Monday, January 19, 2015

The Misfit Myth

misfit: a person whose behavior or attitude sets them apart from others in an uncomfortably conspicuous way.

It is a recurring discussion in my household of oddballs, this misfit myth. Just who are these "normals" we're not fitting in with? I don't know any. Do you? Like ROUS's, I don't believe they exist. (And if you got that reference, you might just be a misfit.)

The most successful stories, whether book, movie, television or comic, center around a misfit, or several of them. From Rudolph the Red-Nosed-Reindeer to Batman to the wallflowers in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the message is clear. "We are different. We do not fit in. JUST LIKE YOU."

We identify with these characters because we are these characters. Who identifies with the mean girls in Mean Girls? Well, sure they exist! We all know or knew some, but 1.) they are in the minority, and 2) the so-called normal kids are almost always the villains. Why is this so? Why is the minority set up as some sort of example we must all aspire to, while the vast majority of humanity exists in this misfitness?

In The Breakfast Club, who are the characters we feel for before we know their stories? Bender (Judd Nelson,) Allison (Ally Sheedy) and Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) no? Why? Because they are, for all outward appearances, the misfits. But then we learn Claire (Molly Ringwald) and Andrew's (Emilio Estevez) stories, and we see that their normalness isn't normal at all.

left to right: Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald
These last years have seen "the rise of the nerd" in media across the board. This media would have us believe that it's now cool to be different--and yet bullying is still a problem. There is a definite, social psychology at work here--the pack mentality/mob mentality is so hard-wired into our brains that we, as a world society, can't seem to shake it. The overall trend is positive, I believe. Do young men still get beaten for being uncloseted gay? Unfortunately, yes; but twenty years ago, those beatings were almost sanctioned by a society that believed such things would serve as useful warnings to others, and maybe "straighten them out." Today, not so much.

We have a long way to go, but I am hopeful. More people have to realize the misfit myth is just that--we are all misfits. Gloriously different, with our own experiences and minds and influences. Celebrate the misfit in you, in your loved ones and someday--call me an optimist--everyone will.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

REVIEW: Time Heist

Title:   Time Heist (Firstborn Saga) Volume 1
Author: Anthony Vicino
Genre: SF
Price: $3.99 (ebook) $10.73 (paperback)
Publisher: One Lazy Robot
ISBN:  978-0692336991
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Anthony Vicino, the author of Time Heist, contacted me directly via email with what proved to be a compelling pitch to review his first novel.  I agreed, and was pleased with my decision.

Time Heist starts out as a futuristic hard-boiled mystery.  Our first-person narrator, Tom Mandel, is an ex-cop with less than a day to live.  He knows this because everybody is implanted with a Life Tracker.  This device counts down your allocated 70 years of life, and when it hits zero, it kills you.  Although Mandel has been abusing drugs for the past nine years since his wife was killed, nanotech means he’s fairly healthy.

 Also, Mandel is an “Intuit” – somebody who can intuitively navigate the all-pervasive cyberspace.  As I mentioned, the story starts out as a hard-boiled noir, with tired and world-weary detective doing one last job for the good guys.  Perhaps fortunately, Mandel’s last assignment, to find Malcom Wolfe, escaped prisoner and killer of Mandel’s wife, proves to be much more high-stakes, involving no less than the fate of all humanity.

Alas, I found the story curiously slow to get started.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of action from Chapter 2 thru to the end.  But for the longest time we don’t find out what’s at stake.  Malcom Wolfe, for example, killed nine million people!  He did this by hacking their Life Trackers, taking them instantly to ten minutes left.  Yet we don’t find this out until a good halfway into the book.  The world in general is so radically different as to leave me in doubt as to whether or not it was Earth, but again, that detail isn't provided until quite late in the book. 

The other thing I found problematic was the action.  I felt like I was in a first-person-shooter video game.  Mandel and other named characters shot their way through guards and police like they were shooting zombies.  The named characters did get hurt and complained of pain, but thanks to nanotech they were literally up and running in no time.  The entire novel takes place in just over 24 hours.

