A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘Robin Hobb’

A Quick Post about Fitz

I was at the bookstore recently and discovered that Robin Hobb has started another trilogy about Fitz! If you don’t know about my unending love for this character (and his story!) check out this post from 2013. And then go check out the books.

Anyway, I admit I’ve fallen down on reading lately (the major exception being Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents) and haven’t read anything by Robin Hobb for what feels like (and probably is) years. Quick reason why: her Liveship Traders trilogy did not capture me the way her Farseer trilogy did, and after the Tawny man trilogy I thought her days of writing about Fitz were over. Now that I know otherwise, I am ready to reinvest in the southern portion of her world (I have a strong belief that one ought to read books in the order they are written – and I’m glad I do that because Hobb is a master of weaving tales together). So I am embarking on the quest to read her Rain Wilds books.



I love quotes. One of my favorites is from Albert Einstein:

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb trees, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

This is important for everyone to remember, but especially creative people. I don’t know how it is for other creative types, but from discussing with many writers I know that we are a temperamental, insecure bunch. We are always comparing ourselves to “the Greats” of writing (whichever we feel the Greats are) and feel bad about our work.

But remember this: We are fish. We have very different lives than any other writer. We write different things and in different styles. It makes no sense for me to compare myself to Dostoevsky because we are so different (and write very different things) even though he is one of my favorite authors. Likewise, I ought not compare myself to Robin Hobb because, though we both write fantasy, our lives are different and shape our styles.*

Everyone is different. We are a whole planet of different – don’t compare yourself to the bird or the tiger or the hydrangea. You are a fish, or a leaf, or maybe a frog. Keep your chin up as you write. You are a genius too.

Take care, fellow travelers.

*And for goodness sake, though there are some really awful pieces of writing out there, be nice. Don’t judge them. We were all there once. Practice is the only way to grow. If they are told they can’t do it, they will start to believe that and be the fish that thinks itself stupid.

Reclaiming Fantasy Part 7, Hero or Heroine

Browse your bookshelf for a moment. How many of the fantasy books there have male leads? Almost all of them? That’s what I thought. Where are the female protagonists?

I didn’t get into fantasy until I started reading books by Tamora Pierce. She was the first fantasy author I found in my young years that was not afraid to give us a strong, female lead (and one that was still incredibly realistic). I don’t think I’ve ever read a single fantasy book written by a male author that had a strong female lead and, in unhappy truth, most female fantasy authors write male leads too. I have nothing against male leads. My favorite book trilogy is the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (a woman) and the main character is a boy/man. I’m just saying that we need more well-written female protagonists.

Examples of well-written female protagonists:

-Alissa in Dawn Cook’s Truth series. In these four books, Alissa sets off to become a keeper (basically a sorcerer) and discovers that she has the key to defeating the bad guy. She isn’t afraid to be cunning – namely by making the villain think that her male companion is the sorcerer – and she fights back when her friends are threatened.

-Magiere and Wynn from the Noble Dead Saga by Barb and JC Hendee. These two female characters are as different as can be, and yet they are both characters that I love. Magiere is the (stereotypical) “warrior-chick” (a sexist term and character type) that won’t let anyone in, but as the series progresses she develops and becomes a much more well-rounded, interesting character. Even more interesting is Wynn, who isn’t introduced right away. She is a scholar, and she is by far my favorite character of the series because she shows that the “strong female lead” doesn’t have to be the sorceress or the warrior.

-Mel in Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel. Sure, she’s a teenager that is presumptuous and takes stupid risks, but what teenager isn’t? Mel is determined to defend a Covenant that the king wants to break, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty to do it. She’s loud and her assumptions get her into trouble, but she’s also normal. She gets scared, she makes mistakes, and she learns that she isn’t always right.

Those are a few of my favorite female protagonists. In addition, the heroines of Tamora Pierce’s novels are some of my favorite, especially for younger audiences.

I avoid calling these female protagonists “strong” not because they aren’t (for sure, they are the strongest) but because of the connotation that goes along with “strong.” Too frequently, a “strong female character” is really just a (pardon my language) bitchy character. She doesn’t have any strength, she just yells at everyone around her. A temper doesn’t make your female protagonist strong, neither does lack of feeling. And seriously, I hate it when a female protagonist starts out as unfeeling and grows to care or let someone in – to me that screams that the only thing women are good for is to find romance. Seriously, that kind of subplot only drowns out the primary plot. (As I have said before, I am sure that there are examples that prove me wrong, I am painting in broad brushstrokes.)

