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


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday Review: Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi

Title: Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel
Author: Jacqueline Koyanagi
Publisher: Masque Books
Publication Date: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction (Space Opera with a strong Romance streak)
Price: $6.99 (ebook), $14.95 (trade paperback)
Where to Purchase: Powells   |   Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble
Reviewed by: Julia Dvorin

Happy Holidays to all you Heroines of Fantasy readers! Hope you are staying warm and dry and making merry in the ways you like best. This time around I’m reviewing Ascension, a debut novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi. This was one of the random books that showed up in my swag bag from World Fantasy Convention, but it made the “schlep home on airplane” cut because it looked like just the kind of character-based, space opera sci-fi I like best. Plus its protagonist was a working-class, queer woman of color with chronic illness issues, which sounded intriguing to me as I am heavily in favor of reading stories from traditionally underrepresented points of view.

Ascension is told from the point of view of Alana Quick, a “sky surgeon” (spaceship mechanic) with a chronic illness who struggles to make a living in a world which is slowly being gentrified by Transliminal, a large alien-run corporation with a whole different (and cheaper) kind of technology. Gearhead Alana has a passion for ships and space and has always dreamed of getting off planet as a ship’s engineer. The novel begins as she finally gets her chance to do just that by stowing away on the Tangled Axon, an old-fashioned human-built ship with the kind of motley crew that makes for good space opera: Ovie, a big strong-but-silent type ship’s engineer who is also sometimes a wolf; Slip, a cynical doctor with a heart of gold; Marre, a mysterious pilot with parts of her body that randomly disappear, layer by layer; and Tev, a sexy, tough-broad captain who secretly loves to garden. They’re a tight-knit family of rogues and outcasts, and Alana wants nothing more than to be a part of the crew and to get her hands in the Tangled Axon’s engines (and possibly in her captain’s pants).

The catch? They don’t want Alana, they want her sister, Nova. Alana gets the captain and crew to provisionally accept her presence as a way to get to her sister, but once they do get to Nova, things start to get weird and the stakes get higher. I won’t go into the plot much further here, since plot intricacies are half the fun of space opera to begin with, but suffice to say that they are, in fact, generally fun, and that, just as you might suspect, Alana eventually gets accepted into the family (and the captain’s pants).

There was a lot I really enjoyed about this book. Koyanagi’s prose is solidly readable and the pacing was good, so I kept wanting to know what happened next. I think the book was at its best when delving into the characters and their motivations. I really appreciated the vibrant, diverse, cast of mostly women characters, and the way that “non-traditional” (e.g. queer or polyamorous) relationships were treated as normal and unremarkable. I liked Alana as a protagonist, and liked the way she (and the author) ruminated on class, passion, illness, personal/familial relationships, and grieving. I especially appreciated Koyanagi’s deft and nuanced portrayal of a heroine who struggles with chronic pain and disabilities yet still manages to be convincingly heroic when needed. I enjoyed the buildup (and payoff) of the romance between Alana and Captain Tev, and I appreciated the depth with which the sibling relationship between Alana and Nova was explored. I also enjoyed the setting and the world-building that Koyanagi did, although I found it a bit too thin in places. (Which is usually a sign that I’m intrigued enough to want to know more about something/somewhere, so that isn’t really a big negative thing.) This book appears to be the first in a possible series, though, so perhaps we'll get some more world-building with future books.

There were some things that I felt like the author was not as successful with as she was with her character building, although nothing was a flat-out failure or irritant. For example, though I was intrigued that the author tried to create a world in which there was a blend of spirituality (magic) and technology, I didn’t necessarily feel like either the magic or the tech were explained or applied consistently enough that they were fully believable. And though there were some good plot twists and turns and the action scenes were good, overall the “we have to go here and get this person so we can get this other person to do what we want” plot felt at best like a fairly standard “macguffin” plot (aka “collect all the shiny things to win”) and at worst somewhat forced. More than once I found myself asking “now why would so-and-so agree to that?” or “why do they really need that?” or “why did they have to go there?” I don’t mind hand-waving around technology or world-building when it’s not intrinsic to the plot (that’s why I like space opera better than hard science fiction) but it felt like there were times when a little more explanation of why or what or how could have helped ground this world and make it more memorable.

In summary: I liked this book, and I'd happily read others with these characters and this world. You’ll like this book if you like ensemble-cast space opera featuring strong women characters, romantic lesbian relationships, and non-traditional protagonists.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tapestry of Plot

 Little Red Riding Hood is my favorite fairy tale. I even have her tattooed onto my shin. I am not a big fan of the Charles Perrault version, wherein pretty little girls are admonished to follow the rules or else. I'm a fan of the older stories. Little Red is always a cautionary tale, but while Perrault wants well-bred girls to beware of wolves, listen to mom and dad, and never stray from the path, the first stories were about taking the wisdom of the grandmothers, of saving oneself, and of sexual awakening.
Because it's my favorite fairy tale, I recently watched a movie I've been meaning to see since it released way back in 2005--Hoodwinked. It got the gist of the old tales while modernizing the themes. The wolf was not a blatant sexual male. In fact, the wolf had nothing whatsoever to do with Red's virtue. Gaining grandmother's wisdom, however, was a huge theme, and--in my opinion--the best and most enduring piece of the Little Red Riding Hood tale.

I will admit, I'm not a fan of the animation for the film, but the script was killer. Funny for adults as wekk as for kids. Great cast. (Anything with Patrick Warburton in it is sure to please. Glenn Close, Anne Hathaway, Andy Dick, etc.) The messages were clear without being preachy. Red gets to be who she is meant to be from the oldest tales. All-around enjoyable. But that's not why I'm writing this post.

