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.

Friday, June 20, 2014

For the Love of True Heroines

Hi Everyone -

We want to take a moment on Heroines of Fantasy to ask all our friends and followers to support the Hadley Rille Books Indiegogo campaign.  This is a great opportunity for you to express your appreciation of the kind of innovative speculative fiction Hadley Rille offers its readers, and to ensure the press continues its mission of providing a home for voices from women and other traditionally marginalized points of view.

I invite you to watch Rose Reynolds talk about her father's press and the Indiegogo campaign, and to visit HRB's Indiegogo Page. We have many great perks for every level of contribution. Your support will be greatly appreciated, and will be put to very good use.

Thank you!

Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

WEDNESDAY REVIEW: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Title: Ancillary Justice
Author: Ann Leckie
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction
Price: $9.99 (ebook), $15.00 (trade paperback)
Where to Purchase: Powells   |   Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble
Reviewed by: Julia Dvorin

Hello fellow Heroines of Fantasy readers! Julia here again, this time with a little bit of a “cheater” review. Why “cheater”? Well, because I usually try to review something from a small press here, and this time I’m reviewing something from a member of the Hachette Book family (Orbit). But I just had to read this book...not only because it just won the Nebula Award for Best Novel and got nominated for the Tiptree Award, which alone would have made me curious (especially as a debut novel)—but because I just met the author, Ann Leckie, at WisCon, and she was such a nice, fun to be around “bird of a feather” that she was instantly absorbed into our writer posse. I do try to buy books from people who impress me personally, and I’m always worried that I might not like their work as much as I like them—but whew, in this case that was not a problem. I loved the book. And here’s why.

First of all, Ancillary Justice does a great job with some of the basics for why we read science fiction in the first place: it gives us fascinating speculative ideas in a fantastical, original otherworldly setting. It’s basically shaped like a revenge story set in a far future age of high tech civilizations, space travel and interstellar war, but it’s so much more than that. We get some big ideas to chew on here, about identity and the nature of the individual, about revenge and justice, about choices, consequences and what it might mean to “do the right thing”, about culture clash, about expansionism and colonial empire, and about what being “civilized” means, set against a backdrop of galactic politics, alien cultures and intriguing technology.

It’s also really well written. Leckie set herself a couple of major challenges here, and pulls them off beautifully: she switches back and forth between past and present storylines; her main character is a leftover bit of a larger artificial intelligence in a reanimated human body and the story’s emotional punch has to be filtered through this character’s perceptions and understanding; and since the main character’s language does not recognize gender, so all personal pronouns in the book are by default gendered female whether they refer to females or not, which takes some getting used to. Her evocations of the different settings where the story takes place—ice world! Swamp world! Space station! Shipboard!—are really well done.

And finally, the characters are solid and well-rounded. You really do begin to care about the fates of the various characters, and the ways in which they grow and change by the end of the book feels real and keeps things interesting.

Ancillary Justice has all the trappings of space opera, but it is no escapist cartoon- it is a complex, dense, and somewhat challenging read that takes a while to orient yourself to—but when things finally start to click and make sense, it really comes together in a satisfying way.

So if you like your science fiction fresh and mind-bending, with big ideas, intriguing worlds and relatable characters, check out Ancillary Justice.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Write a Novel with Depth

 Eric here. Unfrequently, I am asked, "Eric, how on earth did you write a science fiction comedy of such depth?" I then don't ask if they mean my last article, and they never say "No, I mean BETA TEST." (Currently only $5.99 for your electronical reading device!) 
Here's the secret of how I created a novel of big ideas. It's something Homer J. Simpson knew years ago: Never Try. 
When I set out to write BETA TEST I had three things:
  • a skeletal premise
  • a corpulent protagonist
  • a desire to write a book that was equal parts funny and scary (well, scary for the very easily scared, at least).
The cover, not featuring the author, though
some people think so.
While I did sit on the idea for a long time—about 15 years in fact—by the time I was pounding keys, I was simply channeling the works of the great Christopher Moore, the voice of Neil Gaiman, and, perhaps most importantly, making up jokes about screaming and farting.
My idea for BETA TEST hinged entirely on a character's search for a higher power. A "God" if you will. And that required a precipitating incident, a disaster of, say, Biblical proportions to set things off. I settled on something totally uncontroversial: the Rapture. (It's not really the Rapture in the book, but it's Rapture-esque.) Then I set about writing the entire book and filling it with over-the-top situations, coupled with explanations for everything from the human soul to alien life to what happened to the dinosaurs.
All of which really is secondary to the fact that I really wanted to have a fat guy hero running about screaming in terror most of the time as he tried to save the world. The adventure—the story—was much more important to me. 
Then, Tom Perrotta's THE LEFTOVERS came out and I wept for a few weeks. There are no original ideas, only execution. Thankfully, Perrotta was too chicken to have a 350-pound protagonist.
Where was I? Adventure...weeping... big ideas.

