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  1. I"m starting a writer's group recovery service, rather like a Red Cross for Writers.
  2. Welcome to the last week of our Readalong! Thank you so much to everyone who joined our readalong and made it such a succes! We’ve loved being able to discuss Shelley Parker-Chan’s incredible debut with you all. You can find the discussion across our socials: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and on our Discord server. Week 1: Beginning through Chapter 4 Week 2: Chapter 5 – Chapter 11 Week 3: Chapter 12 – Chapter 17 Week 4: Chapter 18 to the end SPOILERS AHEAD: This post is a book-club style discussion of the novel, rather than a review to tempt new readers in. We do discuss plot points, character motivations, and twists – if you have not read the book and do not want it spoiled, please do not read further! You can find more responses to our discussion, and join in yourself, on our Google doc Week 4: Ch. 18 – Ch. 23 We’ve covered a lot of the big themes of the book over the last weeks, but one that really makes its presence known in this part is desire. Zhu, Ouyang, Ma… they each have different desires but what did you make of their reactions to them? Nils: Chan explores desire in many forms, and shows how they all have different consequences. Zhu’s desire for ‘greatness’ turns her into a killer, yet her desire for companionship draws out her softer side. Are we going to talk about the sex scene Beth? Beth: I totally think we should discuss it! This was the first sapphic sex scene I’ve encountered like this, and although it came as a surprise, I had to applaud Parker-Chan for the rep. I’m aware my reading needs to be much more diverse, but it seems to me sapphic love scenes are always quite soft, feminine, for one of the party it’s almost always a self-discovery moment. I liked that instead, we get the kind of graphic, behind-closed-doors realism you’d get from a hetero sex scene by someone like Abercrombie. And another thing you say her desire for companionship draws out her softer side, but this moment didn’t feel very soft. It very much felt like a moment of control, like even in this Zhu is in control? Nils: Excellent points my friend! You’re absolutely right, the sex between Zhu and Ma was as graphic and raw as any scene Abercrombie or even Fonda Lee would write, it is pure passion and lust and for that I did appreciate it. You also make a great point that the whole time, Zhu takes charge. Though I guess what I mean by her softer side being portrayed is that during that scene Zhu shows some of her vulnerabilities too. To begin with she’s not entirely comfortable with her own body and is coming to terms with her body being desirable to Ma, does that make sense? Beth: It does! And you’re absolutely right, and it was really lovely to see that moment with her! But as for her other desire, to be great, she makes some key realisations during this part of the story. Ouyang tries to punish Zhu in the worst way he believes possible; in mutilating her, in the “destruction of pride and honour” by removing her sword hand and, therefore, her ability to command. But this brings Zhu to the realisation that, that entire belief doesn’t apply to her, because she’s not a man. She’s “a different substance entirely”. It felt like yet another really important step for her down her path away from what she believes was her brother’s destiny and towards her own understanding of herself. As for Ouyang, his desire seems so complex and conflicting, doesn’t it? No one in this book is as hard on themselves as Ouyang. I think he has a great deal in common with Ma, actually, in believing himself incapable of being able or allowed to desire. Not just because of his position, but because his desire for Esen wars against his desire for vengeance. He cannot have both. Nils: Oh absolutely, he’s definitely a character full of complexities and inner conflicts. Has Zhu developed into a full grimdark morally grey character? Do we think she’s lost her way? How does the Zhu who contrived Fang’s dismissal compare with the one that slit the PM’s throat? Nils: I definitely feel she became a grimdark character, one who’s morals bended to favour her own personal goals. I had previously said that I didn’t believe the ‘real’ Zhu actually wanted to kill anyone, but now I’m not so sure, now I know she’ll kill easily without regret. Her need to fulfil her fate of ‘greatness’ has now consumed her whole and blinded her to the ruthless, murderous person she evolves into by the end. Yet what if she always had this ability in her? Beth: We were really upset by how dark she became, weren’t we Nils! But (someone, was Annemieke?) made a great point that right from the start, she’s all about survival. We kind of worked off the assumption that she kind of starts on level zero, as it were, but actually she’s never given us any evidence for that. She’s not known a life other than doing anything to survive. Nils: Yeah I guess that’s why I’m really conflicted by Zhu, on the one hand I fully understand why she needs to be so brutal, but on the other hand I can’t help but dislike her because of it. For example, killing the child Prince Radiance was a step too far for me, again, I understand this was the practical path for Zhu, as she wanted to become the most powerful influential figure and command the rebel army entirely and she couldn’t allow anyone to be more powerful than her, also I do realise that perhaps this is an accurate depiction of what historical figures have been known to do… but Ma was so against it, and it felt like Zhu only briefly took her wife’s feelings into consideration, yes she gave her a choice but what kind of choice was that? Accept it or leave? More importantly the Prince was still a child, an innocent child, who just happened to be given an awful fate. Beth: I just didn’t see it coming? And up to that point I kept wondering well, how is this going to work? How is Zhu going to become the Emperor when the Prince of Radiance has the Mandate – and despite knowing it couldn’t possibly work, I still didn’t see her killing this poor child who just seemed a pawn throughout the story. I felt so sorry for him. Nils: So did I. He hadn’t experienced a life at all. And speaking of deaths, how do we feel about Ouyang killing Esen? Did you see this coming? Nils: The bastard!! In all honesty, I disliked Ouyang by the end too. Esen deserved better than that betrayal by firstly his brother and then his closest friend, possible future lover, Ouyang. Again Parker-Chan truly makes you understand why Esen had to die, for Ouyang to complete his coup and fully act upon his revenge, Esen was the last obstacle to conquer. Yet from my perspective, and I’m one who loved Esen’s character, that was too brutal! Beth: There was a lot hanging on that moment, wasn’t there. The death of Esen represented the death of a number of things for Ouyang. Like Zhu and the Prince of Radiance, I couldn’t see how Ouyang’s future could play out with Esen still by his side. It’s very much a story about the lengths people will go to, to achieve their desires, and exploration of that. For the longest time, I just wanted Ouyang to fall into Esen’s arms… but then I really started to feel like maybe Esen didn’t actually deserve Ouyang. He certainly didn’t seem to understand him all that well, would often wound him without even having the slightest idea he had. And yet I still didn’t see Ouyang actually going ahead and killing him. Nils: I felt that Esen was one of the only characters in this book who could have learnt to be better, who could have really tried to understand Ouyang had Ouyang opened up a touch more, confided in him. Beth: Oh that’s such a good point Nils! Maybe he could have! Nils: Esen never intentionally hurt Ouyang, but there was a great level of ignorance and naivety in him, I don’t believe it was malice and I felt given time he could truly change. Had Ouyang let him live long enough. I’m all for morally grey characters, I’ve read plenty of books with characters who commit violent, often horrific deeds (I’m thinking of Hilo from Fonda Lee’s, The Green Bone Saga!) and yet I have still found a certain charm within them, something to like and root for, despite this. For some reason I couldn’t quite gel with Zhu and Ouyang even though they have valid reasons for their deeds and inhabit the complexities I usually love seeing in characters. Personally for me though, by the end they both just become too unlikeable. Beth: I was really disappointed too. But now I’ve absorbed the events a little better, I feel like, by making their characters take those extra steps and become unlikeable, Parker-Chan has lifted this above being a simple story with Good and Bad and Satisfying Neat Ends. Their characters are so much more complex than that, they represent so much more than that. They storm through their narratives very much not here to be liked, their concerns are above that. Nils: That’s a great point! I honestly believe Parker-Chan did a fantastic intricate job with these characters, even if I personally felt no longer invested in them. The Mandate of Heaven was an aspect that never gets fully explained. What do you think might be going on here and how important do you think it will be in the next book? Beth: This was an aspect of the story that I didn’t focus on too much, as it felt like there was a lot more importance placed on other parts. So with that in mind, I think it will turn out to be very important in the next book? But I don’t know what it means that so many people seemed able to produce a light: the Prince of Radiance’s red light, the Great Khan’s blue, General Zhang’s orange light and finally Zhu’s white light. Surely if it’s Heaven’s mandate of rule, there wouldn’t be so many people with it? Nils: What did the different colours signify? Do we know? To be honest I was really confused by the concept of the Mandate of Heaven but it was a point I was intrigued by because I thought by the end I’d get more clarity. So maybe you’re right Beth, and Parker-Chan is saving that for book two. Beth: I’d love to know what the different colours might mean! So we’ve been skirting around this, but let’s finally address the elephant in the room: is this a fantasy? Nils: This is actually another part I struggled with throughout the book. I knew prior to reading She Who Became that the fantasy elements would be few and far between but nevertheless I feel disappointed. Mostly because Parker-Chan had quite a few fantastical concepts bubbling away in the background, which we’ve been theorising on throughout this readalong, and by the end I was hoping to see them more fleshed out. I think had the novel been pitched as solely a historical fiction, or historical reimagining, my expectations would have been different, I wouldn’t have expected nor wanted any fantasy elements at all. Beth: It’s a strange one, isn’t it! I don’t mind that the fantasy elements are quite limited – we have the ghosts, and the Mandate of Heaven, but I wouldn’t say these were enough to place the book firmly within the fantasy genre. I can’t work out why it’s been pushed so hard as a fantasy therefore, and not a speculative historical fiction. It didn’t impact my enjoyment of the story at all though. Nils: Having those parts removed detracts very little from the more important aspects of the story, so it leaves the question of why they’ve been added at all. Beth: Exactly! What was your overall impression of the book? What did you enjoy the most? Was there anything you wish had been done differently? Nils: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan is a fantastic exploration of cultural gender roles and gender expectations. It is a novel where the characters break through these walls and live a life where their worth and their deeds are far more significant than their gender ever would be. These characters fight to be seen as more. It’s a novel of fate, destiny and of survival. Those are the aspects which I absolutely loved; Parker-Chan provided a wealth of philosophical aspects to ponder over, and her historical world was realistically brutal and gave cause for her character’s motivations. Beth: I found it such a powerful novel. These are representations of stories we don’t get enough of, that get told and shared enough. I loved the complexity of all Parker-Chan’s characters. Nils: However, unfortunately there were just parts of the novel, which for me personally, didn’t work. I found the pacing to be rather slow and lacking in action, it felt as though Chan would build up to an action scene, only to skim over it in a few lines. A kind of “fade to black”. There also wasn’t enough fantasy elements and I wasn’t too impressed with how our main characters evolved by the end, as I’ve mentioned above. Beth: That’s such a good point about the action scenes Nils! It’s not really that kind of book, so it’s very much a personal taste point. I’d have loved to seen more fantasy too. And also like you, I was shocked by the developments at the end. Again, objectively I can see the progression of the characters and the necessity of their decisions, how powerful they’re becoming and what it represents about them. But as a reader it broke my heart a little! Nils: And mine! Having said all that, I’m so pleased to have read this novel, delving into the deeper themes and hidden meanings was a fascinating experience to share and discuss with Beth and the other readalong participants. I truly applaud Shelley Parker Chan for her exceptional representation. Beth: She Who Became the Sun is an atmospheric power-house of a novel. The way Parker-Chan brought this time period to life, brought these people to life, their culture, is so immersive. It had the feel of a sprawling Chinese epic, that they’d transported us back. But the true focus of this novel is of course Zhu and Ouyang and the way their world tries to shape them – the clash of when their worlds meet their solid unshakeable desire and belief. That inner battle is truly something to behold! The post SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN by Shelley Parker-Chan – READALONG Week 4 appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  3. Note: This post does not contain a happy ending. In Seattle, June is the cruelest month. Terrifying. Violent, too. A month where people rarely leave their homes, and if they must, they hurry from house to car, exhaling only once safely inside, windows rolled up, doors locked. In June, schools forgive truancy. Non-urgent appointments–dental check-ups, meetings with financial planners, eyebrow shaping–pretty much anything other than trips to the ER–are put off until mid-July. Have you seen Hitchcock’s film, The Birds? Hitchcock himself claimed, “It could be the most terrifying motion picture I have ever made.” I bet Hitchcock was inspired by Seattle in June. Because of Poe’s quothing ravens, I’ve always found crows a bit sinister, but in general, I had no beef with any corvids, not really, until June 2013. While walking to get my daughter at school, a crow–out of nowhere–slapped me across the back of the head with a rolled-up magazine. At least, that’s what it felt like. The June 2015 NPR story, “They Will Strafe You,” taught me these attacks are common. I was simply in the wrong place (near the crow’s fledglings) at the wrong time (June, fledgling season). This particular crow, undoubtedly sleep deprived and struggling with postpartum depression, deemed me a threat. Thus, she grabbed her June 2013 issue of The New Yorker, or perhaps The Economist, or maybe it was The New Republic, and whacked my head. I began to fear another strafing. “No eye contact, people!” I’d yell at my children, my husband, my dog, whenever I saw a crow. “You make eye contact, and THEY WILL STRAFE YOU!” The whole world was starting to feel unsafe, and not just in June. Year-round, I felt the beady eyes of crows upon me. Fast forward nine (terror-filled) years, and we arrive at Spring 2022. At the end of May, bunion surgery left me horizontal with my sad, swollen foot in the air. For weeks, I crutched only between the TV room sofa and my Room of Convalescence. Back and forth, forth and back. Then May became June. June! Bedridden and homebound, I could not escape their terrible cawing, could not ignore the murderous shadows that darkened my windows. Twenty-three days post-op, loopy with a weird mix of boredom and fatigue, tired of my POW status, I raised my fist at the crow-laden spruce in my yard. “Nevermore!” I shouted. “NEVERMORE!” After Googling “what do crows eat,” (the answer: “pretty much anything”) I crutched to the kitchen and found a box of stale, generic-brand Wheat Thins. I then crutched awkwardly–it’s difficult to crutch while holding a box of anything–to the sliding glass doors that leads to our backyard. I opened the doors six inches, set my crutches on the floor, sat myself beside my crutches, then frisbee’d a fistful of crackers outside. And I waited. Needless to say, by the end of the week, I had a handful of brainy crow-pals, all of whom I christened “Carole,” a gender-neutral name that ensured I wouldn’t wrongly assume their preferred pronouns. Their crownouns. Extending the olive branch of generic Wheat Thins, inviting my worst fear into our yard, having the opportunity to applaud the Caroles for the way they neatly stacked crackers, four at a time, then transported their repast with Henry Ford-like efficiency to their roost, all that made me a little less fearful. Not fear-free, just less fear-full. Except my husband was uncomfortable. My children, confused. My BFF, Erica, feared I had finally lost my mind. My funny friend, Robin, dropped off a little crow finger puppet. Worse, there was exponentially more crow crap in our backyard. And things had gone missing: twine that held my husband’s raspberry bushes against the fence, a few of his melon seedlings, the pack of tiny-handed raccoons who sauntered, arrogant and badass, through our yard pretty much whenever they felt like it. Would my dog be next? Recently, I think a lot about fear. How, like a contagion, fear infects our hearts and brains, our relationships and communities. Even when there’s good reason to feel scared, fear tempts us to retreat, isolate, blame, hoard. Our hearts become hard, stingy. Our worlds become small. But thank goodness for writers! Writers invent stories that connect strangers and expand hearts, stories that make readers’ worlds bigger. Writers arrange words into images that remind people of the beauty that remains, even amid today’s difficult news. Stories, even scary ones, make us feel not so alone, not so disconnected, not so fear-filled. On June 1st, after spending ten years writing, and another ten years of rejection and revision, my loyal agent and I found a home for my first novel. I am thrilled. Also, I am TERRIFIED. There are roughly seventy-five reasons for this nebulous, nagging fear, all of which are simultaneously valid and stupid. But just as we cannot create a world where epidemics, tyrants, injustice, and dive-bombing crows are extinct, we cannot create a fear-free life. We can only keep inviting the crows to our backyard. Until we cannot. “The Caroles are eating my bean plants,” my husband announced. The bean plants he grew from seed. I swallowed. “You’re sure it’s the Caroles?” He nodded. “And there’s the crow-crap. And the missing twine … I think we need a scarecrow.” A scarecrow? Suddenly I was meant to terrorize the Caroles? Equally important: How could I face my fear if I couldn’t, well, face my fear? He was right though. I had to stop feeding them. There was the issue with the crow-crap and the missing stuff. Plus I love my dog. I didn’t want the Caroles to take him as their own. And honestly, I was still scared of the Caroles. I still worried they’d attack me, tie me down with the stolen twine, steal my shiny necklace, then peck out my face. Acknowledging the fear, exposing myself to it, feeding it stale crackers, had not made it evaporate. Likewise, acknowledging that this next phase of the writing journey is terrifying, identifying the reasons for the terror, blogging about it, none of that eradicates the fear. It’s still there, and it’s still scary. So … now what? Simple! I continue moving forward in my writing journey. So do you. We continue using words to expand the world, to amplify empathy, to fertilize the love-parts of our fellow human’s hearts. We keep creating characters who are happily living their safe lives–until they are suddenly very much unsafe. Those characters help us understand how to navigate a vast array of our own real-life, omnipresent, Hitchcockian horrors. See? No happy ending. Just this truth: The world needs not scarecrows, but stories. Mine and yours. Your turn! What’s your greatest writing-related fear? Have you ever been crow-slapped? What crazy things have you done as a result of bunion surgery? What do you do when fear, depression, or sorrow feels bigger than your need to write? I can’t wait to hear from you. Crow photo by Flickr’s Sheila Sund. About Sarah CallenderSarah Callender lives in Seattle with her husband, son and daughter. A crummy house-cleaner and terrible at responding to emails in a timely fashion, Sarah chooses instead to focus on her fondness for chocolate and Abe Lincoln. She is working on her third novel while her fab agent pitches the first two to publishers. Web | Twitter | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=lUUQ8nNqvbc:tsOXMu9KTb4:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=lUUQ8nNqvbc:tsOXMu9KTb4:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  4. G. D. Penman is the author of beloved and bestselling series like Savage Dominion, Deepest Dungeon and Witch of Empire. Once upon a time, they were a small press magazine editor, a literary critic, a tabletop game designer and the ghost-writer of over one hundred books of non-fiction. Nowadays, they can mostly be found writing fantasy novels and smoking a pipe in the sunshine. Hi Gray and thanks for dropping by! Readers will know you as a regular contributor in the Hive – the genius behind our Ulesorin – but give us a run-down on your books. Hello, it is cute that you think that I’m dropping by and that I haven’t been living in the walls of this place for the last 3 years. Oh! Is that what that noise is?! I have uh… too many books to talk about, so I’ll be as brief as possible: the Witch of Empire books are urban fantasy noir, set in an alternate timeline where magic exists and Britain is still an Empire. The Deepest Dungeon books are LitRPG, with much of the story taking place inside of a video game, except maybe it isn’t a video game, or maybe it is. Spoilers. Is this a spoiler or you not able to remember the plot of your own book? Definitely one of those. The Savage Dominion books are a portal fantasy story involving a himbo from our world being shunted into an epic fantasy story. I also have a few romance books kicking around. I can’t write about horrible things happening to people all the time so sometimes I write about nice things happening to naked people. Speaking of, let’s talk about Sully, because you know how much I adore her. How did she come about? Sully from the Witch of Empire books started out life as a relatively generic magic hardboiled detective character, who became infinitely more interesting when I took exactly the same characteristics as those