Monday, March 16, 2015

5 Tips for InPrint 2015

The InPrint Festival of First Books starts tomorrow, and I'm excited.  I wrote this post a day or two after InPrint 2014 and have been saving it for a year.   I hope my advice proves useful to attendees. 

Learn you a Books

Read the InPrint books, or if you don’t have time1  read the one in the genre you know best2 and then figure out what about it intrigues/bamboozles you.  If it’s something that raises questions, ask about it, if it’s something impressive, ask how they did it and try to use that technique.3 Maybe google the books and the authors,4 see if they’ve done any interviews or panels anywhere that might help you understand the books better, and ask better questions.
More Wreck More Wreck
by Tyler Gobble

By the spear of Odin, ASK QUESTIONS

You only get about an hour or so with these authors so mine their brains for every last bit of wisdom.  Ask yourself “What writing thing I worst at?”5 and then ask “How do you do the thing?”  It might seem like an obvious question, but the more basic it is, the more likely other people are wondering it too, and then everyone benefits.  Save more individual questions “What’s going on with this poem on page 45?” for after the panel or for the class visits.6 The best questions are ones that all the panelists can answer.  Even if you feel dumb, a dumb question is a better use of everyone’s time than awkward silence.

When you get to InPrint, don’t sit down.  That’s the worst thing you can do.  Go find the InPrint Authors, or the organizers and professors, anyone getting a lot of attention, and listen.  You don’t have to say anything, just soak up some knowledge.  If you’re the most talented person in the conversation, find another conversation.  Don’t sit down until you have to, and once the reading or panel is over get up immediately and find another good conversation.  This turns a 1½-hour event into a 3-hour event, assuming you stay as long as you can.  Alternatively, find an interesting-seeming stranger and make a friend.  Leave as late as you can. 

The Authors are People Too

It’s important to remember that these authors are people, just like you, and as such benefit just as much from praise and admiration as you would.  Showing that you’ve read their books enough to ask specific questions about them is a high form of praise.  I guarantee you, no amount of praise is unwelcome.8   It’s vitally important not to put authors on too high a pedestal, as the further you remove them from yourself the less you’ll be able to learn from them.  Remember, they were just like you less than ten years ago.9 The only difference is that they are published authors and you are (I’ll assume) not.  That said…

None of this “Real Author” nonsense

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
Not to belittle the InPrint Authors (who all seem like fabulous people) but please don’t go around saying things like “At last I’ll get to meet a Real Author!”  I've heard variations on that theme all year, which I feel delegitimizes other Real Authors™, such as Cathy Day, Mark Neely, Sean Lovelace, Matthew Mullins, Deborah Mix, Peter Davis, Jennifer Grouling, other faculty I’m forgetting, any current students who have been published in the Broken Plate, and you, if you’ve shared your work with anyone, ever.  What I’m saying is, respect the authors, but don’t forget that your professors are probably published authors as well and probably would be delighted to give you advice if you ask nicely.  The value of the InPrint Authors is that they’re probably much closer to you in the timeline from Student to this fabled Real Author™10 than most teachers, and also are a perspective you can't get at literally any other time during the semester.

The InPrint Festival of First Books is in the Student Center Ballroom from 7:30pm-9pm, the 17th and 18th of March.  I hope to see a lot of people there! 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria - Review

Love Letters to the Dead is a book in which a high school freshman who has just lost someone they care about relates the year through a series of letters to someone.  Over the year, they deal with substance abuse, a queer friend’s difficult love life, alienation from parents, and first love.  Eventually it is revealed that the protagonist is a rape survivor.  A teacher and a boy and girl about to graduate influence the protagonist’s journey towards no-longer-a-yearling status as they mature, find their voice and sense of self, lies in a road at one point, and if this sounds very familiar to you then you probably won’t be at all surprised to find out that Love Letter’s author, Ava Dellaria, is a friend of Stephen Chbosky, author of Perks of Being a Wallflower, and helped produce the movie adaption.