BETA TEST came out. As I promoted it, I found that readers were plumbing the depths of this book in a way I never thought possible. I thought readers would want to discuss the ridiculous monsters that crop up. Instead, I got invited to speak at a class at my alma mater called "Religion and Science Fiction." (There's a lot of overlap; just ask Ridley Scott.) Turns out my little book was perfect fodder for deep discussions. I spoke on the radio about it, to librarian groups, and have received no death threats, even though I [SPOILER] explain away religion and deities in a way that could have some hardcore types frothing at the mouth. I thought my more religulously-oriented friends might disown me; most of them thought it was hilarious. Or they claim to.
Perhaps BETA TEST makes people think about the big issues. And that's a good thing.  
But it's far more important that everyone walk away from it with a goofy grin on their face. All this depth? It's window dressing for what I hope is a fun, action-packed story, with a lot of screaming in terror. And farting.  
So, if you've got highfalutin hopes for creating a work of art that will get people talking, when writing a novel, my advice is: don't try. Just write the damn thing.
ERIC GRIFFITH is the author of  BETA TEST from Hadley Rille Books and  KALI:THE GHOSTING OF SEPULCHER BAY. He's currently writing about homeless people with super powers. Visit Eric at

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Title: Shattered
Author: Shelby K. Morrison
Genre: science fiction, thriller
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $10.82 (paperback)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Point of Sale: various retailer via author’s site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

In chapter 1 of Shelby K. Morrison’s new book Shattered, Alexandria Bowen knifed a man while attempting to stop him from an armed robbery.  She survives, but the cashier at the convenience store catches a stray bullet and dies.  Alex, a woman just out of college, is distraught at what happens, not without reason.  While in this distraught phase, Alex throws a potted plant at a mirror in her apartment.  The plant goes through the mirror and reveals a hidden observatory.  Things proceed to get weirder from there, involving private islands and people who disappeared without a trace.

I found Shattered an interesting read, and Alexandria Bowen a believable character.  Alex is no superwoman, and her lack of experience, super-strength and just general humanity cause many a believable problem.  I also liked Alex’s realistic emotional responses to the things she end up doing.

Having said that, I found many a nit to pick with Morrison’s plot.  Islands just can’t be made to disappear (ships tend to run into them if nothing else) and I found some of the decisions made by the Big Bad to be questionable.  I also felt that the ending was a bit too pat.  But these are quibbles – in general Shattered is a fun read.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Very Unexpected Heroine...

For the last few weeks,  my Sunday night television viewing here on UK terrestrial television has been dominated by the US-made series ‘Fargo.’  It’s a spin-off from the Coen brothers’ 1996 film of that name, and it’s turning into a compulsive series.  I’ll concede that the opening episode was a bit shaky - not through any inherent fault in the writing or the film-making or whatever, but rather because if you’re a big fan of the film like I am, then it takes a while to accept that the series isn’t just an overstretched rip-off of the original film (in case you’re wondering, it’s not).

I do enjoy a good crime drama.  I’m a big fan of classic ‘Taggart’ (cynical Glasgow cop played by Mark McManus), I thought the first series of ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ was brilliant and I also remember watching  a  great BBC television serial called ‘Rockliffe’s Babies’ when I was growing up in the 80s.  None of these can compare to the stunning cinematographic masterpiece that is ‘Fargo,’ nor do they have that essential ingredient which makes this movie stand head and shoulders above most other films I’ve seen.

