You Can't Take It With You

I was reading the sample ebook of READY PLAYER ONE on my nook this morning, and I ran across a phrase you see pretty often. "You can't take it with you." A few weeks ago I was editing the crypt scene in PRINCE OF CATS. Traditional royal burial of millennia past where they were given all the goods they needed for the afterlife. Seeds, farming equipment, fine silks, jewelry, etc etc.

And it made me think. What if you can take it with you. Think of all the different ways people have been buried. What if that burial is a portal to the next stage of existence and what you're buried with is all that goes with you. There would be people that would have control of all the food because they came through with the tools and the seed necessary to farm. There'd be others that would come through with armor and swords and what not. Other people that come through with valuable gems and jewelry, whatever other treasures buried with them.

How would you feel if you were some schmuck that showed up in the new world and all you had with you was a lame blue suit?

Letting Go

So Kristin Nelson had a very important lesson on her blog today. A lot of famous authors have had to learn that lesson as well. Brandon Sanderson and his agent Jashua Blimes have commented on the drawer full of novels he had written and were not good enough for Elantris, his first published novel. And Marie Lu's first sale is a huge one. I actually send my condolences because the pressure for her next novel is going to be a bitch. Good wishes and all the support I can offer that she rises to the challenge. (I think I would be a mess.)

This is a lesson I'm having trouble with but not having trouble with. I have a rule, one new novel per year. Rewriting does NOT count as a new novel. New from scratch, never been finished before, that's new. Between requested revisions and non-requested revisions, I didn't finish my first novel this year until September (PRINCE OF CATS). I honestly don't know if I'll finish my second before the end of December (WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR?). I won't have a completed draft of either before years' end. That's rough.

Here's the catch. I write fantasy and in fantasy, the world is effectively a character. I'm not so much consumed with the stories. They couple I've rewritten have changed to varying degrees. What I'm married to are the settings. The notion of abandoning the settings for new stories is something I haven't been able to do. I love those settings and I want other people to see them too. The problem is, having written a story in them (or a couple, for one world), it's hard to completely divorce what you've written for that setting and start fresh.

So, I excuse the whole thing by saying, as long as I write one new novel a year, it doesn't matter if the rest of my time is spent revising. That may burn me in the future, but for now, it's a middle ground I've found for myself.

Damn You Robbie Coltrane!

Aside from the theme song, I don't think there's a line I identify more with the Harry Potter franchise than Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid saying "You're a wizard, Harry!" It was used in so much promotional content. I heard it over and over again. And it's a great line. I tells a new audience to a new franchise what the story is about. This kid over here? He's a wizard and he didn't know it. Let's go have some hijinx!

Perfect. So what's the problem? Well, the kid who doesn't think he's special discovers he's extra special! is a pretty established trope in children's fiction. Hell, it's pretty frequent in adult fantasy/sci fi as well. Big things in little packages and all that. Oh no, I'm crippled! or No one likes me! or whatever and then bam, I have magic powers that more than compensates for any shortcoming I previously had (often erasing that shortcoming in the same stroke).

As with all my other writing, I am


of these kinds of things. They're not bad, not necessarily. They can still be awesome if the writing is awesome, but we've seen it SO many times. You're a wizard, Harry!

So here I am writing my first middle grade fantasy, and I make sure I have a completely mundane main character. His name is Mirza. He works in the stables as a groom. You know what? I'll go one better. He's a runt. He's small for his size, has trouble handling the horses, and the other grooms don't like him. (This should have been my first warning because now I've given him a deficiency to overcome.)

This was the character that was going to save the shahzadi. He did not have magical powers or any kind of special skills. He wasn't a thief. He wasn't a fighter. He knew how to raise cats to be good mousers and he got beat on by his father and the other grooms, so he was tough but psychologically scarred. And that little guy was going to have to do great things!

...but as I started writing, a whole sub-plot with Mirza's mother surfaced that I had not even thought of. My original plan was Introduction > Inciting Incident > Action > Resolution > The End. Somehow > Character Development snuck in there and all these things happen that I had never planned to have happen and a character says, "You're a wizard."



That's the sound of a 20-car pile-up on the highway after someone dropped Robbie Coltrane right in the middle of traffic. Mirza can't be a wizard! Everyone's expecting him to be a wizard! Just knowing it's a middle grade fantasy, there's a high probability that the kind is going to end up having some kind of magical powers. He's supposed to be different. He's mundane. He's the everyboy character! If every boy was short and beaten by his dad.

The problem? The story's better for it. The sub-plot is an awesome one and has directly affected the climax. He's a better character and I'm trying my damndest not to fall into that bottomless pit of cliche. I will have either walked the tightrope or just don't realize I'm already falling.

So here's my question to you. Is it possible in a MG/YA novel to have your character be a wizard and to actually call him a wizard? Or has Harry Potter ruined that for the next decade? Do I need to call him something else? Sorcerer, magician, magus, djinn, or what not?