Then Natalie said, very seriously, "It's like, really sad that people die." 1

I’m not the first person to note that Love Letters is very similar to Perks, to the point of being a near adaption, and opinions are divided.  My Shelf Confessions feels it stands on its own, where the similarities are the downfall of the book for Paper RiotEffortlessly Reading’s review praises it in direct contrast to Perks, in the minority as a non-fan. To be fair, Dellaria states that working on the film was a big inspiration for her, and rightly so. Perks is a superbly written narrative with a good structure to it.  And while there are similarities, the issues involved are ones that most teenage drama narratives are going to deal with: Complex love, substance abuse, other kinds of abuse, and failed parents.  See Glee2, The Raven Cycle3, The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, heck, even Taming of the Shrew.  No, the reason they’re so similar is the epistolary framing device, and this for me is the first thing I like about Love Letters that Perks doesn't have: The letters are addressed to an actual person, not an empty shout box, and thus we get reflection on the dead.

I learned a lot from the interludes where Laurel, our protagonist for the evening, would give mini-biographies of Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix4, Judy Garland, Amelia Earhart, and others.  These were some of my favorite bits, as you could see how Laurel connected to them.  Her acknowledgement of their lives, and their deaths, gave them their own character, a bit like a Greek Chorus, and in her own way brought them back to life. While at times I lost track of who was being written to when the narrative was happening, it still created a good framing device, and her musings about the eternal mystery of Amelia Earhart's disappearance hit me a lot deeper than I thought they would.

I wonder what it was like, Amelia, in the final moments of your life. Did you stare up at the clouds that you had soared over? Did you wonder if you were going back there, to live in your beloved skies forever? 5

As a reader and writer of ghost stories, as a pagan, and as a dreamer who’s lost friends this year, I’m okay with the idea that the dead never really leave us.  They linger in  words they leave behind that teach us how to avoid their mistakes and share in their triumphs, and if we love them well, they’ll love us back.  This book is as much about coping with death as it is about coping with life, and while I won’t spoil why, it’s a more complex take than I’ve seen in a YA book and for that I commend it.

Pictured: My Shelves
I really wish I’d made this a queer books blog, because my superpower is finding books with surprise queers in them.  I didn’t expect that in this book either, but then, suddenly, the B Plot is “Will the cute lesbians make it work?”  And here’s the other way in which I like Love Letters better than Perks: They do.  In Perks, the gay best friend loses his boyfriend to homophobia and 90’s stereotypes about two thirds of the way through, and ends the book single.  But then two decades passed, and now the queers in our books can have happy endings that include not being single. Sure, there’s levels on which we shouldn’t write books where all the queers have happy endings because reality doesn’t work that way, but there need to be some.  And this book delivers.  I was so grateful for that.   

The books are different in other ways too.  Love Letters is, I’d argue, not quite as well written, but also a bit lighter and softer. It’s a bit more accessible, but a little more popcorn-y.  Tasty, but I don’t think it has the same kind of staying power.  That said, I still want a not-nearly-as-good movie version.  

"The thing about traditions is they hold up
the shape of your memory." 

Monday, August 18, 2014

5 Things GenCon taught me about Writing

A friend of mine was kind enough to give me her ticket to GenCon Indy 2014, "the best four days in gaming," which I'd say earns it.  While I was there, I was reminded of what should be obvious, that these Sourcebooks have a unique publishing industry all their own, that the same writing skills you might need for that epic fantasy novel can apply just as well to the 3rd Edition of Mutants and Masterminds. I think it's a downfall of our creative writing education system that such opportunities never even get mentioned.  I only got a tiny glimpse into this world, and wish I'd had time for more.  I thought I'd share a few things I learned.