Having said all of that, I found Time Heist an interesting and enjoyable read.  Vicino’s writing is gripping, and his characters are sympathetic.  Although I would have handled some things differently, Time Heist was a good read.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Business of Writing, the Art of Civility

Many of you are most likely already aware of the current kerfuffle on the internets about YA author Stacey Jay and her decision to pad her now-cancelled kickstarter with funds for living expenses while she completes her next YA novel. Because of the ensuing controversy, Jay ended up pulling the kickstarter, cancelling the novel, and announcing her retirement from YA , but not just because of the controversy. On her blog, she cites an “increasing vitriol in the Young Adult community” that used to be a “warm, welcoming place.”

In my mind, this latest controversy inspires two important points of discussion: first, the idea of fair compensation for the artistic process; second, what on earth is happening to our community?

Unlike most professions, we get paid for the product, not the process, and we don't earn anywhere near fair compensation for the time we spend creating that product. When we do publish—well, unless you are J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, writing doesn’t pay. Even some of the better selling authors don’t make enough to put food on the table without a second job (or two). In his annual writing income post, Jim C. Hines reveals what look to most of us like fantastic numbers. He earned a writing income of $50,900 last year before expenses and taxes. He’s rolling in the dough, right? Well, he’s doing better than many of us, but here in California that won’t support a family, and it doesn’t pay benefits. Take the number of hours Jim most likely spent writing, revising, editing and marketing his books into account and he’s probably making less than minimum wage.

Mainly, we all write for the love (and to get the voices in our heads to stop). But love isn’t very filling, so we either work other jobs or, as many authors, editors, and even publishers have done, take to Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and now Patreon to help us not only publish our art, but close the gap a little financially. Jay's request to be paid for the process rather than the product to help her create said product would not be considered unreasonable in any other profession. And I do not believe for a moment that Stacey Jay is the only author out there who padded her Kickstarter numbers to help account for living expenses. She was just more open and honest about it, for which the community blasted her. 

Which leads me to my second point: the lack of civility in the writing community. Not even a decade ago, writers, particularly in the SFF and YA communities, were a friendly, supportive bunch. I remember meeting many new friends and fellow authors on livejournal and feeling like I had finally found my tribe—people with whom I could relate, who were encouraging, helpful and friendly to each other, whether they were seasoned authors or newbies looking to connect.

Perhaps the insidious nature of social media is partly to blame for a significant sea change in our community. From #racefail to the various SFWA controversies to the Jay Kickstarter drama, we authors seem more quick to judge others for their comments or foibles and less open to reasoned discussion. The Livejournal community has dissipated. Now, when someone makes even the slightest misstep in another’s view, twitter lights up with nasty zingers—all 140 characters or less, none of which offer insight or well-reasoned viewpoints. This most often leads to perpetuation of rumor and opinions based on emotion rather than facts. Some people even chime in only because they like the #drama. Facebook is no better; in many cases, only one viewpoint—and often that of the majority—is accepted. Judgment is passed before the offending person (or persons) can even offer their explanation or point of view. Those voicing the minority position are ridiculed or shunned, both online and in pe. 

At the end of the day, all of these incidents involve people. Our people. And all people make mistakes. Thanks to the internet, those mistakes are public, permanent, and apparently, unforgiveable once made.

Folks, most of us aren’t business people. We are artists. We create, and we do it not because it pays well, but because we love it. Artists need one another to survive, almost as much as we need food, water and air. Discussion in our community is healthy and helps us grow, but let's express our opinions with civility and compassion, and with the attention they deserve. If we lose our community, we have truly lost the best part of ourselves.

~Kim Vandervort

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wednesday Review: Guardian

Title: Guardian
Author: Jo Anderton
Publisher: FableCroft Publishing
Publication Date: June 2014
Genre: Science Fiction
Price: $7.99 Kindle or $15.09 Paperback
Where to Purchase: Amazon or Barnes and Noble
Reviewed by: Cybelle Greenlaw
Book Description: The grand city of Movoc-under-Keeper lies in ruins. The sinister puppet men have revealed their true nature, and their plan to tear down the veil between worlds. To have a chance of defeating them, Tanyana must do the impossible, and return to the world where they were created, on the other side of the veil. Her journey will force her into a terrible choice, and test just how much she is willing to sacrifice for the fate of two worlds.