On that note, I’d like to share something. A friend of mine recently asked “Does having a female protagonist automatically mean the story will have romance in it?” My gut reaction was NO, because obviously that is the answer. I’ve thought about it. While I stand by my answer that having a female protagonist doesn’t mean the story has to have romance, it is important to look at the reasons my friend thought this.

Female protagonists tend to deal with romance, it is true. But that may be because women authors focus more on life issues rather than warfare and “manly” things. (I could be wrong, of course.) In addition, men who write a female character in might only have her there as a love interest or a plot initiator. (Again, I am sure there are books that counter this assumption, and by no means am I saying that male writers do this on purpose – it is culturally reinforced in the United States and many other places around the world.) In addition, many female readers are young adults and they crave the romantic aspect. Perhaps many authors just go with it, since they know it sells.

But here is the issue. Female characters are dehumanized by authors – and not just male authors. I’ve done it, I’m sure all of you have. My latest rewrite of Quest for Salvation involves giving my main character back her agency. I took it away without even realizing it, and the story has suffered for it. She became reactive rather than proactive. That won’t work.

To me, it’s all the worse when a male author dehumanizes the female characters. When they are only tools or props or scenery, I want to vomit. It’s sexism, plain and simple.

So here’s the thing. Next time you’re itching to pick up a pen and write that next novel, think about your protagonist. Think long and hard. What message are we sending readers?

Take care, fellow travelers.

P.S. Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t include Katniss from The Hunger Games. Simple reason: that’s sci-fi and not fantasy. If we were talking sci-fi, I’d have a few more names to add to the list. Also, the second “related article” is excellent. Please read it.

Robin Hobb – her amazing books

I don’t normally write reviews or go into very much detail about why I am recommending a particular book. Usually, I just say it is fantastic and if people decide to read it they decide to read it. But this morning I finished the third book of Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man series, and I have been moved to encourage all of you, my followers, to read her work.

I will not be posting any spoilers, so don’t worry about that. Also, this won’t be so much a review as it is a story of how I fell in love with the work of Robin Hobb.

I bought Assassin’s Apprentice when I was a junior in high school. The blurb on the back was intriguing, and I liked the cover. Unfortunately, each time I started reading it I had a hard time getting past the style of writing (which now I love). The sentences are often crafted in a slightly unusual order, and the author uses rather flowery language (which is great since it is in first person) and at the time I first picked the book up, I was unprepared for that kind of writing. It really is something you have to be ready for, but it is worth it. I discovered this when I finally got around to reading the whole book, the summer after my senior year.

All it took was that one book and I was enchanted. I already had the other two in the series (I like to buy as many books in a series as possible at the same time) and so I kept reading. Robin Hobb is a master at getting readers invested in the plot. My heart broke a hundred times for the main character (Fitz), and I swear I have never cried so much (out of happiness and sadness) for any other character than Fitz.  The Farseer Trilogy is an emotional roller-coaster that is well worth the ride.

I didn’t get around to reading anymore of Robin Hobb’s books until junior year of college. I picked up her Liveship Traders trilogy and was once again immersed in the beautiful world that she has created. Admittedly, this trilogy does not compare (in my opinion) to the brilliance of either the Farseer trilogy or the Tawny Man trilogy, but if you are going to read the Tawny Man books you must read this trilogy as well, otherwise the next books will not have quite the same impact.

Over the past six months, I have read the Tawny Man trilogy. I took it slow, as I often do when I love a book or series so much that I don’t want it to end.

These books by Robin Hobb are truly the best books I have ever read. The characters have incredible depth, all of the secondary characters are well-developed and given their own lives independent of Fitz, and there are hard nuggets of truth about real life throughout the books.

Truly, it is a world worth getting lost in.

Take care, fellow travelers.

Nominated for the Liebster Award – Again

You know, it is really nice to be nominated a third time for the Liebster Award. This time I was nominated by Christine at Plotting Bunnies. Since I have done this all before, I will share the link to my previous Liebster Award Post before delving into this one.

So the rules are (as before):

1. 11 facts about yourself

2. answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you

3. nominate 11 others (with under 200 followers)

4. ask 11 questions of the new nominees

5. notify them

So here we go with 11 more facts about me!

