Monday, July 21, 2014

The Mighty Thor asks: Where the Ladies At?

Eric here. And I'm wondering....What makes a heroine?

In the comics, all to often, it requires first that you be an offshoot of an established male hero. The latest, of course, you probably saw in the news: in the future, there will be a female Thor.

This is a little different than previous female counterparts to male heroes, ala Batgirl, Mary Marvel, Supergirl, Spider-Woman, Stargirl, Zatanna (after her dad, Zarara) and others. This time, it's all about the hammer of Thor (it's called Mjölnir) being taken up by a so-far unknown woman after the original Thor can't pick it up—because only the worthy can wield the might uru hammer. It says so right on the side: ""Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."  

So that's cool... right?

I get it that in the decades and decades of intellectual property rights in comic books, that the creators must constantly return to the well of established characters, both to keep them interesting or completely revamp them, so those copyrights can stay fresh fresh fresh. The last thing Disney or Warner Bros. wants is a lapsed copyright, as public domain characters don't make money for the owner. 

In Marvel's defense, at least this time it’s not going to be some "Thorina" who's just a glorified sidekick. (Valkyrie arguably already is that knockoff. And she might even turn out to be this new Thor.) Maybe it'll even bring in new readers of the female persuasion to the comics, though I remain a bit too cynical to think it's that simple a fix after sixty years of writing comics mainly for 11-year-old boys of any age.

But it got me thinking... what if great works of fantasy and scifi went through the same constant, unending need for new content that comics did? What female knock off characters would we get?

Bilbobina Baggins—She knew, once she met the handsome Gollum, she'd put his ring on it.

Antonia "Buck" Rogers—the 25th Century can't imagine how fabulous this lady from the 20th is.

Endoria Wiggins—I got nothing, but I know, if Orson Scott Card wrote it, she wouldn't be a lesbian.

The list could go on and on. Hellgirl, Sharrie Potter, Joan Carter of Mars, Captain Jane T. Kirk...

But would we ever see a male take on Ellen Ripley? Dorothy Gale? Mary Poppins? Buffy? Xena? Anita Blake? Lucy or Susan Pevensie? Dana Scully? Disney princesses like Belle, Ariel, and Merida? Would you ever see a male Katniss? 

No. And we don't need to. Not even for copyright protection purposes.

Of course, we've seen all of these types of characters as dudes... but I'm talking about an actual male Katniss. Hell, we don't even get to see male versions of original female super-heroes. There's no Invisible Man (well, not to match up to Susan Richards). There's a Wonder Man, but that was more about Marvel stealing a copyright from DC. Where's the Black Widower? The Scarlet Warlock? Big Bard? Power Boy (showing his lack of chest hair)? Black Canary...Guy? 

There is a Catman, however. One down!

All of this is to say: there aren't enough original female super-heroic protagonists. Period. Even today, as woman are by far the biggest readers in our culture. It's a frustrating, embarrassing imbalance still. A lady Thor may help, but for now, it just underscores that a whole new character with the same marketing push might have been the way to go.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

REVIEW: Lex Talionis

Title: Lex Talionis
Author: R. S. A. Garcia
Genre: science fiction / space opera
Price: $6.95 (ebook) / $14.35 (paperback)
Publisher: Dragonwell Publications
ISBN: 978-1940076126
Point of Sale: Amazon  publishers website
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

One of the authors I follow, Tobias Buckell, recommended Lex Talionis on his blog.  The author, R. S. A. Garcia, is, like Buckell, from the Caribbean.  In her case, she still lives in the region on the island of Trinidad.  I decided to take Toby’s recommendation, and I’m glad I did.  The book opens on a spaceship where a badly wounded man is desperately trying to get to the bridge, and has to avoid the thing that’s killed all of his fellow crewmembers.  We then cut to an alien city where a human merchant discovers another human in the gutter being attacked by a local alien.

The story then races off from there, and becomes a mystery.  The human in the gutter is a woman, a soldier, genetically engineered and suffering from amnesia.  The man on the spaceship reveals his secrets more slowly, but he proves to be less than sympathetic.  The world created by Garcia is less than friendly, and has many problems.  It’s also a place where humans are by no means the top species in the universe.