Good afternoon! Cybelle here with another Wednesday review. This week, I enjoyed reading Guardian, the third book in Jo Anderton's Veiled Worlds trilogy. Since I hadn't read the first two books, I was a little concerned about starting at the end. However, it is an outstandingly engaging read and works well as a stand-alone novel. 

Anderton's story takes place in the distant future, where two worlds are separated by a Veil. Doorways between the worlds have been opened, and sinister puppet men that developed within the Veil threaten to destroy them both. The heroine, Tanyana, was once a high-ranking architect with the power to manipulate pions, the basic fabric of her world, but an accident reduced her to the lowly station of debris collector. Disgraced and shunned, Tan is forced to have a silver suit drilled into her bones, which leaves her scarred but almost indestructible. While battling puppet men in the Veil, she is swept into the world on the other side. There, she must convince the programmers who watch over the Veil to help her. Her difficulty is compounded by the fact that a powerful, destructive force, known as a flare, has attached itself to her body. She is rendered physically brittle, unstable and highly explosive. She had also been pregnant, and her unborn child has been taken out her body without her consent. Its unusual gestation has given it strange properties, and the programmers have found they can use it as a sort of energy conductor. Tan soon realizes that one of the programmers, Lad, had a strong connection to her in her own world, and he still feels obligated to protect her in his own. Their journey leads them into a confrontation with an ancient being known as the Hero, a man whose consciousness had been uploaded into the Veil long ago in order to protect the worlds. Over time, the Hero became demented and cruel, so a program called the Keeper was created to take over the job. The puppet men, however, threaten to destroy the Keeper and bring down the Veil. Tan comes to understand that only she and her infant can control the multitude of rival forces that threaten the worlds. 

The pacing of this novel is impressive, and the characters are wonderfully rich. Most are as badly scarred as the worlds in which they live, but their humanity and resourcefulness shine through. Tanyana's story is interwoven with that of her colleague and love, Kichlan. Anderton does a wonderful job of bringing them together from opposite sides of the Veil, as  they are drawn by the unknown properties of the materials they were forced to share. The structure of the worlds is mysterious and fragile, and the reader comes to understand it as the characters do. 

This book was really an unexpected pleasure, and I look forward to reading the first two in the series. I definitely want more back story on the characters, but I loved the fact there were no data dumps whatsoever in this novel. References to past events were subtle but provided enough clarity to understand motivations and actions. I highly recommend it!

Monday, January 5, 2015

"Well, I'm back," he said...

"Well, I'm back," he said.

As I sit here at the keyboard I find myself reconsidering Sam's contented sigh to his wife at his return from seeing Frodo and Bilbo off at the Grey Havens.  Jackson's Lord of the Rings films sparked a lot of interest in how the novel ended, with intense commentary on the positives and negatives of both film and written version.  I enjoyed all of it then, but I always thought folks missed the deeper, more relevant interpretation. To me, Sam's concluding words served as the tie that bound LOTR to the lightness that permeated The Hobbit.  More than just an allusion to the title, Sam's expression reminds us that he, as Bilbo, and all the others who played a role in the dark, joyful days of the great conflict, had returned from the trauma changed but aware of what was lost and what was saved.  Frodo tells Sam as much at the havens.  Bilbo handing Balin the tobacco jar is synonimous to Rosie handing over little Elanor: we have lived through a bad time, and memories of the storm serve to accentuate our appreciation of the sun.  Order has been restored, but with a difference. Both Bilbo and Sam return to the emotional tone Tolkien loved most: a mature understanding of civility and peace.  There is a reason why the professor spent so much time showing us how Sam used Galadriel's gift to recover some of the Shire magic.  New trees can only partially replace the old, but their shade is just as cooling nonetheless.

I think Sam got it, but when I consider the mess that we made of 2014 I wonder if we haven't missed something important, intangible and yet integral.  I'm referring specifically to what seemed like an endless litany of incivility, litiginous bufoonery, outright greed, character assassinations, calculated smear campaigns designed to do nothing save create reality-tv-type behavior and pompous publicity.   From the Hatchett-Amazon fight, the chaos within the SFWA, the proliferation of review wars, plagiarism, the near constant flood of sexist claims, ultra-sensitive feminist calls, race-baiting, racism,   orientation... I fear we have devolved into a coterie of pundits destroying culture rather than developing it.  I have reached a point where I struggle to find relevant discussion about genre fiction and the art of storytelling in general on Facebook or other net outlets.  Everyone seems bent on talking about anything BUT words, story, art--all the things I surf the net and publish my stories to explore.  Of course, I exaggerate, but still...

