Monday, August 31, 2015

This month, we are thrilled to welcome a second guest post, from up-and-coming author L.D. Rose. She describes herself as a neurotic physician by day, crazed writer by night, and all around wannabe superhero. She writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy, but she’s been known to delve into horror, sci-fi, and medical suspense on occasion. L.D. Rose is a member of the RWA, FF&P, NEC-RWA and CoLoNY. She currently lives in Rhode Island with her studly hubby, her hyperactive boxer, and her two devious cats. You can find her novel Releasing the Demons on Amazon.com.

Hello everyone! I’m Linda, writing as L.D. Rose, and first off I want to thank Kim Vandervort for having me on this awesome blog! Today I want to talk about urban fantasy and why I heart it so much. :D

Wikipedia describes urban fantasy as:

“A subgenre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Urban fantasy exists on one side of a spectrum, opposite high fantasy, which is set in an entirely fictitious world. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.”

I’ve been a long time fan of all things UF. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series was one of the first I picked up in her early days, along with Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series and Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt series. Although my debut novel is a dark paranormal romance, it’s heavy on the UF, likely influenced for my love of all things gritty and metropolitan.

My current series takes place in the alternate present, in a pseudo-apocalyptic New York City. I adore NYC and lived just north of the Big Apple during my medical school training. The sights and sounds of 469 square miles of concrete populated by 8.5 million people inspired me in so many ways, from the gothic architecture to the people watching to the visions of “what if?” I grew up south of Boston and whenever I took a trip up to Beantown I couldn’t even describe my excitement. Tall buildings! Crowds! Red Sox games! Naturally my reading taste followed this affection and soon it infiltrated my novels.

Don’t get me wrong, other modes of fantasy such as high fantasy are stunning. Look at the entire
worlds Tolkien and Martin created! But what grabs me most in a book is something I can relate to, most of all the characters, but secondly the setting. If I can put myself in a place similar to what I’m reading, it’s hook, line and sinker. I need to see, hear, smell, taste and feel what’s around me through the characters. I want to see the streetlights reflect off the puddles, hear the constant drone of moving cars, smell the greasy scents of food trucks, taste the smog in the air and feel the overwhelming life of the city press down on me like hot plastic. And what better way than to pick up a great UF novel in order to take me to those places I love with their own dazzling twists and fascinating creatures.

What about you, dear reader? What’s your favorite city? What’s important to you in a novel’s setting? What’s your favorite type of fantasy and why?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Removing Blocks

Just the other day, I read a quote by a famous writer, albeit a non-genre writer, who basically said that writer's block is simply a symptom of not being entirely certain where you're going.

It struck a chord, as often, the tales that stick out as being particularly difficult to write are generally those that I begin writing without a clear idea of where they will end - and it also seems that the SFF genre is a particularly fraught genre to write within if you don't know how the tale will end.

Why?  Well, because it's the literature of ideas, and as such, the shiny fireflies of the mind flitter to and fro and bring really neat concepts fully formed into any receptive writerly mind.  Fully formed, that is, except for that small detail of how the story is going to end... meaning you now have this awesome idea that you can't really take anywhere until you think and think and think until you're just about ready to jump out of a window (I believe Asimov mentioned this as his method).

It would be bad enough if all we had to play with was technology, and perhaps that is what made the golden age so delightful.  Black and white, good and bad characters were a given, so all the writer really had to do was to figure out how to use those marvelous new death mittens to beat the bad guy.  It certainly made for entertaining and popular reading, but literature has a way of evolving beyond what works, and pushing the boundaries.

So now we explore not only technology but the workings of unimagined future societies - and that opens up a completely new spectrum of social roles, gender politics and economic modeling.

As delightful as exploring these ideas is, when they came on strong in the 60s, they brought with them a new ambiguity.  Authors were suddenly faced with the need to move beyond black and white and explore the grays inherent in differing points of view.  Suddenly black and white were juvenile concepts, both for good and for bad, and conflict became the province of masters of psychology.

Writers adapted, of course, but writer's block suddenly became a real thing.  Suddenly faced with the need to walk the fine line between favoring idealism or pragmatism - or bashing both, it became paramount to have everything worked out from the beginning or risk writing oneself into a blind corner from which it is impossible to emerge.

Hence, the number of writers sitting around who've never completed a single tale.

And it gets even worse when you realize that some of these people add dragons and elves to this volatile mix.

I'm sure there should be a point to the above, but for the life of me, I can't think what it might be.

