Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

Why kids can learn more from tales of fantasy than realism

Fantasy learning

Deena Weisberg is a senior fellow in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her specialty is “imaginative cognition,” which studies how imagination boosts one’s ability to learn. Her research demonstrates that children absorb new material taught in the context of a fanciful scenario better than they do when it’s presented in more realistic terms. In a recent edition of Aeon, she challenges herself with a question she’s grappled with before: Why do fantastical stories stimulate learning?

What can be going on? Perhaps children are more engaged and attentive when they see events that challenge their understanding of how reality works. After all, the events in these fantastical stories aren’t things that children can see every day. So they might pay more attention, leading them to learn more.

A different, and richer, possibility is that there’s something about fantastical contexts that is particularly helpful for learning. From this perspective, fantastical fiction might do something more than hold children’s interest better than realistic fiction. Rather, immersion in a scenario where they need to think about impossible events might engage children’s deeper processing, precisely because they can’t treat these scenarios as they would every other scenario that they encounter in reality.

They must consider every event with fresh eyes, asking whether it fits with the world of the story and whether it could fit within the laws of reality. This constant need to evaluate a story might make these situations particularly ripe for learning.

Writers of every genre know that a fresh metaphor adds to a reader’s interest and enjoyment. But Weisberg is arguing that there’s more to fantasy stories than just another metaphor. It appears that the act of forming impossible scenarios in one’s mind focuses more of our mental resources and forces us to pay greater attention than ordinary, representational stories of the day-to-day.

In a world where the day-to-day assaults and surrounds us on television, on our phones, and on our computers, the allure of the fantastical is compelling. Maybe even necessary. It would explain why the speculative inspires so many hit movies, TV series, and books these days.

This is hardly revolutionary. We’ve long realized that children learn better when learning is mixed with play — and children are teaching themselves about the world when they invent their own styles of play. Songs, skits, and stories are entertaining and effective learning media.

And hey, if it’s good for the kids …

Unbound II: Changed Worlds pre-release

Unbound II

From Science Fiction and Fantasy Publications:

Unbound II: Changed Worlds

The Unbound Anthologies are a collection of themed short stories perfect for your reading pleasure. Every year we open a call to authors around the world challenging them to create never before created works of fiction, pick the best ones, and bundle them together for you.

This edition, our authors received the challenge of “Changed Worlds” in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre. And now we are pleased to present to you:

Michael Healy’s “Hail Bruce”
Daniel Powell’s “Reclaiming the Elements”
Clint Spivey’s “The Barred Gates”
Lee Clark Zumpe’s “Book of Being”
Dale L. Sproule and Sally McBride’s “The Birthing Blades”
Barry Charman’s “The Knot”
Philip Bran Hall’s “The Hard Stuff”
M. M. Pryor’s “The Witch’s Intern”
M. C. Tuggle’s “Hunting Ground”
K. T. Wagner’s “Mountains to Cross”
M. J. Moores’ “The Reckoning”

While this publication’s release date is January 31st, you may either pre-order the ebook through online retailers or acquire your digital version now through our online store at:

Buy Unbound II – Changed Worlds

Print versions of this anthology will be available through all bookstores January 31st, 2017.

Where the Past Haunts the Present

roman-gladiator

At REH: Two-Gun Raconteur, Charles Gramlich argues that heroic fantasy, far from being merely “juvenile” entertainment, is literature that deserves our respect and attention. It continues to fascinate and entertain because it illuminates human nature:

Heroic fantasy is, and always has been, a literature of myth making and myth exploration. As such, it may well be the most important type of literature ever attempted. The tales in this genre are not about telling things the way they are, or even how they were. They’re about telling, or at least hinting at, the deepest mysteries and truths of human existence. …

But whether we speak of 200,000 year old sapiens or 50,000 year old ones, the fact remains that our mind is their mind, with a lot of culture and a little bit of rational science as icing on the cake. Both the roots and the trunks of our myths, and our realities, arise from the ways that early Homo sapiens tried to understand their mysterious and dangerous world.

Gramlich is right. Despite our veneer of civilization, we have scarcely changed since the Ice Age. Life remains a battle for survival, as well as a battle to uphold one’s code of honor. That’s why we can’t help but be fascinated by tales of a hero who bravely faces seemingly overwhelming odds and must dig down deep to tap hidden strength. The genre Robert E. Howard perfected has continued in new and surprising forms, such as Westerns and detective fiction.

Indeed, some of our greatest literature strips away our illusions about ourselves and confronts us with our true nature, which has not changed since mankind’s dawning. Some such works, even those set in the present day, uncover ancient ways we imagine we’ve outgrown. In African Genesis, screenwriter Robert Ardrey reflected on one such piece that may surprise you:

West Side Story is a supreme work of art for many reasons not the least of which is truthfulness. The authors treat the romantic fallacy is if it did not exist. On a stage laid bare, and in young hearts laid naked, we watch our animal legacy unfold its awful power. There is the timeless struggle over territory, as lunatic in the New York streets as it is logical in our animal heritage. There is the gang, our ancestral troupe. There is the rigid system of dominance among males within the gang, indistinguishable from that among baboons. There is the ceaseless individual defence of status… And there is the hunting primate contribution, a dedication to the switchblade knife as unswerving as to the antelope bone. p. 337

From the tension between the individual and his tribe arise self-realization and belonging, as well as individual competition and group cooperation. E. O. Wilson’s insights in Sociobiology tell us that loyalty and altruism are evolutionary adaptations that not only preserve the group, but give our lives meaning and purpose. The “mysterious and dangerous world” Gramlich talks about in his post has birthed a number of successful species, and we are among that number. That’s the hopeful message heroic fantasy makes real for us. In Robert Ardrey’s famous observation, we humans are “bad-weather animals, designed for storm and change.” We are fighters. We are survivors.