Some of what I learned was basic writerly things.  Don't overuse words2 or punctuation marks, and think about how they look when on the page.  Read your work aloud, especially if it's going to be read aloud in game.  And of course, get everything in on time.  Publishing
Pictured: Average Paizo, Inc. Freelancer
always has a lot of moving parts, a lot of people waiting on the one before them in the assembly line.  Getting your work to someone sooner makes it more likely they'll still be waiting next time.  After all, 

2. Publishing is a Relationship
An important part of a relationship is of course, communication.  It's important to be honest with your ability.  If you can't pump out 20,000 words in two weeks, your editors should know, rather than wait on you and shatter a schedule.3 Many writers will be afraid that by asking questions, seeking clarification or further instruction, they might be annoying, but, at least in Paizo, Inc.'s case, questions are good.  Far better to ask "How do people in the River Kingdoms feel about Cheliax?" early on than to structure a subplot around an incorrect assumption, and take advantage of the

3. "Distributed Memory"
At one of the panels James Sutter talked about how he's been spoiled working with the shared universe of Golarion.  With so many people building the world together, he doesn't have to keep track of all of it, he just has to keep track of who is best to ask about, say, Ustalav.4 This idea of "Distributed Memory," and the way fans will make wiki entries for everything, creates a safe, comfortable world to work in, but the gaps in the built world are all fertile, open territory.  However, the downside of "Distributed Memory" is that an editor might blindly trust that the writer did the fact-checking.  So,

4. Don't try to sneak anything past your editor.
If you want to write an epic chase across Molthune,5 but don't feel like bothering with the river?  Sure, you might be able to not mention it. Sure, maybe your editor won't notice, and it'll all get through.  But the fans will notice.  Fans can smell continuity errors like sharks can smell blood in the water, and that can ruin a writer.  It's the downside to "Distributed Memory."  If you forget something important, everyone will remember this horrible breach of trust.  Because, after all, 

5. Writing for Games is about Love and Trust
When I reviewed Adventures in Time and Space, I didn't talk nearly enough about how flawless the adventure paths that come with it are.  Because, well, they're flawless.  They're fun to read and fun to run. Full of personality and perfectly capturing the spirit6 of Doctor Who, they're probably some of the best adventure paths I've ever encountered.  I said as much to a man selling the books only to realize I was talking to Andrew Peregrine himself.7  It hit me that writing for games requires a full awareness of the way storytelling requires both writer and reader to create a world between them.  To write for an established universe, like Goalrion, the Whoniverse, etc, it's an invitation to the readers more than most books are, to enter a world of wonder and merriment.  It's a sacred duty, bound by trust and respect, to be the one to create these portals.  Which is a heavy task.

Many thanks to Christopher Carey, Judy Bauer, Ryan Macklin, Chris Jackson, Gabrielle Harbowy, Howard Andrew Jones and James Sutter for their excellent and informative panels. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Black Dragon of England, Red Dragon of Scandinavia

I've seen posts arguing that because Westeros isn't real, there's no need for it to conform to historical arrangements of race (or gender, sex, etc.), that because it's a fantasy there's no reason it couldn't have "Women and PoC equal to white men and stuff?" But here's the thing.  Many of these articles ignore the fact that we already have a universe where a Medieval European Inspired Epic can have racial diversity: Our own.

For whatever reason1 we like to envision Medieval Europe as an entirely White-Skinned Continent.  Our virtual pastCloud Atlas Quote portrays the whiteness of Europe, despite actual past being somewhat more complicated.  What I'm presenting here are a few reasons why it really is perfectly okay to have people of color in your Medieval Fantasy Epic.

1. Romans
Did you know the columns weren't white either?
At its height the Roman Empire covered over a million miles of conquered territory, many of whom would join2 the Roman Army in order to become proper roman citizens for all of the benefits that entailed.3  However, rebellions happen, and the last thing an Empire wants is to train soldiers only for them to rebel.  The solution?  Train soldiers and ship them off to the other end of the world.  A Romanized Citizen from Memphis might be tempted to fight for their people, but would be less excited about joining the rebels in Londinium.4

This means you're going to have people from Cypress shuttled up to southern Brittany and people from Assyria moved to the German lowlands.  Assuming my Londinium example, odds are Africans ad Middle Easterns were setting down roots in England before the Anglo-Saxons did.