I think the real world should inform fiction not intrude upon it so much that it squashes all wonder, creativity, freedom, and experimentation.  I recall sitting on a panel about race in fantasy at Norescon in 2012, my first solo run at a con, and within the first five minutes I felt like the topic as I understood it had been hijacked by someone else's agenda.  I pushed through an hour of contextless deconstructed feaux-examinations about a handful of books and writers that eventually devolved to a rant about race association in the retail sector.  I did not know it then, but that was just a precursor to the chaos of 2014.  Cynicism renders discussion fruitless when we let it turn us into ideological advocates.  We post stuff without consideration (or with intent), create crap behind fake profiles to rile up emotions and sales, attack story and author in the same breath, dismiss one writer for being too white, another for not being ethnic enough and a yet another for being a presumptive gender.

All of that is the work of Saruman, and I wonder if we have our own box of Galadriel's wondrous dust to resurrect the wasteland we have made of our landscape.  Our art is supposed to elevate by reflecting on the real not become it. And I say this especially about genre fiction.  The word "escapist" has never been pejorative to me. Quite the opposite, actually.  To me genre fiction is my passport to Sam's mallorn seed. I think that is what we should be planting in 2015. We need to counter the dearth that was 2014 with quality stories, less assassination and more consideration, less childish, boorish conduct and more relevant discussion and support.


Because we are Sam, we have been through some dark days, and yet we are back, informed and armed by knowledge and experience, and we have work to do and stories to tell.

Here's to 2015. Get to it...

Mark Nelson

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dear Past, thank you for the lessons...

...Dear Future, I am ready.

2014 has been quite a year for me. I went from author and editor with Hadley Rille Books, to running the press all in one fell swoop last February. It was a little nuts, but I figured it out with the help of my beloved HRB family. By the time the dust settled, I knew what was what, how to run things, and have done a pretty bangerang job, if I do say so myself. During that time, I wrote a novel outside my genre and sold my first contemporary romance to Kensington Publishing. In the months since that sale, I've written another, and started yet another in what I hope will become a series with Kensington--The Bitterly Suite.

2014 also taught me a huge lesson; I love to edit, but it isn't my heart's desire. And in the heat of truly running Hadley Rille Books, I discovered I don't want to be a publisher either. I'd been weighing my loves against one another for the past few years, and almost thought editing would win the contest. Figuring out and running the press, while alternately heartbreaking and frustrating, was exciting. I saw through Eric's eyes just how truly amazing it is. But 2014 showed me the truth.

I am a writer. First. Last. Always.

2014 was one of learning, truly searching, and finding the core of my writerly heart. 2015 is going to see more writing, less editing, and while I will always be Eric's right hand, my beloved Hadley Rille Books is his--thank goodness!
Happy New Year!
~Terri-Lynne DeFino

It's been a rough year personally and for many others I know, but we made it through! My wish for the new year: peace and prosperity, good health and happiness, and success for everyone, however they may define the term. Hold friends and family tight, and remember that, at the end of the day, none of the little annoyances and injustices matter. May the coming year be the best yet! 
Happy New Year!
~Kim Vandervort

As a writer, 2014 has been a steep learning curve for me. Now I've had my first novel published, I've had to start a whole new process of discovery as I've learned how to publicise my work, and how to engage with readers and reviewers. It's not been easy - it involves an awful lot of legwork and there isn't much visible reward to sustain you. But that's all part of the experience - eventually, you realise that you're not working for an immediate return, that your efforts are long-term and cumulative. Gradually you find yourself gaining ground, and it's a really fabulous feeling. I've now reached the stage where a steady stream of people are reading my book and reviewing my book; most of the time, they're giving me really good feedback and asking for more. So I suppose that while this first year hasn't exactly pandered to my dreams of hitting the bestseller lists, I've achieved exactly what I expected and have now built myself a nice solid foundation which will support me in the future.

