Janni Lee Simner

So on the livejournal version of last week’s post about the hard-to-define magic-y mythic-y lyrical fantasy genre, the subject of books that have this feeling without being fantastical came up.

Dacuteturtle talked about how some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories have this feeling for her. Rachelmanija talked about how “secret garden” books do.

I realized that for me, this is a huge part of the appeal of, say, the Icelandic family sagas, which are often light on the magic (and vague about its nature), and which for lack of better terminology I’ve been describing as having the feel of Tolkien, with less magic and more lawsuits. Rymenhild talked about medieval myths and allegories on the livejournal post, which one could argue are either fantasy or a genre of their own. I’d add Beowulf to her list, once one adds the poetry of the Seamus Heaney translation. (Or, I’m guessing, the original old English.)

The contemporary examples that most readily come to mind for me are Deborah Noyes’ Plague in the Mirror (whose the timeslip is the only magical element) and Francesca Forrest’s Pen Pal (which feels magical yet doesn’t have anything that’s inarguable magic, though it does have things that arguably are).

Anyway, this all got me to thinking. Lots of folks talk about whether fantasy can achieve the same things realism can, with the spoken or unspoken assumption that a fantasy work is somehow more worthy or literary if it does.

But we don’t talk nearly so much about whether realism can achieve the things fantasy does, and reach for those heights. And whether it might be more worthy on some level if it does so, too.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
16 May 2014 @ 06:12 pm

So, there’s a certain kind of book I’m always on the lookout for. It’s not the only kind of book I’m on the lookout for, but it is the kind of book I adore when I find it.

I think of the genre as lyrical mythic fantasy. Books that can be spare, but not so spare as to lose that lyricism–this isn’t the genre of transparent prose. Books that can be dense, but not so dense that they lose a certain lightness and flow. Books that are deeply, richly immersive. Liminal perhaps. Transporting, but not only transporting. Books that make you believe the mythic is just through that veil over there, and that make you believe this as much or more through sheer language as through cleverness of worldbuilding.

You can see how this might be hard to describe. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully succeeded. When I mention what I’m looking for, I often get recs for straight up fantasy-adventure with a dash of interesting world-building. That’s not what I’m looking for (or not what I’m looking for when I talk about this kind of book–of course I like other kinds of books, too, and many books I adore don’t fit into this at all). I know what I do want when I see it, which of course is not very useful if one is looking for recommendations.

Examples include The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, The Changeling Sea, The Underneath, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Last Unicorn, maybe Moonheart and Mythago Wood (it’s been years since I read those last two, so they could have changed in memory). It almost, but not quite, includes The Blue Sword, but if I mention the Blue Sword, I get all the wrong sort of recommendations again. I just started Sorrow’s Knot, which looks like it might fit though I’m not far enough in to that yet to be sure. If Miyazaki wrote novels, it would include some but not all of his work.

Of course, all of this is highly subjective, and a book that fits this description in one reader’s mind won’t in another’s. That’s how reading works, after all.

But I thought I’d go ahead and ask, and see what I might discover. If any of the above resonates for you, and you think you might know the sort of book I’m talking about … any recommendations?

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
14 May 2014 @ 11:48 am

Bones of Faerie is five years old this spring! I’d get all sentimental, only Liza isn’t really the sentimental sort, so instead here’s a Book Smugglers’ “Old School Wednesday” review.

“Bones of Faerie is an unexpectedly lyrical and beautifully written book – I am an immediate fan of Janni Lee Simner’s haunting prose, which captured me from the first eerie chapter. It’s a poignant, elegiac novel about a world ravaged by magic and the children who have grown up in its ruins. It is Liza’s world that is so captivating, that draws you in and defines Bones of Faerie …”

Also, the Zombies, Run! episode I wrote is now live! Specifically, it’s Season 3, Mission 6: Career Day: “Mysterious giant footprints have been spotted–could this be related to the Phantom of Abel?” I had a blast writing this, and of course, I jumped ahead and ran the mission out of order just so I could hear it. It was a blast, running to my own words–but of course, the real blast is thinking of other people running to my words.

Because, after all, we are all Runner 5.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
04 May 2014 @ 02:15 pm

The birdbath is frozen,
There’s snow on the ground,
Anything worth saving
Will survive on its own.

Water flows along curbs and down drains,
Seeking anything that craved sunshine–
The flowers sagged with bees,
The pithy dead stems,
Wintering insects.

For the butterflies’ sake I can adapt,
But it’s going to take a lot of work.

Gardening for Climate Change

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

I talk to Naomi Alderman about writing for Zombies, Run.

The Zombies, Run! app chooses songs from whatever playlist you feed it, and in that post, I talk about how my favorite moments are the ones when something comes up that’s wildly inappropriate for the narrative.

Today’s episode was filled with those awesome moments.