There wouldn't necessarily be more than a couple dozen or a perhaps a hundred5 Romans of Color in the British Isles who would be phased out over the generations, but your big historical romance about the Celtic Woman and her Roman Lover torn apart by the war has no reason it couldn't be about a black couple.

2. Arabs
In all fairness, the Arabic world were pretty racist to Europe.
Another part of the "History no one talks about" is that while Europe turned into Chicago, the Middle-East and Asia carried on just fine without us, making great strides in culture, mathematics and technology, and anthropology too.  A number of accounts we have of Europe include Muslims travelling north to meet the Barbarians.  Ahmad ibn Fadlan6 and Ahmad ibn Rustah have told us just as much about the Vikings as the Vikings themselves did7.

While there weren't an excess of Arabs settling in what was basically a sprawling, continent-sized version of Detroit, it isn't at all strange to see an Arabic man wandering around with some Celts, especially in the 10th century when Europe was the place to be.  Of course, the Crusades also led to racial diversity, but people keep telling stories about the Crusades making crusaders into good people and it'd be great to scrap that genre altogether.

3. The Vikings
This is where it gets a little ridiculous.  We love the idea of the Big Blond Northman.  Sexy fair skinned people are a prominent Swedish Export.8 But it needn't be so.  There was a big stink when Heimdall was played by black actor Idris Elba, because as we know the Norse Gods can't be people of color, the Vikings hadn't heard of black people!  But the idea of a multi-racial Asgard isn't really that ridiculous.

"The Vikings were equal-opportunity invaders! We oppressed everyone!"
The Nordic Cosmology details a merger between two tribes, the Aesir and the Vanir.  Some historians have speculated a cultural merging between native Scandinavians and an Eastern Indo-European Pantheon, a racial diversity forgotten by gene pool but preserved in lore.

But you're not here for mythology, you're here for the raiders.  Vikings raiders saw the Capsian Sea, the Byzantine Empire and Newfoundland in their search for cattle, jewelry, gold, slaves, and women.  In the 9th to 11th century they established presence in four continents.  The reason Scandinavians are so attractive9 is because the most beautiful and strong people were the ones taken as slaves or concubines.  This means mongols, africans and arabs were all up for grabs, exoticism in a slave being an easy way to identify them as "The Other."  However, as slaves in Scandinavia could earn, buy, or be given their freedom over time or generations, you would likely see a number of free people of color tending farms or minding cattle on the slopes of the fjords.  So when you're getting around to adapting Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar, would it really be so bad if Þornbjörg were played by Zoe Saldana?

I know it turned into #AbuserDynamics
by the later seasons, but Merlin was at
least pretty colorblind in its casting.
There are other examples of a racial diverse Medieval Europe, including a black woman buried with honors in Rome, an African Slave who became a Russian General, a Tunisian man buried in a 13th century priory, and this fascinating DNA study showing Indigenous American ancestry within viking populations.  And these are only the ones we know about.  While non-white folks may have faced some scrutiny for being outlanders10 and difficulty due to often starting at the bottom of the social ladder as slaves, racism wasn't as deeply ingrained as we like to imagine and a person could still be seen as an equal.

Am I saying you have to include people of color in your Historical Romance/Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Dystopia? Not necessarily.  There are times and places of racial homogeneity, and there were probably few places after the fall of Rome that were likely to have no more than a few token people of color.  A realistic Medieval Europe would probably not look like a 90's kid's show.  But the idea that you must not include people of color in your European Fantasy Epic is ludicrous, and romanticizes a period of history as a Whites Only zone, and allows us to perpetuate that never-extant norm into other fictions as well.  When we Europeans stop telling our own story as one devoid of racial diversity, maybe we'll stop thinking its acceptable to tell other stories in the same way.