The ingredient in question is the film’s heroine, Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand).    Marge is about as far removed from your archetypal Hollywood heroine as it’s possible to get. Heavily pregnant, Marge is a mature woman who’s happily settled in a sedate marriage with husband Norm.  She’s a police chief in Minnesota, a dogged professional whose dress sense is no-nonsense and practical (i.e. her uniform) and at first appearances, she comes across as dull and a bit pedantic.   When a state trooper is found shot dead at the roadside, Marge must investigate the homicide: we follow her as she chips away at the case until ultimately she finds herself pitted against  a brutal psychopath in a confrontation which is made all the more terrifying because, by then, you really care what happens to her.

 ‘Fargo’ has now settled itself firmly into my list of all-time favourite  films, partly because the cinematography is so breathtaking, but mainly because the characterisation is excellent and Marge herself is so compelling.  Eighteen years after its initial release, characters like Marge are still few and far between on the big screen, in a world where a strong female character usually means a gung-ho floosie who struts about brandishing a big gun and uttering the odd cutting remark.

This is a real shame.  It certainly puts me off squandering my hard-earned cash in the cinema, because I'm sure that most of the time I'm just not going to engage with either the story or the characters.  Though on reflection, perhaps the paucity of well thought-out detailed female characters like Marge Gunderson is a symptom more of a wider malaise within the film industry as a whole.

Because when you come to think of it, it’s a criticism that can be meted out for male characters as well...

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wednesday Review: The First Blast of the Trumpet

Marie Macpherson’s novel is the first part of a trilogy recreating the life of John Knox, the great Scottish preacher and reformer. It’s an ambitious and detailed work, spanning the years 1511-48, set in and around the Scottish courts of James IV and V. The book has a large cast of characters, some of whom a reader will know from history and others invented for purposes of the story. In the background, always, is war, or the threat of war, with England. Scotland has weak kings and a squabbling nobility, and its alliance with France leads to disaster at Flodden.

The novel opens strongly, with three girls by the fireside at Hallowe’en, conjuring their futures out of nutmeats and their nurse’s stories. All they wish for comes true, though none gets exactly what she’d hoped for. Two of the threads spun out of that first scene run short; the third becomes the weft woven through the warp of history. This central figure is Elisabeth Hepburn, prioress of St. Mary’s Abbey in Haddington, near Edinburgh. Elisabeth is a reluctant nun who, however, grows into an effective governor of her order, despite her love for a poet, the king’s herald, David Lindsay. Knox himself is introduced about halfway through and, from about the two-thirds mark, becomes a second focus to the story. I should note that, although Elisabeth and Lindsay were both as real as Knox himself, most of the interactions between the three in the novel arise from artistic licence.

A major theme is religious change; in particular, the absence of real religion from the hearts and minds of powerful figures in the hierarchy of the church. Venality and neglect provide fertile ground in which Lutheran doctrine can take seed and flourish, and this tension between church and conscience provides the major conflict of the book: Elisabeth recognises the corruption and does her best to counter it from within, providing education and care to the women in her charge; Lindsay rails against it in his writing, producing The Satire of the Three Estates; and Knox (in this story, Elisabeth’s godson) comes to reject Catholic doctrine utterly, turning from it towards Luther and Reformation.

The book is made distinctive by its strong Scottish flavour, including many references to ballads and folklore, and use of Scots dialect and words. If you don’t know a ‘puddock’ from a ‘mowdiewort’ or ‘tapsalteerie’ from ‘widdershins’ at the book’s beginning, you will by its end. It’s also good on conjuring places. Likely I had a bit of an advantage here, as I live close by its setting, but I can assure you that the descriptions are accurate as well as evocative. There’s nothing like seeing places one knows brought to life – I particularly appreciated the scenes set among the windswept towers of Tantallon Castle, which, even now, is one of the most dramatic sites in the south-east of Scotland.

Despite the masculine church hierarchy, the book is filled with strong women, including Betsy, Elisabeth’s nurse, a source of old wisdom and healing, and Sister Agnes, who comforts Elisabeth and feeds her mind by teaching her to read. Elisabeth and Knox are both sympathetic characters, even as their experiences and choices drive them apart. There’s a toughness to both of them, and also a common theme of bettering themselves through learning and education. Each starts off at a disadvantage, Knox his low degree, Elisabeth her womanhood, and each (eventually) has the tenacity to follow their own path despite the cost.