The weaving was flawless. Spot. On. Flawless. For any readers who love the intricacy of so many threads being woven together to form a whole tapestry, or for writers who want to see the mechanics of such a thing at work, Hoodwinked is a must-see. Without giving anything away, the story starts out at a scene near the end of the story--Little Red walking into Grandma's house to find Wolf in the bed. Wolf pounces, Red fights back, tied-up Grandma bursts out of the closet, and the Woodsman breaks through the window with his ax. The whole scene is broken up by the police who hold all of them for questioning--and here is where the weaving truly begins.

Each of the characters gets to give their perspective of events. Into each and every tale, the others' threads are woven--only you don't know it until another character's story gets told. Little by little, you see bits and pieces, and how it got woven in from the very first scene. A random character at the side of the road in Little Red's story is an integral part of the Woodsman's tale. And so on. It's brilliant. And it gives a depth that made Hoodwinked a great film, not just a cute kiddie movie.

If you get a chance to watch it, do. Enjoy it! But then watch it again to really see all those threads, how they got woven, and remember it next time you're writing, or reading. It will give you a whole new perspective.

~Terri-Lynne DeFino

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: The Immortality Game

Title: The Immortality Game 
Author: Ted Cross
Genre: SF
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $12.59 (paperback)
ISBN:  978-0990987710
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I was attracted to this book by two things.  First, Ted Cross, the author, has spent serious time in Moscow, where the story is set, and currently resides in lovely Baku, Azerbaijan.  Second, just look at that cover!  It’s from Stephan Martiniere, one of the premier SF illustrators.

Fortunately, The Immortality Game lives up to its cover.  Set primarily in Moscow in the summer of 2138, the book is the story of Zoya and Marcus.  Zoya is a Russian teenager, who by accident comes in possession of some military cyber-ware.  Marcus is a twenty-something American and former addict of “The Mesh,” an all-consuming virtual reality place. 

Marcus is also being led around by his “dad” – or rather an AI construct that has his dad’s memories and personalities.  Marcus’s dad thinks that Zoya’s cyber-ware, or rather the folks that made it, can be used to download him into a real body.  Alas, said Russian cyber-tech is valuable, and the Russian mob wants it.  Also, the world of 2138 is a radically different place, with what’s left of America being ruled by the Mormon Church. 

This basic setup leads to an action-packed series of events, as the two young people struggle to survive.  Also struggling are the Russian scientists who invented the tech, and pretty much all of the good guys are way out of their depth.  While all of this action is going on, the author doesn’t skimp on character-building.  Everybody, from our leads to the Russian hit men and their bosses, has at least some character arc and development. 

I have to say I also liked the ending.  The author has a chance to go with the conventional “happy ever after” ending but he doesn’t, subverting it while not being a complete downer.  Zoya, Marcus and his “dad” all have more substantial development, which leads them to some interesting places.  I also liked Mr. Cross’s eye for detail.  For example, his Moscow is full of poplar seeds floating like snowflakes in the summer breeze.   

If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed reading The Immortality Game.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Magic and the Mystery

How is it possible to mourn the loss of a world that never existed?

This mystery occupied my thoughts over the weekend, in the aftermath of a Friday night reading binge that culminated with the conclusion of Guy Gavriel Kay's epic tale, The Lions of Al Rassan.

Now I mourn the loss of Al Rassan, the dissolution of that great empire, and the rich, complex society that flourished - and perished - with it. In reading the novel, Al Rassan's history somehow became my history, its people my people, its passion, violence, ambition, and loss reflections of something deep and very real in my own experience.

What is this magic that one author can achieve, to create something so real and palpable we can hardly distinguish it from fact?

What books have been your canopy emergents?
Novels like The Lions of Al Rassan are canopy emergents in the tropical forest of fantasy. They rise above all the other trees, spread their branches wide, and drink in the sunlight with abandon. We look up at them in awe from below. If we're lucky, we might have some ropes that allow us to climb to the top, where for a brief moment we will see the forest from a completely new perspective.

Perhaps we meet friends along the way with whom we can share the discovery and enjoy the view. But sooner or later, all of us have to rappel back down to the forest floor. We wander on foot through the dark under story and delight in its lesser wonders -- no less beautiful in their own way, but somehow never quite as significant as that one climb we all remember.

Perhaps our long and winding path will lead us to another of those rare super giants, but we know instinctively that they are hard to come by. So we hold each of those encounters in our hearts as if they might have been the very last; sparkling gems that will not be forgotten.

The author's craft plays an important role in this experience; of that there can be no doubt. And Guy Gavriel Kay is a master at the craft.

But there is another piece to the magic over which the author has no control, and that is the disposition of the reader in the moment he or she picks up a book.

I was primed for Al Rassan. For much of my life, I have interacted with Latin American and Hispanic cultures that share deep roots in the history of the Iberian Peninsula. Over the past couple years, my free time has been devoted to a fascination with medieval Spain, and most particularly with the stories of Isabella and Ferdinand and their war against the Moors.

This most recent literary journey began with C.W. Gortner's The Queen's Vow, a book that focuses on Isabella's rise to power. Admittedly, this is the most user-friendly part of Isabella's history, a place in her life where we can admire the princess' courage and resolve; where we can stand beside her as she overcomes the many obstacles that stood between her and the throne of Castille.

The TVE series ISABEL recreates the surrender of Alhambra
(Granada). By the time the viewers reach this moment, we
understand both its triumph and its tragedy. 
Shortly after finishing The Queen's Vow, I began watching Isabel, a Spanish language series about this remarkable, if controversial, period in Spain's history. Season I culminates in the crowning of Isabella, letting us enjoy that period of innocence and hope before she came to power. Season II brings to life the decidedly thorny aspects of her reign: The Inquisition, the war against the Moors, the expulsion of the Jews.

One thing I respect about the series Isabel is that, in the best tradition of authors like Guy Gavriel Kay, it attempts to give us multiple sides of the conflict. We are not allowed to think in terms of 'good' and 'evil', except to recognize that each human heart harbors both of those qualities, and that all of us are capable of great heroism and intense cruelty.