Pictured: Not actually a thing.

Like, tell me you wouldn't watch "The Magic School Bus Raids Northumbria"

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older - Review

I think it’s fair to say that Daniel José Older was the Protagonist of Midwest Writers Workshop 2014. A lot1 of people responded positively to his presentations on the issues of Writing About the Other, especially in terms of his genre, Urban Fantasy.  His critiques of the genre and its relation to power are sharp, poignant and precise.

What?  You try to find a picture of a
Ghost of Color.  Source.
He asks why Gentrification isn't a bigger issue within the Urban Fantasy Genre, given that it's an actual urban issue, which is why it's a major theme in Salsa Nocturna.  It's marketed as an anthology of ghost stories, and the full title seems to be "Salsa Nocturna Stories" based off of the cover, but honestly it reads less like an anthology and more like a novel with an eclectic approach to narrators, a la Six-Gun Tarot.  I think this may have been a marketing fail, as Short Story collections don't sell nearly as well as Urban Fantasy.  Then again, Older has seen success with Long Hidden.2

Salsa Nocturna has two primary protagonists, Carlos, a withdrawn half-dead ghosthunter and Gordo, a laid-back old Cubano who writes music with the dead.  Their narratives slowly start to intertwine as they and the other characters deal with paranormal trouble in the streets of New York.  The cast is diverse, colourful, heartfelt and often hilarious.

I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed reading this book, how thoroughly attached I was to all the characters or their struggles, or how satisfying it was seeing a lot of characters of color managing to one-up their predominantly white bosses or antagonists.  That old idea3 that race and class power dynamics persist even into the afterlife says a lot about how pervasive these imbalances are in our world.

Which brings me to the thing about Salsa Nocturna that I want to talk about.

The Publisher's Weekly quote can be read two ways, given the dualistic nature of the word "Original." On the one hand, it means that this work is unlike others.  Ghost mammoths, burgundy hurricanes, shape-shifting slave sorcerers, this book is very new.  But Older's origins, as a musician, a paramedic, and a man of color are ever present in the narrative.  It is original in that it has clear origins. This history saturates the narrative, makes these stories about the dead come alive.  Salsa Nocturna isn't afraid of its blatant racial commentary,4 which is why it's very important.

Because here's the skinny: the publishing industry is full of a lot of deeply ingrained racism.5  Writers of color, trying to tell stories about people of color, have a harder time getting published, and when they do they're shelved in their own sections (African-American Lit as opposed to Sci-Fi).
Dealing with this massive problem that haunts the publishing industry is the reason #WeNeedDiverseBooks exists.  People reading, and publicaly talking about, books like Salsa Nocturna will help counter the ridiculous notion that "White people can't connect to the stories of People of Colour."  So when I say "Everyone, go read Salsa Nocturna", this time I'm not just recommending it as a moving, action-packed urban fantasy novel, I'm recommending it as an actual political act.

"Do not, under any circumstances, hurt the ghost pachyderm."

Oh, and watch out for Half-Resurection Blues when it comes out.

Look at that cover.

This cover is gorgeous.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith - Review

Saint Kazimirez shows up a lot.
Trust me, you’ll want to have read this book. Get hyped. It’s winning awards and taking names. Sony is all over the movie rights. And deservedly so.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith1 is an incredible book. What’s it about?2
Short version: Teen deals with being bi while giant praying mantises attack.
Long Version: Austin Szerba is in love with his girlfriend and his best friend, and narrates his struggle as it intermingles with the lives of the people of3
Ealing, Iowa, as a plague of giant praying mantises emerge from the townsfolk. Along the way, he explores the nature of art, history, truth, and sexuality.