First, just as a friend has gone gray (turned into a zombie) and I’m fleeing from them, my playlist urged me to “Let It Go.”

Then, just another character was revealed to have secret zombie blood inside them, I was told “Something has changed within me. Something is not the same.”

And then a traitor was unmasked to strains of, “Don’t bring me bad news, no bad news, I don’t need none of your bad news today.”

And this is why I run from zombies.

Along the way, I’m pondering the fact that said traitor’s unmasking was utterly expected, and yet nonetheless satisfying. The discovery isn’t the only thing that makes a reveal satisfying–this is a craft thing worth thinking about some more.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
09 April 2014 @ 05:27 pm

So, you all know by now that I’m a huge fan of Zombies, Run! right? That app that’s been keeping me running (or, this month, getting me back to running) by (in theory) giving me something to run from while (actually) making me want to know what happens next so badly I have no choice but to run? That app that I first downloaded because I thought it was had clever gimmick but kept playing because it’s really well written and has all sorts of cool and compelling story things going on? That app I geek out about to pretty much anyone who will stand still long enough to listen?

Yeah, that app.

Well, season 3 starts up this month, and I can finally tell you that …

… I wrote a guest episode!

I had so much fun writing this, you have no idea. It turns out writing about running from zombies is as much fun as actually running from zombies. Who knew? And the thought of other Runner 5s getting to run to it just fills me with glee.

I won’t say anything else now, except that I was a Girl Scout for 12 years and a Girl Scout leader for 8 years and these things just might have had a … teeny tiny bit of influence on the episode.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
31 March 2014 @ 11:22 am

“Some people find this hard,” the rabbi warned us, as my brother and sister and I stood by my father’s grave.

He didn’t tell us, as he had at the funeral home, that this meant we didn’t have to do it. Not directly.

He’d told us a lot about the things we didn’t have to do. We didn’t have to follow the casket from the car to the grave. We didn’t have to watch that casket be lowered into the earth. And, yes, didn’t have to put the ritual shovelful of earth onto the casket once it lowered. All things, he explained, that many people found hard.

Through it all, my siblings and I stared at him dumbfounded. We were supposed to avoid doing things because they were hard? As if following, lowering, and shoveling were any harder than burying one’s father in the first place—a father who had never seen his children truly, who confused giving gifts with giving love, who I’d spent years trying to please and trying to reach until finally, in self-defense, I’d given up to protect myself?

As if we got to skip feeling the hard things if we skipped doing the hard things? Even then, we all knew better. We would have helped carry the casket, too, had we not been told that wasn’t allowed for liability reasons.

So after we assured the rabbi, yet again, that of course we wanted to perform this final ritual act, he went on to explain that putting dirt on a grave fell under its own special category of lovingkindness, because it was one of the few favors that could never be repaid.

Or even, I would think later, that we could hope might be repaid, because with my father, issues of reciprocity between parent and child, of the gap between how he thought he acted toward us and how he did act, had always been complicated.

But just then I waited, while my brother threw one shovelful into the grave, and then a second. I took the shovel in my hands in turn. The dirt was surprisingly light, and the tactile act of throwing it in, of hearing it thunk onto the wooden casket, was satisfying, necessary. I sent a second shovelful after the first. I could have kept going, could have lost myself in this deeply physical task and seen it through, but instead I stepped back, letting my sister take a turn as well.

And then I spent some time standing silent by that open grave, by that lowered casket, by all the things we were told we didn’t need to do, thinking about how while the rabbi had been right about other things that day, he’d been wrong about this, because I did need it. These rituals are here for a reason, after all.

I rode back to my father’s house in silence, too, but unlike the days before the burial, it wasn’t a turbulent sort of silence. It was a peaceful, grounded sort of silence, a transitional sort of silence, the sort of silence that let me know I was passing through something, into someplace new.

And now, a few days and a second plane ride later, I’m home.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

Chelsea Mead Kirkpatrick’s film adaptation of my short story “Drawing the Moon” begins shooting in just a few weeks! “Drawing the Moon” first appeared in Bruce Coville’s Book of Nightmares and is the story of a boy who’s convinced the moon has stolen his dead parents away–and who will do anything to get them back.

The short clips of the actors in this video gave me shivers in places:

It’s pretty amazing seeing the first hints of how these characters will be brought to life.

If you want to help make this film happen (and to get your own DVD of the finished film), you can support the Drawing the Moon film funding campaign here.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

When I first heard that Amtrak was considering having writers-in-residence on its trains, I was pretty captivated by the idea. I find trains deeply evocative, liminal, even mythic. I loved the idea of hopping on board for a multi-day trip (instead of my previous several hour or single-day rides), of watching the landscape roll by, of chatting with my fellow passengers, and of, presumably, writing up a storm. So I figured I’d go ahead and apply. Why not? I knew the Amtrak Residency was a PR move from the very start, but I’ve worked in business communications and I actually thought it was a brilliant PR move. I’m in favor of train travel, so it wasn’t like I’d be promoting something I didn’t believe in.

