Monday, September 15, 2014

The Challenge of Writing as a Woman (When You're a Dude)

Ghosts by Shena Tschofen
 Eric here, posting late! My bad. 

The most popular post ever made on this blog was by one of our guest bloggers, a very prominent and popular author, who wrote about what it's like for him (being a "he") to write from the point of view of women. I won't reiterate much of what he said, because 1) You should go find it and read it for yourself and 2) he said it better than I would. 

(The gist: women are people. Any writer or reader who says anything other than "duh" in response should probably frequent another blog. Maybe one about trucks. That's a thing, right? )

I, also being of the "he" persuasion, have written a couple of novels from the point of view of not just a female, but that of a teenage female from an ethnic background that is not Caucasian! I've had people tell me I write a good teenage girl. I've also had people tell me I haven't a clue what I'm talking about. But that's an almost daily occurrence on any range of topics; my rhino-esque skin protects me. 

The weirdest thing for me was having a friend (who was a writer, or he'd like to be: he spent two hours once drunk-texting me asking how to finish writing a novel he had yet to begin... he didn't like my answer that there's no magic way, just type EVERY DAMN DAY) who asked me: "Why on earth would you do that?" 

The implication being, I haven't a clue how a teenage girl of mixed-race lives or thinks.

To which I say, balderdash! (I actually do say that word a lot. Aloud. Because I'm apparently a barbershop quartet-er from the 1920s.) 

It's a ridiculous thing to consider. Did Stan Lee know what it was like to be a teen-age boy bitten by a radioactive spider? Did J.K. Rowling really know anything about orphan boys living in cupboards? Is Stephen King secretly an extra-dimensional gun-slinger? Did Neil Gaiman know anything about the madness inside one of the cutest of the Endless? 

There is an inherent challenge for men to write from the PoV of women, and vice versa, sure. Adding on extra elements like race, or powers, or problems, just adds to the experiment. With the right amount of research, or better yet imagination, it can come together perfectly. At no time will you satisfy every single reader—I obviously haven't—but the reward when you do get it right and have someone tell you so outweighs everything else. 

So what do I do for an encore to my teenage girl protagonist? I am writing a book about a white guy. Sigh. I hope it helps that he's super-powered and homeless and heroic. All things I'm also not (though my dogs do think it's really super when I give them dinner). But hopefully someday it'll be read by someone who says "wow... you really get in the head of homeless super-heroes!" It's a challenge well worth taking.

By day, ERIC GRIFFITH is a writer/editor with a major technology website. By night, he's a layabout and sometimes writer of fictions. His novels include BETA TEST from Hadley Rille Books and KALI: THE GHOSTING OF SEPULCHER BAY. Visit Eric at http://egriffith.info.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

REVIEW: Memento Mori

Title: Memento Mori
Author: Katy O’Dowd
Genre: steampunk
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $11.69 (paperback)
Publisher: Untold Press
ISBN:  978-0692022351
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

The back-cover blurb for this book talks about taking a walk with the Victorian English Mafia.  I have to say, I wish I had read that first, because I found myself wasting sympathy on the death of an English crime lord in Chapter 1.  I eventually caught on, although in fairness to the author, I was supposed to find Mr. Lamb sympathetic.

Memento Mori is a difficult book to categorize.  I’ve ended up listing it as “steampunk” but even that’s a bit unfair.  There’s nothing in the book that’s not solidly within Victorian technologies.  However, its sensibilities are distinctly non-Victorian, featuring a female Irish assassin, O’Murtagh, working on behalf of a young woman, Carmine Fox.  O’Murtagh is given a list of enemies to kill by Fox, and she goes to work, rather gleefully (and fairly realistically) killing a collection of Victorian stuffed shirts – all affiliated with the Lamb family.  The Lambs prove ill-named, being more wolves than sheep.

Various bloody complications ensue, including a convenient discovery by O’Murtagh, and an extended visit to London’s famous Bedlam mental hospital.  (Your Reviewer recently visited there, as it is now the site of the Imperial War Museum.  Any irony on putting a war museum on the grounds of a lunatic asylum is purely intentional.)

I found the story and writing well-done, and the characters well-realized.  I did have a bit of an issue – too much of the plot hinges on the idea that when Victorians engaged in mourning, they did not manage their businesses for a year and a day.  Although that may be true, I found that hard to swallow, especially for a crime family that may not be fully “respectable.”

At any rate, I quite enjoyed Memento Mori.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Making the Romance Real

Hello Everyone! Karin here, happy to be back for another stint on HoF.