Maybe I should have thought of that before setting fingers to keyboard...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

REVIEW: Three Great Lies

Title: Three Great Lies
Author: Vanessa MacLellan
Genre: archaeological fiction
Price: $5.99 (ebook) $16 (trade paperback)
Publisher: Hadley Rille Books
ISBN 978-0989263146
Point of Sale: Amazon 
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

In the tradition of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court comes the debut novel of author Vanessa MacLellan, Three Great Lies.  At the start of the story, American tourist Jeannette Walker, traveling in Egypt, decides to go off the beaten path to see a newly-discovered and thus unspoiled ancient tomb.  Thanks to unknown powers, Jeannette is transported to a time when the tomb was fairly new, that of Old Kingdom Egypt.  Fortunately, the same powers that transport Jeannette allow her to understand and speak the local language.

But that’s about the only good thing going for Jeannette.  The tomb’s occupant, a mummy, wants her to find his ba or soul.  There’s a cat-headed girl, freshly booted out of her litter, sent to “help” Jeannette, and Jeannette’s managed to come afoul of the Slave Master of Thebes.  She scoots out of town and heads upriver (which in Egypt is south) and tries to get her bearings.

MacLellan spent a lot of time researching ancient Egypt, and it shows.  The everyday lives and wardrobe (or lack of same) of the locals is painted in great detail.  We discover that beer was very important to Egyptians, and at the time they made beer by fermenting bread in water, which means you needed a straw to drink your beer!

In Mark Twain’s book, the title character used his knowledge of science to get out of trouble.  Here, Jeannette’s modern knowledge is of little help.  What is of help is her persistence and willingness to adapt to local customs.  Jeannette’s curiosity helps, as it allows her to solve a local mystery and get right with the Slave Master, who is what passes for law in Thebes.

I found Three Great Lies a fascinating book, and well worth the reading.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Nip, A Tuck, A Wee Shoogle Around....



        Okay, so last month, I was joking.  It wasn’t my last post of 2015...  It's now August, and here I am again – but this time, I promise, it's definitely my last appearance for the year.  And since I’m still deeply embroiled in the process of honing and crafting, that’s what I’m going to talk about today.  

       What I'm going to share with you is part of the editing process, but it's not that pernickety Bonsai art of snipping off stray shoots, or the weeding out of those horrid little waifs and strays which plague the writer, such as repetition, dodgy grammar or whatever.  No – what I’m talking about is the transformation of rough early draft into something coherent.  This is a fairly routine task when you’re constructing a straightforward linear narrative, but as I’m finding more and more these days, it’s an exercise which becomes more and more involved when you’re dealing with multiple time-lines because then the arrangement of plots and subplots is much more complex.

       I’ve mentioned previously that I’m currently writing a novel with two major plot lines.  Timeline a (lets call it ‘the plot’) unfolds 6 years (or 2500 years, depending upon your perspective) after the events in Timeline b (‘the subplot’): at the same time, both subplot and plot are so tightly interwoven that the understanding of one is vital to the understanding of the other, so it would not be possible to surgically remove one and leave the other unharmed.  

      With both sections written, I’m now engaged in the process of weaving both elements together. It’s an exercise which sounds deceptively simple, but in reality it’s proving to be extremely complex and challenging.  And that’s partly because the options are so vast, and the possibilities so endless.  As the writers amongst you are no doubt well aware (limitations of grammar and vocabulary aside)  the English language is almost infinite in its diversity, so there’s no real way of knowing how your words fit together until you’re actually at the point where you’re working to create a final text. 

         This is the stage I’m at right now.  And the correct analogy for this phase of the work isn’t best summed-up by weaving.  Or by gardening or even Bonsai-growing.  This is more like working out a puzzle or a logic-problem, or one of those mad 3-d pictures that you have to stare at for hours until you see the picture contained within a mass of squiggles or wavy lines. 

          Throughout this process, the age-old conundrum becomes ever more apparent.  There is almost infinite variation in the way your words can be strung together on the page.   BUT....  (And this is a crucial BUT....)  At the same time, you know in yourself that there is only one correct way to string these words together.  It’s finding this correct way that ends up doing your head in. 

         This can be a traumatic enough process when you’re writing a narrative which unfolds in a simple time-frame.  There may be simultaneous plots and sub-plots, but when you’re releasing these into the narrative, you are rather helpfully constrained by time.  Throw in some wibbly-wobbly time (to quote the inimitable Doctor Who....) and all this goes completely out of the window.