I have to say I found Lex Talionis an engrossing read.  Figuring out who did what and why was interesting.  I found the characters well-developed and believable.  I did have a bit of a problem with the structure of the novel, in that there were multiple flashbacks and other jumps in time, but I was able to sort out where and when with no real problem.  In short, I highly recommend Lex Talionis.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Venturing Into Unknown Territory...

Hello, all.  It's Louise here, all set to entertain you with a Bastille Day post...  This month, I'm going to talk about writing, and about that beautiful moment when you've wrapped up one project for the time being and you're all set to cast off on another.  As far as I'm concerned, I’m in a really great place writing-wise.  My debut novel’s not been out a year, its follow-up is wrapped up and ready for editing: normally, I'd currently be inhabiting that strange limbo between projects...

Except I’m not.  As they used to say on the classic BBC children’s programme, ‘Blue Peter,’ I’m delighted to say that I can whip out another manuscript and proudly announce, “Here’s one I prepared earlier.”  Yes, the third novel which I've had hanging around in suspended animation, and which has been clawing at my mind from time to time, just waiting to be completed, can finally be kicked into gear.

There’s just one problem.  When I decided to embark on Novel #3, I deliberately chose to take a step away from historical fiction.  This doesn’t mean a complete departure from history or archaeology.  Far from it.  I rather foolishly decided to re-interpret the standard time-slip novel by having my hero come back from the past and decide that really, life’s much better here in the future and that given the choice, he's not going back to the past from whence he came.  His reluctance is justified: he was born and raised in Ancient Sparta, so he's got some serious complaints to make about childhood abuse and the miseries of life in a pretty strict authoritarian regime.   

When I wrote the early drafts, I wasn’t quite sure how everything would come out in the mix and to be honest, I still don’t.  It’s kind of literary (lots of allusions to the Classical world), it’s certainly speculative fiction and there’s a historical strand in there, too.  In short, it’s certainly a departure for me and quite possibly the most difficult project I’ve ever embarked on.

And this is where I’m truly grateful to my friends at Hadley Rille Books.  Writing is a very lonely profession: when you’re bogged down in the isolation that accompanies the creative process, it’s easy to get despondent.  To have someone out there who can look at what you’re trying to do with an objective eye and who can tell you at a very early stage whether or not it’s working is an extraordinary luxury, and it’s one which as a writer I value more than anything.  In the old days,  literary agents fulfilled this role, but right now - as those of you who haven’t yet acquired a publisher or agent and are actively seeking one will know – it’s virtually impossible to blag even an agent.  Most of the time you’re firing your manuscript off into the fog and having it flung back in your face without having any idea of why, exactly, it didn’t make the selection process.

In these unenlightened times, Hadley Rille Books is a rare and noble beast .  Their writers are an investment: they encourage them and help them to grow.  For a writer just embarking on their career, the extra support and guidance this provides is invaluable. It gives you the confidence, the self-belief and the energy to keep on writing.  This kind of support is crucial when you’ve taken on a brute of a novel that you know will tax your abilities as a storyteller to the limits.  It makes the difference between you tossing the manuscript into a corner in a fit of pique and your going the extra mile, grappling with the inherent problems and finding the gem that lurks within the rough chunk of mineral.

The HRB crowdfunding campaign is doing well so far, with over $2000 raised so far. But it would be so good if this wonderful little publisher could boost its presence through gathering the funds its needs to raise the bar and get its work out to a wider audience.  So please, if you’ve read and enjoyed my book, if you’ve read and enjoyed any HRB title or if you’re a reader full-stop and you want your choice of reading matter to be diverse, varied and above all, interesting, check out the campaign and support it in any way you can.

Do it for all the untold stories out there, just waiting to be written, and for the characters whose lives have yet to be set down upon the page and granted immortality.  Without your help, whether it’s through supporting the campaign or buying books or spreading the word about books you’ve enjoyed, there’s a whole plethora of fascinating tales that will never, ever see the light of day unless there are small, independent publishers like Hadley Rille Books to publish them and above all to promote them.

And that, I think, would be a great loss to all of us.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Writing on the Road

Hello folks, Mark here with a few thoughts on writing on the road.

School is out for us, so the wife and I decided to use up our time-share credits to take an extended road trip south to Las Vegas and back home up through California, staying at several places along the way. We loaded up the rig with golf clubs, guitar, and the computer and hit the road.