skulking alcoholics and applied them to a woman instead. So she gets to be coarse, womanising, drunk, surly and then outwit or outfight everybody, just like they always did. Proper equality. It probably isn’t an immediately obvious parallel to most fantasy readers coming to the series from the dragons and wizards side of the divide, but all the old Dashiell Hammet fans seem to get the joke. And what was the train of thought that led you to creating her world? A world in which magic and pacts with demons has sent the time-line as we know it splitting off quite drastically. No small part of it was rooted in frustration to be honest. I’m a big fan of the genre of Urban Fantasy, I’ve been reading it since before it even had a fancy name of its own, when we used to be the bastard children of horror, dabbled in when fantasy authors got bored; but an issue I continually encountered in them was that nothing was actually all that different. The world was our world except with ghouls and goblins and whatnot, and the presence of those ghouls and goblins never seemed to actually change the course of events in any meaningful way. I objected to that. So I took a long hard look at history, at the tipping points where things might have been different, and I pondered what things would look like if magic had been a factor. If every little backwater wannabe empire throughout history had the power of a nuclear bomb in their back pocket. That is such an interesting chain of ideas and such a good point. It’s redundant to believe that supernatural or fantastical elements wouldn’t change the world in some way. Yes, I’m very clever. And so modest too! What made you want to represent magic in such a logical, mathematical way? Without limitations, a magic system doesn’t function, and through the medium of the limitations laid on the characters in the Witch of Empire series, we also get a little look at how they were educated. The way that the British Empire views magic, as a mechanical tool to be used, rather than as a force of nature, the way that other factions interact with it. Let’s talk about your Deepest Dungeon series – what’s with you and ratmen anyway? Ratmen are just great. All the fun of a rat with all the horror of giving them opposable thumbs. I’ve always considered the rat to be an admirable little creature, an intelligent and sociable survivor. Humans would probably get on a lot better if they were more like rats. And ratmen are of course a creature somewhere in the middle between the two. The best of both worlds. When it comes to LitRPG vs Witch of Empire, do you have a preference of subgenre? Is there one you find easier to write? LitRPG is always going to be harder to write, because you have a lot of precise details to manage. As well as the story, you have the game system to navigate, there can be no fudging of the numbers or hand-waving in terms of specifics. Did the brave wizard mentor die, or did he survive his fall into the abyss? That’s easy in LitRPG, you know how many health points he has, subtract the damage dealt from those and if it hasn’t hit zero, he’ll be showing up again later. In that regard then, it sounds like it would be easier, taking some of the decisions regarding plot away from you? Hypothetically, yes, but in fact it just means that you have a whole new level of organisation to contend with to ensure that your desired outcome comes about. And of course, it isn’t as simple as simply working an existing system. You have to build the game system that the world is based on, in such a way that it is fair to everyone playing, but in such a way that your characters can still shine. The balancing act is… complex. So you become game designer as well as author? And of course we all know the evils of organisation. Speaking about the writing process; do you have a process? Tell us a little something about how your story comes together. I fully outline my books before writing them, then I sit down and scream directly into the blank word document until something appears. It’s all very organised. And somewhat eldritch. Again, explains the weird noises in the Hive. You cannot prove they’re me. Your Savage Dominion series is a collaboration with Luke Chmilenko; does working with another author offer any challenges to your process? Writing books is an extremely solitary process, you’re left trapped in your own head with all of your doubts and fears about whatever it is you’re writing. You spend more time than most people like to admit staring at the book and wondering if it is bad. Having a co-author took that problem away. Every time you bounce ideas back and forth, you get reassurance that what you are doing is a) working and b) totally awesome. When that reassurance is coming from somebody like Luke, you know you can trust it. Are there any others you’d like to work with? You have some fantastic ones in your close circle – a collaboration between you and Alex Knight would be incredible. I have another collaboration coming up with David Estes, and Bryce O’Connor has been making some noises about me doing some work with him in the future. I’ll definitely be working with Luke again, if only because he is the nicest guy in the universe. Working with close friends might be more difficult, it might be harder to be professional when one of you or the other pushes back on an idea. I think Alex and I have discussed a great many projects we’d love to do together, but in practicality, I’m not sure how they’d go. Because we both have Opinions about things. We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying? I’m afraid that I am the wrong person to ask about editing. I write everything perfectly, first time, every time. Every once in a while I’ll make a typo, but it rarely takes more than a quick read through to catch them. Suspicious side eye 100% true. Bet you’ve never had to correct anything I sent you for the Hive, right? I think there was one typo, once. Possibly. Your writing – and reading tastes! – is so varied. What (or who) are your most significant fantasy/sci-fi influences? H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Terry Pratchett, Kentaro Miura, Poppy Z Brite, Joe Lansdale, Diana Wynne Jones, Thomas Ligotti, Ursula LeGuin, Harlan Ellison, Madeline Miller, Junji Ito, and Guy Gavriel Kay are the first ones that come to mind. From Lovecraft to DWJ is quite the scale Gray. I’ve always argued that fantasy and horror are the same genre viewed through a different emotional lens. In one, going to fight the monster is exciting, in the other it is terrifying. Still gonna fight the monster though. As for other influences; if you give me an hour I’m sure I can come up with a ridiculously detailed list of all the people I’ve ripped off through the years. One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive, and one which I have high hopes for you: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why? Something tentacular. Oh wait, ride into battle? It would have to be a lamassu. Flying lion with the face of a human? Amazing magical powers? Decent conversationalist for those long periods of time when neither of you have the enemy’s flesh between your teeth? What more could you ask for? I knew you wouldn’t disappoint. Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress? Have you any upcoming projects which you can share? Is it Witch of Empire related? Please let it be Witch of Empire related. I’m currently wrapping up work on the final book of the Deepest Dungeons series, and the last book of the Last King trilogy. The Last King won’t be out for a little while, but those books are a true epic fantasy, with necromancers and dragon riders and all that jazz. DRAGON RIDERS I’m afraid that there are not going to be any future Witch of Empire books, unless there is a drastic increase in interest in them. I also have a Very Secret project that I’m co-writing with someone Important that I’ll hopefully be able to discuss at some point in the near future. Um, Whatsapp me?! Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing? From what I understand, the thing that most readers take away from my writing is that there is something deeply wrong with me. Thank you so much for joining us today! Thank you for having me! You can find out more about G. D. Penman’s books and how to order them on their WEBSITE The post Interview with G. D. Penman (WITCH OF EMPIRE) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  5. R.B. Lemberg is a poet and fantasist living in Lawrence, Kansas. R.B.’s debut novella THE FOUR PROFOUND WEAVES was shortlisted for the Nebula, Locus, Ignyte, and World Fantasy awards; it was also an Otherwise Award honoree. R.B.’s novel THE UNBALANCING is forthcoming from Tachyon in September 2022. R.B. was born in L’viv, Ukraine. Follow them on twitter at @rb_lemberg or visit their website http://rblemberg.net Welcome to the Hive, RB. This September you’ll be taking readers back to the Birdverse in your first full-length novel in the series, The Unbalancing. What can readers expect? The Unbalancing is a lyrical mix of queer romance, nonbinary-centric worldbuilding, a disaster story, and explorations of magic, queer community, friendships, loss, and hope. Readers should also expect a grumpy ancestral ghost and a very determined ginger cat. More books need cat in them we feel. Tell us more about starkeeper Ranra and poet Erígra! The two alternating narrators of The Unbalancing couldn’t be more different – Erígra Lilún is a dreamy poet who loves to spend their days in solitude pruning trees in the ancient quince grove and scribbling in their notebook. Ranra cannot stand still, and in fact, can often be spotted running around and making things happen extremely fast. The two are brought together, perhaps, by their mutual fascination with the Star of the Tides, an unruly mass of magic asleep in the sea, whose restless tossing and turning is about to become more desperate. But I think, in the end of the day, Ranra and Lilún are brought together by a kind of irresistible mix of mutual fascination and bewilderment that could keep them circling each other for a long time if things weren’t exploding. Things are exploding. Give us a glimpse into the Birdverse – is your world building inspired by anything specific? Birdverse is very large, and the stories set in this world are loosely connected, but not sequential in order. You do not need to read them in any particular order, but the more you read, the more immersed you hopefully become, and the more you perceive this world as a tapestry rather than a line. Birdverse is named after the goddess Bird, who brought twelve stars to the landmass at the dawn of time. She keeps showing up since then, mostly to collect the souls of the dead, but sometimes for other reasons. The world is inspired by my fascination with historical linguistics, ancient and medieval trade routes, medieval and early modern Jewish history, and literally anything associated with the linguistics of gender. It’s also inspired by a few specific characters who decided to camp out in my head, but I believe that’s common to writers. We always appreciate a beautiful book cover and we were thrilled to host the cover reveal! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray? I was not involved with the cover at all! It’s all the magic of Elizabeth Story, the Tachyon designer, and the Tachyon office. I loved it when I saw it, I think it perfectly conveys the feel of the book. Of course, since this is the second Birdverse title Tachyon is publishing, the good folks at the office already know that there must be a bird on it, and they know how the bird should look like. Let’s talk about the writing process; do you have a process? Tell us a little something about how your story comes together. I have to feel the shape of the story before I sit down to write. I daydream about each story for a long time, focusing on the key emotional scenes. I don’t need to imagine each scene, but I daydream through the most emotionally hard-hitting ones. I have to know where a book is headed, where the last big scenes will be, before I can draft. I knew how The Unbalancing ended for many years, but I was not sure exactly how the story would get there. So I was in this daydreaming process for a while when I was driving to downtown Lawrence (I live there) and suddenly this big, hard-hitting scene unfolded before my eyes, and this vast wave of emotion came over me and I somehow still needed to keep driving the car. I remember yelling, “Semberí, damn, Semberí!!!” mostly because I was fairly sure Semberí would NOT want me to have a car accident before I could put pen to paper; it’s pretty hilarious in retrospect. And I did not crash the car! It took me about a week to recover from that, but then I began writing, and did not stop until it was done. In terms of drafting, I use a hybrid method which involves handwriting and typing. I handwrite pointers for each scene in fountain pen (what happens, key thematic points, often specific phrases), and I draft on my laptop. The notebook and my pens are always to the right of the keyboard. We’re very glad you didn’t crash the car! Also, there’s something so satisfying about writing with a fountain pen. We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying? Editing can be fraught for a lot of authors, I feel, and it’s really important to have a relationship of trust and respect with your editor. I love working with my Tachyon editor Jaymee Goh. She gets my work very deeply, she understands what I am trying to do with all the complexity that often comes into my works, and she helps me get to a deeper, better, and clearer version of my vision. I love working with editors and I have heavily revised most of my accepted pieces and feel they benefited from it. That said, I always worry about edits. What (or who) are your most significant fantasy/sci-fi influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday? Ursula K. Le Guin – I think that’s obvious to everybody who reads my work, and my work is often compared to hers. It’s not accidental – I’ve done a lot of linguistics and cultural history on my academic side, and I trained some in anthropology; these are also things that influenced Ursula’s work. I actually knew her a bit and published her poetry when I was editing Stone Telling Magazine (which I named after one of Le Guin’s characters from Always Coming Home). Patricia McKillip, who just passed away, has been a major influence on me. The Unbalancing, in particular, is inspired by the writing of early 20th century Russian fantasist Aleksandr Grin, who is not much known in the West. In contemporary SFF, I’ve been most inspired by Amal El-Mohtar, Sofia Samatar, Rivers Solomon, and Malka Older, and I am so happy to know them. Sofia just sold a new book to Tor.com – The Practice, the Horizon, and the Chain. I can’t wait! In terms of collaboration… it’s hard to say – I’m married to Bogi Takács and it’s an everyday literary salon in here. We read each other’s work, and it’s the best kind of collaboration. As for creators outside of my wonderful circle of writers – I would love to have a TV show based on my work someday. My favorite TV show at the moment is Our Flag Means Death, which is quite far from the things I usually write, but that’s where my mind is those days. One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why? It’s tempting to say that I would ride a dragon, even though it’s a fantasy cliché. I would definitely not ride a bird – Birdverse birds don’t like it, and the goddess Bird in particular is not a big fan of battles – they are a lot of work for her. So I think I’m riding into battle on a traditional Slavic three-headed dragon. Each head regrows when/if it’s cut off, which is pretty handy in a fight. I’m originally from Ukraine and Russia, so these three-headed dragons are a big part of my childhood. There are also nine-headed and twelve-headed versions, but I feel they would be too unbalanced in flight. Are you planning anything fun to celebrate the release in September? Do you have any upcoming virtual events our readers may be interested in? I am going to have a launch at the Raven Bookstore, an excellent independent bookstore in Lawrence, KS! It’s a wonderful place, and they expanded during the pandemic, so now they are in a new and gorgeous spot in downtown Lawrence. I can’t wait. I am also planning a virtual event at the Texas A&M University. Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing? I hope my LGBTQIA+ readers will feel affirmed and seen. I hope they feel that they are deserving of story, deserving of all the stories – the stories of friendship and love and adventure and loss and hope and perhaps especially stories of cats. And I hope all my readers, regardless of their particular identities, take pleasure in the incredible variety of experience that my world – and our world – has to offer. Not just loneliness, but community. Not just utopia, but failure. Not just pain, but hope. Thank you so much for joining us today! The post Interview with R. B. Lemberg (THE UNBALANCING) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  6. Are you guilty of writing books with huge casts of characters? I write big long fantasy novels, so it’s kind of my thing. Honestly, I love books with a big cast. They make worlds feel richer and more real, but sometimes even I have a hard time keeping track of who’s who. And not all characters can be granted enough space to establish full personalities and depth on the page. Confusion can kill immersion in a story, which is what we want to prevent (unless it’s on purpose). So what can you do to help readers along? Here are a few craft tricks you can use to make even minor characters easier to remember. 1. Give each character a defining visual cue. A visual cue can immediately remind a reader who a character is even if they aren’t named. Visual cues can be simple: from a ponytail, to a dimple in a cheek, or a pair of glasses that is always slipping down someone’s nose. You could go all out and give your main characters personal style: always wearing black, or never smiling etc. The main idea is to pick a cue that is almost always present, so you can use it to quickly remind readers who a character is if they haven’t been on page for a while. Victoria Schwab, and Sabaa Tahir are masters at this. In Schwab’s Shades of Darkness series, Kell wears a magic red coat that he rarely goes without. It’s so iconic that it appears in the first line of the first book. In Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series, Helene Aquila is recognizable by her blonde crown braid and silver mask. Guess who gets cosplayed often? Visual cues also happen to be an easy way to encourage fan art. 2. Make sure your character names aren’t too similar. You can do this by using different letters of the alphabet to name your characters or different ending sounds if characters use the same letter. The Bridgerton books are one fun example. The name of each Bridgerton sibling appears in alphabetical order to match their birth order: Anthony (the oldest), Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory and Hyacinth (the youngest). For readers jumping from one book to the next, it’s a handy way to remember in relative terms how old everyone is. 3. Consider speaking patterns. Characters may use different slang or idioms depending on their age, personality, or relationship to other people. Do they curse? Are they polite? Are they formal? Do they joke around? Are they sarcastic? Do they have a favorite phrase? Take the Lord of the Rings, for example. Sam always calls Frodo “Mr. Frodo” but Frodo always just calls Sam “Sam.” It may not seem like much, but this one little thing reinforces the social hierarchy between them. Frodo is the main character, and a class above, while Sam is his helper. The actors in the movies doubly reinforce this by speaking in different accents. 4. Don’t name characters that aren’t important. There are always exceptions to this rule, but I usually attempt it, because each name you add to a story is another thing a reader has to add to their mental load. Unless you tread carefully, too many names can detract from the story. I kind of think of this rule as the literary equivalent to Star Trek’s Red Shirts. You don’t need to name them, because they won’t be around long. … And there you have it! What are some memorable characters you’ve encountered in a book and why were they memorable? About Tessa BarbosaTessa Barbosa writes novels by night, and software help by day. Her debut YA Fantasy novel is coming in 2023 (Entangled Teen). Tessa lives in Vancouver, BC Canada and when she’s not at the keyboard, she’s making messes in the kitchen, or sewing things. Keep up to date at tessabarbosa.com or @HiTessaBarbosa on both Twitter and Instagram. Web | Twitter | Instagram | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=LP-RDLmvhe4:gKEVy5HEBI8:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=LP-RDLmvhe4:gKEVy5HEBI8:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  7. Margaret Killjoy interview transcript 17th June 2022 Margaret Killjoy is an author and activist. She has written A Country Of Ghosts (2014), which was recently reissued by AK Press, as well as the Danielle Cain novellas for Tor Dot Com, comprising The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion (2017) and The Barrow Will Send What It May (2018). Her work combines insightful exploration of anarchist and utopian themes with excellent character work and creative speculative and fantastical imaginings. She has also written the non-fiction Mythmakers & Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers On Fiction (2009), creates music with her feminist black metal band Feminazgûl, and hosts the podcasts Live Like The World Is Dying and Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff. Margaret was kind enough to speak to The Fantasy Hive via Zoom. Your novel A Country Of Ghost has recently been reissued by AK Press as part of their Black Dawn series. Could you tell us a bit about it? Yeah, A Country Of Ghosts is a utopian novel, in which a journalist from a colonial power ends up embedded in the front in a colonial war of conquest. He realizes that he’s on the wrong side and ends up working with an anarchistic society to resist the colonial invasion. That’s the elevator version. And one of the things that I very much enjoyed about the book was that it’s an exploration of possibly utopian ways of living. Especially in recent years, we talk about the turn of science fiction towards the dystopian rather than the utopian. What made you want to tell a utopian story about how we could live better than we do now? I like dystopian fiction, and I don’t want to knock it as a genre. But I will say that I think one of the reasons that it is more popular as a genre is that it’s easier. Both as a writer and as a publisher. Because one, as a writer, it’s easier to generate conflict and conflict is the engine of stories, at least in the Western world. And it’s easier to generate conflict with a dystopia because you obviously have a problem – there’s a dystopia! And two, it’s easier to sell people on fighting against bad things than getting people to agree on what to fight for. And so I think that combination is one of the reasons we haven’t seen as much utopian fiction. Although I’m excited that this is starting to change a little bit as people