          So if chronology is no longer the driving force behind the structure, something else has to take on that function.  I’m a pantster by nature – yes, I work to a very rough and ready outline, but it’s usually the process of carrying out four or five redrafts that enables me to define and develop the various plots and sub-plots.  Working to a strictly defined structure may be quite foreign to my usual mode of operation, but these days I find myself becoming increasingly reliant on that old ally of the plotter, the little squiggly line which physically depicts the highs and lows of the narrative, and maps out the points of maximum tension and drama.   With my hero confined and capable only of passive resistance for a portion of the main thread, tension has to be maintained in another fashion.  And this is where the sub-plot comes into its own, for there’s tension a-plenty in the back story.  And this subplot is crucial in terms of character development, because it’s through this part of the narrative that we see how the relationship between the hero and the heroine developed in the past, which in turn is crucial to how their relationship continues in the present.
 
          And so it’s back to the weaving metaphor.  The strings that make up both narratives are fed out at different rates then knitted together in the final version.  And that’s where things get really complicated.  I have to tease through both component parts of the narrative, then try and identify any important references and establish whether they’re acting  as spoilers (in which case they need to be dealt with) or as teasers which can then be used to hook the reader and get them to keep on reading.  In essence, dealing with these little details is just as crucial to the running order as the linear mapping of high and low points in the tension, because if the two narratives don’t fit together seamlessly, then the poor reader will just end up confused.

            All this sounds very methodical.  And very clinical, too.  In a way, it is, and sometimes I find myself wondering if the whole project would have been easier if I’d started my writing career in the ‘proper’ fashion by attending a Creative Writing course at uni.  That way, I’d have been taught to critically analyse what I was doing and why, every step of the journey.  But at the same time, I can’t help thinking that if I’d ever tried pulling off this particular novel within the disciplined environment of a university creative writing class, my tutor would have dealt me a metaphorical slap across the chops, and said, “Don’t be so bloody stupid, this is insane!  What on earth were you thinking?”

             What on earth was I thinking, indeed!  When I consider the practicalities, I still get this little moment of panic, a frisson of terror which transforms almost instantly into wild excitement.  Despite the inherent difficulties, I persist, because not only am I sure that at the heart of this novel, there is a story worth writing, but it also turns out that I’m getting along well with the characters and I enjoy spending time with them, and as a writer, I don't think you can get any better justification than that.  

        I can analyse my work till the cows come home and beyond.  I can try my best to think logically, and physically slide bits here and there and up and down like one of those sliding tile puzzles I used to play with as a child, confident in the belief that someday the picture will appear and suddenly everything will make some kind of sense.  But in the end, I suspect that despite all the protestations of order and logic and clinical precision, I’m still doing the classic ‘panster’ thing of making it up as I go along and playing around with the various permutations.  

         Sooner or later, I’ll get it right, and it won’t be any kind of analytic reasoning that tells me when this has happened.  Instead, it’ll be plain old gut instinct.  It will feel right when I first press the ‘save’ button.  And it will still feel right when I come back six weeks later for another read-through.
 
           And then, just when I’m cracking open a bottle of wine and congratulating myself on how clever I’ve been, it’ll be time to send it to the beta-readers, and after that, I suspect all bets will be off...

             So wish me luck, everyone!  And see you at the other side – or failing that, on the Heroines of Fantasy Blog in 2016. By that time, I'll either be insufferable because I'm feeling horribly accomplished, or else I'll be a nervous wreck....

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wednesday Review: Yuko Zen is Somewhere Else by Simon Paul Wilson



My name is Yuko Zen and I am somewhere else... 
After a strange encounter with a beautiful girl in a Chinese take-away, Chris Winter discovers she's left her journal behind. He only opens it to search for her contact details, but he's quickly pulled into her mysterious world – a nameless Asian city filled with tales of Buddhist dogs, hedgehogs and yogurt pots, and a magical girl named Pixie.
When Chris is totally hooked, Yuko's journal takes an unexpected turn. It starts to talk to him...

I read Yuko Zen when I was somewhere else (somewhere hot, beneath the shade of olive trees and half-deafened by the cicadas). It’s short, light and breezy in tone, and broken up into nicely bite-sized chapters. I found it beautifully paced and delightfully self-conscious. Very playful in fact. The cover design is simple but, like all good covers, sums up the essence of the story in a single image. The blurb above describes its conceit: the framing device is Chris's reading of Yuko’s diary but most of the book is made up of that diary. Your opinion of it will therefore depend largely on your response to Yuko’s voice. She comes across initially as friendly, engaged, somewhat shallow. Her early diary entries are upbeat and chatty, describing her perfect life, with her perfect mother and her perfect best friend, Pixie, in an unnamed Asian city. Everything, from her music to cauliflower curry, is awesome and super-cool. Just at the point when (for me) this ideal was beginning to seem a touch wearisome, Pixie and Yuko quarrelled and things were suddenly less perfect, and more interesting. When she goes over to Pixie's flat to try to make up, Yuko meets a strange girl, Xue. After that, fate, or chance, intervene and Yuko's life takes several, very strange, turns.