Season II of Isabel covers the fall of Alhambra, now known as Granada. We are brought into the heart of this beautiful medieval city, and allowed to relive the elegance and sophistication of its Islamic rulers. We also see their cruelty, in no way greater or lesser than the harsh ambitions of their opponents, Isabel and Ferdinand. Season II of Isabel, which I finished this fall, left me with a great curiosity regarding the world of medieval Islam.

And so, without knowing it, I had been primed for The Lions of Al Rassan.

I had picked up a paperback copy of Kay's book long before The Queens Vow and Isabel. A few years ago at the Campbell Conference, KU's Center for the Study of Science Fiction hosted a dollar sale on used books. The Lions of Al Rassan was buried in one of several boxes scattered across the living room floor of a dorm house. I had heard of the author, but I had not read his work. And the book was only $1. What did I have to lose? So I bought it.

That same weekend, my father-in-law passed away. Supporting my husband and his family through this loss occupied all my thoughts and energy. Al Rassan was shelved and forgotten.

Fast forward to 2014.

This year, Guy Gavriel Kay was the guest of honor at the World Fantasy Conference. While packing for WFC, I remembered I had a book by him somewhere. Sure enough, The Lions of Al Rassan was right where I'd left it two years before on my bookshelf. So I took it to D.C. and had it signed by the man himself.

My copy was well-worn by the time it
came to me; now it is also well-loved.
Afterwards I began reading the novel. At first, I kicked myself for not having sat down with this amazing story earlier. But here's the truth, and the mystery:

I bet that if I had read The Lions of Al Rassan two years ago, or five or ten or twenty years ago, it would not have had the impact that it had this past month. I would have enjoyed the story and recognized it as an excellent novel, but a canopy emergent? Maybe not. Because there was other information I needed, other experiences I had to have, before I could truly appreciate what Guy Gavriel Kay accomplished with this work.Before I could recognize his story as somehow, deeply, mine.

What influence did Kay have on the events that primed me for The Lions of Al Rassan? None whatsoever. This is the piece that no author anywhere on the planet can control: Whether the reader has the disposition to fully engage with a story in the moment he or she picks up our work.

Once someone told me that reading Eolyn was like encountering her own story, a retelling of something she herself had lived. This is one of the greatest complements a reader can give the author, and yet it is so beyond our power to ensure such an experience.

What we can offer is the best story possible given our particular talents at writing. The rest depends on the circumstances by which that story lands in the hands of our readers.

That is the magic and the mystery of this forest we call fiction. Finding those canopy giants can entail a long, winding path. Whether they achieve that height in our minds depends as much on ourselves as on the author. At the end of the day, it's still the journey that gives the destination meaning.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wednesday Review: Everything I Know About Zombies I Learned in Kindergarten

A case of choosing a book by its title...

Letitia is nine years old, living in foster care and looking out for her five-year-old sister, Jahayra, as best she can. So when a horde of ravenous zombies attack their school, she shoves Jahayra and her classmates into a bathroom and locks the door. When at last the screaming stops and they dare to emerge, their teachers are all (un)dead, the streets are filled with mindless killers and nobody’s mom is answering the ’phone. It’s up to Letitia to look after those kids.

She does a pretty good job too. It’s not long before Letitia and the children have the zombies sussed. Routine, practice and regular bedtimes – that’s the key to coping after a zombie apocalypse. It’s also a good idea to build up a collection of DIY texts showing happy white men rowing boats and digging the garden and catching fish and mending windows (if ever there was a novel advocating literacy, this is it). Letitia quickly becomes the mother to this family, building a home, growing food, providing stability and thus enabling the children in her care to develop their own self-worth and self-respect. But, determined and able as Letitia is, she cannot survive in complete isolation and events necessitate her making contact with adult survivors of the zombie apocalypse.

I’ve seen comparisons made between this story and The Lord of the Flies, but I’m not sure I’d make them myself. The surface similarities are there – the children rapidly become expert survivors, dispatching zombies (and the odd junky) with ruthless efficiency – but, in fact, the underlying group dynamic of the children in this story is much more positive than that in Golding’s book: they survive because they are a group, because they work together and look out for each other, because, in the breakdown of society, they build themselves a better one. Their beast is external, rather than within. There is indeed an almost idyllic feel to the chapters in which the children establish themselves on their island (I’ll note the island – representing both isolation and safety – is almost a defining feature of post-catastrophic fiction), sufficiently so for me to wonder if this was going to be a cosy catastrophe.

That’s not to say there’s no cost to Letitia; the cost is shown plainly in her internal monologue and list making. She’s a humane, flawed creation: clear-sighted, clear-headed and tenacious; ruthless without, whilst, within, questioning why the world is as it is (and not flinching from the obvious conclusion). With some of the other children, it’s less clear whether they survive because they are ruthless or whether the actions necessary for survival make them so. Either way, I appreciated the lack of sentimentality.

As I was reading, I found myself reflecting on the parallels and differences between various imaginings of the world-as-we-know-it’s aftermath. The zombie wave of recent years has largely passed me by, so I’m not the person to comment on whether Williams’ story adheres or not to the finer points of zombie lore. I did, however, enjoy his book tremendously, for reasons that had nothing to do with the bioscience it used to shore up zombies. Everything I Know About Zombies is that highly agreeable thing: a book for adults (don’t, please, give it to your nine-year-old) about children, written largely from a child’s viewpoint, that is not at all childish. That’s quite a clever balancing act to perform, and one at which far more experienced authors have failed.

The thing is, zombies do not a satisfying antagonist make. They are deadly, brutal and relentless, for sure, but their mindlessness, the fact that one zombie is exactly like another in action and intention, means that once you’ve learnt to deal with one, you can deal with all. There are moments of pathos or horror to be had from individual zombies but en masse they aren’t really that interesting, and thus an author needs something else to add tension and drive narrative. Here, something else is other people and, with their entry to the story, Williams shows he is too canny a writer to fall into the cosy catastrophe trap. People are dangerous, and the children face the obvious threats (looters with guns; rulers of petty fiefdoms) but also the more subtle dangers arising from kindly people who mean no harm, but make mistakes. Letitia's world isn't one where, if you make a mistake, you get a second chance, because zombies!! Not complicated, but they do one thing well.