become aware that fiction – not just written fiction, but stories in general – are how we generate what we perceive as possible, as a society and as individuals. And so we need stories that show other ways of living, besides the one that we’re in now that is obviously doing us all a great bit of disservice. I’ve been involved as an anarchist and involved in political activism for about 20 years now. But, you know, it was more than a decade at the time that I wrote the novel. I had seen people prefiguring creating societies, without authoritarianism, and without capitalist exchange models and working to undermine the rest of the oppressive systems that we live under, like white supremacy and patriarchy. Obviously, there’s no magic bullet on these things. But I’ve seen people working really hard in their own lives, in organizations, in activist camps, in various places, to prefigure a better world. I realized that I wanted to see that, but I wanted to see it in a fictional form. Because I know that I get stories and ideas better through fiction personally than I do through theory. So I basically just sat down to write up, it’s not a complete wonderful like what I wish the world looked like, but it is close. It is close to how I envision an ideal society. They are struggling with some problems there that I couldn’t just magic wand that way. So, for example, there’s no coffee at the moment, in Hron. So, yeah, that’s why I wrote it. Your protagonist Dimos Horacki has a certain amount of privilege coming from the colonial background, but this is undermined by his identity as a gay man… So, one of the things that I wanted to explore with his identity is the idea that within the city that he grew up in, he’s not necessarily facing much oppression as a gay man. And yet, when he comes out to the colonial edge where the war is happening, he suddenly is oppressed because the army is very homophobic, even if the society it comes from is theoretically not. I wanted to show that contrast about how the raw edge of the state relies on oppressive mindsets and relies upon being a safe place to be a bigot. And despite sort of creating a more insulated safe place back home. I just wanted to show that, highlight that difference. And then, of course, you know, it’s an easy way to contrast the society in Hron, the utopian society is completely gay accepting, completely queer accepting. I partly included that to not make Borolia a simple dystopia. It’s that thing where it does not feel like a dystopia necessarily to those who live in it, although, clearly, there’s all the signs. Yet it relies on all these dystopian elements in a way, like the violence at the front and the anti -gay rhetoric and stuff at the front. In the novel, you also contrast Hron, which agrees to operate with some rules, with the completely ruleless Karak…. Within the book, there is the sort of non-country of Hron, which is anarchistic but has accepted an accord, it’s accepted certain rules of behavior. It’s not like as soon as you break the rules, you’re out, but for people who consciously do not sign off on the social contract, there is a place where they can choose to go. And it is a town a sort of territory at the edge of Hron called Karak, which kind of like is and isn’t within the boundaries of Hron. And the tension between the two is one of the main driving forces of the plot of the book. But also, I wanted to show that there’s actually symbiosis available between a lot of different ways of viewing anti-authoritarian societies. So I absolutely would want to live in Hron. I don’t mind accepting rules like don’t destroy the environment, or don’t pick fights for no reason or whatever. But I know people and respect people who would be like, No, fuck that, right? Who want to explore the raw edge of freedom and what that means, and want to go do it consensually. And so, there’s a place for folks like that as well. And there’s mobility between those places, of course. And then Hron itself is also not a homogenous space. There’s a lot of different cultures and even polities that overlap. Although they overall are sharing one political ideal, even if culturally they’re sharing a lot of different spaces between the rural folks and the more urban folks there. You’ve also written the Danielle Cain novellas. Would you be able to tell us a bit about that series? Yeah, so the Danielle Cain series is currently a duology, there’s the chance that it’ll expand out. It follows the protagonist, Danielle Cain, as well as another group of people. I mostly like calling it punk rock Scooby Doo. Because by the second book they’re literally in a van and driving around, trying to solve what’s going on in the spooky world. But the beginning of the first book, our protagonist, Danielle Cain, is just off to go find out what happened to a friend who killed himself and why he did it. And so she goes to the last place he lived, which is an anarchist settlement. She does not know that magic exists at the start of the book, and not in the dramatic way that it exists within this book. But yes, the town is being watched over by a malevolent, or benevolent depending on the day, deer named Uliksi, that is a demon that they summoned in order to essentially be cops in the town, to be the force that goes around and make sure that no one wields power over other people. And it goes wrong. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor that I think I pulled off about the nature of power and what we choose to give up our autonomy to invest into. But it’s mostly meant to be fun. A Country Of Ghosts is a little bit more serious in tone. And the Danielle Cain books are definitely meant to be much lighter. They take place in modern society, the characters are closer to people that we all know. They came out from Tor dot com in 2017 and 2018. I think they do a really good job of being straightforward, fun books, but at the same time, you’re still exploring these ideas around anarchism and different ways to live. Especially in the first one, the town of Freedom is really interesting because in some ways, they come so close to sort of living this ideal, but can’t quite get there… I started writing a version of the first Danielle Cain book immediately after I finished A Country Of Ghosts. Sometimes I get into these writing sprints. I’m a very sporadic writer, I’ll write two books one year, and then nothing for two years or something. And so I wrote a book that was not nearly as good. It had similar bones and took place in Freedom, Iowa. And it didn’t have the demon deer in it. It just was anarchy town, a squatter town in Iowa. And it just wasn’t as good. It wasn’t as good thematically or narratively as when I made it more self-consciously a genre book by introducing the supernatural. And I liked that. I liked that writing in genre lets you turn things up to 11 in order to draw attention to certain points, certain concepts, in a way that non-genre fiction sometimes struggles to do. I appreciate both, but something that I really like about genre is my ability to do that. I think that, in the first book, the Landless Loggers Alliance is absolutely sort of a spiritual successor in some ways to A Country Of Ghosts, yet spinning off from it in very much its own direction, a much pulpier direction. It’s fun, when people are like, what book of yours do I read? And I’m like, well, do you want the serious one or the one that’s the same thing, but a little bit goofier? When in the process of writing it did you know you were going to do a sequel? So I think this is safe to say, the reason I did that is I wanted the publisher to buy more than one! Because I wanted to write a series. But I was a beginning author at the time. That was my first sort of mainstream published book. So I finished the book and sent it to an editor who was interested in seeing it, but I intentionally left the door open to sequels because I wanted to write sequels. Tor bought two of them, they bought a duology, and so that’s what I’ve written so far. But yeah, I knew from the beginning that I liked these characters. They’re fun to write, they can have fun adventures, and they can explore themes I care about. The second book is much more about feminism, for example, the way that power is held in interpersonal relationships, and what happens in our loved ones’ lives. And I have a couple more of them mapped out that I’m hoping I’ll have some announcements about within a year or so. But who knows! Fingers crossed! I would love more Danielle Cain books! Later this year, you have a short story collection, We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow, coming out. Am I right in thinking this is your first collection of short fiction? The book, We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow, comes out from AK Press on September 20th, it’s the short fiction that I’ve been writing. I’ve been writing short fiction for a very long time. It doesn’t go back to the very beginning, when I was four, or five, when my my dad published one of my short stories in his zine. My dad’s also an interesting, creative person who published in the 80s, and published some of my fiction and when I was too young to remember writing. It will also not include material from like high school and early 20s. But basically, since I’ve been writing at a more professional level, it’s a collection of most of my stories, not all of my stories. I’ve been very excited. They’ve been published in a bunch of different markets. But the readership of the science fiction short fiction markets and websites and things, I think is a smaller readership than that for collected short fiction books. And so I’ve been looking for a while for a good moment to put out a collection. I finished some stories a year or two ago now, as I kind of closed out my Patreon. I used to publish a lot of my fiction to my Patreon backers, but I no longer have a personal Patreon, I passed off my personal Patreon to support a short fiction publisher called Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness that I’m part of that’s collectively run. And it felt like a good closure moment. So I put them all together. And if people want to read about trans women who feed men to their mermaid girlfriend, or if they want to read about hackers who program AI into drones in order to troll CEOs into quitting. Or a lot of stuff that’s either fantasy feminism, or hackers in the modern era. Or a fugitive who’s in love with the ghost in the haunted house that she’s hiding in. I’m excited for people to see that because I think it’ll show a wider selection of my work than what most people have been exposed to. Your passionate interest in both anarchism and feminism very much informs your work. And I know from that your biography on the websites that you’ve been involved in activism for large parts of your life as well. Could you tell us a little bit about activism as an anarchist, and how you feel it relates to your creative process as a writer? Yeah. So when I was younger, and first discovered radical politics, something clicked in me and a lot of things that I’ve been struggling to make sense of made sense. Because most of the alternatives that have been presented, that have been existent, seemed very uninteresting to me. And so basically, I discovered anarchism, and I never looked back in a lot of ways. I wanted to hit the ground running. I was 19, and I wanted to change the world. I wanted to do so as directly as possible. There was a very large movement that I came into, that mostly now gets called the anti-globalization or alter globalization movement, that now people using very similar terminology might mean something sort of right wing, that absolutely was a strong international left-wing movement at the turn of the millennium. I hit the ground running with that. I went off to go protest everywhere I could, I got involved in squatting, I got involved in organizing environmental defence. I sat in some trees. And I think that this did several good things for me. It did several bad things for me too, like PTSD, but it did several good things for me. It gave me a breadth of experience that I had not previously been exposed to. I think in particular, people who’ve come from more sheltered or privileged backgrounds who want to be writers – and I grew up white and middle class, and my gender expression, I was very deep in the closet for teenage life. So I needed to experience more things before I could be a good writer. I wasn’t doing it for the sake of being a good writer. But I do believe that the experiences that I had have been more useful to me as a writer than any formal study could have been. And so it did that. It also gave me a sense of how things change, and how people respond to different ideas. I spent a lot of time trying to convince strangers to not cut down a forest, or to be opposed to different international trade agreements or whatever. And so that taught me a lot about one, how people work in terms of writing realistic characters and two, in terms of why write? I was writing the whole time, but I didn’t think it really mattered. Then I started a very conscious project that became my first book, Mythmakers & Lawbreakers, which is not fiction, it is interviews with anarchist fiction writers about why they’re engaged in writing fiction. In my mind it is sort of anchored by an interview with Ursula Le Guin. That was the first interview I did for the project. And talking about what role fiction has within social change. That really opened my eyes. I saw them as very separate activities. And I no longer do, although I also do believe that it’s also easy to go too far the other way and be like, well, I’m doing my part, I sit at home and take no risks! And, you know, I do think that the actual work of making things change in this world involve organization, and they involve direct action, and they involve confronting oppressive powers directly. I also think that, on top of this, you can’t just decide that you know how to write because you’re a good activist, in the same way that you can’t just decide you’re a good activists because you know how to write. And they really are separate skills that need to be developed. I think this is starting to change as a wider swath of people have a more radical understanding of politics. For a while, I think people would cringe when they would hear someone talk about an activist writing fiction, because we’re expecting activist fiction that’s like, well, let me tell you the point of why you should follow my political ideology for why prison is bad or whatever. I clearly do that – I wrote an anarchist utopian book, right? But then at some point, you realize that almost all fiction, especially science fiction, is activist fiction. Sometimes it’s an activist fiction for the status quo! But for the most part, it’s not, there’s like people all over the right and left and then weird combinations of both right and left, all over the history of science fiction. And so any radicals who are considering coming into the fiction world – I know your audience is a little bit more the opposite of that! – but I would say that there’s actually more welcome than you would expect, as long as people come in open minded and not come in saying my ideas have the right idea that everyone needs to listen to them. I have found the science fiction world to be very welcoming. And it’s cool to like meet old Grandmaster science fiction authors at conventions, and then have someone be like, you have to meet Margaret. She’s an anarchist! But then to have the person I’m talking to be like, Oh, me, too, you know, like somebody’s books that I read when I was 15 or whatever. Or people being like, oh, well, I’m not that but that’s really interesting to me or whatever. I know the question wasn’t about why science fiction rules and is an accepting community but I love how accepting the science fiction community can be. Not always. But it can be. Can I tell a story about that? Yeah, of course. The Chinese science fiction magazine, Science Fiction World, I believe it is the science fiction magazine with the largest print distribution in the world. And they translated one of my stories and published it. And then at the beginning of the pandemic, the staff of that magazine in China reached out to me and I believe other American science fiction authors they published and said, from our country to yours, solidarity. We know you have a mask shortage. And they sent me hundreds of KN95 masks when you couldn’t get them in the United States. And so then I was able to then go to George Floyd uprising and protests and distribute masks to people because science fiction cared. Science fiction, in another part of the world, sent a whole bunch of masks to a place that couldn’t get any. It made me happy. That’s a lovely story! As well as writing and activism, you’re also involved in a whole bunch of other projects. You’re a musician in various bands. And you host a couple of podcasts as well. So where do you find the time for this? I don’t know the answer to that question right now. I’m actually struggling a little bit right now, because it was different when I wasn’t very good at all the different things that I do. And I’m not amazing at the things I do now. But I’m good enough at the things I do now that they get more recognition and therefore, take more time, and involve more care and work. I used to just release albums by myself. And now I’m in a three-piece metal band called Feminazgûl that’s signed to Prosthetic Records. And so now there’s obligations to a record label, and to my bandmates to produce a certain amount of music, or help them when they’re producing music. And then I had a podcast that I just did for fun, called Live Like The World Is Dying. It was tied into my Patreon and I was supporting myself through my Patreon at the time. But I have a community and individual preparedness podcast called Live Like the World is Dying where I talk about taking preparedness into a community minded mindset. Like leftist and anarchist, but more specifically, just trying to say, survival isn’t about hoarding supplies, and hiding in the basement, but instead about building connections with community and building resilient communities. And sometimes hoarding food in your basement! My basement is definitely full of food. And then that sort of took off because I started it before the pandemic. And then for some reason, when the pandemic started, people suddenly started really caring about preparedness! And now I have another podcast that I do twice a week, called Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff, which is a history podcast. And that involves writing 10,000 words of a script every week. For anyone keeping track at home means every two months, I produce a novel’s worth writing, only about eight different topics. So that’s a lot of work. And I have a full time day job. But at the moment, I don’t balance it incredibly well, I need to find another way to balance it. But some of the ways that I do it is that as these projects expand, they’re no longer just me. So the way that I do it, is that I’m able to rely on my bandmates, and I’m able to rely on my record label. I’m able to rely on our band manager, and I have two producers for my two different podcasts and I rely heavily upon them. And my agent in terms of my writing. I work at my my day job, I am the person who is relied upon by the person who gets the work done. I work at it, but I do project management. I’m helping, I’m facilitating other people accomplishing things in a similar way that my producer might be facilitating me to, to put out the work that I do. So it’s just a big inner woven net that is the way to get things done. An inner woven net and also not having any other hobbies – but I do make my own instruments for my band! Do you see all your creative work across the different bands and projects as being connected? I do for the most part. Most of the time when I have something I want to say, I think about what medium expresses it best. I think that fiction, if you’ll forgive me to compare things to spell casting, you can think of it in D&D terms if you want, there’s a long casting time on writing a novel. It takes anywhere from two months to two years to just write it. It then takes anywhere from two months to two years to find a publisher, for it to come out another year or two, and then for the audience to internalize it and start thinking about it, and have it influence them, you’re talking years and years before a novel has an impact upon the world. But a song I can theoretically put up, and someone can listen to it in five minutes. And then be put into the mood that I want to express. So it’s just different. When I think about something that I want to say, I think about what the best way to say it is, what the best medium is for it. Podcasts are particularly good. I think for me, I just use them for raw information. They fit very similar niches as what pamphlets and zines and stuff used to fill. Everyone can make them and some of them go further than others. And that’s totally cool. People are like, oh, everyone has a podcast. I’m like, great. Okay. Listen to the ones you want. Don’t listen to ones you don’t want. Why would I complain about someone making something? Just because I don’t enjoy it. I just won’t listen to it. And it’s a hard scene to get noticed in, because there’s so many people doing it, but there’s also so many listeners. But yeah, in terms of themes. Sometimes my work more directly ties into each other. And I think that they’ll start becoming more clear as a lot of the people that we sing about in Feminazgûl are going to weave their way more into the writing, especially if I write more Danielle Cain books. But they’re also just coming in from the same place in terms of how I see the world, in terms of how I see the physical manifestation of different thematic ideas, of what Gods are and aren’t. All that stuff will tie in together. And it’s fun. I totally get now why so many writers that I love are just 50 years into one wild, weird world building thing. Or just declare all their work a multiverse. So they’d be like, yeah, it’s all tied together somehow. I totally get it now. What’s next for Margaret Killjoy? I am mostly working on the podcast, Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff. That is where the majority of my writing hours go. But I have two more books that will probably be out in the next year or two. One is a fun novella called Escape From Incel Island. And another is a YA book. There’s a decent chance it will get small press published at this point. Those are done, I guess. And my work in progress right now is a medium near future story about anarchist space marines. Thank you, Margaret Killjoy, for speaking with us! The post Interview with Margaret Killjoy (A COUNTRY OF GHOSTS) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  8. “Lying there in the sand, in this prehistoric time, he finally did what he couldn’t do in his own time: he faced the fact that he had been mentally stuck. In a way, even before Absolom sent him to this place, he had been lost in time. He knew that now” Lost in Time by A.G. Riddle is a fantastic blend of sci-fi, time travel and thriller that works perfectly to grab its readers right from the very first chapter. Riddle dramatically plunged me into a murder mystery, quite like nothing