I've been looking forward to this trip. I really enjoy the desert colors, and driving with the wife sans kids is just more fun. She reads and critiques the most recent draft of the novel, and I get to let my wind wander around plot lines and characters for the work in progress. We have become quite a team in that respect; she has better clerical eyes than I do and finds stuff I miss. Plus, she gives me immediate feedback on how the draft reads.

I find I enjoy writing on the road, and I don't mean travel blog material. When I say I love the desert colors, I do not feel the need to rhapsodize rhetorically about them. I leave that sort of stuff to Sunset Magazine. Besides, I've read Travels with Charley by Steinbeck and Blue Highways by Least-Heat Moon, and both of those giants do journey-lit better than I can.  My focus on these road trips is to work out novel ideas, wander over word sounds and images, and if some of that awesomely striated rock finds its way into the syllable stream, then so be it.

Some writers go on writing retreats; some of my sister authors rent a house on the beach and have at it with food and laptops for a week of unmitigated word porn. I haven't connected with a group like that, so I make the vacation thing function the same way, but I throw in a few casinos and a show, and this year my NYC daughter is flying in to spend three days with us in Vegas.

I actually do get some writing in, really, even in high energy places like Las Vegas.  The early morning hours are best. I have found that when the wife and I do these extended road trips we really aren't interested in maxing out the local activity stuff. Besides, this is my fourth time to Vegas, and I am thoroughly over the glitze and glam.  Our condo comes with some nice appointments, which include internet and a good coffee-maker. I did not feel the least bit guilty about tapping away at some of book four, Pevanese Mosiac, for two solid mornings of the four we spent in Vegas-town.  I gambled maybe $6 worth of quarters, held the wife down to $20 and managed to add about 1500 words to the draft...SCORE! :)

Right now I'm updating this entry from Palm Springs, California where it is so hot the pool feels like it could cook something, perhaps braized vacationer, if given enough time. The heat actually kept us indoors for a few hours. More coffee, World Cup Soccer, and 1000 words later we eventually hit the pool. I've found that getting away from the home routines allows me the freedom to let stuff come out without the usual self-editing/self doubt. One of my main characters for Pevanese Mosaic, Grayce Stonesmith, showed up one night in St. George, Utah in 2012. Some of my best note-taking sessions have happened at the conventions I've attended over the last three years. As a result, I am sold on the notion that a good way to break through the blockages is to simply change one's location. In the interests of saving a few bucks, I think I'll invest in a new battery for the laptop and take a hike up the local ridge near my house. I'm sure I can find enough new closer to home to help spark the word count without wearing out my tires on the rig...

So, what do you do to change things up for yourself? Road trips work for me; what works for you?


PS: I feel I would be remiss if I didn't boost our ongoing funding drive via indegogo. If you could help spread the word to all and sundry that would be great! Eric's post below would be a great one to reference! Happy July everyone!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Wednesday Review: Hannah's Left Hook by Brian McKeown

Title:  Hannah's Left Hook
Author:  Brian McKeown
Publisher:  Garland Press
Publication Date:  2013
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Where to Purchase: Amazon or Barnes and Noble 
Reviewed by: Cybelle Greenlaw
Book Description:

Through countless scrubbings of St. Lawrence's Church floor, a poor washerwoman develops a devastating left hook. During the Great War she persuades the Birkenhead Shipyard to hire her as its first female laborer, beginning her transformation into a working-class legend. Set in northwest England, Hannah's Left Hook is a story of survival, feisty determination, and the occasional black eye. Whether it's a butcher who thumbs the scales, a foreman who exploits female shipyard workers while their husbands and brothers fight the Great War, an agent provocateur who escalates the food riots of 1932, or a sargeant who drafts under-age boys during WWII--Hannah's left hook strikes to defend the rights of the unemployed and oppressed.

Hello, Cybelle here again with the Wednesday review. As the centenary of the First World War approaches, I've been thinking about my grandfather with great frequency. He was born in Chester, England in 1900 and, like many young men of his generation, lied about his age in order to join the war effort. His first attempt to enlist took place in 1914. By all accounts, my great-grandmother marched down to the recruitment office and brought him back. The next year, however, he managed to enlist in the Welsh Border Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance, where he served for a little over a year before being transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. Luckily, he made it through the war in one piece, perhaps most importantly with his sense of humor in tact. He came to the U.S. in the 1920s and became a doctor. Meanwhile, back in Chester, the rest of the family carried on with their lives in a stoic fashion, even as the next war approached. Family anecdotes abound about the Blitz, particularly my great-grandmother's premonition that the family had to move to a new house. Everyone thought she had lost her mind, but she insisted. A month after the move, the old house took a direct hit in an air raid; nothing but a crater remained. These stories have always fascinated me, and I've often admired my English relatives' ability to find a reason to laugh even in the darkest of times.