I loved, too, the extremely deft narrative voice, its shifts in dialect with point of view, its wry, sometimes ironic, tone. Moreover, the book gives itself the space to use its characters to explore ideas, important ideas about race, and society, and parenting, about self-sufficiency and inter-dependence and violence. And that’s where the fiction starts holding up a mirror to reality, and why – over and above the wonderful Letitia  – I think this is a book (and a genre) worth reading. I’d suggest that post-catastrophe novels are really about society today. The nature of an imagined apocalypse reflects the fears of the moment and, by choosing what to retain after the world is swept away, an author can let the remaining parts stand for the whole.

It’s not quite perfect (which book is?) and might have benefited from tighter editing: there are a couple of sections (a Christmas party comes to mind) that plot-wise come from nowhere and go nowhere; I also found some of the point of view jumps to new characters in the middle reaches of the book a little disorientating. It is, however, an extremely satisfying book, driven by strong characterisation and total immersion in the experiences of those characters. It’s not a cosy catastrophe (could one even be imagined, in these austere and fearful times?) but the author has absolute faith in Letitia, and so do I.

One to read, even if you’re not a zombie lover.

Harriet Goodchild

Everything I Know About Zombies I Learned in Kindergarten by Kevin Wayne Williams

Buy links
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble
Kevin Wayne Williams' Website

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Special Review: Rise of the Spider Goddess

Title: Rise of the Spider Goddess
Author: Jim C. Hines
Genre: Fantasy, humor
Price: $3.99 (ebook) $9.89 (paperback)
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 978-1502451903
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Friend-of-the-blog and generally good egg Jim Hines is a writing machine, having released 10 quite enjoyable novels over the past eight years.  But he wasn’t born such a writing machine – like most “overnight successes” he spent a long time toiling in the trenches.  Jim’s also a giving fellow, and in the spirit of the season he’s decided to give us a special work.

Jim’s latest novel, out today, is called The Prosekiller Chronicles: Rise of the Spider Goddess.  Although it’s new to readers, it’s old hat to Jim.  Spider Goddess is Jim’s very first novel-length piece of prose, written back when Jim had hair in 1995.

I called Spider Goddess a novel-length piece of prose because it’s truly bad.  Our hero, Nakor the Purple, likes to hang around watching over-described sunsets while getting into truly unbelievable combat with unknown (and not very competent) foes.  The book also stars an angst-y vampire, an owl (or maybe a falcon, depending on the chapter) and the most cardboard world ever bound between cardboard covers.

There are two things that save Spider Goddess.  First, it’s an object reminder that even good writers started somewhere. More importantly, Jim has a sense of humor, so he’s liberally sprinkled snarky and humorous comments in the book, making fun of his younger self’s (lack of) writing skills.  Think Mystery Science Theater 3000 meets Lord of the Rings.

So, if you’re looking for a humorous diversion, go sneak a copy of Volume 1 (and done) of The Prosekiller Chronicles: Rise of the Spider Goddess.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

WEDNESDAY REVIEW: The Broken Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy Part 2) by N.K. Jemisin

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree's guest is at the heart of it. . .


THE BROKEN KINGDOMS, the second novel in The Inheritance Trilogy, is the rare middle book in which is equal to if not stronger than the 1st novel, THE HUNDRED-THOUSAND KINGDOMS—which I found outstanding. That bodes well not only for the likelihood of an even stronger final book, but for Jemisin's career, and the enjoyment of all fantasy readers who hunger for authors that strike out into original territory every time.

First off, the second novel--even though having read the first definitely adds texture and and enjoyment to the story--is a true stand-alone to the point that there was no need for an info dumping or "What came before . . ." type prologue. Jemisin deftly weaves in what needs to be known from the previous book in the course of this always forward-moving story.

Blind street merchant Oree lives in Sky, the capital city for the entire planet, and sole location on the planet where godlings--powerful immortals who are not one of the three original Gods--are allowed to visit from their otherworldly realm. In fact, Oree is still heartbroken from an affair she had with one. Suddenly, godlings began dying and disappearing and Oree unwillingly becomes embroiled in the search for who or what is responsible. But her quest is forcing her to question not only the godling she still loves, but her ability to paint dazzling pictures despite being blind . . .

If you are looking for well-written 1st person POV stories in non-quasi-medieval setting featuring a strong, but not always "certain", lead female character who overcomes incredible challenges without following the well-worn paths of becoming a mighty enough sorcerer/swordsman, finding the magic talisman, or turning out to be the Chosen One, will enjoy both

Review by Carlyle Clark for Heroines of Fantasy

Monday, November 24, 2014


As many of you know, I have recently ventured out of my cozy niche of romantic fantasy and edged into contemporary romantic fiction. In doing so, I have come into contact with many new writers who have a whole different sort of experience and overview of the writing world. It was this pool I dipped into when seeking out a guest poster for this week.

Sarah Hegger writes in many genres, most specifically contemporary and historical romance, but she has a deep love of fantasy, and discovered a fabulous thing I've never even heard of to indulge in it--Wattpad. I'll let her take it from here. Sarah?

Before you yell “Imposter!” let me just say—Terri said I could come.

I write what I love to read, which is romance. And as I have the attention span of a goldfish, I write in both historical and contemporary romance. But, I have another great love, and that’s fantasy. My first contact was Anne McCaffrey and her Dragons of Pern, and I’ve never looked back. Stephen Donaldson, Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Robin Hobb, David Gemmell—love them all.