I’ve read before. Sam Anderson is a widowed father raising two children in Absolom City. On the third anniversary of his wife’s death, Sam and his daughter, Adeline, are accused of murdering Sam’s colleague and lover, Nora. As the evidence mounts, Sam soon realises he and Adeline are certainly going to be convicted. In an attempt to save his daughter, Sam confesses to the murder. Yet this is the future, and in the future the world’s worst criminals aren’t sent to prison, they’re sent through the Absolom machine. This machine will send Sam back in time to the Triassic period, the era of dinosaurs. All in all it is a terrifying death sentence, a punishment with too many unknowns. Whilst Sam prepares for his fate, his daughter Adeline refuses to accept it. As the novel progresses Adeline plunges into an all consuming quest to prove her father’s innocence, to discover a way to bring him back. Everyone around her is a suspect, everyone holds secrets, and what Adeline eventually uncovers changes everything. It may seem far-fetched or erring on the ridiculous side to have the most dangerous criminals sent back to the time of dinosaurs but looking more deeply, Absolom revolutionised the world, and crime rates instantly plummeted. I mean, would you want to be sent to prison or would you rather face your chances of surviving with the world’s ancient, ferocious and deadly animals? “Adeline had always heard the saying that the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. That’s what Absolom was to the world: a new devil.” Honestly, when Sam is sent through the Absolom, that’s when the book really kicks off for me and the pages literally flew by. The moment Sam awakens in the Triassic period, he’s stranded and his chances of survival look slim indeed. That’s when we begin our duel narrative as Riddle switches each chapter to alternate between Adeline, who investigates the murder mystery element and Sam who delivers us a survival story. There are scenes of Sam foraging for food, seeking shelter, building a fire and using every ounce of his wits to stay alive. My little nerdy heart loved looking up pictures of each dinosaur he encountered and I held my breath each time one chased him. Throughout all this Sam’s entire driving force is seeing Ryan and Adeline again, his anchor within the storm. Yet Riddle doesn’t make this easy for our Sam, and the further he roams into Pangea, the more it seems he will never survive long enough to return to his own time. Not that events are any easier for Adeline either. The deeper her investigation reaches, the more threatening and dangerous her life becomes. Each one of the inventors of Absolom hide secrets, they’re all suspicious in their own way, and Riddle leads us down many twisted roads involving each one of them. However Adeline is the one character who evolves the most in this novel, from a sullen teenager to a woman responsible for rescuing her father, taking care of her brother and also keeping herself safe, she travels an exceptionally emotional journey. My favourite aspect of Lost in Time is the way Riddle cleverly portrays the threads of time. Through both characters we see how time can affect so much of our lives without us even realising; the time we waste, the time we long to go back to, hold on to, and the time we desperately want to change. From the author’s note I learned that themes such as grief, parenthood and regret within the novel come directly from the author’s personal life experiences and you can truly see that through the raw emotions present throughout many scenes. “That was the way of the world, he thought; you give it your all; sometimes it’s enough, sometimes it’s not, and sometimes, the tide carries you in.” I have to say the ending of the book was nothing like what I expected it to be. Riddle drops a completely mind blowing twist and changes the perspective of the entire novel. Lost in Time is easy to devour in one sitting, it’s easy to be wholly immersed into this twisty time travel tale, and before you know it, you yourself lose track of time. ARC provided by Jamie at BlackCrow PR and Head of Zeus in exchange for an honest review. Lost in Time is out 1st September in the UK but you can preorder a copy HERE The post LOST IN TIME by A. G. Riddle (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  9. As I write this, I’m sitting in a cabin in Sunriver, Oregon warming my feet by the fire. The sun is about to break above the pines, where a cloudless summer sky awaits. In a few hours, I will be standing at the top of an ancient volcano that forged rocky spires and calderas to create the local landscape. By the time you read this I will be in Wyoming, peering into the bubbling blue depths of Yellowstone’s geysers. These days, I live and work in motion. My husband and I are on a crisscross-country road trip we built out of our travel bucket list. If you were to trace our route on a map, it would look like a drawing of poorly hung Christmas tree garland draped back and fourth and up and down the United States. Life on the road has been inspiring (like discovering the raw, untamed beauty of northern California’s coast), challenging (like when all the trails near Mt. Hood, Oregon were buried in snow IN JUNE), surprising (like when we stumbled across Norah Jones giving an outdoor concert in Bend, Oregon as the sun set over the mountains), and exhausting (from long workdays followed by intense hikes). Above all, this road trip has been full of enriching experiences and powerful lessons that translate beautifully to life and writing. Today, I thought I’d share a pocketful of those experiences with you along with the lessons I’ve learned and ideas we can all use to connect more deeply with our stories. Unexpected flooding taught me the easy path is rarely the most rewarding. The experience: We were hiking through a fern canyon in northern California when we discovered the trail before us had been washed away and was covered in several inches of water. Rather than turning back, we decided to forge ahead by hopping from rock to rock and tiptoeing across fallen trees. How it made me feel: Frustrated that our dry path was underwater, followed by childlike delight from the fun of spotting alternative routes and the challenge of navigating a natural obstacle course. And finally, victorious at making it through the wet parts with dry boots. What I learned: The easy path is rarely the most rewarding. Some of the best views and experiences are discovered during detours. How it applies to writing: When you encounter an obstacle in your story, look for hidden paths in unexpected places. If you don’t immediately see them, look again through the eyes of a child or from the viewpoint of different characters. Shifting your perspective can help you see challenges from new angles and notice solutions you may have overlooked. Spotting this little whitebark pine growing in a lava field made me contemplate the untapped power within each of us. The experience: We were exploring a 1,500-year-old lava field in central Oregon when I spotted a lone whitebark pine growing in the obsidian. How it made me feel: Inspired by the little tree’s grit, independence, and minimalistic needs. What I learned: If that little tree can thrive in a place that’s been devoid of life for thousands of years, perhaps we are all stronger and more capable than we realize. How it applies to writing: Fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt can create an inhospitable environment for nurturing creativity and producing great writing. Lay down your words and bring your story to life anyway. Discovering the alluring fragrance of False Solomon’s seal reminded me that when we slow down and engage our senses, a deeper world reveals itself. The experience: In May, northwestern Oregon’s hiking trails are infused with a billowy clean fragrance from fluffy white flower clusters known as False Solomon’s seal. How it made me feel: Joyful to slow down and literally smell the flowers. What I learned: When we slow down and engage our senses, a deeper world reveals itself. What may be commonplace for some can be joyous discoveries for others. How it applies to writing: Slow down and describe your story world as if the reader has never been there. Examine the “everyday things” you might be rushing past and bring them to life with sensory details. Stumbling upon a surprise piano concert in the park showed me that you never know what’s right around the corner. The experience: After spending the day wandering behind waterfalls and peering over their edges, we were walking back to our car and we happened upon a pianist giving a free concert in the park. We abandoned our plans to go home and cook dinner and instead enjoyed a piano-infused picnic in the park. How it made me feel: Surprised that we happened to be in the right place at the right time. Grateful for the agility to shift our plans at a moment’s notice. Enchanted by the way music added a new dimension to an already majestic place. What I learned: You never know what’s right around the corner. How it applies to writing: Sometimes we think we know where our stories are going until a character says or does something that surprises us. Allow your vision, outline, and plot to be fluid so you can fold these magical surprises into your story when they present themselves. Ditching our hiking plans to dip our feet in the hot springs taught me that adventures aren’t measured by miles but by the memories you create. The experience: We had set out to hike the 7.5-mile loop around Paulina Lake, in central Oregon, but got sidetracked when we discovered natural hot springs along the shoreline. Hours slipped by as we dipped our feet in the steaming water and gazed up at snow-capped Paulina Peak looming before us. By the time we dried our feet and slipped back into our boots the sun was sinking and we didn’t have time to finish our hike, so we headed back the way we came. How it made me feel: A mix of disappointment in not reaching our goal, fear of missing out on the other side of the lake, delighted by our discovery, and grateful for the unique experience. What I learned: Adventures aren’t measured by miles but by the memories you create. How it applies to writing: Whether on the path or on the page, expectations are heavy. Leave them behind and go into each new experience with an open mind and heart. Have you ever been on a road trip or other inspiring journey? What experiences did you encounter? What lessons did you learn? » For more travel stories and creative inspiration, join me on my crisscross-country road trip on Instagram: @erikaliodice About Erika LiodiceThe first time Erika Liodice saw the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, and Holland's tulip fields was on the postcards her father sent from his business trips. Those postcards inspired a deep desire to see the world long before she stepped foot out of her small hometown in Pennsylvania. Today, Erika is an accomplished world traveler and freelance travel writer for National Geographic. Through her new Places That Inspire column here at Writer Unboxed, she sends postcards to fellow writers about the places she's discovered and the creativity they've inspired along the way. To learn more about Erika and her work, visit erikaliodice.com. Web | Instagram | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=69VDa5ibvXA:hSPWRW0thvw:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=69VDa5ibvXA:hSPWRW0thvw:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  10. Foz Meadows is a queer Australian author, essayist, reviewer and poet. In 2019, they won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer; they have also received the Norma K. Hemming Award in 2018 and the Ditmar Award for Best Fan Writer in 2017. Their essays, reviews, poetry and short fiction have appeared in various venues, including Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, Goblin Fruit, The Huffington Post and Strange Horizons. Foz currently lives in California with their family. Hi Foz, and welcome to the Hive! First of all, before we dive into your books, I follow you on TikTok and you need to tell us about your beautiful cats please. Haha, sure! We have three cats: BB (short for Bumblebee, also known as Bebo) who is a disabled ginger boi; Quango, our big fluffy silver cat, and Juno, a kitten with lynx point Siamese colouring but no actual pedigree. We adopted BB as a kitten in 2018, and as best we can tell, he has mild cerebellar hypoplasia, very underdeveloped rear leg muscles, and a nebulous grasp on catting generally; he’s also quite longsighted. Quango is the eldest; he was four when we found him at the shelter and is now six, and is the most gentlemanly cat I’ve ever met. Juno is the baby – we got her late last year and Quango immediately adopted her as his tiny violent daughter. They all get along very well and bring an enormous amount of joy to our household! Perfect! <3 Ok, back to the basics. Angry Robot is reissuing An Accident of Stars this month, so what can you tell us about it? Why should readers pick it up if they haven’t already? An Accident of Stars is a queer, feminist portal fantasy with the safeties off. Ha! I wrote it because, growing up, I always loved stories where a character from our world fell through a magic door, but the older I got, the more it bugged me how sanitised those journeys often were. The protagonists would be saviours, greeted as royalty, and there was always a sense of when and how you could go home – that it was a temporary trip, one you’d never have to account for to anyone else. So with An Accident of Stars, I wanted to flip the script: what happens when you find the magic door, but you’re not a princess or a saviour, and the adventure turns out to be genuinely dangerous and complicated? What happens when you know you’re being missed the whole time you’re gone? How much harder do things become then – and how much more meaningful does a new world become, if it’s something you choose for yourself? Can you tell us a bit more about your characters? Do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing? There are four POV protagonists in An Accident of Stars: Saffron, a teenage girl from Earth who stumbles through a portal she wasn’t meant to see; Gwen, a fiftysomething Earth-born worldwalker who’s been travelling between worlds for decades; Zech, a young girl in Kena with language-magic, called the zuymet; and Viya, the runaway consort of a newly despotic ruler. Based on that, it’s fair to say it’s a very female-centric book, but regardless of gender, I most enjoy writing characters who are figuring themselves out in relation to the world, or who are figuring out the world in relation to themselves. I like that mix of introspection and action that comes from having a character not only be firmly situated in their particular context, whatever it is, but aware of that context and trying to see how it fits together with what’s going on and who they’re trying to be, even if they don’t always get it right. Give us a glimpse into the world of your story – is your world building inspired by anything specific? There are two main fictional cultures in An Accident of Stars, though neither is based on any real-world place. One comes from Kena, where the marriages between gods in the heavenly pantheon are reflected in a polyamorous society, so that marrying multiple people for different practical and emotional reasons is the norm; the other comes from Veksh, which is a monotheistic matriarchy ruled by queens and priestesses. I wanted to explore different ways of living and being together as a queernorm backdrop for what the characters are going through, which in turn influences how they think and feel. I also wanted to show that no system or type of person is perfect, but that there’s value in difference and plurality to help us understand what suits us individually; that, even when ideologies come into conflict, it’s not always about one side being right, or anyone being right, for that matter – it’s about understanding where people are coming from, and why. The new cover is quite different! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray this time? As much as I love the original cover, I love this one, too! I was originally shown a bunch of different examples and asked which one I preferred, and from there, we narrowed down a few smaller details until we found something that worked. I’m really excited to see it out in the world! Let’s talk about the writing process; do you have a process? Tell us a little something about how your story comes together. So, for me, a story usually starts with a pairing of what-ifs. Fairly often, I’ll get the shape of something in my head, like, oh, what if marriage worked like –? or what if there was a person who –?, and then my brain gremlins put it in storage to bounce around with all the other what-ifs, until inevitably, two or more of them fuse together and morph into an idea, at which point a sort of mental static cling causes a few other circling what-ifs to clump on as well and flesh things out. What happens next depends on the idea itself, how much time I have to work on it, the phases of the moon – either I’ll just start writing and see what happens, or I’ll try doing that and realise no, wait, I actually need to work some things out first, or else I’ll tell myself “let’s just jot down some worldbuilding ideas,” and then five hours later I jerk out of a fugue state after writing a thousand year, five thousand word history of a fictional empire to explain the linguistic drift behind how names work in the present. (If this last one sounds like a very specific example, that’s because exactly this happened a few months ago.) Honestly, my brain is a sack of cats, which probably explains why I own three of them. We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying? Every edit is different: I always want the book to be the strongest version of itself, but that doesn’t mean the experience of making it so doesn’t vary wildly from project to project. In the case of the rerelease of An Accident of Stars, I was desperate to re-edit the book and feel extremely fortunate to have been able to do so, because when it was originally released, the final document was bricked by a virus that completely screwed the formatting and tracked changes right before it went to print. We were on a tight deadline and everyone involved did their best, but a bunch of errors snuck in regardless, and that’s always gnawed at me. But this time, I got to go back in and fix them! What (or who) are your most significant fantasy/sci-fi influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday? The authors who had the biggest influence on me growing up were Kate Elliott and Katharine Kerr, both of whom I’m lucky enough to have subsequently met and befriended. It wasn’t just that I loved their work and learned a lot from their craft; it was that, even before I was published, when I was a tiny teenage writer on the internet, they interacted with me as a commenter on LiveJournal and a now-defunct website called DeepGenre, where a handful of pro authors gave advice and encouragement to would-be SFF writers. I was this random kid on the other side of the world, and it wasn’t like we spoke all the time, but they were always kind and supportive, and when my first book came out in 2010 and I started to dip my toe in the world of making professional friends and contacts, they remembered me. As for working with other creators, I don’t have any specific names in mind, but I’d love to get the chance to collaborate to make something in a different media format like TV or graphic novels one day! The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day? Well, first I wake up at dawn and do yoga, then I make myself a kale smoothie and – no. Sorry. I’m a horrible gremlin who’ll sleep until noon, slouch downstairs to eat whatever’s easiest to make, and then watch k-pop videos on YouTube until such time as it’s socially acceptable to have an adult beverage, which I will drink while reading in the bath. Oh thank god, we were worried for a moment there. Hell, I don’t even put on pants unless I’m leaving the house. I am a creature of simple pleasures and singular braincell. One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why? A gryphon, because even though dragons are cool as hell, they’re also sharp and difficult to care for, whereas a gryphon is basically a big flying cat with a beak on and therefore a) more comfortable and b) lower maintenance. Tell us about a book you love. Any hidden gems? I am always going to stan for the Books of the Raksura series by Martha Wells. If you like queer matriarchal dragon-y shapeshifters with found family, angst, mystery quests and really cool epic worldbuilding, then these are the books for you! Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress? Have you any upcoming projects which you can share? I’ve got an m/m fantasy romance, A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, coming out from Tor in July; I’m currently writing the sequel, which I’m really excited about, and I also have a couple of other projects on the backburner that I’m keen to get to, one of which is about a teenage monster-vet-slash-zoologist doing politics, and the other of which is a sort of reverse murder mystery in a world where magic comes from being touched by gods. Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing? I don’t want everyone to take away one specific thing; I just hope that they enjoy it, and that maybe they find something meaningful in it, whatever that means to them. Thank you so much for joining us today! An Accident of Stars is out tomorrow – 28th June – from Angry Robot. You can order your copy HERE The post Interview with Foz Meadows (AN ACCIDENT OF STARS) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  11. We’re thrilled today to welcome Al Hess to the Hive. He’s here to share with us his path of self-discovery through writing. Al’s Mazarin Blues was a semi-finalist in this year’s SPSFC, and his novel World Running Down is out next year from Angry Robot. You can find out more about his writing HERE Al Hess lives in the middle of the desert salt flats. He has one son, and his small town of Wendover straddles the stateline of Nevada and Utah. When not hunched before a computer screen, he can be found hunched over an art desk. Al does portraits in both pencil and oil paint, and loves drawing fellow authors’ characters nearly as much as his own. He writes cozy and uplifting stories with queer, trans, and neurodivergent representation. Find Hope and Identity Through Characters by Al Hess If you’d looked through my bedroom when I was a teen, beyond the Bibles and church dresses you would have found Nine Inch Nails CDs and a crush on Jeff Goldblum. Beyond that, in a secret pocket in my sketchbook, were self-portraits as Dragon Ball Z characters—muscles and all—and oft-handled magazine pages of women with shaved heads. Growing up in a conservative, religious environment, I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate or the space to explore this ever-present ache in the back of my mind. Once I got married and had a child, I had even less. I crammed the feeling down as far as I could and overcompensated for how un-feminine I felt by dressing like a 50s pin up every day. But when I picked up writing after two decades of absence, something happened. The types of protagonists I wrote started to change. So did I. It wasn’t until my marriage disintegrated and I’d typed 750,000 words of characters finding themselves that I was able to excavate what I’d buried and hold it up to the light. My writing journey started in 2017 by falling down a hill with Owl, a cishetero woman fleeing her abusive life and venturing into the wasteland alone. Filling her stolen leather travel boots was cathartic, and anyone comparing her to me at that time in my life would have seen many resemblances. But she wasn’t really me. I found pieces of myself and my life in other characters as I continued to write their stories. Eventually, I ended up in Reed’s snow-caked spectator shoes as his anxiety carried him down a dark stairwell in downtown Boise. Writing a gay male protagonist and surrounding him with an all-queer cast, including a non-binary deuteragonist, was comforting and right. By the time I was ready to draft my tenth book and slip into Valentine’s holey socks, I was no longer on a path of discovery. I knew who I was. This journey would be one of despair—and one of hope. I cannot convey how it feels to know you’ve discovered the secret to your life, only to realize there’s absolutely no way to achieve it. If I transitioned, there was a good chance I’d lose my job. Friends. My family. Even if I did transition, I would never have a cis male body. And if I couldn’t have that body, what was the point to life? To living? Every night, I laid awake in bed and stared at the ceiling, consumed with a longing for what I couldn’t have. The only way I knew to alleviate it was to do what I did best—write. Valentine, a trans man working as a salvager in the deserts of post-apocalyptic Utah, is stuck, just as I was. He lays in his rusty and cramped VW van, aching so badly to be the man he is inside. He even has a well-loved magazine page depicting who he yearns to be hidden in his wallet. But no matter how hard he tries, he’ll never be able to save the money for a visa into Salt Lake City where the means to medically transition are in reach. But I couldn’t leave him that way. I gave him a love interest—a formerly disembodied A.I. now demoted into an android. And while Osric’s circumstances aren’t the same as Valentine’s, Osric understands just as acutely the dysphoria and disconnect of being in a body you don’t belong in. Though I’d written male/male romance before this book, it felt more personal this time because being trans adds a whole new layer of complexity and insecurity on top of Valentine and Osric’s relationship. I needed Osric to see Valentine for the man he is, even when Valentine can’t see it himself. And similarly, I needed Valentine to care for Osric beyond his current android form. I also gave him a conundrum: help himself and achieve his dream of transition… or help others on their own journeys to become themselves. I don’t think it will take a reader very long hanging out with Valentine to know which one he’ll choose. There is hope on the desolate salt flats of Utah, but there are also Mormon desert pirates, stabby androids, giant biomechanical eyeballs, and more snark than a scrappy 64-inch salvager has any right to have. This is an adventure, after all. When I started writing World Running Down, it was for me. When I queried it, it was for other trans people. Though I loved self-publishing, there was no way this book would have the exposure to reach the readers who needed it most unless I could get an agent and eventually a publisher. Now that it’s found a perfect home at Angry Robot, this book is for everyone. Even if cis readers can’t empathize firsthand with what Valentine is going through, themes of identity and finding yourself are prevalent throughout the book. It’s never too late to figure out who you are. There is a happy ending here for more than only the denizens of the run-down American west. I’ve now been on testosterone for a year and half, and I’m relieved to say that I haven’t lost my true friends, my family, nor my job. In fact, I’ll be going back to my career in the fall as Mr. Hess. I have a long way to go on this journey, but each day brings me closer to who I am. And I’m not afraid of wearing out my shoes in the process because I have plenty of characters who will let me borrow theirs. Except for Osric. He hardly wears pants. The post Find Hope and Identity through Characters – GUEST POST by Al Hess appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  12. You’re not wrong, Writer Unboxed is indeed dedicated to the business and craft of writing fiction. For anyone keeping track, yes–two out of my last three essays here have drawn from music and musicians (rather than books and authors). But hey, times are tough, and I promise, this time I won’t cite lyrics or delve into song meanings. So maybe you’ll bear with me? It was the solstice last Tuesday, technically making the past week the lightest of the year. But for me, these long days have been feeling pretty dark. War, disease, demagoguery, racism, misogyny, the nullification of rights; they all feel like the drumbeats to the steady march of authoritarianism. It’s felt more like the start of dystopia than the start of summer. It’s been hard to stay hopeful, which might be why I seized upon some happy news. News that you may not have noticed. As a longtime fan of English singer, songwriter, pianist, dancer, and record producer Kate Bush, I’ve been a keen spectator as her 1985 song Running Up That Hill reappeared on the charts and proceeded to race upward. The song, an old favorite of mine, has reentered the zeitgeist due to its meaningful placement in the new season of the hit show Stranger Things. Last week Running Up That Hill hit #1 in the U.K. as well as six other countries, and entered the top five on the U.S. charts. Kate has been shattering records along the way, including the longest duration for a song from its release to hitting #1 (37 years!), and oldest female to hit #1 (Kate’s 63, beating out Cher’s Do You Believe In Life After Love, which topped the charts when Cher was 53). Speaking of stranger things, this all feels strangely fitting, since Kate was the first English singer to hit #1 with a self-written song (Wuthering Heights, in 1978, at the age of 19). The success of Running Up That Hill has led to a revival of the phenomenon a teenage Kate became in the U.K. in the late 70s. This time around, thanks to TikTok, she’s a worldwide version (her songs have been sampled on TikTok more than 616 million times). In dark days, a spectacle like this feels like a little bit of joy to grab onto. As a means of fighting my world-weariness, the revival has led me to drop into the Kate Bush rabbit hole. I’ve not only been listening to her nearly nonstop, I’ve been rewatching old interviews and documentaries. I’ve been struck anew by what a singular artist Kate really is. There was nothing like her when she arrived, and in spite of many who cite her as an influence (Bjork, St. Vincent, Joanna Newsome, to name a few), there’s really been no one like her since. Something I heard in an old interview caught my ear and brought it all home. The interviewer asked about her willingness to take risks in her art. Kate’s response? “This is what art is all about, isn’t it? It’s a sense of moving away from boundaries that you can’t escape in real life.” Kate’s Literary Cred If you’re still not convinced Kate Bush is the most fitting topic for an essay on writing fiction, please consider the vast depth and breadth of her literary influences. Not only was Kate’s first big hit a tribute to Emily Bronte’s only novel (the aforementioned Wuthering Heights), Kate has also referenced or alluded to the literary works of William Blake, Henry James, Albert Tennyson, Hans Christian Anderson, Peter Reich, Stephen King, and—of course—Shakespeare. Heck, when Kate approached the James Joyce estate for permission to put the Molly Bloom soliloquy to music, and was refused, she rewrote the thing herself. Beautifully, in my opinion; in a manner perhaps more fitting than Joyce to making her point ( for the song The Sensual World). As a storyteller, Kate has written from what has to be one of the broadest arrays of POVs in modern songwriting, including (but far from limited to): *An aging and neglected wife who tests her husband’s fidelity (Babooshka) *The mother of a soldier killed in action (Army Dreamers) *The son of a dissident who professes to be a rainmaker (Cloudbusting) *A regretful husband, waiting to hear if his wife in childbirth survives complications (This Woman’s Work) *An unborn baby, singing from the womb in a post-apocalyptic, radioactive world (Breathing) How many of us has tested our writing range like that? Convinced that she’s worthy of our writerly curiosity yet? An Icon Living an Artist’s Life Kate has always had an uneasy relationship with fame. She hasn’t toured since 1979. She’s since seemed more driven by making new music than promoting the music that’s been released. When she grew tired of asking her label for more studio time and being refused, she simply built her own studio. Once asked about her fierce independent streak, and reputation as being “difficult,” Kate replied, “I’m the shyest megalomaniac you’re ever likely to meet.” Heh—sounds like a few writers I know. Over decades of fandom, I’ve come to admire so much about her beyond the music itself. She’s not only fierce in pursuing her vision for her music, she’s fiercely pursued living an artist’s life, shunning celebrity and all of its trappings in order to do so. As hard as it currently feels to stay focused and committed to my own artistic vision, it seems like the perfect time to examine the life of someone who’s done it so well. Let’s take a look at a few of Kate’s lessons for living an artist’s life, shall we? Discipline—When asked about avoiding distraction, Kate has said she needs, “a very contained environment.” One in which she feels free to explore. “In a lot of ways I really am quite shy as a performer, and it’s important that I feel safe and comfortable while I’m trying ideas out.” Satisfaction—When an interviewer suggested that Kate never seems satisfied with her dancing, she said, “I have a level of dissatisfaction with everything I attempt to do, really. I wouldn’t want to keep doing it if I wasn’t (dissatisfied). It’s the desire to do something well, that you’re not quite pleased with, that keeps you motivated.” She also said, “The idea is to be pleased enough to know you can make it better.” But she also warned that, “You’ve got to give yourself a way to find a sense of accomplishment. I feel that when I finish (making an album).” Preconceptions—When asked if she feels misunderstood, Kate said, “It’s not important to me that people understand me.” In another interview, she said, “It’s only natural for people to be interested in someone in the spotlight (the artist). I prefer to have my work speak for me. I think my work says a lot more interesting things than I ever could. It’s more eloquent by design. So people’s preconceptions about me are their problem, not mine.” Expectations—When asked if she feels pressure from her record company or from fans, Kate said, “I do feel pressure. The main sort is the pressure to find ways to be different, to keep evolving. That’s a pressure that I put myself under. It’s only when an album is released that the pressure you’re referring to comes into play. At that point, it’s out of my hands, really.” Evolution—When asked about how she’s changed as an artist, she said, “The making of an album leads inevitably to big discovery. And I think that discovery is used best when it’s used on the next album. It’s all a big learning process. Each album is like starting from scratch, but from a new plateau.” Voice—[Note: Kate is referring to her singing voice, but to me what she’s saying applies to authorial voice, as well.] When asked about a perceived change in her range, she said, “It’s different for the audience than it is for me. Every artist goes through phases, of things they try out. It always starts with experimentation. But yes, my voice has changed a lot. As I’ve grown, my voice has grown with me. I can easily do things with it that weren’t easy for me years ago.” Audience—In regard to fans’ response to change, Kate said, “People expect too much sometimes (from an artist). I think the work is what should stand out…I think the relationship to the audience is that they should know that I’m producing the very best that I can at the time. And that’s all I can do. I do really hope that they like it, but I think it’s important to change. The person I was when I was writing the first album is quite a bit different to the person writing these songs now.” Showing The Way One of my favorite quotes about Kate came from rock journalist Nigel Williamson: “What makes her fascinating to her audience is the fact that she’s not necessarily making records for them.” That may sound odd, but I get it. And I admire it. It’s always been clear to me that Kate Bush panders to no one. She experiments without restrain, free from expectation. She’s fearless, trying things that most pop artists would consider themselves way too cool to attempt. I see that fearlessness as a byproduct of living the artist’s life. She eschews self-consciousness, but she takes herself seriously, which forces us to do the same. Once she’s put her art into the public realm, she’s trained herself to let it go and to strive on to the next thing. It’s clear to me that Kate Bush finds joy in creation rather than in validation. Kate has bristled at being called reclusive, and insists she shuns the spotlight only so that she can “lead an ordinary life.” But I’d hardly call her life ordinary. More like extraordinary. Regarding the use of the song Running Up That Hill in Stranger Things, in a recent and rare interview with BBC radio, Kate said, “I really like for people to hear a song and take from it what they want… But I thought, what a lovely way for the song to be used, in such a positive way—as a kind of talisman for Max (the show’s female teenage protagonist). I find it very touching, actually.” [If you’re interested in how the song was used, there is a video—spoiler warning for Stranger Things, S4] Such a legacy! I’m not a musician and yet Kate fills me with aspiration. Not that I aspire to popularity or fame. I aspire to dedicate myself to my art as she does; to strive to experiment and evolve; to dedicate myself to my vision without heeding commercial viability; to release what I’ve created and then let go of the outcome; to truly find joy in creation. The very sort of hyper-connectivity that Stranger Things has brought to Running Up That Hill has the potential to lead us astray. So much of our endeavor has us focused on screens. Screens that can so easily become windows to despair. Kate’s example reminds us to maintain our focus not on what’s reflected back, but on projecting our next vision, and seizing the joy in doing so. Now that’s how one lives an artist’s life. The lessons Kate Bush provides could not have reentered my own life at a better time. Thanks, Kate. How about you, WU? Are you a Kate Bush fan? Have you been Running Up That Hill of late? Are you finding joy in creation? Let’s seek a bit of Deeper Understanding in the comments. About Vaughn RoycroftVaughn Roycroft's (he/him) teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit in the 6th grade, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy. Web | Twitter | Facebook | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=KodZWeRPXrc:7cgT2u9nGp4:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=KodZWeRPXrc:7cgT2u9nGp4:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  13. ‘What kind of person sought work on a sailing vessel? The type who longed for freedom—who wasn’t content to sit where they were told, but instead wanted to see something new. A person who wanted to chase the horizon.’ You may remember I reviewed Dawnshard back in December 2020 when the ebook was first released. Well since then Titan Book UK has released the novella in hardback and were kind enough to send me a copy. Honestly, the cover on it is amazing, the red and white palette matches with the rest of the UK Stormlight Archives covers perfectly and the gold shards really shine! I thought I would share a review again for those of you who may have missed the first one or haven’t read it yet. A little note: Dawnshard, is a novella set months after the cataclysmic ending of Oathbringer, and is recommended to be read before the second new instalment – Rhythm of War. Prior to the initial release, I knew Dawnshard would feature two of the minor characters from the previous books in the Stormlight Archives series. Those being Lopen, a Radiant and member of Kaladin’s Bridge Four, and Rysn who we met during an interlude in Oathbringer. I was actually really excited to have these two become main characters because Lopen has never ceased to entertain me with his eccentric sense of humour, and with Rysn being physically disabled is a character whom I felt a personal connection with. Rysn and Chiri-Chiri Fan Art by Ryan by botanica (Pinterest) The first half of Dawnshard takes place on Rysn’s ship – the Wandersail, as we follow the characters on an expedition to the mysterious island of Akinah. I did find the pace slow going to begin with; considering how short this novella is, I found myself eager for the crew to reach the island quicker as I was desperate to see its secrets uncovered. Yet I’m aware of Sanderson’s style – he painstakingly, and wonderfully, fleshes out each of his characters, so I still thoroughly enjoyed the opening chapters. In fact I must applaud Sanderson for his portrayal of Rysn. After a tragic accident she is left a paraplegic, which is a condition almost identical to my own disability except that I have had it since birth. Therefore when I say that Sanderson illustrates the difficulties and frustrations wheelchair users encounter spot-on, I speak from my own personal experience. Rysn faces accessibility hindrances, she reflects upon feeling ignored, feeling a burden, being belittled by others, her need and pleasure to have small amounts of independence, to feel useful and worthy. These are all accurate thoughts and insecurities and Rysn’s journey to accepting her condition and learning to live with it the best she can, is something anyone with a disability also goes through. I know that Sanderson consulted people with paraplegia to help him depict these issues authentically, and I truly commend him for this. Every author should go this extra mile when writing about issues they have not experienced first-hand. “They can’t see me. They see the chair.” Nevertheless, I also appreciated that Rysn doesn’t have a snarky attitude towards others either, she does not treat others with resentment or bitterness, nor does she wallow in self-pity. Sanderson may realistically portray her hardships but he never allows Rysn to be centred on her disability, her limitations and weaknesses are not what defines her. She is far more than her disability, she is a talented merchant, a trade negotiator, she keeps the queen’s ledger’s in order, she’s extremely observant and intelligent. Rysn is also a person who genuinely appreciates others effort to help even when she’d prefer to be independent. Her loneliness is apparent though, yet her bond with Chiri-Chiri, her animal companion, softens her heart, and ours. The Lopen and Rua fan art by Ralf Melevo (Instagram @ralfm.art) To counteract Rysn’s more serious and ‘professional’ nature, Sanderson presents us with ‘the Lopen!’ We see an endearing friendship between Lopen and Rysn developing as they both bond over their shared experiences of being different to others. This growing affection for one another really allowed both character’s personalities to shine, and well… It also led to some rather comical chapters which heightened my love for Lopen. He entails such a quirky, outlandish personality and can execute the most utterly ridiculous jokes at such tense moments, which easily made him charming. “Fine,” Lopen said, pointing forward heroically, with Rua copying him. “Onward we go, to step foot on a land no person has visited in centuries!” “Except the crew of the other ship,” Huio said.’ A few other memorable characters were Huio – Lopen’s cousin and Cord – Rock’s daughter. They both became more significant characters in Dawnshard with gripping story arcs. Once again Sanderson casts his spell and has made me invested in even more of his characters! I won’t disclose much about the world-building or any details on the island of Akinah itself, but we do learn a great deal and there are many connections and implications which relate to other Cosmere books. Now that I am more than halfway through the Mistborn series, I shall reread this novella after finishing Mistborn era two, and Secret History so that I can finally understand how all the connections fall into place. I believe the magic within Dawnshard’s pages resides in Lopen and Rysn, as together they embark upon a fantastic journey of unlikely heroes with so much heart and humour. Once more Sanderson also delivers a high-octane ending, one which is full of action and suspense. He leaves his readers with tantalising revelations and copious amounts of questions. This is certainly another crucial book for all Cosmere fans to dive into. Review copy provided by Sarah at Titan Books. Thank you for the copy! Dawnshard is out in hardback now! The post CRUISING THE COSMERE: Dawnshard (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  14. Shelley Parker-Chan is an Asian-Australian former diplomat and international development adviser who spent nearly a decade working on human rights, gender equality and LGBT rights in Southeast Asia. Named after the Romantic poet, she was raised on a steady diet of Greek myths, Arthurian legend and Chinese tales of suffering and tragic romance. Her debut novel She Who Became the Sun owes more than a little to all three. In 2017 she was awarded an Otherwise (Tiptree) Fellowship for a work of speculative narrative that expands our understanding of gender. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her family. Pronouns: she/they Welcome to the Hive Shelley! We’ve been hosting a readalong of She Who Became the Sun so it’s a great opportunity to interview you! Thanks for picking She Who Became the Sun for a readalong! Really hope it was enjoyable. Firstly congratulations on the huge success of She Who Became the Sun! Did you expect to have such a great response? Not at all! I had a lot of luck with the timing, the book just coming out when there was a rising interest in Chinese fantasy due to the popularity of various TV series and translated webnovels. You can’t expect that to happen. Books like The Poppy War also paved the way, for which I’m extremely grateful. Just for a bit of fun, could you describe your book in five words? Epic revenge of the genderqueers. Ha! Perfect! Ok, She Who Became the Sun has been lauded for both its queer rep, but also for bringing east-Asian stories and history into the western fantasy perspective. How important are both aspects to you? There’s a long history of western SFF taking inspiration from Asia, from Blade Runner and Star Wars to your secondary-world-but-actually-Japan feudal sword fantasies. But as a member of the Asian diaspora, you definitely notice when stories present an aesthetic as opposed to a culture. It was important to me to show characters shaped by a culture and worldview—and the ways in which that culture is processed through individual perspectives that have been formed by personal history, personality, social pressures, trauma. I wanted to depict all that interiority, the experience of being Asian, which can be something to be proud of—but at the same time can come with shame, ambivalence, even outright rejection. It’s the same with queerness. I wanted to explore how queerness makes you see and understand the world in a particular way, how it makes you feel in relation to other people, how it causes you to move through the world differently. Queerness isn’t just the act of expressing your sexuality. It’s a perspective. Were there any particular constraints you overcame in achieving this? Most of the constraints are internal: the constant questioning of yourself as qualified to write about these topics, about this history, the feeling of whether you dare to criticise and express ambivalence about your own culture. It’s uncomfortable to know that if you do succeed in getting published, you’ll be a minority perspective and suddenly the bearer of this immense burden of representation. Readers who are like you desperately want you to get it right—but of course, there’s no one ‘right’ way to depict heterogenous experience, so of course one story can never satisfy everyone. And for readers who aren’t like you, perhaps they don’t get where you’re coming from; you have to do this tremendous work of making yourself relatable. Of explaining things that could otherwise have remained implicit. It was so important to surround myself with other authors experiencing the same, so we could support each other through the process. I’m so glad to hear you had a support network throughout that process. Let’s take a closer look at your characters! We loved following Zhu and her evolution through the story. Can you tell our readers more about her? Zhu’s defining characteristic is the strength of her desire to survive. According to the values of the time, her life is worthless: she’s an ugly, illiterate peasant girl from the subjugated south of Mongol China. But Zhu rejects that judgement. Her life has value to her, and she’ll do anything to keep it. Part of how she survives is by refusing to be constrained by any one identity. She’s constantly slipping between names, genders, social roles. She learns to delight in that slippage, to find power in the interstices. Her archetype is the underdog trickster king—she’s inspired by Dorothy Dunnett’s Niccolo, Kenshin Himura from the Rurouni Kenshin series, Gen from Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief. The crucial difference being that those characters are men. Their character traits are entangled with the way they understand their gender, their masculinity, and how they consciously or subconsciously perform it to the world—and how the world reacts to that performance. Zhu is AFAB. You can’t graft character traits wholesale from a cis man onto someone who isn’t, and expect that character to feel coherent. Zhu might have the ambition and cynical ruthlessness of the OG Zhu Yuanzhang, and Kenshin’s combination of playfulness and deadly competence, and Gen’s hidden identity, but those traits have different expressions in her person, in her body, because of who she is and what she’s been. When it came to Zhu’s adversary, Ouyang, he demonstrates incredible depth and complexity – his approach to his identity is the complete opposite to Zhu’s. Could you tell us more about how it was to create these two opposing perspectives? Ouyang isn’t a historical figure. He arose a bit later in the development process, when I realised that if I wanted a protagonist whose story was about freeing herself from gender, from her assigned place in society, I needed an antagonist who was the other side of the coin: someone trapped in his gender, someone who was unable to see or accept the existence of alternative ways of being. Zhu and Ouyang are two queer people, they’re two people who aren’t cis, but they’ve been shaped uniquely by their experiences and environment—as are we all. But I also didn’t want to throw out the element of personal agency. I think Zhu and Ouyang’s differing understandings of their ability to choose, to have power over their individual situations, are one of the most interesting things about them as a dyad. (And it’s a big part of Book 2.) Your prose is stunning and you really bring the world of 14th century China to life. Did it require a lot of research? I love research—it feels very virtuous—but less as a means of acquiring Facts than for it filling my brain with sparkly inspiration. I read histories; I read the classics; I read about the lives of ordinary people and about art; I read the Secret History of the Mongols. I lived in Asia so I went to a lot of museums. I watched dramas and told myself it was research. I’d come across some fascinating minor historical figure, like the half-Mongol half-Chinese Prince of Henan who strove to be a perfect Mongol warrior and defender of empire, and whose Chinese enemies would scream out his Chinese baby name on the battlefield to piss him off, and I’d be like: him, I must have him in this book! But once I started writing, I stopped researching. I maintain that my book is no less historically accurate than a mid-budget cdrama, and I’m at peace with that. I’m here to have fun. And how difficult was it to focus yourself to just one story whilst researching? In line with this, are there any other historical figures whose stories you’d love to tell? Not so difficult, I’m not one of those people who have a million story ideas percolating at once. I wish I was! I have a lot of envy of people who seem to generate ideas spontaneously, while I have to scrouge around super hard to find something that seems like it’ll have enough substance and momentum to turn into a book. For a while I was considering doing a retelling of a particular episode in the Bible, but the idea of playing in that particular sandbox is daunting, so I think I’ll wait to level up in skills before addressing that one. I’m going to try a secondary world next—I want the freedom of just making things up! A secondary world sounds exciting! One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why? Battle lizard, for sure, preferably one with telepathic bonding (of course). Obvs. Did you always plan to write a duology or did this occur naturally as you began writing? And can you give your readers any teasers for the sequel? It was originally conceived of as a trilogy, but Tor bought two, so two it is! Such are the ways of publishing. (To be honest, I’m thankful I don’t have to write three: I think two is the right length.) Book 2 is about the journeys of three main contenders for the throne, and what each of their identities would imply for the institution of empire were they to become emperor. Zhu is obviously one contender, and there’s a man, and a woman. One of the central questions of She Who Became the Sun was: what will you do to get what you want? The sequel asks: what are the consequences of what you did, to get what you wanted? How do you deal with those consequences, how do they inform your future choices, and what kind of person do you become because of them? Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing? I always hesitate to tell people what they should feel about anything, but I know what I wanted to achieve: a story that’s fun, immersive and cathartic. I wanted something that shows how what the world views as your weakness, and despises you for, can in fact be a source of strength. If you choose for it to be! Thank you so much for joining us! The post Interview with Shelley Parker-Chan (SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  15. “Collective safety, sometimes, trumps personal safety. Friends who aren’t willing to fight alongside one another aren’t friends.” “No real plans, only chaos. This is how we’re meant to live.” Margaret Killjoy’s two Danielle Cain novellas, The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion (2017) and The Barrow Will Send What It May (2018) are remarkable works of anarchist supernatural fantasy, genuinely punk in the sense that they rigorously imagine ways of being outside of the constraints of neoliberal capitalist society. Where her brilliant debut novel A Country Of Ghosts (2014) imagined an anarchist society living in defiance of an imperialist regime, the two Danielle Cain novellas are joyously fun works of dark fantasy that pit Danielle and her found family of itinerant punks against threats both supernatural and authoritarian. Both novellas display Killjoy’s commitment to imagining alternative lifestyles, as Danielle and her friends encounter and interact with anarchist communities in a USA in which magic is real and the demonic is just round the corner. They also show her stellar character work, with every one of Killjoy’s ragtag team of misfits and the friends and enemies they encounter wonderfully evoked and given a chance to shine. The novellas crackle with inventiveness, fun and vividly imagined magic. They are perfect demonstrations of how fantasy can be simultaneously fun and willing to engage with big ideas. At the beginning of The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion, Danielle Cain is hitchhiking her way into Freedom, Iowa, the last place where her friend Clay lived before his mysterious suicide. Freedom on the surface appears to be everything she’s always dreamed of – a utopian squatter town run as an anarchist commune, operating outside the restrictions of modern-day capitalism. However, she soon finds out that things are not as perfect as they seem – the town is guarded by a supernatural giant bloodred deer demon with three antlers called Uliksi, who has started murdering the people who summoned him. Freedom is splitting into factions, those led by Eric, who believe that Uliksi is protecting them, and those who fear Uliksi has gone to far and that it is time to banish him before there is more bloodshed. Fortunately, Danielle has her new friends, Vulture, Doomsday, Thursday, and Brynn, to help her solve the mystery and figure out a way to get rid of Uliksi before Eric and his followers seize control of Freedom. The Barrow Will Send What It May picks up after the end of the first novella, with Danielle and her new found family on the run from the law and looking for their next mission as a newly formed demon hunting crew. They find themselves in Pendleton, Montana, a small town with an anarchist-run library, and two women, Gertrude and Isola, who have been resurrected from the dead. Sebastian Miller, who runs a local gift shop, has a side line in black magic and necromancy, and his meddling may just bring about the apocalypse. Danielle and her crew must team up with their new friends Vasilis and Heather, the anarchists who run the local library, to stop Sebastian before he causes any more damage. Both novellas are tightly plotted demon hunting fun. Killjoy has a knack for disturbing, psychedelic-tinged imagery which makes her descriptions of magic and the supernatural truly chilling. I doubt anyone who has read the scene where Uliksi punches through a man’s chest with his hooves and tears out and devours his heart will forget it, or indeed sleep soundly, in a hurry. But in between all the fun, the magic and the horror, Killjoy manages to work in thoughtful discussions about different ways to live. The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion is an investigation into the whole idea of authority, and the extent to which it is possible to escape from it. Freedom, Iowa can only exist as an anarchist utopia as long as no one person tries to wrest control from the will of the people. Clay, Doomsday and local witches Anchor and Rebecca originally summoned Uliski because someone in the community was threatening to take over. Uliski maintains the utopia in Freedom by killing and devouring anyone who acts with violence or intent to control. But ultimately he turns on his summoners because summoning him was an act of violence to maintain control. Because Freedom is only able to exist as an anarchist alternative to the outside world thanks to the threat of Uliksi, who himself becomes ultimately another form of violence and coercion, it cannot be a true utopia. The Barrow Will Send What It May tackles ideas of love and consent. Sebastian resurrects his wife Gertrude following her death from cancer, but he does this not because of Gertrude’s own desires but because he cannot face living without his wife. His decision, which requires a sacrifice of another life to Barrow, the guardian of the gateway between life and death, is one which removes the agency both of his dead wife and the person that he must kill. His love is selfish and destructive. This is contrasted with the burgeoning romance between Danielle and Brynn, which is built around mutual respect and consent, with both Danielle and Brynn working hard to overcome their petty jealousies and selfish tendencies so that they may love each other better. The novellas’ intellectual themes are anchored by Killjoy’s wonderful character work. In less than three hundred pages across the two books, Killjoy manages to bring Danielle and her friends vividly to life. The demon hunting crew don’t always agree with each other, but they absolutely have each others’ backs and deeply care for and respect each other. They are a lovable bunch of misfits, from a variety of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities, and their diversity is their strength. Though the focus is largely on Danielle and her romantic interest Brynn, Killjoy manages to make each of them feel like fully developed characters in their own right, and gives each of them a chance to shine. I can only hope that we will get to follow Danielle Cain and her friends on more exciting and fun adventures. The post THE LAMB WILL SLAUGHTER THE LION / THE BARROW WILL SEND WHAT IT MAY by Margaret Killjoy (BOOK REVIEWS) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  16. Serial reading/writing platforms and apps aren’t new. Wattpad is probably the best known; others include Radish, Webnovel, and Kindle Vella. In the past couple of years, though, there’s been major proliferation in the serial reading/writing space, with multiple companies launching mobile apps: Goodnovel, NovelCat, SofaNovel, FameInk, Hinovel, NovelPotato, Novelstar, Fizzo, just to name a few. Based primarily in Singapore, Hong Kong, and mainland China, these apps host enormous numbers of mostly English-language serialized novels in almost every genre you’ve heard of (and some you haven’t). Novels are published chapter by chapter, with the first few available for free and readers buying “coins” or tokens to unlock the rest. What’s the appeal for writers? Monetization. Benefits include a share of reader-generated revenue, along with a variety of one-time or repeating cash payments (for instance, Novelbee offers a signing bonus, an updating bonus, a completion bonus, a renewal bonus, and an advance/buyout payment). And it’s not just about the money. The apps also hold out the promise of exposure, reader feedback, promotional support, and guidance from editors. “We Nourish New Shining Stars,” Hinovel promises. Despite publishing almost entirely in English (and featuring mostly white European faces on book covers), the apps recruit internationally. Novelcat, for example, describes its Writer Benefits in Bahasa Indonesia, Vietnamese, Hindi, Tagalog, Portuguese, French, German, and Spanish in addition to English. Editors, aka recruiters, who look to sign completed and previously published books as well as works yet to be written, employ aggressive tactics, including soliciting writers on Wattpad, messaging them on Facebook, inviting submissions in writers’ groups, and emailing out of the blue. If you’ve self-published, or published with a small press, you may hear—or may already have heard—from a serial reading/writing app. So why do the apps loom large on Writer Beware’s radar? UNPACKING THE PROMISES What’s not always completely clear in recruitment ads and emails, or on the apps’ websites, is how conditional many of the “writer benefits” are. The full range of financial rewards, for instance, may only be available for exclusive contracts, with many of the income options off the table for non-exclusive agreements. Benefits may be further restricted by limited availability (you may only be able to claim monthly update bonuses twice, for example) or by requiring grueling benchmarks in order to claim them (producing 60,000 words or more monthly, being “absent” no more than two days per month). As for a share of reader income, that may only be available for books that are designated as “premium content”—something that’s entirely at the apps’ discretion, and is not necessarily guaranteed. Many apps promise editorial guidance–but the people functioning as editors are recruited in the same way as authors, and remuneration isn’t exactly princely. iStory, for example, provides editors with a small monthly cash payment plus a 10% share of reader revenue from the authors they sign, but they get paid only if they fulfill recruitment quotas. I can’t see a lot of credentialed professionals signing on for that. (I’ve gotten reports from a number of writers who’ve had poor editorial experiences, including being berated for for not posting enough content, being pressured to insert erotic content into their books, or being ghosted by their editors.) Some apps tease exciting-sounding PR: social media promotion, mainstream media advertising, featured placement within the app. But those perks typically go only to the writers who rise to the top with the largest number of reads. The rest must compete for readers not only with thousands of other authors on the app, but with tens of thousands of writers on the many similar apps that also offer serialized genre novels. In such a crowded, competitive space, exposure and audience-building are likely to be the exception, not the rule. And then there are the contracts. PREDATORY CONTRACT TERMS I’ve seen contracts from a variety of serial reading/writing apps, both exclusive and non-exclusive (and have written about a number of them on the Writer Beware blog). Without exception, they are lengthy English-language documents dense with legalese and confusing terminology. (To give you a sense, here’s the non-exclusive contract offered by Popink.) If they’re cumbersome to slog through even for someone like me, with years of contract evaluation experience, they must seem like gibberish to many of the writers recruited by the apps, who are often very young or speak English as a second language. And it’s important that writers understand what they’re signing up for, because app contracts can include seriously author-unfriendly language. Here are some of the most common issues I’ve seen. Excessive grant terms. Very long contract terms are a feature of many app contracts, anywhere from 10 years, to 20 years, to (most frequently) life-of-copyright. In internet time, even 10 years is an eternity; there’s no reason in the world for a publisher to hold rights for so long, especially for works that aren’t being promoted or aren’t getting much reader attention. A fixed-term contract for digital publication shouldn’t extend beyond seven years, tops. No or very limited options for termination by the author. Many of the app contracts I’ve seen are “irrevocable”: writers have no right of termination at all. For contracts with lengthy grant terms—especially life-of-copyright—this is really problematic: if your work is languishing at the back of the app’s catalog with zero discoverability, you should be able to terminate the contract and move on. Other contracts allow for termination only under very limited circumstances, such as breach by the app, or make the process overly complicated or financially punitive. For example, Goodnovel allows authors to terminate 36 months after publication, but they must pay back all the money they’ve received to date, plus triple or twenty times (depending on total income) any earned royalties or revenue share. Non-exclusivity limited by permission requirements. The contract may claim to be non-exclusive, but if you want to publish your work elsewhere—which should totally be your right under a non-exclusive contract—you cannot do so unless you get the app’s permission (and there are penalties for breach—see below). Excessive claims on additional or future work. In many app contracts, signing for one work actually means signing for many. For instance, here’s Goodnovel (“Licensor” is the author): And here’s Novelcat (Party A is Novelcat, Party B is the writer): Net profit royalties. Some app contracts promise high royalty or revenue share percentages– 50% or even more. Not so fast, though: payments are nearly always based on net profit, with channel fees, operating costs, promotional costs, production fees, and more deducted from actual revenue before the author’s share is calculated. Here’s the list of deductions made by Bytedance’s serial reading/writing app Fizzo: Your book would have to be generating a pretty big chunk of change on a regular basis for much revenue to survive all those deductions. Waiver of moral rights. Several app contracts I’ve seen require writers to waive or sign over their moral rights. Moral rights—which aren’t recognized for written work in the USA, but are important in much of the rest of the world–include the right of attribution (the right to have your work published with your name) and the right of integrity (the right to protect the work from changes or additions that would negatively affect it or you). You should avoid publishing contracts that require you to give those rights up. Gag clauses. Many of the app contracts I’ve seen include language barring writers from speaking or writing about the app in a way that the app deems to be negative or disparaging. For instance this, from Dreame: If regarded by the app as a breach of contract, violating this clause could bring punishment. Financial penalties for breach. Not all of the app contracts I’ve seen include financial penalties for author breach. But those that do impose a serious potential hit, from fees of $1,000 or more, to reimbursement of all income received plus double or triple that amount in “liquidated damages”. This is from Owo Novel (and incidentally suggests how willing some apps are to sign underage writers): The app contracts that I’ve seen define breach in various ways, from violating typical author warranties (such as that your work hasn’t been plagiarized), to submitting work the app deems unacceptable, to failing to “uphold the reputation” of the app by writing or speaking about your experience, to all of the above. I have no idea how often or how aggressively the apps follow through on these penalties—but one of the first principles of evaluating a publishing contract is to understand that if it can happen, it may well happen. Never assume that a clause in a contract won’t at some point apply to you. CONCLUSION I should stress here that each app offers more than one type of contract (exclusive, non-exclusive, new work, already-published work), that I haven’t seen all available contracts from every app I’ve analyzed, and that not all the app contracts I’ve seen include the kinds of problematic clauses explored above. But I’ve seen enough to know that author-unfriendly language is common–and that the often very-inexperienced writers who accept these contracts don’t understand them. For instance, I’ve heard from writers who signed an exclusive contract with one app, and later signed with another app for the same work, not understanding that “exclusive” means “can’t be published anywhere else”. I’m also, increasingly, hearing from writers who are waking up to the much-less-rosy-than-advertised reality of the apps’ monetization promises. As a career-starter, serial reading/writing apps are, at best, a dicey proposition. At worst, with contracts full of the language I’ve highlighted in this article, they are predatory. Still, if you just write for fun and can produce a lot of words quickly, you probably won’t lose much by publishing on a serial reading/writing app. That’s possibly also the case if you have a completed trunk novel, or a novel you published years ago and wouldn’t mind putting out there again, even if reader attention turns out to be low (though be aware that you’ll be in company with a lot of really poor-quality content, as you’ll see if you spend any time sampling the novels on offer). You may also be able to maximize even stingy financial benefits if you publish on multiple apps. Regardless, it behooves you to fully understand what you’re signing up for, and what impact the contract terms could potentially have on you. Remember also that your goals may change. One of the saddest stories I’ve heard is from a writer who began writing on one of the apps as a lark, but over the course of creating their novel became more serious about writing, and now wants to take their book off the app, revise it, and publish it conventionally. The app’s grant term is life-of-copyright with no provision for author termination, but the writer requested termination anyway. The app refused. Have you been contacted by a serial reading/writing app? Have you ever published work on an app? What was your experience? About Victoria StraussVictoria Strauss is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including the Stone fantasy duology (The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone) and Passion Blue and Color Song, a pair of historical novels for teens. In addition, she's written a handful of short stories, hundreds of book reviews, and a number of articles on writing and publishing that have appeared in Writer’s Digest, among others. In 2006, she served as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards. She is the co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that provides information and warnings about the many scams and schemes that threaten writers. She received the Service to SFWA Award in 2009 for her work with Writer Beware. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. Web | Twitter | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=4MTDtvebF5g:LaONF4uMztk:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=4MTDtvebF5g:LaONF4uMztk:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  17. Many stories have been written on the topic of obsession: The Girl on the Train, Lolita, Moby Dick…the list goes on. Most of these are cautionary tales. Don’t get obsessed; it could lead to mayhem and self-destruction. But sometimes obsession can be beneficial. Recently, I watched the Adam Sandler movie Hustle. Though it has its humorous moments, it’s definitely in the “serious Adam Sandler movie” category. It’s about an NBA scout looking for a standout player so he can cement his status as a coach on the team after decades of work (often grueling with constant travel). He finds his prospect in Spain. As they’re training together he says, “Obsession beats talent every time.” As a writer that line stood out to me. As a person it stood out, too. Sometime in 2007 I got it in my head that I wanted to run a 5K. I had never done well in fitness testing in school. In fact, I often finished last in the mile run challenge. I once ran a 14-minute mile. For most people, that’s walking. I was not fast, even though I played team sports. But a 5K goal seemed achievable. Most of my family and friends thought I was nuts. Why would I want to run 3.1 miles? And time it? To this day, I have no idea. But I became obsessed with this goal. I read Runner’s World. I found a plan called 5 weeks to your first 5K. I followed the plan, 90% of the time. I found a running buddy. And it worked. I ran the 5K and didn’t finish last. I ran several more after that. At my fitness peak, I even completed a half-marathon, a distance I have no desire to run again. Why am I telling you this? Because it’s similar to our journeys as writers. I believe every writer is talented but certainly there are degrees of talent. The one thing that sets writers apart from the rest of the population who aspire to write a book, essay, magazine piece, etc. is that they sit down and do it. The words might be garbage on the first draft, but they just go for it. Time and time again. If writing is important to you, it doesn’t matter how talented you are. It matters how interested you are, how often you throw words against the page. Handwritten, typed, or otherwise. It matters how much you persevere, even when you don’t feel like writing a thing. It matters if you put words to paper, even if it’s just 5 words a day or 3 words a year. You are a writer because you show up. Showing up is the action part of the obsession. Over time that obsession will manifest itself into talent. It’s why I’ve sent hundreds of query letters. (I eventually got an agent). It’s why I’m writing even though I don’t necessarily feel like it. (I’m recovering from a breakthrough case of Covid). So go ahead. Obsess sometimes. I think a little obsession is healthy for all of us. Sometimes it even improves your cardiovascular fitness. Over to you, WU community. What do you think is more important: an obsession with writing, or talent? How do you know when something has become an obsession? About Deanna CabinianDeanna Cabinian is the author of One Night, One Love, and One Try (aka The Thompson Series). She writes YA, middle grade, and sometimes dabbles in adult fiction. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Writer Unboxed, and School Library Journal. She is a graduate of the Writing in the Margins mentorship program and is represented by Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management. When she isn’t writing she works as a consumer marketing director for a global media company. She lives in the Midwest but dreams of living by the ocean. Find her online at deannacabinian.com. Web | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=XxCvKMUO75Y:qV2biarawP4:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=XxCvKMUO75Y:qV2biarawP4:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  18. “You will never know the truth, and you will read the signs in accordance with your deepest wishes. That is what we humans always have to do. Reality is a cipher with many solutions, all of them right ones.” Iris Murdoch published The Flight From The Enchanter (1955) a year after her remarkable debut novel Under The Net (1954). Like her previous novel, it is usually thought of as literary fiction, but Murdoch continues to explore ideas around the malleability of consensus reality and the impossibility of true communication with a flare and inventiveness that would make any SF author proud. However, The Flight From The Enchanter, as its title suggests, is enlivened with rather more touches of the gothic and the fantastic than its predecessor, whilst making strong use of a largely realist setting. At the centre of the novel is the inexorable presence of the enchanter himself, the fabulously rich Mischa Fox. Equal parts charming and sinister, Mischa is a magus-like figure who holds all the characters under his influence. Whether not Mischa’s control stems from his intelligence and charisma or something darker and more mysterious, The Flight From The Enchanter is a novel that revels in its gothic darkness, full of mysterious characters, doubles and doppelgangers, and a sublimated but ever-present sense of threat. Whilst Under The Net was largely focused on the first-person perspective of Jake Donaghue and his various picaresque misadventures, The Flight From The Enchanter has a much larger cast, and is told in third person, switching between a number of characters’ perspectives, all of whom are caught in Mischa Fox’s seductive web. Rosa Keepe is a working woman at a local factory who turned down a marriage proposal from Mischa ten years ago, but now finds herself drawn back into Mischa’s sphere of influence as he proposes to buy the suffragette magazine Artemis edited by her brother Hunter to rescue it from financial troubles. She is currently engaged in an affair with two Polish immigrants, Jan and Stefan Lusiewicz, whilst academic Peter Saward admires her from afar when not absorbed in his arcane research. Naïve but precocious ingenue Annette Cockeyne has left her restrictive ladies’ college to learn from the university of life and is staying with the Keepes, and soon becomes infatuated with Mischa. Nina the dressmaker is another Eastern European immigrant who makes clothes for both Annette and Rosa whilst dreaming of a way to escape Mischa’s control over her life. Meanwhile John Rainborough laments his stalled career and lives in fear of his ambitious secretary Miss Casement, who is slowly gaining more control and agency at his civil service job than he ever has. All these characters are caught between desperately seeking Mischa’s attention and approval and trying to escape his influence, as Mischa, with the help of his sinister and feared right hand man Calvin Blick, manipulates them all behind the scenes. The Flight From The Enchanter is a book full of doubles, starting most obviously with Mischa and Calvin. Rainborough notes near the beginning of the novel that: “Blick is the dark half of Mischa Fox’s mind … He does the things which Mischa doesn’t even think of. That’s how Mischa can be so innocent.” Calvin Blick physically embodies the nastier side of Mischa Fox, carrying out his threats and blackmail that are necessary for Mischa’s maintenance of power, allowing Mischa to be free to use his incredible charisma to attract his followers. Over the course of the novel, we come to realise that Calvin is utterly essential to the maintenance of Mischa’s little empire, that all his unpleasant underhanded doings are done entirely with Mischa’s knowledge and consent, and that he is as helpless a devotee to Mischa and his powers as anyone else in the book. But Calvin and Mischa are only one of the novel’s many co-dependent pairs of opposites. The nervous and timid Hunter is entirely reliant on his sister Rosa’s common sense and practicality, and is utterly unable to function without her supervision. Similarly John Rainborough, for all his self-importance, is an ineffectual figure compared to the ambitious, smart and practical Miss Casement. The novel reflects the anxieties at the time of women taking on a more prominent role in the workplace, something which Murdoch gleefully satirises with the book’s prissy and ineffectual men sharing workplaces with devastatingly competent and smart women. The Lusiewicz brothers provide another sinister image of doubling. Although Jan is revealed to be the slightly more malevolent of the two, both him and Stefan are so tightly bonded, even insisting on sharing lovers between them. With their stories of growing up in a small Eastern European village, they are figures infused with folklore, who exert their own almost magical pull over Rosa until she feels her only option is to allow herself to fall back under Mischa’s power and protection. The Flight From The Enchanter is suffused with gothic intensity and a heightened sense of reality. Even more so than Under The Net, there is the sense that everything the characters experience is ever-so-carefully staged by Mischa and Colin in order to elicit their desired outcomes. There are numerous passages that tip over into the sinister and the strange, in particular centred around Mischa’s mysterious mansion, the seat of his power. A vast building whose geography never quite makes sense, the house is full of strange rooms that don’t seem to fit and has a series of hidden tunnels running underneath it. From a party Mischa throws where the tensions between many of the novel’s characters are forced into the open to Colin’s confrontation of Hunter in the tunnels beneath the city, all the scenes that take place there operate in a dream-like liminal space. Mischa exerts his power through the intangible forces that shape our modern society – money and political influence. And like all who wield money and political influence to their own end, he can be capricious and destructive in ways that spill over into everyday peoples’ lives, as we see when his terrible revenge against the Lusiewicz brothers catches Nina in its crossfire. But how much of his power is down to charisma and cunning? Is there a magical aspect to our Enchanter’s terrible and inexorable power? The closest we get to an answer is this exchange between Annette and Mischa during the party at his house, ostensibly about Mischa’s interior décor but more broadly applicable to his entire operation: “’Was it magic?’ asked Annette. “’No,’ said Mischa, ‘or only in the way in which magic can be part of ordinary life.’” Like in Under The Net, no one can truly know anyone else’s subjective reality, and what we construe as the truth is only what we are able to perceive of it and interpret via our own perspectives and biases. To the characters in The Flight From The Enchanter, they have made Mischa their god, so for them his dark, seductive magic is very real, however mundane or sordid the real-life means he uses to achieve his desires. The post THE FLIGHT FROM THE ENCHANTER by Iris Murdock (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  19. Today, we’re super excited to welcome Cat Hellisen back to the Hive. They’re here today with an exploration of fairy tale retellings, something we’re rather partial to here! Read on to discover how Cat approached retellings in their latest novel Cast Long Shadows, and their upcoming novel Thief Mage, Beggar Mage… Queering the Retelling by Cat Hellisen When I tell people I’m a fan of retelling fairy tales and folk tales, I’m not being entirely truthful. I usually remember this when I blissfully go on to read or watch their recommendations and realise I needed a qualifier. I want retellings that unfold the story in a completely different way. I’ve spent my whole life reading fairy tales, I grew up on them, and they shaped how I view stories, tropes, and characters—their imagery colours how I read other people’s stories and how I write my own. Conversations vs. Echoes in Fairy Tale Retellings No matter how beautiful the writing may be, I’m not keen on retellings that are, beat for beat, the same story as before. I’m left deeply disappointed when authors tackle retellings only to do nothing new with the story. Stories are conversations, a commentary on, and a dialogue with all the narratives we read and watch—an ever-evolving thing. When stories repeat, it’s no longer a conversation, only fading echoes. There is no more forward motion. So, when I say I love retellings, what I mean is I love stories that engage with, confront, and play with those well-worn narratives in new and interesting ways. I want to read stories that pull the bones out of the old carcasses of fairy tales and build fascinating new monsters with them. Dress them in shining skins, give them horns and wings. What Makes a Fairy Tale Retelling Interesting? One way of shifting retellings is to queer them. I love when writers play with the gender and sexuality dynamics of stories. As a pan non-binary person, I fully admit I love it when we have gender swaps or narratives are shifted to view the world through a queer lens. Whether that is sapphic, gay, non-binary, or any combination of All the Things, it makes me happy to read a story where I can see more of my world and likes reflected back at me. What makes a retelling interesting is when the original story/song/tale doesn’t inform the final narrative structure and plot arc of the new story but when it provides the seeds of a tale that is entirely its own. Or that approaches the story from a new perspective and invites the reader to challenge their preconceived thoughts based on earlier versions. An excellent recent example is Lucy Holland’s Sistersong, which takes one of my favourite folk songs (the Twa Sisters, or Bows of London) and completely reinvents it, creating a lush, believable folklore where the magic is subtle and strange. It also seamlessly folds a trans sibling into the story, making it powerful in another way. Choosing Stories for Retellings While some fairy tales are so well-known that they are part of our collective cultural lexicon – Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and Red Riding Hood as obvious examples – there are many other stories to explore. In a quick search for retellings, invariably, the top hits will be retellings of those and some more recent but out-of-copyright tales such as Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland. This can make it seem like the pool of stories for retelling is very limited. Even though folk songs and tales worldwide tend to fall along similar narrative types — look at the Aarne-Thompson Tale Type Index and Child Ballads to get an idea of what I mean — this doesn’t mean you have to limit your stories to only the most well-known. There are so many tales and songs that provide new fruit to pick. I’m looking forward to more writers branching out to lesser-known stories for their retellings. It will give us new conversations, but it will also introduce readers to those originals that they might never have heard of otherwise. Robin McKinley’s Deerskin is an excellent example of taking a lesser-known fairy tale (Donkeyskin) and recreating it for a new audience. Confronting the Morality Lessons of Fairy Tales Not all fairy tales are morality lessons, but it is a motif that threads through many. Sometimes they are warnings about sexual behaviour or disobedience (Rapunzel is a fascinating one here – girl is essentially ‘stolen’ by an infertile witch and kept virginal and safe in a phallic tower, then literally ‘lets her hair down’, and is betrayed by the witch mother figure after she conceives children out of wedlock…lordy sweet lordy I need to dig my teeth into this one day…). Sometimes the stories reward kindness, cleverness, or other good qualities. But that doesn’t mean we need to accept the overt moralising thread of a story as the dominant one – we can find other, more subversive threads and bring them out. Particularly in a queer context, this can mean completely subverting a story’s original expectations and finding new conclusions. The world has changed, and we don’t need to play a story through to its original finale. We get to write ourselves brand new endings. How I Take On Folk and Fairy Tale Retellings As a writer, I adore retellings because of the space and the toys it gives me to play with. I also get hooked on specific stories and keep coming back to them. Sometimes it’s because they’ve become a motif for my own life (hence my obsession with rewriting trans-skewed poems about The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen) or because their imagery became indelibly inked into my brain (another nod to Andersen with The Tinder Box). My most recent book Cast Long Shadows focuses on female relationships through how the stepmother is always cast as the villain. I chose Snow White and then ripped it apart, keeping only the parts I wanted. My drive was to show a cast of complicated women trying to survive their little corner of the world and the fragile magic they use both for and against each other. But in terms of queering retellings, my next book, Thief Mage, Beggar Mage, takes on my darling Tinder Box and completely reinvents it to suit. I wanted a story filled with magic, pain, intrigue, lies, dragons, and drugs. Thief Mage was my chance to play with how we present ourselves and our gender. The Future is Bright With more and more LGBTQIA+ writers making their mark in speculative fiction writing, I’m hoping to see many fresh takes on old stories, especially as queer writers engage with the stories that shaped them and interrogate traditional takes. Putting it like that sounds very academic, which is not what I mean. I am excited to see people play, smash and twist things, and rebuild new wonders from the glittering shards. Cat Hellisen writes weird, lush speculative fiction. They are the author of eight novels, and their latest novel Cast Long Shadows from Luna Press, was released in June 2022. Their short stories and poems have been published in Tor.com, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Shimmer Magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, and several speculative anthologies. They are the winner of Short Story Day Africa for their story, The Worme Bridge. Cat lives in Scotland and spends way too much time watching figure skating when they should be walking their dog. (According to their dog, anyway.) The post Queering the Retelling: GUEST POST by Cat Hellisen appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  20. It’s firefly season in my part of the world. As I write this, it’s dusk, and my front yard is just starting to light up. For the next few hours the fireflies will flash their little butts at a much higher concentration in front of my house compared to my neighbors. I get a better light show in the first half of summer not because my yard is more beautiful or well-kept than others, but because in the two years we’ve owned our house, we haven’t raked or blown away a single leaf. We don’t mow the grass very often, and we don’t do anything to control the population of clover, fleabane, and purple dead-nettle as they slowly take over. Fireflies spend 95 percent of their lives as larva in leaf litter and other dark, moist environments, and they only live for about two months as adults. If we had bagged up all those leaves last fall to be taken away, we would have lost all those larvae. We’re lucky to live in a place without a homeowner’s association to dictate what makes a yard “attractive,” so we’ve been able to allow nature to reclaim some of what had once been an average suburban yard: a stretch of seeded grass, azaleas bushes (which don’t attract many pollinators, as they bloom too early in the season), and some border grass (an invasive ornamental). When I tell other homeowners I’ve let my yard go wild, they will sometimes joke that it must be so much easier to not have to do yardwork. And, yes, it is easier to not have to spend hours mowing the lawn, raking, pulling weeds, or filling in patchy sod every weekend. But it does take work: we’re constantly cutting back ornamental vines that threaten to choke off pollinator-friendly plants, and uprooting invasive plants that will outcompete native flora if left unchecked. And that’s one of the major differences between the wild yard and the more traditional manicured lawn: one attempts to dominate and control the landscape. The other works with it. This means that I’ve had to teach myself how to identify the most common plants that crop up in my yard (there are some great apps out there that make this easier than it once would have been). I’ve learned which ones are native and which ones are invasive, which feed local wildlife and pollinators, which enrich the soil when they break down, which offer shelter for beneficial insects in the winter. As writers, we’re frequently told by other well-meaning industry professionals about the “rules.” I don’t mean grammar rules, bur rather the rules of structure, of story progression, of beats. It’s easy to get bogged down in trying to follow all the rules. Am I hitting all the correct beats for my genre? Does every scene further both the plot and my main character’s internal development? Does each plot point occur the on the exact correct page? Do these frameworks help create interesting stories? Abso-freaking-lutely. Just as I still put effort into my yard, guides for story structure and genre are worthwhile tools. But—like most things—there are limits to what one can accomplish by sticking strictly to what’s considered “good.” Particularly when we force our writing into a structure, set of beats, or genre that it may not perfectly fit, we’re only doing a disservice to our readers and our own creativity. It’s important to not get bogged down in what we “should” do at the expense of letting our ideas run free. You never know what’s hiding under that leaf litter: firefly larvae, or a white-throated sparrow’s nest, a monarch butterfly cocoon. Why would I risk these beautiful, living things in favor of a “neat, well-manicured” lawn? Has your creative vision ever directly contradicted the “rules” of good writing? How did you reconcile the two? About Kelsey AllagoodKelsey Allagood (she/her) is a writer, occasional photographer, and trained political analyst specializing in the causes of war and systemic oppression. This background led her to begin writing fantasy fiction steeped in the anthropology of conflict. Her writing can be found in literary magazines such as Barrelhouse, GRIFFEL, Menacing Hedge, and Wanderlust. Her photography is forthcoming in RESURRECTION mag. She has also written on peaceful resistance movements, art as a form of political resistance, and countering violent extremist ideology. Kelsey has a Bachelor’s Degree in international and cultural studies from the University of Tampa and a Master’s Degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University. She lives in Maryland with her husband, mother, and a rescue dog named Henry. Web | Twitter | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=bB6ekNrJh-g:8VyS8a2VuYM:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=bB6ekNrJh-g:8VyS8a2VuYM:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  21. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech It’s hard enough to create a single fictional world, one that’s internally consistent, gives your readers enough details to feel they’re actually there, and gives a dramatic background for your story. This is why, when you’re creating a world different from the one we all share – in historical novels, fantasies, science fiction – you tend to only create the one world. Thing is, what your world is like depends on who’s looking at it. All of us filter what we see through our own experiences and prejudices. We assume some things are true and tend to see them whether they’re there or not. The world of someone who’s survived childhood abuse is a much scarier place than most of us know. So the way to create a fictional world is to get so deeply into your main character’s head that you make your readers see the world as they see it. As I say, it’s hard enough to do once. What if you could do it several times? Many years ago – long enough that I’ve forgotten the author’s name — I edited a manuscript about a land dispute on a Navajo reservation – a sacred site was going to be developed, and people were upset about it. The story started out with a scene from inside the head of an old Navajo woman whose grandfather had settled the land. She was up against Bureau of Indian Affairs lawyer and the Hopi Sheriff who was helping him. Through her eyes, readers saw the Sheriff as a sellout and the BIA lawyer as a burned-out bureaucrat who didn’t care about the people he was supposed to be helping. The next scene was from the point of view of the Hopi Sheriff, whose grandfather had lived on the land until the Navajo woman’s grandfather had taken it away from him. He saw her as a self-righteous troublemaker who didn’t know the history of her own people. He also saw the BIA lawyer as a cynical bureaucrat. Then you got into the BIA lawyer’s head and found out that he joined the Bureau because he wanted to do some good in the world. But he didn’t have the budget or the resources he needed, and found that both sides of the dispute he was trying to negotiate hated him. And so it went. Every new character whose head you entered had a distinct take on the same situation. So why would you want to put in the effort of changing your readers’ perceptions with every new point of view? It can make for better drama, for one thing. You can draw readers into your story with a conflict where one person’s right and the other is wrong. But where both sides have a point, the drama moves to a deeper level. Readers aren’t simply worried about who will win. They’re worried about who they want to win. You can also work conflict into your story by putting two worlds on collision course. Elizabeth Cadell’s The Fledgling tells the story of Tory, a young girl, raised by aged maiden aunts in Portugal, who is going to a boarding school in England. Her father has arranged for a chaperone, Mr. Darlan, for the train trip. And Mr. Darlan and Tory see at least one aspect of the world very differently — her. Here is Tory as Mr. Darlan sees her. (Note, the book was written more than 40 years ago, so the narrative voice is a bit more distant than I’d encourage a client to use today.) Mr. Darlan, having no powers of divination, filed her as a mousey, well-mannered little thing, not pretty and certainly no conversationalist; one of those tongue-tied children out of whom monosyllables had to be dragged. And here is how Tory sees herself. Tory . . . sat motionless but relaxed, her expression serious and attentive, her mind elsewhere, lending as always a dutiful eye and a deaf ear. She never fidgeted, never interrupted; she had never been heard to contradict. She agreed with everything that was planed for her and made her own arrangements later, for she had discovered that the easiest way through life was to set out obediently upon the appointed path and then slip away down a side turning. At this point, readers know it is only a matter of time before Mr. Darlan and Tory’s worlds collide. If you want to have all of your characters see the world differently, you’ve got to be able to hold two different values in your head at once – to see that the same character could be a mindless bureaucrat or a frustrated idealist, or that a young girl could be both reserved and mousy and precociously independent. This means letting your characters be who they are without judging them, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. But developing this kind of non-judgmental observation is one of the way that writing can make you a better person. And it can often make for better stories. What are your favorite examples of colliding worlds in fiction? About Dave KingDave King is the co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, a best-seller among writing books. An independent editor since 1987, he is also a former contributing editor at Writer's Digest. Many of his magazine pieces on the art of writing have been anthologized in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing and in The Writer's Digest Writing Clinic. You can check out several of his articles and get other writing tips on his website. Web | Facebook | More Posts http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=yIl2AUoC8zA http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?d=qj6IDK7rITs http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=OLnA3yyFz6o:EcA0zS1m1xo:gIN9vFwOqvQ http://feeds.feedburner.com/~ff/WriterUnboxed?i=OLnA3yyFz6o:EcA0zS1m1xo:D7DqB2pKExk [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  22. Reese Hogan (he/they) is a nonbinary transmasc science fiction author from New Mexico. He has published three novels, and the latest, Shrouded Loyalties from Angry Robot, was a Best SFF of August 2019 pick by both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. His short fiction has been published in The Decameron Project and Clockwork, Curses, and Coal, an anthology of steampunk fairy tale retellings. In addition to writing fiction, Reese is a content writer for the Writing Mastery Academy at www.writingmastery.com. Welcome back to the Hive, Reese! Let’s start with the basics: tell us about Shrouded Loyalties – why should readers check it out? Thank you, I’m excited to be here! Shrouded Loyalties might best be described as Stranger Things meets Man In the High Castle: it’s a dieselpunk war novel with submarines and tanks, but also an alternate realm of existence where dangerous Lovecraftian monsters reside. During one of the military’s missions through this “shrouding realm”, as it’s called, two soldiers receive strange marks that give them otherworldly powers. But though the military hopes this will give them the advantage they need to win the war, they don’t know that one of the marked soldiers is an enemy spy… Can you tell us a bit more about your characters? Do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing? The characters in Shrouded Loyalties are my favorite part. There are three points of view: submariner Mila Blackwood, whose parents died while studying the shrouding realm, leaving her with the overwhelming responsibility of raising her little brother; Klara Yana Hollanelea, the spy who infiltrates Mila’s submarine, who’s on a personal and dangerous mission to find out what happened to her mother; and Andrew Blackwood, Mila’s seventeen year-old brother, whose brilliance could be the key to ending the war, if he hadn’t been left alone on the home front and seduced into collaboration by an enemy soldier. The joy of writing these three different POVs is that you get to see the other characters through each one’s eyes: Mila’s trust of fellow soldier “Holland”; Klara Yana’s guilt-tinged knowledge of how her partner is using Andrew; Andrew’s resentment at Mila for joining the war and leaving him on his own. I immensely loved writing all three, but my favorite was probably Andrew. On the one hand, he’s a prodigy who’s thinking on a whole other level from everyone around him, but on the other hand, he’s struggling with self-hatred and loneliness so strong that it drives him right into the enemy’s hands. He was a complex and fascinating character to write. If, like Mila, you could have a special ability, what would yours be? That’s a tricky question, because more than anything, I’d like the power to make people truly care about and respect one another. It can feel hard to go on sometimes with the constant barrage of hate and controlling behavior in our world, so I would deeply treasure some method of putting compassion and acceptance into people’s hearts, so they didn’t feel the need to try to control and pull others down. But of course that kind of power would make for a very different book, so on a more sci fi level, I’d love the power to manipulate weather. Living in New Mexico, it is always DRY, and it is often HOT, and many times we are on FIRE, and to have the power to create thunderstorms and rain would literally save lives. Plus it would be an amazing power to have – I’m fascinated by weather in all its forms! Give us a glimpse into the world of your story – is your world building inspired by anything specific? The world building of Shrouded Loyalties was inspired by World War 2. While planning it, I was specifically thinking in terms of making a fantasy world that was more modern than what people expect from fantasy. I also appreciated the freedom of adding technology not yet seen in the 1940s, like solar power and stun grenades, to give the world an off-kilter feel. I’m also fascinated by volcanoes and extinction events, so the shrouding realm portion of my world building was inspired by that – an apocalyptic and barren land, unfamiliar stars in the sky, volcanic ash, and haunted but dangerous creatures roaming the wasteland. The relationship between the shrouding realm and the main world in my story mirrors some of the same uncanniness as the characters’ relationships, in that there’s far more beneath the surface than what first meets the eye. We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying? A little bit of all three! I hesitate to say I enjoy it more than drafting, but as you move from your earlier drafts into the editing process, there’s a feeling of moving forward; you’re getting to share your book with more people, hearing what worked and what didn’t, and strengthening everything piece by piece to make it the best version possible. For me, there’s always an underlying anxiety while I’m drafting about whether things are working or not, but after getting feedback, I have more clear-cut guidance about where to focus my efforts, and that’s much easier to deal with than vague anxieties. I’ve also found that what people say needs work is never what I expect, which is why it’s so important (and interesting!) to get feedback. Back in 2019, you told us you were working on a sequel to Shrouded Loyalties, can we expect to see that soon? Several fans have asked me this, but unfortunately, Shrouded Loyalties didn’t sell quite well enough to earn a sequel. For the time being, my attention is on other projects. But I do have the first several chapters of a sequel written, as well as a detailed synopsis, and I haven’t ruled out the possibility of either self-publishing it down the line or of it getting another chance if a future book of mine takes off. Fingers firmly crossed for its future! You also mentioned you were working on a nonfiction piece about Celiac’s Disease. How is this project going? That one, I’m excited to say, has been published! My daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease at seventeen months, and my article, published on Celiac.com, details our journey from her very first symptoms through three hospital stays, during which her health declined until we almost lost her. We learned many things through that harrowing process that I think could help others, which is why I’m happy to have her story out there. You can read the whole article HERE. Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress? Have you any upcoming projects which you can share? I currently have two finished novels. The first one is on submission right now. It’s a near future sci fi thriller in a world where all tech has been outlawed due to fear of technological sentience. When a rogue robot uploads itself into the brain of a young transgender father, he must find a way to remove it before the government finds out, while simultaneously sharing his body and mind with an evolving AI. My second novel was just sent to my agent. It’s part humor, part horror, part romance and mystery, and 100% gothic, following the exploits of a pansexual necromancer who knows how to summon the dead but not get rid of them. Though it started out as pure guilty pleasure, I’m very proud of the end product and excited to share it with more people. I also have some new short stories out! During the pandemic, I wrote a fun assassin vs assassin story for Jo Walton’s Decameron Project, titled “Unfinished Tally.” Then last year, I had a story published in an anthology of steampunk fairy tale retellings, Clockwork, Curses, and Coal. My story, “The Balance of Memory”, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. It’s a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, with the siblings portrayed as one being split into two. And just this month, I have a new story out in A Coup of Owls, Issue 6, called “A Harrowing Tale of the Author’s Plight”—my first full-on comedy story, following a nonbinary dragon hunter’s quest through a humorous modern setting. One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why? I would love to bring Sisu from Raya and the Last Dragon! I fell in love with her the second I saw her. Her self-deprecating personality, snarkiness, kindness, and trust in people’s goodness would make her a fun and ideal companion for any adventure. In battle, I know she would find a way to prevail that would preserve as many lives as possible, and that her quick thinking and water-like agility would make her virtually impossible to kill. Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing? I’ll answer that with a quick reference to my favorite band, Linkin Park: their first album depicts a soldier with dragonfly wings, which was designed to represent the hardness of their music blended with the fragility of their themes and lyrics. If you go through their discography, you’ll find that they constantly experimented with different styles and modes of expression, but they always kept that edginess alongside almost painfully personal messages. This is how I see my writing, and how I hope others will, too. There are hard edges to my writing, always lots of action and frequent strays into dark territory, but every mental battle my characters fight is an exploration of something meaningful to me, whether it’s wondering whether your life has value or discovering the most authentic way to be yourself. I also don’t worry too much about what readers will want to read, and instead follow the themes that fascinate me, which I hope keeps my fans on their toes, because you never know what you’ll get next from me—but you do know that whatever it is, you’ll get the signature Reese Hogan action scenes alongside the dark but hopeful pathways that get me through life, one day at a time. Thank you so much for joining us today! Thank you! I was honored to be invited and have had a great time chatting with you! The post Interview with Reese Hogan (SHROUDED LOYALTIES) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  23. “When I was fourteen, a cousin of mine angered a Malignant One.” Rachel Pollack’s Temporary Agency (1994) is set in the same world as her classic novel Unquenchable Fire (1988), an alternate America in which a spiritual revolution led by a group of shamans called the Founders has resulted in a world where storytellers are revered and magic is a mundane part of everyone’s life. While both novels stand alone as individual works of fiction, it’s hard to imagine reading one and not wanting to read the other. Temporary Agency allows us to spend more time in Pollack’s wonderful world, whilst, like its predecessor, showing Pollack’s incredible knack for interweaving the fantastic with sharp, character-focused writing. Temporary Agency is the story of Ellen Pierson, told in two parts. In the first part of the book, Ellen is a teenage girl living in New York state whose cousin Paul starts a relationship with a woman without realising that she is a Malignant One, a demonic spirit. Terrified and not knowing where to turn, he confides in his plucky kid cousin. Ellen, unlike her staid suburban parents, realises that urgent action must be taken, and convinces her family to seek out the help of a lawyer. Ellen soon finds herself working alongside her heroine, famous lawyer Alison Birkett, in an attempt to banish the Malignant One, save Paul, and discover why the Spiritual Development Agency is so reluctant to help. The second part of the book jumps forward to when Ellen is a young woman in her twenties, deeply disillusioned with Alison and the spiritual world following the fallout of Paul’s conflict with the Malignant One. Fate and circumstance throw her together with Alison again, as the two of them are drawn into an investigation to figure out why ambitious and idealistic Teller Alexander Timmerman has managed to attract the patronage of the usually reticent Benign Ones in his quest to unmask corruption in the government, and how this case is connected to Paul’s misfortunes from over a decade ago. Temporary Agency explores what happens when the miraculous becomes mundane. In Pollack’s world, the spiritual is a fact of everyday life, accessible to everyone via the right rituals. However this has not stopped the bureaucracy of both organised religion and government from becoming corrupt, cynical and self-serving, perverting the spiritual truth of the Living World to their own ends. Pollack effectively contrasts the supernatural terror of being caught in the attentions of demonic or angelic beings with the callous indifference of the bureaucratic machine crushing people within its cogs. Both Paul and Alexander are essentially innocents who are unlucky enough to stand in the way of those in power’s arrangements of convenience. Ellen and Alison’s heroic attempts to hold the powerful accountable run up against the bulwark of systemic corruption. As always when the rich and powerful play games, it is everyone else who winds up paying the price. We see this in the fate of Paul, hung out to dry by the organisations in place to protect him because of the usefulness of Malignant Ones to government assassins, and in Alexander’s followers, destroyed by the sexual ecstasy created by his patron Benevolent Ones in a move by the corrupt politicians targeted by Alexander’s work to discredit him and his movement. At its heart, though, Temporary Agency is a queer love story, as Ellen and Alison find their way to each other. In the first part of the book, Ellen’s childhood crush on Alison runs up against her disillusion at learning that Alison is a regular human being with flaws, in contrast to the heroic image Ellen has of her in her head. In the second part of the book, Ellen is an adult and is able to meet Alison as an equal, and the two are able to enter into a loving and supportive queer relationship. Pollack explores with depth and compassion how these two women’s love for each other helps them overcome their traumas. The book is told from Ellen’s perspective in first person, and Pollack does an excellent job of capturing the young Ellen’s injured innocence and contrasting it with the older Ellen’s bitter cynicism. Temporary Agency is a worthy follow up to Unquenchable Fire, a novel that finds the human and the mundane in amongst the fantastic. For all that Pollack’s characters are operating in a world populated by divine and demonic beings, Pollack centres the human experience. As with Jennifer Mazdan’s doomed struggle against becoming the mother for a new messiah without her consent in Unquenchable Fire, Ellen, Alison, Paul and Alexander’s struggles against vast and impersonal religious and government organisations are all the more important because they represent people standing up for themselves and doing the right thing in spite of the incredible odds against them. It is this warmth and humanity that anchors Temporary Agency and makes it such a powerful and defiant novel. The post TEMPORARY AGENCY by Rachel Pollack (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
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