Grasshopper Jungle shouldn’t be thought of as a book though. Think of it as a very, very long symphony. It uses repeating phrases like musical motifs, creating a musical flow to frame the increasingly complex story.
  • It was not a good idea.
  • No one knew anything about it.  
  • And that was our day.
  • A real dynamo.
  • Bugs only like to do two things.
  • You know what I mean.
  • “Um.”

But there are more complicated ideas that repeat as well. For instance, Austin’s mother takes a lot of Xanax, which look like “little blue Kayaks.” The payoff? A chapter later we get the following:
I’d never seen my mother run one time in my life. Who wants to run when you can kayak everywhere?
Austin will continue to speak of drugs as Kayaks for the remainder of the novel. Simmiliarly, he regards his writing as “Recording history” and parallels himself to the cave painters of Lascaux and Altmaria, saying that neither tells the whole story, but merely shows the important parts, and lets you work the rest out.
We killed a big hairy thing. And that was our day. You know what I mean.
It’s a beautiful device, as it allows the narrator to be 1st Person Omnicient, a rare perspective and a bit challenging, especially for YA. It’s full of all these big grand ideas explored through how they relate to the protagonist, how precisely Austin is juxtaposed against the Vice President’s testicles. This perspective is a tad self-centered, but it fits the protagonist perfectly. Sometimes teenagers are self-centered, especially when they’re trying to figure themselves out.

Grasshopper Jungle gets being a teenager. For a while a problem I had with the book was that it was overly focused on the love triangle as Austin struggles to choose between Robby and Shann. The protagonists didn’t realize there was a plague of praying mantises attacking until 3/5ths of the way through the narrative because they were too wrapped up in their worries about love and sex.5

No quote.  Just enjoy the gif.  It's adorable. 
Then I realized, that’s a flawless metaphor for teenagehood.

Now, I know not all teens categorize things into “makes me horny” and “does not make me horny” 6 but it has a ring of truth to it. Whenever the narrator responds to a stimulus with “[this thing] made me horny” or “I was thinking about having a threesome with my best friends in [this new, probably dangerous place]” I was nodding along going “Yep. Been there, done that.” It’s a realistic portrayal of a teenage mindset.

The characters are realistic teens too. Robby Brees, acquiring a nosebleed from being punched in the face by bullies, tries to write “Grant Wallace Murdered Me” in his own blood. Spiteful, but believable. And hilarious.7  Meanwhile, Shann spends most of her time investigating the mysterious past of her house and how it connects to the mysterious things in her stepfather’s office.8

The narrator’s struggle to work out what he is and how to define himself is heartfelt, and does a good job of mirroring the sort of struggles I feel like a lot of queer teens go through. Austin more or less knows that he’s in love with a guy and a girl for the whole novel, but his coming to terms with it takes him a long, long time, and the word “Bisexual” is conspicuously absent from the narrative right up until right before the climactic battles with the giant praying mantises. He points out how hard it is to work it out, again bringing back the Altmaria paintings:
We made this stupid rule and this stupid rule.

Boys are not allowed to love each other.

Then we painted bison on the wall.
I will say this, towards the end of the novel the increasingly wide scope slows down what could have been a tighter, more action-packed narrative. But it’s a minor complaint about an otherwise stellar novel. I could rave for ages about it, but instead of that, why not go pick up a copy and save us both time?

"Bad Buisness Plan," Robby said.
"Fixing people's feet in a town everyone's 
desperate to run away from."

Friday, May 30, 2014

What to learn about Exposition from Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files

Preface: I’m not gonna say much about the quality of Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Of course it was phenomenal. Butcher always brings the goods. If you like Urban Fantasy, you need The Dresden Files. But given that the book came out 3 days ago and there are already over 200 reviews, once again I’m not needed to help sell this one either.1  So instead, I’ll use it as an example of how to do exposition right. 

Warning: From here it’s spoilers all the way down.