Progress is the keyword, I think.  And I sincerely hope that when we reconvene here in December 2015, we can also see some progress towards world peace, tolerance for our fellow human beings and increased responsibility for our ecology.  Yes, I think that'd sum up my wishes for 2015.
Happy New Year!
~Louise Turner
My wishes for 2015 are: A finished and polished Path of the Poet King, a finished draft of Pevanese Mosaic, less pounds, more reading, continued productivity for all my brother and sister authors in the HRB family and beyond. More civility, less antagonism. More communication, less seclusion. More joy, always.
Happy New Year!
~Mark Nelson
Blessings and peace in the New Year. May joy and magic illuminate your path.
Happy New Year!
~Karin Gastreich

If I ever appear to favor women-authored stories, don't suggest that I shouldn't. I choose the best stories that come my way. Given all the exceptional manuscripts HRB recieves, we’re assured of many, many good ones, regardless of gender. We’ve published a mix of male and female authors over the past ten years, including your Heroines of Fantasy bloggers. The quality of our books is unsurpassed.
Happy New Year!
~Eric T. Reynolds

Please share your wishes for 2015! We'd love to see them.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mary Beth Bass~Being Other

Glad Tidings of the Season, to one and all! Whatever you celebrate, whoever you are, welcome to this fabulous blog post by author, Mary Beth Bass.

Mary Beth is a sister in writing, a member of my local RWA writing group, and the author of Follow Me, everything you know, and the place where she fell. You can find her scribbling about on her website. Always a treat! And that is enough from me. On to Mary Beth's lovely look at being Other. (~Terri-Lynne DeFino)

If you’ve come to the hallowed, virtual halls of Heroines of Fantasy seeking a festive holiday post all brave in ribbons*, I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. I have no gingerbread, or mulled wine, or candlelight to offer. But spice and light and magic aren’t hard to find elsewhere at this time of year. And hopefully, you’re surrounded by some of those warm, sweet things right now, wherever you’re sitting. Maybe you’re eating cookies, or drinking something hot and potent. Or listening to music that erases time. This starlit apex of midwinter is the season of Cinderella at the ball. We know her. We know who she is, what she desires, what she’ll achieve. I’m here to talk about the perspective of the glass slipper. The character at the outskirts of the story. The person whose perspective is not ours. The Other.

Threading a trail of strange light through Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle (The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear) is Auri, a young woman, full of mysteries, who lives in the Underthing and meets, occasionally but vitally, with the protagonist/hero Kvothe. We and Kvothe know very little about Auri. She appears infrequently and is skittish and wary when she does. She doesn’t drive the story. She doesn’t make a big noise or expand the wider world with life-changing, soul-touching music. Her presence on the page and in Kvothe’s life is almost, but not quite, ephemeral.

The Kingkiller Chronicle is a gorgeous, baroque bestseller with a charismatic, sexy, brilliant, powerful hero and a complex thrilling world. Lovers of the series (I am one) having been waiting patiently for the third and final book. While he is hard at work to finish that book, Patrick Rothfuss has done something else. Something awesome and brave and amazing. He wrote a short novel, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, sensitively illustrated by Nate Taylor, all about Auri. The glass slipper of Kvothe’s Cinderella adventure.

If The Slow Regard of Silent Things did nothing but tell the story of how Auri came to be who she is, it would little more than an extra treat for Rothfuss lovers. A cool thing to hold onto while we wait for the last book. A token. Auri is different and hard to understand, a tiny person with a mysterious past and a more mysterious present and presence. In a fantasy world populated with numerous variations on the idea of the Other, Auri stands out as the Other-est. The Slow Regard of Silent Things is Auri. The book itself is the Other. Like Auri it doesn’t take pity on you, although it is sympathetic. It doesn’t try to explain, or justify itself. It doesn’t try to make things easier for you. It is essentially itself, the way Auri is essentially herself. The way we all are reaching every day to be ourselves in a world that likes easy, predictable things.

We are not all Cinderellas. Some of us are glass slippers. Some of us are step-sisters. Some of us are pumpkins that turn into beautiful coaches. Some of us are lonely princes. All of us are important. And we are all the Other to someone.
*from A Christmas Carol