When I first started writing, I wanted to write fantasy. I sweated two years over a book that ended up being almost 500,000 words. Yeah, I know! And before you ask, I truly feel that every one of those words was totally necessary. Which brings me to why Terri let me in here today.

I am reworking that monster into a number of smaller books. But I’m doing it on Wattpad. For those of you who don’t know it, it's kind of like FanFiction, in that it works the same as FanFiction.  Anybody can contribute and anybody can read your work and comment. The difference is that the content is original, not using existing characters from other stories. And lots of published writers use it as a platform to reach more readers.

I wanted to combine my two loves in an episodic fantasy romance series. Fantasy can often be largely plot driven, whereas romance is more about the characters and their inner journey. What if we could have a cracking good plot, driven by characters—and because I’m primarily a romance writer—falling in love against a backdrop of one of those epic fantasy “Good vs. Evil for the World” battles?

The fun part is writing it episodically. One chapter a week, published every Thursday faithfully. I already have the framework (all 500,000 words of it) and the broader picture. Now to make each episode a compelling enough read to bring the person back next week for the next installment.

Wattpad is totally free for both readers and writers. This is what the front end stats say on the site:

75 million stories to read.
35 million Wattpaders and growing.
9 billion minutes spent on Wattpad every month (this one is a bit meaningless to me, as my math is suspect at best)
85% mobile across all devices.
The big surprise to me is how professional the look of the thing is. I am getting a cover designed for the series, just to fit in with the other folks doing the same.
Why am I doing this?

For the sheer joy of writing a Fantasy novel is the first reason. And, secondly, how cool would it be to develop a readership on such a huge platform?
And the freeeeeeeedoooooooom.
There are no genre rules, no maximum word counts, no ‘selling points’. It’s me and whoever wanders over to read my story. Readers can leave comments, like your story and interact with you while the story unfolds.

The challenge as a writer is delicious. You have to draw that reader in and keep them coming back for more, while making sure you keep the entire plot and the bigger picture straight in your head.

And I’m writing about dragons, my favorites in fantasy. Great winged magicians who draw their powers from crystals, and need their human counterparts because with all that magic, they lose their five senses and need to ‘piggyback’ off a companion.

If you’d like to check out my embryonic effort Companions Gorge: The Return, pop on over to my Wattpad page to see.
I have 16 reads and 2 followers. Yay, me! I believe you need an account to read, but you can read any story off just about any mobile device. And like the website stats say, you have 75 million of them to chose from.
You can have a look at what I do in the more traditional published world over on my WEBSITE.
Who am I?
Born British and raised in South Africa, Sarah Hegger suffers from an incurable case of wanderlust. Her match? A hot Canadian engineer, whose marriage proposal she accepted six short weeks after they first met. Together they’ve made homes in seven different cities across three different continents (and back again once or twice). If only it made her multilingual, but the best she can manage is idiosyncratic English, fluent Afrikaans, conversant Russian, pigeon Portuguese, even worse Zulu and enough French to get herself into trouble.

Mimicking her globe trotting adventures, Sarah’s career path began as a gainfully employed actress, drifted into public relations, settled a moment in advertising, and eventually took root in the fertile soil of her first love, writing. She also moonlights as a wife and mother.

She currently lives in Draper, Utah, with her teenage daughters, two Golden Retrievers and aforementioned husband. Part footloose buccaneer, part quixotic observer of life, Sarah’s restless heart is most content when reading or writing books.
        She loves to hear from readers and you can find her at any of the places below.

Sarah has two published medieval romances: The Bride Gift and Sweet Bea with another releasing next year, My Lady Faye.
On the contemporary front, she hase three books in the Willow Park Romance Series, beginning with Nobody’s Angel in March 2015.



Monday, November 17, 2014


I started writing a blog post about coming back after six months away from blogging on Heroines of Fantasy, about the turn of the year and the creativity winter inspires...then I went to World Fantasy Convention in Washington, DC last weekend, and my tack shifted.


What do those numbers mean? Well, my dearios, those are the ratios of male:female guests of honor, of male:female toastmasters, and of male:female World Fantasy Award novel winners who have been honored at the World Fantasy Convention since 1975. These numbers come from The official WFC page.

Pretty staggering, eh? If you look over the nominee lists for the awards, the predominance of the male nominees outweighs the number of female nominees by an even greater margin. I got the inkling to look into this while in DC last weekend, when Karin (Gastreich) whispered to me, upon sitting in on one particular panel, "Why are all the panelists men?"

To be fair, there was generally a pretty good mix-up of male and female panelists. But it got me thinking about the WFCs I've attended alone, and I realized most of the GoH have been men. Just look at the Guest of Honor list for this year:
Guy Gavriel Kay (m,) Les Edwards (m,) Stuart David Schiff (m,) Lail Finlay (f) 3:1
Hmmm...Thankfully, our Toastmistress was the formidable and fabulous, Mary Robinette Kowal.

Let me make one thing clear--I have nothing against men, these men or any others. They are brilliant and beautiful and grand. Guy Gavriel Kay happens to be one of my all-time favorite writers. The talented gentlmen who have been dominating the industry for so long don't do so because they lack talent. In fact, the onus does not lie on the winners and honorees, in my opinion, but on the committees, editors, and voters that choose them.

Whether we like it or not, the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres still seem to be male-dominated. But do these numbers ring true? Really? I could tick several dozen talented, successful female writers in the genres without stretching. Maybe it's because I am a woman who reads and writes books I, myself, would like to read, but I never seem to be lacking for reading material penned by others of my sex. So why aren't we winning more awards? Being honored in our field? It made me inordinately happy to see Patricia McKillip (my ALL-time favorite writer) had won the very first World Fantasy Award (Forgotten Beasts of Eld,) but where is Jane Yolen? Like Diana Wynn Jones and Connie Willis, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award, but never won for best novel. Susanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) thank goodness, won her year, but where is Cherie Priest? Erin Morgenstern penned the extraordinary Night Circus, a book that spent seven weeks on the NY Times Bestseller list and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and wasn't even nominated. With all the monstrously talented women out there writing amazing things, why do they keep falling short of the prize? Worse, why are they not even being considered for the prize* in the first place?