Butcher is a master of exposition. We’re fifteen novels into this series and his fantasy ‘verse is VAST.2  Butcher views world mythology like a giant treasure vault that he’s got the keys to, so pretty much anything can show up. 3 As this book brought back a lot of old characters for a big multiplayer heist narrative (They knock over the Vault of Hades. It takes like three days because Harry’s a badass.) Butcher was free to bring a lot of past stuff in.

One thing he brought in was The Genowska, one of the Forest People. Now, I’m an avid reader, but I didn’t remember them at all. I was wondering if I’d missed a book, and it turns out I had. The Forest People were introduced in a short story published in an obscure anthology I haven’t read.4 However, because Butcher is a master of exposition, he managed it subtly.

(Presumably the Zombie T-Rex has it?)
We’re introduced to The Genowska subtly. In the abandoned slaughterhouse being used as a base there’s a pen containing eleven goats.
Then ten.
Then eight.

Something’s eating them, one at each meal. We get about 170 pages to worry about what terrible, invisible monster Dresden’s employer is feeding. Dresden, being tactful as a jar of live bees, gets tired of being in the dark.

“Whatever big, ugly, stinking, stupid thing you've got hanging around in here with us probably doesn't deserve to be in this company. Given our goal, I don’t see the point in taking along a mindless mound of muscle.”

But then the Genowska removes its veil. We get a good paragraph of description of a big, hulking thing, like the side of a mountain, growling at Dresden’s rudeness. But it’s not the size, or the growl, or the eyes “glinting like an assassin’s knives from a cave’s mouth.” It’s that Dresden stops being a wiseass.

“An ogre?” Ascher asked. 
“Not an ogre,” I replied immediately.5 “He’s one of the Forest People.”

Dresden then launches into a description of a Forest Person tearing through “about twenty ghouls in a fair fight.” However, note the technique: Butcher doesn’t just tell us that the thing mighty, but gives us an example of exactly how mighty. We’ve seen Dresden struggle with just three ghouls a few chapters back, so this is an impressive juxtaposition.

To reinforce that he’s worried enough about this thing to be respectful, he apologizes to it. “Sorry about what I said earlier. I figured [my employer] had a troll stashed around here somewhere. Didn’t realize it was one of the Forest People. I’ve done a little business with River Shoulders in the past. Maybe you’ve heard of–”

And then the Genowska punches Dresden across the room.

"The Ice that should have entombed him just...drained away..."
“Consider this a friendly warning. I am not one of the whimpering Forest People. Speak of me and that flower-chewing groundhog lover River Shoulders in the same breath again, and I will devour your offal while you watch.”

This is what's called “The Worf Effect.” When you have something badass, if something else beats that thing up it proves how dangerous it is. Here we have the Genowska calling something that can tear through a score of Ghouls “Whimpering” and “flower-chewing.”

And thus we have a dangerous and powerful foe established, juxtaposed against characters the reader hasn’t met (if they didn’t know about the short story, like me) and a mythology built up around them, all done through a single scene that builds on a history that, for all I knew, could have been only in the author’s head, but I still understood all of it.
The "Dean of contemporary
urban fantasy." – Booklist

In this single scene, we learn enough a suitable amount about

  • The Forest People 
  • How dangerous they are 
  • The Genowska 
  • How much more dangerous he is

To review, Butcher built up this monster by

  • Hinting at its presence several times 
  • Revealing it visually 
  • Showing how a character reacts to it, to give context 
  • Gives it an action and a line of dialogue

At no point does the book flat out say “The Genowska is dangerous.” We learn that through action.

Exposition can very easily bog down a book, especially a fantasy book. The lesson here is that when introducing something important to the novel, give it its own scene, show how it interacts with the world in action, as opposed to exposition.

If you want to learn more about how to write good fantasy, go pick up these books. It’s one of he best choices an aspiring fantasy author can make.

This isn't really related to writing, I just wanted to remind everyone that
this is canonically part of the Dresden Files now.