It's not surprising then that I was drawn to read Hannah's Left Hook. It's set in the nearby, but considerably poorer, city of Birkenhead during the First and Second World Wars and follows the struggles of a working class woman trying to protect her family during those difficult and frightening years. I must say, I fell in love with the heroine, Hannah the Hammer, from the first page! She's a beautifully developed female character of Irish Catholic descent, who has had to be strong from a young age. After her father's death, she is left to provide for her younger siblings and blind mother. Out of desperation, she marries an abusive alcoholic because he has a steady job. The story truly begins in 1916, when Hannah's husband returns from the war on shore leave and makes the dreadful mistake of assaulting her mother to steal her money for beer. In a rage, Hannah tracks him down to a local pub and unleashes the secret power of her left hook. As her fist connects with her husband's face, Hannah experiences an exhilarating moment of freedom that changes her life forever. When her husband is killed at sea a few days later, Hannah has a good cry--out of concern for her children--and then looks for work at the shipyard, where her strong left arm comes in handy. Over the years, Hannah's fist makes a number of shocking appearances, but only in the most justifiable of circumstances.

The author, Brian McKeown, was born in Birkenhead and raised by working class parents. His respect for the people of the city is obvious, and he must have grown up with many anecdotes about the wars and hard times. Indeed, a number of episodes in the novel greatly resemble stories I grew up with. His style is engaging and offers a realistic portrayal of the effects of war and poverty on ordinary families. McKeown's novel is both humorous and poignant and explores a range of personalities from meek and mild to fiery hot. I highly recommend it--one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in a long time!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Platforms for Support, and Supporting a Platform

Eric here, with a question: Is there any better cliché than starting an article out with a dictionary definition? Like, for example: 

Platform: a landing in a flight of stairs.—

Which is just one of nineteen definitions for that word, none of which really fit the kind of platform I want to talk about today, so that was a total waste of introductory space.

What I'm talking about are marketing and social media and promotional platforms—the scaffolding to stand on when trying to get information out to the world. When it comes to the "author platform" it's an all-encompassing thing, a way of addressing every single method we have to generate buzz, to inform the masses, to really reach out and touch someone, short of buying a white windowless van from which to hand out free candy.

A couple things got me thinking about it. One was this article on Writer Unboxed by author Karin Gillespie called "How I Got Published in the New York Times On My First Try (And What Happened Next)." In it, she spells out how she--an established author with a bunch of books under her belt--couldn't sell her sixth novel and she feared it was a "lack of platform." So she created a new venue for herself: she got published in The New York Times.

Which is great, but it didn't get her a book deal.

The second thing was the fact that Hadley Rille Books—a publisher very, very close to the hearts of all here at Heroines of Fantasy—is looking to expand its own platform. (Everyone has a platform. This blog is just one piece of the foundation holding up the platform of HRB writers like me, Kim, Julia, Terri-Lynne, Karin, and others.) In the case of HRB, finding a "new venue" isn't really in the cards as much as making the most of what we've got. And to do that entails HRB's first foray into crowd-funding, looking to the readers who love our books to help us out.

By supporting the Hadley Rille Books campaign at Indiegogo you can help transform this small labor of love—a one-man operation by founder Eric Reynolds for most of the company's lifetime. The funds will go toward expanding the HRB reach into stores, more marketing for the books you love (or will love when you get to hear about them), and perhaps best of all, finding new authors to publish.

With a lack of celebrity or willingness to get arrested in Shia-LaBeouf-meltdown-style for attention, we're not going to get funded overnight. The authors of HRB and HoF are giving it their all, but certainly could use more help. Not just monetarily, but by expanding the reach of the Indiegogo complain over the next month. Help us with your platform—share the link on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Tumblr. Tell your friends, especially fans of scifi/fantasy at cons and writers groups and critique sessions. Email your mom and dad and grandparents (bookish teenagers too, but they should be at the library). And if you know a celebrity author or two, tell them about it. Everyone starts out with a small platform, but with your help, we can convert that platform into a full-fledged stage.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Guest Post: The Roots of Fantasy

Eric here, with a special guest. I'm lucky to live in a burg like Ithaca, New York. It's gorges. (Get it? That's our official municipal joke. You know, because we have... deep rivers. Anyway.) In this hyper-literate college town, I've been lucky to meet several writers, even some that write things that aren't academic papers. Nancy Holzner is one of the best. She's the author of the DEADTOWN series from Ace Books, now at five books—count 'em, FIVE—and counting. With more to come. She knows her fantasy heroines. She's here to talk about fantasy and escapism. It's something we should all be thinking about.