This is a debate that has been going for about as long as there have been men and women. I have no answers, even if I have some inklings. At the very end of it all, it makes me truly appreciate the small and wonderful press I am with. Eric Reynolds didn't set out to create a female-centric press. It happened slowly, over time, as he got more and more amazing manuscripts by women, about women, and largely written with the female-reader in mind.

Since Eric's time in "the Alternate Universe" (his reference to the coma after his stroke) Hadley Rille Books has been on a forced hiatus while we Heroines of Fantasy learned the ropes and held things together. As he recovers and we come closer to publishing again (March!) I am reminded of the amazing work we've done, of the incredible books we've published, by talented writers who might never have been read otherwise. Being at WFC last weekend reminded me how important it is for presses like Hadley Rille Books to stay alive, to keep publishing, and to work to change the ratios in whatever way we can.

*My focus was World Fantasy. I did not look into the Hugos and Nebulas for the purposes of this blog post, though I am pretty sure of what I would have come up with, had I done so.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

REVIEW: No Earthly Shore

Title: No Earthly Shore
AuthorJilly Paddock
Genre: SF
Price: $1.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Cathaven Press
Point of SaleAmazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I frankly don’t remember how I found out about Jilly Paddock’s novella No Earthly Shore, but I did, and I’m glad of it.  Set in a far-future universe, this gentle story is that of Dr. Zuzana Aaron-Jones, Zuzu to her friends, and Boadicea Nantucket, Boodie to her friends. 

Boodie is a young teenager on the human-colonized world Yemitzov Five, and she claims that the squilts – masses of gray tissue that float in the local oceans – saved her from drowning.  More importantly, she claims the squilts are sentient, which could force the human colonists to pack up and leave.  Dr. Zuzu and a team arrive from Earth, and quickly start to investigate.  While they are investigating, romance blooms. 

I found this novella near perfect.  There’s conflict, both between the Earth team members and internally (Zuzu doesn’t want the humans to have to pack up and leave) but no great violence.  The characters are well-rounded, and although the colony bears a striking resemblance to an English seacoast village, the setting worked.  I found myself at the end of the work wishing for more.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Power of Elegance

One of my favorite titles by
Patricia A. McKillip.
I was very lucky this year to be able to attend the World Fantasy Convention in Washington, D.C. All it all, it's been a great weekend, in part for the ongoing discussions about fantasy, but most of all for the opportunity to get together with a lot of friends and colleagues that I haven't seen for a while, including sisters at Hadley Rille Books Terri-Lynne DeFino, Julia Dvorin, Heather McDougal, and Amy Herring.

One of the under sung events of fantasy conferences are the author readings. For me, author readings are one of the most delightful aspects of the cons, yet they are woefully under-attended. I've discovered many great authors by attending readings. There's just nothing like hearing an original tale told well by its author. Moreover, because readings rarely pack a meeting room, you have a much greater chance of one-on-one interaction with the presenter than you do at any panel.

It was one of my extraordinary privileges this past weekend to listen to a reading by Patricia McKillip. As you may imagine, McKillip did pack the room, but it was still a pretty small room they had set aside for her half-hour session. Yours truly had no problem securing a front-row seat, just a few feet away from the great author herself. McKillip read from a new novel in the works, a modern adaptation of the Arthurian legend. (Mark, I think you will go nuts over this novel when it's released. I know I will!)

All of the readings I attended at WFC were excellent, yet McKillip rose above the rest. More than excellent, she was spellbinding. Ever since hearing her, I've been trying to put my finger on what set McKillip apart.

She did few of the things many of us do to liven up our readings. She played little with the voices, kept facial expression and hand gestures to a minimum. She explained the context of the scene, something I've been told one should not do at a reading. Once she started reading, she made no eye contact with the audience, another no-no on my how-to-do-a-reading list. Her passage was long, a full 25 minutes. So often I've heard one should never allow a scene to last more than 10 minutes. Yet if we hadn't been kicked out of the room at the end, I'm certain all of us could have gone on listening to McKillip for hours.

In short, McKillip's lacked a number of the conventional public reading "pizzazz" factors. She simply gave us her voice, her presence, and the words -- these last unhurried and pure, weaving their spell in a way that only perfect (or near-perfect) story telling can do.

I will be mulling over this experience for some time, because the truth is I want to uncover McKillips secret and infuse it into my own public readings. My sense is that it's a combination of the quiet confidence of her presence, the humble joy she takes in sharing her work, and the simple power of the words she uses to tell her stories.

In the end, I summed it up in a single concept: Elegance. As a reader, elegance of words and presentation is something I deeply enjoy. As a writer, it is a state of being I hope to aspire to.

All this to say: Next time you're at a con, attend the readings!

Not just the big name readings, but the full spectrum from first-time authors to tried-and-true veterans. The best moments of SFF community get togethers are not the literary analyses or the discussions of publishing or the drinks at the bar. The best moments are the stories we tell.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wednesday Review--The Romances of George Sand

Title: The Romances of George Sand
Author: Anna Faktorovich
Publisher: Anaphora Literary Press
Publication Date: 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Price: $2.99 ebook, $14.00 paperback
Where to Purchase: Amazon
Reviewed by: Cybelle Greenlaw
Description: The Romances of George Sand takes the heroine from a childhood in the aristocracy amidst the Napoleonic Wars, to an unhappy early marriage and eventual divorce, to her careers as a country doctor, pharmacist, lawyer, and most successfully as a romance novelist. This is a story about the revolutions in a woman’s heart as she goes through dozens of love affairs. It is also about George’s involvement in violent, political revolutions of her time, including the July and June Revolutions and the 1848 Revolution; in the latter, she served as the unofficial Minister of Propaganda. The story is full of military battles, coup d’etat maneuvers, duels, malevolent plots, infidelity, artistic discussions, monumental legal cases, and reflections on the nature of love, family, romance, rebellion, and femininity. The history behind each of the events depicted is researched with biographical precision, but liberty is taken with some events that have been contested by historians, including the lesbian affair George had with Marie Dorval and the identity of the real father of her second child. Students of literature and history will recognize many of the central characters, as George befriended Napoleon I and III, Alexander Dumas pere and fils, Frederic Chopin, Alfred de Musset, and a long list of other notables.

