own or someone else’s. Love for a pet. Love for a god.

Sometimes, those loves collide at cross-purposes, and you have to choose one at the cost of another. Those are the most stressful situations in real life and the most interesting in fiction.

My protagonist Eriale from my recent fantasy novel Almost Adept finds herself in such a situation. She meets a man – of course, she does, she is seventeen – and falls in love with him. He occupies her thoughts. She wants to give him anything, shield him from any danger, assist him in any endeavor. She wants to see him smile, hear his voice, share his days. Sadly, she can’t spend the rest of her life with him, no matter how much she wants to, and she knows it.

Eriale is a princess of Varelia. Well, kind of. Her much older half-sister Tamara (they share a father) is Varelian queen by marriage. Like many siblings, the sisters don’t often see eye to eye. Besides, Eriale is a magician, and like any magician, she is strong-willed and independent. She craves freedom to roam the world, to learn new magic, to encounter new mysteries. Rebelling against her sister’s rigid rules, Eriale runs away from home, towards mayhem and adventure, but she could never totally forget her responsibilities. Even if she bickers with Tamara, her sister, she would never endanger Tamara, the queen.

When travels bring Eriale to Grumesh, she falls in love with Kealan, a local courier, but unfortunately, he is not a suitable partner for our wandering princess. Once, he might’ve been, for he was born a high-ranking nobleman. But ten years ago, an aggressive Empire invaded Grumesh, and all the country’s native nobility were disbanded.

Now, Kealan is an outlaw, a leader of the resistance movement, with a price on his head. Even if he stopped fighting the occupants and became a law-abiding citizen, he would still represent a subdued nation. Any alliance between Kealan and the royal house of Varelia would be frowned upon by the Emperor and might cause a diplomatic incident or even armed hostilities between Varelia and the Empire. Eriale would never allow that to happen, would never jeopardize her country’s security for her own pleasure.

Nor would she repudiate her land and family for Kealan’s sake. But she couldn’t deny her love for him either, not to appease the political whimsy of the Emperor. Instead, she chooses a compromise. She would spend as much time with her beloved as she could. She would hear him laugh, savor his touch, relish his kisses. She would bestow the protection of her magic on him, but when the time comes, she would leave him behind. And although she knows her joy is transitory, the knowledge doesn’t diminish her happiness, maybe even makes it more acute.

AlmostAdep180x270J In a similar situation, another girl might’ve followed a different set of priorities and opted to remain with her sweetheart, come what may. Neither love is right or wrong. Eriale’s choice of patriotic love over romantic love is dictated by her personality, but also by the demands of the genre – a high fantasy quest. If my novel was a romance, Eriale’s choice might have been different.

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Fantasy heroes – who are they?

Re-blogged from my site.

My contemplations concern both male and female characters, but for the clarity of writing, I’m using only male nouns and pronouns.

In high fantasy, heroes are habitually princes (long-lost or deposed or otherwise beset by woes) or magicians or soldiers. Almost as often they are poor orphans or criminals: thieves and assassins. I don’t know any respectable shoemakers or tavern keepers who are heroes of high fantasy, unless their shop or farm is no more.

SeamstressConversely, in urban fantasy, which takes place in the alternative version of here and now, heroes most frequently belong to the middle class: bartenders and librarians, computer programmers and dressmakers. There are not many modern fantasy novels where a hero is a ‘prince’, e.g. a movie star or a corporate mogul. Not many poor orphans either, although some pop up occasionally, just like some criminals make their appearance in urban fantasy, but in latter case, they usually work for the government. A CIA assassin – how glamorous!

Why such a disparity in the heroes’ social standings? Fantasy writers have a rationale for their protagonists, just as fantasy tropes are tropes for a reason. Let’s first look at high fantasy, which usually happens in a quasi-medieval society.

Princes – they have education and money, before some villain causes them to flee for their lives, rally their scattered forces, and strike back at their enemy. Princes don’t have ties to the community; nobody depends on them for their livelihood. Pretty useless creatures, princes, at liberty to go anywhere, anytime. Nobody would miss them.

Magicians – they have power of their own, their magic. They can employ it in any city or society; they have no ties to the community or locality either. Quite the opposite, they are often recluses or under vows of chastity or some such. They’re free to roam at will. Magician1

Soldiers – they also have skills they can ply anywhere. They don’t have families or links to the community that depends on them. The same applies to thieves. What is common to all those types – they are independent in their income source and nobody needs them to survive.

Orphans don’t have an independent source of income, but their ties to a place or a community have been severed by irresistible forces. As a result, they’re rootless, blown by the winds of their misfortunes to look for a good life elsewhere.

What about middle class – a shopkeeper or a peasant? Unless his shop or homestead is destroyed and his loved ones killed, he is not free. He has family to support, children to feed, village to appease. Many people rely on him – he has roots and can’t just up and leave for a heroic adventure. It would be considered irresponsible. He must work hard from dawn to dusk, fix the roof after a church service, and pay the guild fee by Friday. He doesn’t have a choice. No food for a fantasy writer there.

Now let’s take a look at urban fantasy – at our society. Here the roles are reversed. Who has the widest choices? Our shop owners and farmers and middle-level employees. Millions of choices. They can switch careers, travel, attend university, go to movies every week, meet new people in bars, gyms, interest clubs, Internet, and so on. The possibilities for fantasy adventures are countless.