Along the way I priced out some sleeper-class tickets for long-haul journeys, because if I really wanted to get in some train-writing time badly enough, there were of course ways to do that even without Amtrak awarding me a free ticket. I looked at the prices, for sleeper cars especially, and … realized that I actually didn’t want to do this badly enough. Not as badly, anyway, as the many other things I wanted more that I could also do for the cost of a long-haul train ticket. At this point I still planned to apply–a few days writing on a train would still of a heckuva lot of fun–but I’d clarified that this wasn’t some great life priority for me.

Then the Amtrak Residency application went live, and I saw that this wasn’t so much a writers’ residency as a writers’ contest–complete with the requirement, common to many contests, that entrants give over legal rights to the application. The rights Amtrak was demanding from writer-entrants were non-exclusive (cool), but they also included the up-to-10-page writing sample attached to the application (not cool) and, worse, those rights would be given up simply by applying, whether or not one was awarded a free ticket (even less cool). I stepped back and thought it through. A sleeper-car train ticket is actually reasonable compensation for a 2000-3000 word article, given the cost of a ticket and going freelance rates. But an entry in a contest for a possible train ticket is … not.

Writers have been applying in tremendous numbers in spite of the rights issue and the low chance of compensation for same, eight thousand of them last I heard. With that many applicants and those terms, the whole business feels less and less like a group of professionals and would-be professionals applying for a residency, and more and more like a group of hopefuls buying rather expensive lottery tickets.

But what’s truly disconcerting is the way more and more applicants are talking about the residency, tossing around phrases like “this would be a dream come true for me.” Just this morning I saw one person claim he would just die if he were selected, and another claim she was salivating at the possibility of being one of the “Chosen,” and I couldn’t help feeling like somewhere along the way, realistic perspective about this whole business had been lost.

Either they’re (some of them) making all of this up to make their applications look better–because, really, of all the grand dreams in the world, how many thousands of people really put a domestic U.S. round trip train ticket at the very top?; or else this really is their (some of their) grand dream–because, okay, dreams are highly personal, and just because this isn’t at the very top of my list doesn’t mean it’s not at the top of a whole bunch of other writers’ lists.

But the thing is, if something really is your grand dream? Entering contests and buying a lottery tickets isn’t the usually way to obtain one’s dreams. (I dream of returning to Iceland, too, and so I’ve entered contests for free IcelandAir tickets, but I’ve never seriously believed that was the way I was really going to get back there.) A dream as grand as some Amtrak Residency applicants seem to believe this is calls for strategizing, and marshaling/saving one’s resources, and thinking through what else one can do if saving resources isn’t enough. (Maybe a shorter journey is required to make it happen, or sleeping in coach, or getting off the train at the end of the day and sleeping in hotel rooms or a tent in the towns one passes through.)

If the trip is truly that deeply, earth-shatteringly important to a writer, maybe it even calls for striving to sell one’s work at fair market price in order to put the profits towards making it happen, rather than blowing that work and those profits on lottery tickets.

The problem with wanting a dream this badly and thinking a lottery ticket is the only way to get it is … then you become desperate, and willing to pay too much for the lottery ticket you think is your only shot. I hear that desperation in other comments in that online discussion, comments along the lines of “don’t you want to be read?” and “it’s not like you don’t have other work” and “what’s the big deal, it’s only ten pages?”

That air of desperation may be what’s making me most uncomfortable, and what’s taken the luster away from something that was, initially, a nifty idea. Because train rides are a heckuva lot of fun. They’re just not worth selling my soul or even my words for a one-in-eight-thousand chance of getting one.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
So you all know that one of the best things about living in Tucson is ... well, that we're in a state that understands that changing our clocks doesn't actually change what time it is.

But one of the other best things is that we're the home of the Tucson Festival of Books. Which is this weekend, March 15-16.

And I'll be there! Here's where you can find me:

Saturday, 1:00-1:45 p.m.
Signing at Mostly Books Booth (#130-131 & #134-135)

Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
World Building: Creating Imaginary Worlds
Education Bldg, Kiva Auditorium
With Cornelia Funke, Aprilynne Pike, Janni Lee Simner, and Chuck Wendig (Nancy Brown moderating)
Half hour signing follows panel

Sunday, 4-5 p.m.
The Craft of Writing
Education Bldg, Room 353
Sun, Mar 16, 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
With Nancy Farmer, Janni Lee Simner, and Suzanne Young (T. Gail Pritchard moderating)
Half hour signing follows panel

If you're going to be on the festival too this weekend, do come by and say hi!

(Mirrored from simner.com/blog/?p=5678)