Good morning! Cybelle here again with the Wednesday review. This week, I read The Romances of George Sand. The author, Anna Faktorovich, is also the founder of Anaphora Press and holds a PhD in English literature. I was excited to read the book. George  Sand, born Aurore Dupin, was the greatest woman writer of the Romantic Period, and her life has always fascinated me. However, this novel just didn't quite deliver. In the introduction, Faktorovich emphasizes that it is a work of fiction based closely on Sand's autobiography and known facts about her life. I found this explanation to be necessary because the book has much more in common with a biography than a novel.

The first three chapters concern the life and times of Sand's grandmother and parents. She doesn't appear until chapter four. In places, the phrasing is so confusing that it was difficult to understand who the author was describing. A glaring example of this tripped me up in the first chapter: These events untraveled a couple of months after Aurore's wedding to Dupin, and in a few months her only child, George Sand's father, Maurice Dupin, was born, and nine months after this M. Francueil died in 1786, leaving a ruined estate to his wife and young son.  For most readers, this would also be the first major indication that the Aurore introduced in the first few pages was not, in fact, George Sand but her grandmother, also called Aurore Dupin.

For those interested in the period, the author does a good job of creating historical context, but too much attention is devoted to the personal life of Napoleon Bonaparte. Faktorovich struggles to demonstrate a number of parallels between events in the emperor's life and those in Sand's family. A few of the examples work, but most are forced and unnecessary. It would have been more effective to concentrate on the direct impact his actions and regulations had on the family.

My main complaint against the book would have to be the multitude of missed opportunities. The period and people represented in the novel are fascinating in and of themselves. However, Faktorovich doesn't effectively bring them to life. Instead, the characters are subjected to long passages of speculation about their motives, along with paragraphs in which the author seems to be expressing her own (rather stereotypical) views about relationships. This happened so frequently that I found myself yelling, "Stop guessing what happened and show me!" After all, what fun is a historical novel if the author cannot commit to a character's motivations and actions? The caveat has already been given that we are reading a work of fiction.

I'm very sorry that I could not give this book a more positive review. It is clear that Faktorovich has conducted considerable research on the period and is committed to depicting the characters in a truthful manner. To give her credit, some of the problems I've described may have been the result of attempts to imitate the often rambling musings of Romantic writers. Unfortunately, the style just doesn't work that well in a modern novel.  With a few tweaks, though, it could be an excellent work of creative non-fiction.

Our Scary Story

We were SO delighted with the participation in last Friday's Build-a-Scary-Story event. Thank you to all the talented writers who contributed a passage!

Below I've pasted the final product as a single story. I've improvised an ending. It wasn't easy to follow in the footsteps of giants, so if you aren't happy with my denouement, feel free to propose your own!

The Old Witch

There was once a girl who was very obstinate and willful, and who never obeyed when her elders spoke to her. One day she said to her parents, "I have heard so much of the Old Witch that I will go and see her. People say she has many marvelous things in her house. I am very curious to see them."

Her parents, however, forbade her going, saying, "The Witch is a wicked old woman who performs many godless deeds. You are not to go near her lair."

The girl, however, would not turn back at her parents' command. She set off to find the Witch's house.

Just outside the village, as old and superstitious a place as had ever been, the disobedient child found a penny on the path.

"A sure sign I'm in the right, going to the Witch's house!" She picked it up, put it into her pocket, and barely took three more steps before a wind gusted up and turned her about. When she could see again, the path, the superstitious old village, and any wood she had ever known was gone. The girl cocked her defiant head, and in doing so spotted a small, tidy cottage just there, through a thin screen of evergreens.

Nearing the cottage, the girl noticed that it was nothing more than an abandoned façade of what appeared to be a once-prosperous trading post. Upon laying one foot upon its foundation stone, a tingling sensation charged through her extremities so forcefully that she thought it best to leave it behind and continue on her journey to the witch’s house.

With the house still out of sight, and despite the weakness in her legs, she determined to stay on course in order to arrive before nightfall. As she remembered what the townspeople had told her, she assured herself, “The pain of her reign is upon me, but I will not have to walk much longer.” Each step more painful and heavier than the last, she finally fell to her knees as if unable to proceed any further when she glanced up, awestruck, at what stood before her in the distance.

A carriage, regal and black, filled the path. Magnificent as it was, it was the four creatures that drew it that stole her breath away. They were horses, yes, but of a shade of misty grey that seemed to shimmer and shift as they pawed the ground, and each had a giant pair of wings folded on their backs. As she stared, a handsome young man leapt down from the driver's bench and opened the carriage door, revealing a lush, red silk-lined interior.

"Care for a ride, young miss? It will only cost you a penny."

What a marvelous carriage, what glorious steeds, what wondrous luck indeed to happen upon a stray penny.

She pressed it into the young man's hand, then accepted his help into the pure rose-scented bliss that waited within.

Without a word he closed door and a moment later the carriage rattled down the path, lulling her to a midnight rest.

In the back of her mind, so cozy and content, she was sure the witch was hardly a threat. All this was yet another sign she was in the right, going to the witch's house.

She slept on a bed of roses, rocked as in her cradle, her lullaby the horses' hooves, and as she slept, a song rippled through her dreams. A song sweet as spun candy, twisted as a sugar-cane, subtle as spice and cinnamon baked in a pie.