Arms and the Writer

weapons2

Historical fiction author Kathy Owen has a must-read post at Jami Gold’s writing blog. Owen reminds writers that readers of historical fiction KNOW THEIR HISTORY, so any mistakes in your story will turn off the very people you’re trying to reach.

Of course, that advice is true of any genre. Not long ago, in a manuscript I was critiquing, I read how the protag raised a 2×4 over his head to protect himself from a street thug’s nunchaku attack, but the “numchucks” broke the board in half.

No. Not even Bruce Lee could whip a flailing weapon hard enough to do the work of a sledgehammer. I’ve been studying martial arts for thirty years, and though I don’t compete any more, I still do katas, both empty handed and with kobudo weapons. In the picture above are my favorites. From left to right, we have the sai, short stick (a length of pipe, ’cause I’m cheap), tonfa, nunchaku, and staff (bo).

Over the years, I’ve also learned how to make and use the sling, the atlatl, and bola.

Fantasy fiction fairly bristles with primitive weapons, including dirks, daggers, swords, staffs, and many others. Many of your readers will know the capabilities and limitations of those arms. Some details in a story can be faked, but many cannot. And if you are truly fascinated with your subject, you’ll want hands-on experience, experience that will make your stories come alive. Jean Auel amassed a vast knowledge of primitive survival skills after she determined she wanted to write about prehistoric peoples. I, on the other hand, was taught tracking and hunting skills as a boy, and later took up backpacking. In my early 20s, I studied Isshin-Ryu karate. Only much later did I write fiction based on those passions.

The point is that you have to have not only practical knowledge of your subject, but a love for it. The reader can sense that, and will enjoy your story more as a result.

There’s a scene in Aztec Midnight when Jon Barrett, the protag, must escape his captors and find his kidnapped wife. With only seconds to act, and with an armed guard nearby, he improvises a bola:

There was no time to breathe, no time for a second try. I hooked a weight from the scales into the hole at the end of my leather belt.

Gabriel groped under his vest.

The hook on the second weight slipped into the hole on the other end of the belt.

Gabriel had the gun in his hand.

I dropped forward, crouching on one knee, and used the momentum to swing my bola toward Gabriel.

It snapped in my hand, and I released it. It spiraled through the air and across the room.

The pistol fired and filled the room with an ear-splitting crack.

The bola slapped against Gabriel’s knee and coiled around his legs. The second weight whipped around and smashed into his calf.

Gabriel bellowed and dropped to his knees, eyes clenched shut. I saw him open his eyes, eyes wrinkled in rage and pain, and he leveled the gun at me for a second shot.

I think that worked nicely. It never would’ve sounded believable without 1) my fascination for the subject and 2) knowing what I was writing about, which gave me the confidence to tackle such a scene.

Bewildering Stories’ Third Quarterly Review, 2016

bwblueship

From Bewildering Stories:

Bewildering Stories ends the season — winter or summer, depending on your hemisphere — with the Review Editors’ selection of favorites from the third quarter of 2016. New readers will have easy access to the recent best of Bewildering Stories, and veteran readers will have a chance to catch up on anything they may have missed.

The Quarterly Reviews are not a contest, competition or poll. And there are no quotas: anything — from everything to nothing — may qualify in any genre. Rather, they answer a practical question: “If a friend asked you to recommend something outstanding from the past quarter of Bewildering Stories, what would you choose?”

I’m happy to announce the editors at Bewildering Stories included my piece “Whisper Listing” in their short list of best flash fiction stories.

Whisper Listing

Whisper Listing

“In transactions involving haunted real estate, the rule is not only caveat emptor but also caveat venditor.”

The looming presidential election is shaping up as a combination fiasco and tragedy of such staggering proportions, the only thing we can do is laugh. So in a desperate act of escapism, I wrote a satirical flash fiction piece entitled “Whisper Listing.” It’s featured in the latest issue of Bewildering Stories. Here’s hoping it provides a bit of comic relief to our ongoing political agony.

(In real estate, a “whisper listing” is a house for sale in a market restricted to a select group of potential buyers. Celebrities often use them to avoid publicity.)

* Be sure to check out Challenge 680 linked at the end of my story!

Unbound II: Changed Worlds Anthology

Unbound

Science Fiction and Fantasy Publications will publish Unbound II: Changed Worlds in August. This themed anthology includes my short story “Hunting Ground.” From their web site:

Our second in the groundbreaking collection of short stories with the underlying theme Changed Worlds. The Unbound Anthology series published by Science Fiction and Fantasy Publications started with more than 200 submissions. Carefully, we examined each story and finally ended with the best of the best for your enjoyment.

This collection covers both Science Fiction and Fantasy, taking you around the universe and into worlds beyond your imagination.

And here’s a suggestion for my fellow writers: if you’re looking for a great venue for your work, check out Science Fiction and Fantasy Publications. Editor M.J. Moores was a pleasure to work with, and I must say that her advice made my story stronger.

In other news, I still have five stories submitted to various publishers, all looking for a little slush pile love. Next week I’m meeting with my critique group to hear their ideas on a sixth story, which I’ll submit somewhere after I incorporate their suggestions. My goal this year was to always have at least three active submissions out, and I’ve held to it so far.

Wish me luck!