What was noticeable was how pleasant and positive it was, even though it borrowed several tropes directly from horror stories. Sex, sexual identity, family relationships, all the things that in so much fiction are fraught and angst-ridden, were made warm and understanding here. It’s not that Yuko Zen is unalloyed sweetness and light – it isn’t, though saying how and why would give too much away – but it does manage to depict kind, good people behaving well without making them boring. That, I appreciated. It's a harder trick to pull off than it might seem. There’s a sense too of ideas bubbling beneath the surface. You can read a great deal into Yuko Zen, and for this reason it's a book that bears rereading. Its simplicity is deceptive, its still surfaces reflect. Wilson is making no attempt to be realistic, and the dreamy, somewhat unfocused feel of his book is, I think, deliberate. Nor is the paradox at the centre of the story explained: this isn't science fiction, more something between magic realism and a ghost story. One thing that did distract me a little was variability in spellings. I wondered for a while if Chris was using one flavo(u)r of English and Yuko another but concluded it was merely inconsistent line editing. But that's a minor thing. All in all, there's some very clever writing here, perfect for holiday reading.

I 'won' a copy of the e-book in a recent Facebook giveaway.

Harriet Goodchild

Yuko Zen is Somewhere Else
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Monday, August 3, 2015

Introducing Vanessa MacLellan!


This month, we are delighted to welcome a bonus guest blogger: Ms. Vanessa MacLellan, one of ou newest sisters at Hadley Rille Books, whose first novel is set for release on August 6th! Vanessa MacLellan was born and raised in the farmlands of eastern Washington, works as an environmental engineer, and is an avid birder, naturalist, gamer, and runner living in Portland, Oregon. Her website is vanmaclellan.com.


Welcome to the HRB family! Tell us a little about yourself. I'm a tattooed, vegetarian, outdoorsy woman with one head in the clouds and the other firmly settled in my hiking boots. I'm an environmental engineer by day, author, runner, reader, gamer, naturalist by night (and weekends).

Tell us about your debut novel, Three Great Lies! It's fantasy, with historical and literary trappings. It carries a bit of a Finding My Place in Life theme. Jeannette Walker, a modern scientist, ends up in ancient, mythological Egypt. Though she constantly casts doubt on the existence of such a world, she has to learn to live in it. While trying to save her mummy friend's soul from a wicked tomb robbing ring, she realizes a few important things about life. What those are, well, you'll have to read the book!

The novel is set in ancient, mythological Egypt. It never rains. People's lives aren't equal. Prayers constantly dance upon lips. Beer is a meal. Sand is a major filler in the bread. Children of gods walk the street with the heads of animals and prophecy on their lips. To Jeannette it's, of course, a total shock. There are people about in public naked and jackals speak. A mummy—a desiccated, lumbering thing—chases her through the crowded streets, accusing her of stealing his ba! It's not necessarily a friendly place, but people are people, and even Jeannette is able to find friends in ways she never expected.

Any challenges with getting Three Great Lies to where it is today? Three Great Lies has been on a long journey. In 2008, I wrote my fifth NaNoWriMo novel. That was Three Great Lies. It was titled simply "Egypt" back then. It was a 50,000 word rough draft. Then I added extra plot threads and themes, and it topped out at 140,000 words. That's quite an addition! Then there were years and years of critiquing and editing. Finally in 2013, I begin seeking representation for Three Great Lies, and it was picked up by Hadley Rille Books (which was the most perfect place for this book to land).


Now for the rough stuff. As I was due my edits, my publisher had a stroke. (Though he insists he was abducted by aliens to an alternate universe.) It was terrible, we weren't sure if he would make it. The entire press huddled together in worry and anticipation. I was wavering between feeling devastated for my publisher's situation and worrying about the state of my book (and feeling so so guilty for that.) But he did pull through and has worked tirelessly on my novel, by my side every step of the way. Now, we're here, and my novel is published!

Thanks for reading! You can find me at: http://vanmaclellan.com/ I hope you come by and check out my site and my novel. It was a joy to write, and I hope it brings joy to you as well.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Guest Post by Travis Heermann: The Emergence of a Heroine

For July's guest post, please welcome freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, and roustabout Travis Heermann. Travis is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind, The Ronin Trilogy,The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Alembical, the Fiction River anthology series, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online.

He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and zombies. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.

In 2015, he’s moving to New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and a burning desire to claim Hobbiton as his own.