People often use the word “fantasy” to indicate something totally divorced from reality—an idea, a scenario, a story with no roots in the so-called real world. Reading fantasy is frequently associated with pure escapism. I enjoy escapism as much as anyone, but I question the assumption that fantasy merely distracts readers from the problems and concerns of real life. I think the opposite is true: to engage readers and make them care about the characters and their struggles, fantasy must be rooted in reality.

Think about it. If there were such a thing as pure fantasy, it would be impossible to relate to the characters or understand their world. Readers need an entryway into the story, and the best way to draw readers in is to give them something recognizable—something real—they can hook into.

There are many ways authors ground their fantasy stories in reality, but I think it’s especially important to pay attention to characters, conflict, and setting.

Characters. “You’re only human” doesn’t necessarily apply to fantasy characters. Elves, fairies, aliens, vampires, dragons, ogres, ghosts, weres of all kinds—any sentient creature you can imagine can be the focus of fantasy. But if a character’s psychology is incomprehensible, readers can’t connect to that character. And if they can’t connect, they don’t care.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that fantasy characters have to think and act like regular Joes and Josies. Part of their fascination is in how different they are from someone who might be walking down your street. Yet a little strangeness goes a long way. If a character’s mind works in a completely alien way, it’s hard to follow that character through a story. Readers have sometimes told me, “I don’t read much fantasy but I like your Deadtown books because the characters are psychologically real.” In other words, even though my protagonist Victory Vaughn isn’t human (she’s a shapeshifter), readers like her because they can get inside her head.

A classic example is Grendel. When John Gardner retells the Beowulf story from the monster’s point of view, he presents an utterly inhuman character who considers mankind his enemy. But Grendel experiences thoughts and emotions—such as loneliness, rage, anxiety, and angst—that everyone has felt. As Grendel ponders and feels and acts, readers may not see him as any less monstrous, but they can understand why he acts as he does. His feelings are recognizable to us, and seeing the “other” experience such feelings makes him interesting.

Conflict. As any writer knows, conflict drives both plot and character development. A character wants something but is prevented from getting it, causing the character to act—and so the plot begins. In fantasy, the plot often takes the form of a quest. Whether that quest is for love, a treasure, to defeat an enemy, or to save the world, readers understand what it feels like to want something badly enough to go for it. That makes them eager to accompany a fantasy character on his or her quest. Strong conflict creates suspense and keeps readers turning pages in all types of fiction.

 Aside from a story’s main conflict, readers connect with characters who are facing everyday problems that we all face. Slaying a dragon is tough—slaying a dragon while preoccupied with wondering why your boyfriend isn’t calling you back is even tougher. Fantasy characters who encounter problems with relationships, finances, jobs, family, etc. while struggling to achieve their goals feel more real and well rounded than those who pursue those goals single-mindedly. No one lives in a vacuum, not even in fantasy.

Setting. World-building is fun. To some writers, the best part of writing fantasy is imagining a world completely unlike our own and bringing it to life. Yet that world can’t be completely unlike our own, or it won’t come alive for readers. Alien landscapes still have climate, weather, and topography, and readers want to know what those are like. Fantasy characters still have societies of some sort—are they rural or urban? tribal or cosmopolitan? hierarchical or egalitarian? violent or peaceful? What political system predominates? What do characters eat, and how do they get their food? How do characters get from one place to another? The reality of a world is in its details, and these details create a world that readers can step into and inhabit.

Fantasy can take readers far beyond their everyday lives. But fantasy needs a strong dash of realism in its characters, conflicts, and settings so that readers can understand and relate. Even the most fantastical story must anchor its roots deep in reality—that’s what makes the story believable. And, as Tinkerbell knew, readers’ belief is what makes fantasy live.

Nancy Holzner is the author of the DEADTOWN urban fantasy series, published by Ace.