1. I love vampire TV shows.

2. I was not a fan of the movie “Avatar.”

3. I love the show “Avatar the Last Airbender.”

4. My favorite Pokemon is Eevee.

5. I like to crochet while watching TV/movies.

6. I have been to nine countries other than the USA (where I live).

7. In two of those countries I didn’t leave the airport.

8. I have been to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s grave.

9. I am horrible at remembering to send mail.

10. Tigers are my favorite animal.

11. I like to make family trees for my fictional characters.

Okie dokie, the answers to the other questions!

  1. On a scale of 1-10, how much do you love chocolate? – 7
  2. Do you drive? If yes, what kind of vehicle? If no, will you ever consider it? – yes, a Toyota Camry
  3. What is your favourite song? – of the moment it is Daylight by Maroon 5
  4. What kind of blog posts do you enjoy most? – the ones about writing
  5. Have you ever loved a book so much you recommended it to someone else? – only like a million times! I do this all the time with the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (you should read it!)
  6. What do you do if you can’t fall asleep? – try harder
  7. How do you like to write? Longhand, computer, typewriter, other? – longhand first, then computer
  8. What was the first story you ever wrote, that you can remember? – that I can remember? About a group of girls doing research at the south pole – and they found a baby penguin and a baby deer.
  9. Do you consider yourself tall? – considering that most of my friends are six inches to a foot shorter than me – yes, I do.
  10. What is your favourite culture? – tough question – I majored in anthropology so I love them ALL! But if forced, I would have to say either Korean or Japanese
  11. Do/did you have a favourite cartoon? – Avatar the Last Airbender

And now my questions!

1. What is your ideal weather?

2. What is your favorite genre for books?

3. What is your favorite genre for movies/TV shows?

4. Do you speak (or are you learning) any foreign languages?

5. What was your childhood nickname?

6. What is the best book you’ve ever read?

7. What is your favorite band?

8. Do you like the candy Milk Duds?

9. What is your favorite candy?

10. If you write, is it typically the same genre you prefer to read?

11. What has been the best part of your day?

And last but not least, the nominees (of which I do not have 11, but I am not too concerned about that).




Take care, fellow travelers!

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 2: The Setting

Welcome to the second post in my series “Reclaiming Fantasy.”If you haven’t read the introductory post, it is available here.

Now, before we get started a brief explanation. I call this series “Reclaiming Fantasy” because I think there has been a major loss – a blurring of all the fantasy books into one story with the same plot, setting, and characters. In addition, I was browsing Amazon yesterday, and saw that many books that have been considered Science Fiction by everyone I’ve talked to are now classified as Fantasy.

Today I will be discussing the most basic element of any story: setting.

Many fantasy novels, whether from new writers or established authors, pick similar settings. These settings include rolling hills, plains, mountains, and forests. Sometimes the ocean is thrown in for effect. But there is a problem here. In too many of the books I’ve read, the setting isn’t important. In too many novels, the plains could be swapped for the desert or the desert for the forest. Setting should be it’s own character and should be integral to the plot. It’s like giving your character a loaded gun, but not using it. The setting needs to have a purpose.

Robin Hobb did an excellent job of giving the setting a purpose in the Farseer Trilogy (Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest). In the trilogy, the main character grows up in a coastal town. The ocean drives the plot forward, as raiders from the Outislands seek to start a war with the Six Duchies.

Another example is in Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. In this story, it is an element of the setting, the colortrees, that serve to drive the plot forward. When the king ignores the agreements not to cut down the colortrees, a band of rebels in the mountains where these trees grow have to fight back to protect the trees.

Admittedly, both of these stories have settings that could be switched and the plot tweaked to accommodate them. The point, however, is that these authors have taken the time to make the setting important. Just think, in reality our surroundings shape us as we shape them, they are integral to who we are, and what we become. It should be no different in fantasy.

When writing, think about why the environment is the way you’ve made it. If there’s no reason, play with it, make it different, or at least let it impact your character’s lives. In one of my WIP’s, the characters hole up in a fishing village. The village has to be entirely self-sufficient because they are at odds with the governing party. This means that the environment they live in has a huge impact on what foods they eat, what kinds of clothes they make, and how they interact with each other.

Of course, there is more to the setting being important than how it is right now. The way the environment shaped things to get to the present is just as important. There is an excellent post at SF/F Worlds discussing this point exactly. The post discusses how evolution is important even in fantasy, and how there have to be decent explanations for the creatures and peoples of the fantasy worlds – and it comes back to the understanding how the setting shapes everything.

My point is, let’s skip the typical medieval European setting and get something new.

Take care, fellow travelers.

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