I thought I'd start my new shift with one of my favorite topics: LUV.

Fantasy writers dance a fine line between asking our readers to suspend belief and compelling them to accept a core of truth in our fiction. One of the keys to making fantasy work is crafting authentic characters who interact with each other in very human ways, even as they travel through time, cast magical spells, or ride on the backs of dragons.

Love is a wonderfully complex human interaction, involving joy, desire, jealousy, awkwardness, beauty, despair, and more besides. When well played, love and romance can greatly enrich any story and even provide the fulcrum around which all other events revolve. Played poorly, romantic elements can be very annoying and detract from enjoyment of the story.

Every reader has their limits in terms of what they're willing to accept in a fictionalized romance. Indeed, entire genres are devoted to crafting romances that are anything but real, because that is precisely what their readers want.

For my part, few things get under my skin more than unrealistic romantic situations in fiction. So as an author, I try to craft the romantic elements of my stories in ways that reflect a more authentic human experience. Here are a few tips I keep in mind when sending Cupid's arrow into the hearts of my characters. I hope you will find them useful for your own craft.

Allowing Awkwardness and Uncertainty.

Being in the presence of someone with whom we are falling in love often generates anxiety. In my experience this is just as true for men as it is for women. Rarely do we allow ourselves to believe, from the get-go, that the newly discovered Stunning Other will be as interested in us as we are in him or her. Yet we want to get noticed, make a good impression, gain that person's confidence in the hopes of igniting mutual admiration. How to do this without running the risk of putting them off entirely?

A great degree of tension exists between the impulse to open our hearts and the actual caution with which we act in the opening chapters of a romance. We don't want to make a fool of ourselves or worse, drive the Stunning Other away. This stage of intense emotion and high perceived risk can pack enough tension for an entire story, drawing your reader forward on the never ending hope that at some point someone will say something, and true love will erupt onto the scene.

Indulging in illusion. 

The first stages of falling in love are a golden period for the object of our desire. More often than not, we don't know that person too well. As a result, he or she becomes a blank canvas, and on that canvas our imaginations paint the perfect partner.

I play with the power of illusion a lot in my novels, allowing characters to believe many things about the object of their desires that may or may not match up with the real person. Coming to terms with the truth about that Stunning Other is not always easy or pleasant. The end of illusion can often destroy a romance, but it can also strengthen that love beyond measure. Wondering how a fictional couple will assimilate the inevitable end of illusion is another great source of tension for any story.

Building the friendship. 

Really, I can't stress this point enough. Let your couple be friends as well as lovers. They need to share not only the big quests and great adventures, but also the small hopes, hidden dreams, and minor annoyances that fill day-to-day life. Part of your character's experience should be the journey of discovering the love interest as a person. This is just as important, perhaps more so, as the great seductive moments that set our hearts aflutter.

One key to making this work is ensuring that no character appears in your story for the sole purpose of being a love interest. Each character, man or woman, must be the center of their own hopes, desires, challenges, triumphs, and failures. In order to be discovered as a person, he or she must be a person in their own right.

Love does not change who we are. 

Here I'm touching on a pet peeve of mine, a theme I see repeated in movies, some stories (not the ones I read anymore), Spanish telenovelas, and so on: the redemptive power of love. A bully can be tamed by a quiet girl's affection. A womanizer just needs to find "the right one". Examples go on and on, but the message is the same: "Any jerk can be fixed by true love." In a similar vein, we've discussed on this blog cases where forthright, courageous, independent women characters are transformed into passive agents when they fall in love.

Love can influence our life decisions in profound ways, and the presence of a loved one often makes us act differently from what we might have done otherwise. Many of us modify our behavior to a certain extent, or grow as persons as a result of love. Yet love stops short at changing the fundamental tenets of our personalities. Who we are - at the core - is remarkably constant. The same needs to be true for your characters.

Love does not equal destiny. 

A hard nut to swallow, but just because two people love each other does not necessarily mean they are destined to be together. If you can throw out the assumption that two characters in love will actually be together - or even should be together - in the end, you will not only up the tension for your reader, you may give them a more satisfying finale. After all, that which rings true is often deeply moving.

~*~

Those are some of my thoughts on making the romance real. Now it's your turn!

Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wednesday Review--Paint by Grace Tiffany




Author: Grace Tiffany
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Bagwyn Books
Publication Date: 2013
Reviewed by: Cybelle Greenlaw
Available for purchase in Kindle or paperback from: Amazon
Book description:

Emilia Bassano is only a teenager when she's pitched among the poets, politicians, and painted women of the Elizabethan court. Withdrawn and pensive by nature, she devises a remarkable strategy to preserve her own solitude. At first it works. But she's soon shocked to find that, so far from truly hiding, she's attracted the gaze of every courtier and aspiring poet on the scene, including the canniest, hungriest, and strangest one of them all.


Good evening, Everyone! Cybelle here again with the belated Wednesday review. This week, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Paint, by Grace Tiffany. It is a remarkably engaging fictionalized account of the life of the Elizabethan poet, Emilia Lanier. Tiffany, a Renaissance scholar at Western Michigan University, develops her story, in a comically literal sense, around the suggestion that Lanier was Shakespeare's Dark Lady. As the young Emilia struggles to survive in the treacherous court of Elizabeth I, she is inspired to turn herself into a mysterious Italian with the aid of natural dyes and pigments. Her accent changes with her appearance, and at first, the deception works to her advantage. At court, those with the quickest wit are most likely to succeed, but Emila is shy by nature and hesitant to speak. As a foreigner, she is exempt from word play and allowed to think before she speaks. However, her beauty attracts unwanted attention, and she soon finds herself the victim of a powerful nobleman's lust. Always resourceful, she finds a way to turn her personal grief to an advantage.

In Tiffany's novel, Shakespeare is the great love of Emilia's life. She meets him in her Italian disguise and becomes his muse, but to her chagrin, he does not return her extreme passion. Indeed, subsequent events lead her to feel slighted by him. Only after his death does she come to forgive him and realize that she did not understand him any more than he understood her. Of course, as a mysterious beauty, she attracts many other lovers and admirers, including Ben Johnson, who becomes a close friend.

Throughout Emilia's life, she is also helped and encouraged by a number of female friends and relatives. As she ages and abandons her disguise, these bonds grow in importance. Without male benefactors, Emilia is forced to support herself. Her endeavors include the foundation of a girls' school and the eventual publication of her own poetry.

The Renaissance characters Tiffany depicts are complex, witty, and often devious. Their dialogue is enhanced by the careful use of archaic expressions and well-loved Shakespearean lines. It's a clever work that makes good use of a number of Shakespearean tropes, intrigues, and questions of identity. It has also made me want to read the poems of the real Emilia Lanier, and I applaud the author for creating such a captivating novel.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Guest Post: Katrina Archer


This week, I'd like to welcome guest blogger Katrina Archer to Heroines of Fantasy. Katrina lives and writes on her sailboat in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She has worked in aerospace, video games and film, and has been known to copy edit for fun. She is the author of the young adult fantasy novel Untalented. For more information about Katrina and her work, please visit her website.
I’ll admit when I started writing my first novel, Untalented, I didn’t give much thought to what “type” of heroine I wanted my protagonist, Saroya, to be. At the time I simply wasn’t aware that heroes even had types (newbie writer was a n00b). I like to think she turned out to be a “strong” female character. But what does that really mean? These days “strong” often seems equated with some combination of physical prowess and an almost in-your-face aggressiveness.
I enjoy my fair share of kick-ass women in popular culture: Buffy Summers, Ellen Ripley, Lara Croft, Katniss Everdeen, Princess Leia, Sarah Connor. I eagerly consume their stories. These are women I can root for; I love their competence in a fight, and/or their ability to lead, their bravery, and yes, their snark.
But there’s another type of heroine I find myself drawn to: characters like Hermione Granger, Veronica Mars, and Lyra Belacqua. These girls aren’t skilled fighters, or even, in many cases, passable athletes. And I think that’s why I like them so much: I can see myself in them more so than the supergirl-of-the-day. Not that I didn’t fantasize as a kid about role-playing Wonderwoman or Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman. But their stories were purely escapist fantasies—I related to them less as people and more as archetypes. Whereas Hermione—bookish, smart, fiercely loyal—Hermione I knew deep down in my bones. If you dropped me or half my childhood friends into Hogwarts, we would be Hermione.
These days it seems we’re bombarded with superheroes or combat specialists in movies, TV and yes, books, from dystopias to urban and epic fantasy. And don’t get me wrong, it’s great that women are holding their own and more in these settings. But in such a crowded field of kick-ass heroines, I sometimes think we need to make room for women who are strong in different ways. Women who use their smarts, their cunning, and sometimes, even their weaknesses to succeed where a brute force approach might fail.
I think this is why Menolly, the main character in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, remains one of my enduring favourite characters. Menolly transcends the gender barriers of her world by excelling in a field not typically allowed to the women of Pern: music. She’s smart and resourceful. She makes enduring contributions to her society by championing fire lizards and rediscovering lost knowledge. She stands firm and succeeds in the face of both danger and opposition from her peers, without the benefit of having a good roundhouse kick.
Menolly’s not a physical fighter. She’s a perseverer (I know that’s not a word, but it should be). She represents all of us ordinary mortals who earn the kind of smaller and quieter victories on which so much of the world is built.
That’s the kind of heroine I can get behind.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Welcome [Your Guest Suggestion Here]!