Her grandmother’s voice, sharp as a green apple, spoke through her dreams. ‘And where might you be going, young lady, with one no better than he should be?’

She snapped awake to find herself upon a cold bank of birken leaves. A wolf’s eyes stared down at her out of the young man’s face.

She froze before that amber regard. "And why, pray tell, do you seek the witch's house?" He crouched before her, sharp eared shadow falling on the ring of mushrooms that circled them both. He smiled as she scrambled back from him only to stop, trapped, at the ring, crouching slightly forward. "It's an answer I'll be having, if it's any farther you'll be going."

She trembled at the flash of sharp white teeth in his mouth, but lifted her chin defiantly. "All my life I have heard of the marvels to be found in the Witch's house, and now I wish to see them for myself."

"'Tis marvels you seek, is it?" the wolf-man said, with a grin that held the hint of a snarl. "Well indeed, young miss, the Witch's house holds marvels aplenty for those bold or foolish enough to seek it out. You've crossed her foundation-stone; you've ridden in her carriage; now kiss her faithful servant, and you shall be granted your heart's desire."

The girl was young and defiant, but she was no fool, whatever her mother thought. "A kiss is quite dear a fee, especially as this would be my first. But if a kiss is required it is a kiss you shall have, only after I've seen the witch and come back again to this carriage,gone through this wood and back home again."

"If home is truly your wish, my dear," said the wolf-in-boy's-clothing, "we are agreed."

The wolf scraped the dirt with his claws, and the earth yawned and groaned. The mushrooms disappeared. A chasm opened up below them with a circle of stairs leading into darkness. The wolf bounded down a few steps and then looked back at the girl expectantly.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"Wherever you may lead."

The girl glanced behind her and saw a familiar road leading through the wood to her home. Wind rattled the cold and brittle branches. She understood the choice offered, that from the chasm at her feet there would be no turning back.

"Is she a fine witch," the girl asked, "bold and true?"

"The finest there ever was, and a good teacher too."

What happened then? We cannot know.

Some say she descended to explore that dark cave; others claim she was lost in a woodland maze. One thing is certain: Walk through the forest on a windy October afternoon, and you will hear the high cackle of the witch, the creak of her carriage, the low growl of her hungry servant.

And if you listen very carefully, you'll hear something else. The laughter of a girl, perhaps. Or a mournful plea for help.


This wraps up HoF's 2014 FRIGHT FEST. Many thanks to everyone who participated during the month of October. Look for us again this time next year. We'll be back for more spookin' fun. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

On Illness

I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer back in April of this year. To say this came as a complete shock is both an understatement and a cliché. The simple truth is that I turned 40 in January, and was advised to have my first mammogram. I did, and modern technology found a lump buried so deep that it would have killed me before I ever discovered it on my own.

The rest of the year has passed slowly in a blur of surgeries and chemotherapy, as my wee toxic lump was removed and the resulting conclusion—that it was a dreaded form of breast cancer known as “triple negative”—dictated aggressive treatment, despite the fact that my tumor was very small and did not affect my lymph nodes. Still, the prognosis is optimistic, and I am more grateful than ever that I didn’t put off that mammogram. Otherwise, I might still be blissfully germinating a malignant tumor, none the wiser.

Over the past few months, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the Bigger Issues that relate to this experience: life and death, fate, luck, gratitude. Illness and health. Strength and weakness. What strikes me is that these are the issues I grapple with most often in my fiction. One of the central questions of the Song series is that of fate and choice: do we choose our path, or is it chosen for us? Until that mammogram in March, I would have said the latter. Now, after having undergone a routine medical procedure spur of the moment simply because there wasn't a line to check-in (what I have discovered since is an extremely rare occurrence) I’m not so sure. What stars aligned perfectly to drive me to the mammogram counter that particular day? Was it a deity? The universe? The Force? 

I have also noticed the general lack of illness in fiction, which intrigues me. I admit that beyond the occasional sniffle or magic-related sickness, my characters just don’t get sick. Aside from a general plague or two, I’m not seeing it commonly in other fiction, either. There are a variety of possibilities as to why, beginning with the notion that heroes and heroines are strong of body and mind, which must naturally come with stellar immunity. Perhaps writing about a character’s cold, from which they will most likely recover, isn’t necessary or interesting. Maybe it isn’t important to the story, and like going to the bathroom, doesn’t need to be discussed. 

All good possibilities, but what this last year has taught me is that most of us shy away from serious, long-term illness. We don’t want to have it, see it, or acknowledge it. Illness makes us feel helpless, out of control. It forces us to face our own mortality and limitations. It changes how we see ourselves and the world, and it alters how others see us. Serious illness changes our expectations for ourselves and for others. It shows us what we and our friends, family and acquaintances are made of. We shy away from writing about it and we don’t want to read about it. Most certainly, none of us want to live it.

But failing to acknowledge illness drastically limits our perspective. Illness breeds strength, although it isn’t the strength we normally associate with our heroes and heroines. Illness brings out an inner strength, a kind of enduring grace and dignity, a willingness to get up each morning despite the nausea and the pain and just make it through the day. This kind of strength cannot be tested by anything else; there are no dragons to fight here, just a silent, patient enemy that can only be bested by outliving it another day. This is a strength born of stubbornness. A peaceful protest. No swords, just poison, pills, pillows and the will to survive.

Illness also teaches an abiding joy of the little things. I have learned to appreciate the small acts of generosity, the loyalty of truly selfless friends, the supportive words of strangers. My daughters laughing together. The slant of warm sunlight on a cool day. Hair. The ability to get in the car and drive to the grocery store all by myself. The million little things each day we all take for granted. Illness slows us down so much that we see and appreciate them all.

Cancer has given me an unexpected silver lining. I will be a better woman for this, and a better author. I will no longer keep my characters in perfect health when there is so much more for them to gain by more fully experiencing all there is to know and feel. They will become ill. They will grow. They will be strong.

~ Kim Vandervort