How about our soldiers? They’re so boxed in by army regulations that there is almost no room to maneuver for a fantasy writer.

What about our princes and magicians – the super-rich folks and pop icons? If they don’t want to lose their money, they work hard and then drink and do drugs to unwind. At least that is what the gossip pages tell us. Paparazzi follow them, so they’re not free to go anywhere. Can they switch career? Of course, in theory, but it happens so seldom, we never hear of it. Can they become members of a knitting club in a local community center? Yes, but they don’t. Have you heard of even one example? They’re extremely restricted by their names, money, and fame. That’s why they’re almost never heroes of modern fantasy.

Did I simplify in my musing? Yes. Are there exceptions to my conclusions? Definitely. Do you know novels that contradict my findings? Argue with me.

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Olga Godim’s 777 Challenge

Here are 7 lines from page 7, starting at line 7 of my fantasy novel Almost Adept. Actually, there are 9 lines, because my writer’s inner self wouldn’t allow me to cut a paragraph in midstream, but that’s a small technical detail. Don’t mind it.

The novel is scheduled for release from Burst Champagne in January 2014.

The story follows the adventures of a young mage Eriale. In the beginning of the story, she turns an obnoxious young man Gordin, who attempted to rape her, into a muttonhead (head only). Now she is in trouble.

Books never betrayed her. They were friends. She understood them. Unlike some conniving, bleating sheep. Her breathing shortened at the memory. Blast Gordin anyway! He had caused her to lose control, and now she was in deep shit.
As always, magic rushed in, soothing her agitation, placating her jumbled thoughts. Like a living creature, it sought an outlet, as yet unshaped into a spell but full and vivid; a cloud of sparkling energy. Eriale was always more comfortable with magic than with people. She often landed in trouble because of her magic too. Now she shaped the magic into a flock of illusionary winged sheep and released them into the evening sky outside the window. The sheep flew away, their wings pumping furiously.
“Ha!” she said and yanked her attention back to her problem.

I tag Kathy Trueman for the next 777 post.

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What is in the name?

Writers always strive to find perfect names for their characters. The best name reflects the personality and sometimes even the appearance of its bearer. Speaking for myself, I can’t write a story until I know my heroine’s name. In one of my fantasy short stories, I went through at least a dozen names before I hit on the right one, and I knew it the moment I typed it.

Often, a name depends on a genre. A Regency romance heroine, especially a duchess, could be called Annabelle, but if she lives in an American mining town in the 1850s and works as a laundress, would the name Annabelle fit as well? Maybe it would be better to call her Mary or Iris? And what if she is called Senneth? Then it is probably a speculative fiction novel (actually, it is a fantasy series by Sharon Shinn).

In some fantasy novels, writers insist that a person’s true name has a special meaning, and someone knowing that name could have extraordinary powers over that man, or woman, or demon, or elf.

I read a research once which suggested it might also be correct in our own, decidedly non-fantasy world. The researcher (ironically, I don’t remember his name) stated that people with the same name frequently exhibit the same character traits or mannerisms. For example: many Elizabeths are bossy; many Kerries are assertive and overweight; many Tanyas are open and practical. Have you noticed the same phenomenon? Strangely enough, I find it a plausible hypothesis.

The researcher explained his theory by the identical sound waves the same name produces when spoken. During childhood, a person is exposed to his name more often than to any other word. The name’s continuously repeated audio sequence influences the child’s brain development, makes some character traits more probable than others. Of course it is not a math problem, where two and two always make four, but more like a statistical equation, a matter of big numbers.

I think writers, perhaps unconsciously, subscribe to similar beliefs. When a writer names her character Jane, she has a certain personality in mind. She would have a different personality in mind for a character named Vivien. I wonder if any literary scholar ever made a comparison of all the Viviens in fiction. Would a large percentage of them have characteristics that match?

And what about my pet peeve – initials, the names like PJ or TK? I hate those names. They reflect nothing; have no emotional connotation of any kind. Rather they remind me of a designation of some gadget, like PPG (a weapon from Babylon 5). I know some real people opt for such names but I don’t understand them. Neither do I understand fiction writers who give such names to their heroes. There is such a variety of beautiful and meaningful names out there. Why would a writer disregard all those names and label his hero by a couple of capitals, like a bolt or a screw?

A tidbit about my own name: I’m a journalist. I use a pen name for fiction, Olga Godim, but my newspaper articles all have a different byline. I have a reason for such an incongruity. I started writing late in life. Before that, I was a computer programmer. When I submitted my first fantasy stories to magazines, I was still working at my computer job and I felt slightly embarrassed by my fantastic tales. Women of my age and profession didn’t entertain themselves with tales of sword and magic. Or so I thought. So I decided to use a pseudonym. Olga is my first name, and Godim was my father’s first name. He died before I published my first piece, before I even started thinking about writing, but I wanted him to be a part of my writing life, so I chose his name as my nom de plume.  Now, he’s always with me, a witness to my successes and failures as a writer. And I think the name sounds good, like a small cheerful bell: Go-dim. It fits my fantasy stories.

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