Hello, loyal readers!

Did you know that we have made over 190 posts since our first post on September 5, 2011, including posts from regular contributors, guests, and our book reviewers? We are very proud of what we’ve done here on the blog, and we hope you enjoy reading our posts as much as we enjoy writing for you.

I am impressed by the number of fantastic guests we’ve threat—er, persuaded to come and blog for us. We have been fortunate to host aspiring and published authors, artists, and just all around interesting people over the years, all of whom have offered a fresh, interesting perspective about a variety of topics, from their hobbies and interests to the craft of writing. I know I’ve enjoyed reading their posts, and I hope you have, too!

In fact, this month I thought I’d throw a question out to our readers and get some discussion going: who are some of your “dream guests” you’d like to see hosted here on the blog? If you’ve been wondering why we haven’t asked your favorite author to blog for us, now’s your chance to speak up! Dare us to ask George R. R. Martin to blog for us about the next several characters (all your favorites) that he’s going to kill! Encourage us to seek out new authors we haven’t yet been exposed to and find out what they’re working on! Enlighten us about new artists or SFF-industry professionals you would like to hear about!

This is your moment, dear readers! Inspire us to keep bringing you outstanding content that you care about by filling up our comments with suggestions and inspiration. I, for one, can’t wait to see the recommendations! And with luck, pretty soon we’ll have some pretty amazing new guest posts, too!


~Kim Vandervort

Monday, August 18, 2014

Is There in Truth, no.. Truthiness?

Landscape of Science Fiction by Luc Viatour
Howdy, y'all. Eric here.

Several times now, while trying to engage my significant other in conversation about a new movie, book, or TV show that's caught my attention, I hear the same question cross her lips.

"Is it based on a true story?"

It used to bring me up short. Why in the nine-levels of hell does that remotely matter? Yet she's somehow got it in her head of late that "true" somehow equates to quality. That a story, even a fictionalized tale, is better if there's even a slight grain of truth to it.

As if reality is something special.

There’s certainly no lack of scholarly and journalistic writing on the topic of fiction vs. non-fiction and which is “better,” most of it written by much smarter people than me. Some of it quite recently, as this is a topic that comes up a lot, apparently. Which I had no idea until the S.O. started feeling that even the most utterly made-up “based on a true” story was in someway better than the science fiction, fantasy, and other made up tales that make up the bulk of my entertainment. (And hers… this is a woman who thoroughly and willingly has immersed herself in Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Doctor Who with me week after week. She gets upset if I go to the opening of a Marvel Studios movie on opening night while she’s working--so I throw myself upon the sword of going twice. Yes, I’m that accommodating.)

But of course it gets me thinking when she knee-jerkingly asks this question. Does the work we fantasy writers pour our hearts into really matter? I’m not under any illusion that my own digital chicken scratchings are going to change how mankind thinks like some kind of 1984 or Clockwork Orange or Lord of the Rings. Should I even bother?

The answer--and I know you’re on pins and needles wondering--is hell to the effing yes. C’mon. The research all shows that not only does fiction do a better job of creating morally aware people, that it stays with an audiences psyche longer, but the anecdotal evidence just shows it’s a metric s#!+-tonne more fun. That bit of escapism that takes a person out of the real world for a little while, that’s worth every hour of clacking at the keyboard for any writer.

But maybe, just maybe, knowing there’s some little tiny smidgen of a story that might have once happened to a real person adds some importance for some. Not for me, but people like my gal. So the next time we sit down to watch a flick and she leans over and asks, “Is this based on a true story?” I will look at her and say, “Yes. Yes it is,” with all the conviction in the world. Even if it’s directed by Terry Gilliam and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a fairy stripper and Summer Glau as a robot seamstress who makes him dresses. With a flaming sword. Named "Fartibartiblast."