_________________________________________________________________________________
A strange thing happened on the way to a trilogy…

I started writing the historical fantasy story that would become the Ronin Trilogy in about 1999, fueled by a passion for samurai films and anime.

Those early efforts focused on the development of the protagonist, the ronin Ken’ishi, and his story. I was in my late twenties, still clueless about a great many things, but striving to put together a story that would take the fiction world by typhoon.

At the heart of the Ronin Trilogy are two lovers, Ken’ishi and the noble samurai maiden Kazuko, torn apart as teenagers and both forever stuck in that awful, haunted realm of Coulda Been, fated to be close, but never touch, to have their love become the most dangerous kind of temptation.

As I look back at how the story came into being, the early development of Kazuko’s character was probably a case study in how to do it “wrong.”

I started off writing Kazuko as the Love Interest, simply the catalyst by which Ken’ishi would be tortured with longing. Unfair to her, and to female readers, but I did the best I could at the time. I hope she doesn’t come across to readers that way, but that was how she was conceived, labeled as such in my notes.

In Heart of the Ronin, Kazuko reveals glimmers of what my subconscious apparently wanted her to become, but her sole defining trait was beautiful. She was just a hot chick with a naginata (a Japanese halberd), fated to marry the wrong guy.

I’ve always been on board with women’s rights and equality, but like, I suspect, most well-meaning men, I spent a lot of time floundering in utter ignorance of the real challenges that women face daily, about the kind of characters they want to read about, or identify with, and with no real clue about the ways I was probably contributing to the problem. Duh, because I’m a dude, blind to most of the ways things are set up in my favor.

Since Five Star published Heart in 2008, a ridiculously recent date on the tapestry of history, there
have been tremendous upheavals on the front of women’s rights in the U.S., steps forward and steps backward. I don’t want to correlate my books with the earthquakes of the women’s movement, but it’s impossible to extricate a piece of art from the milieu in which it was created. A critical literary analysis might prise the author’s psychology from the text and argue that Kazuko’s development mirrored his awareness of women’s issues.

In Book 2, Sword of the Ronin, Kazuko begins to step out of the shadow of her husband’s power, and the shadow of her sundered love for Ken’ishi. To do that she turns to martial arts, first as a crutch, then as a joy, then as a path to transformation, and by the end of the book, she emerges as a woman of strength and conviction, tortured but steadfast. I wrote most of this book a couple of years after Heart was released, but there were pieces of it that had been written a decade previously, perhaps containing remnants of my younger ignorance.

The first time I took my eight-year-old step-daughter, a beautiful little budding nerd and Harry Potter fanatic, into a comic store, it was driven home to me that practically nothing was suitable or interesting for her to read. In a store of hundreds, no, thousands of titles, there were maybe two or three that interested her. As a kid, I had had dozens of titles to choose from, filled with supermen and batmen and spider-men and x-men, even in the old days of drugstore and grocery store comics racks. Had she been alive then, all she would have had was Wonder Woman. Oh, wait, that’s still all she has, really. She adores the medium, but there is nothing for her. It pains an old geek’s heart. (And don’t get me started on trying to find her a Black Widow action figure.)

I was not thinking about this as I was writing Spirit of the Ronin. Nevertheless, all of the travails of the women’s movement, which I was seeing all around me, particularly through the lens of my staunchly feminist girlfriend, now wife, could not help but percolate through my creative process. When I reached the end of the first draft of Spirit of the Ronin, I could look at Kazuko from a critical viewpoint, look at her character arc as a whole, and see my own journey.
In Book 3, she evolves into something with far more depth and complexity than the Love Interest or The Wife. She becomes a bad-ass martial artist and leader in her own right, a true samurai heroine, consumed by loyalty, honor, and love. By the novel’s climax, she becomes something I had not envisioned in 1999, or even in 2008 when Heart was first released: a full-fledged tragic heroine of Shakespearean proportions.
Kazuko’s journey from timid, foolish teenager to samurai heroine is why an illustration of her, not Ken’ishi, graces the cover of Book 3. By the end of the trilogy, she has claimed her rightful place with grace and authority. She does not overshadow Ken’ishi; they stand side-by-side. And isn’t that in part what the women’s movement is about?

I’ll leave it up readers to evaluate Kazuko’s character. But I will venture to say that she’s as real and vibrant in my mind as some of the greatest heroines of fantasy fiction. As I look back at the way the story developed, I’m struck by how much more complete she feels now. Isn’t that what character development is? Might there not be some development of my own in there as well?

My step-daughter is still too young to read the Ronin Trilogy (because it’s dark, gritty, and deals with some complex themes), but I don’t doubt that someday she will. I hope that when she does, she’ll find Kazuko worth reading.