Writers of historical fiction must build a plot that appears to arise naturally out of constrained events as, although history itself is ‘one damned thing after another’, stories need shape and focus to be satisfying. Historical fiction is thus a delicate balancing act. As a reader, I’m happy to accept fictionalised versions of real figures but I found the characterisation of Lindsay at odds with the vigour of his writing. My dissatisfaction with his strands of the story, and at times with other plotlines too, was exacerbated by the narrative initially omitting scenes and, later, jumping back to fill in the gaps. By the end all my questions had been answered but, as I shut the book, I did wonder whether a fully chronological presentation would have been preferable.

However, there is much to admire as a study of a society in conflict. It’s an ambitious historical novel with an emphasis on the history. Macpherson conveys the confusion of unstable alliances between powerful families rather well, and illustrates the bickering and floundering around for power between the rival factions. It’s also extremely rewarding to read a novel set in Scotland at this time. Events of the period south of the border have been reimagined over and over, but I’ve encountered relatively few novels that deal seriously with Scottish figures like David Beaton, the rivalries between the Hepburns and the Douglases, or with Stuarts other than Mary Queen of Scots. This one goes a fair way towards remedying that deficit.

So, summing up, The First Blast of the Trumpet gives a good, solid impression of an important period of Scottish history, warts and muck and all. It delivers a vivid recreation of sixteenth century life – truly, you’ll almost believe yourself there at times. I’m going to wait for the next volume in this trilogy to see how Macpherson’s work develops. As it is, I’d recommend it to readers curious about the people, period and places, and I’m pleased that Macpherson included a list of her sources for those who wish to take their interest further.

Harriet Goodchild

The First Blast of the Trumpet by Marie Macpherson

Knox Robinson Publishing
Amazon UK site
Amazon US site

Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday Musings on Civility

Hi folks, Mark here with a bit of a rant. I’ve reached a point where my frustrations take precedence over tact. I’m a small player in the publishing industry, a new voice in the fantasy genre, and I don’t have that extensive network of connection yet that many other more established authors have. And yet I find myself reacting strongly to some of the flame wars and controversies that have energized the arena since the spring.  It seems like everywhere I look I see argument and accusation, insinuation and supposition.  From the internecine squabbles in the SFWA, contested toast-master choices, fringe groups agitating against commencement speakers on college campuses, publishing fights between Amazon and just about everybody else, corporate types pontificating, political dupes excoriating, pumped up nobodies mugging a microphone trying to be a somebody…

I’ll take “Pictures of Kitties” for $2000, Alex. 

I’m not seeing enough civility, people, anywhere.  What happened to our ability to engage in intelligent discourse without stooping to character assassination? What happened to telling a story to tell a story? It seems we have fallen into a deconstructionist pattern where every tale, essay, novel, film, speech or blog post is immediately set upon and examined from multiple perspectives by folks with pre-set agendas. This writer is a misogynist. That writer is a racist. This series doesn’t have enough people of color. That trilogy doesn’t have enough strong female characters. Not enough gay, not enough straight, not enough love, not enough blood, not enough real, not enough myth.  And so on…

What we really lack is enough patience not to judge too quickly. The world we live in demands instant reaction to every stimulus.  Folks don’t even bother to breathe; stuff just comes out in a constant stream of non-information laced with praise or invective depending on the speaker/writer’s preconception.

To paraphrase Bilbo, “It puts me off my breakfast, it does!”

I posted the stuff below on Facebook awhile back, and I thought I would trot it out once again to finish this entry off.  

                           Pay attention, Mephistopholes!

I stand in the middle of a muddle with proportions gargantuan
Beset by nuances of half-formed decision
Ridiculed by voices raised in derision
That emanate from my own subconscious…

And then, clarity:

There are those that conspire to foment conspiracies dire.
They act on us like the rope around the condemned man’s neck.
And the fanatics on the right, and the egotistic socialists on the left
Swing about on their lines as if in play
Like some dance macabre from the Cirque d’Soleil,
Making wild rhetorical slashes in their pendulum passes
While the noose ever tightens, choking off
Freedom of movement
Freedom of design
Freedom of thought
Speech, or belief in the divine;
A slow asphyxiation of will
Made more tragic because we are aware of the loss
Even as our sight dims
To that point of candle-slight truth
Where wisdom speaks to us.
And yet that is the tragedy of these days
Because we come to KNOW
But cannot tell.
Man is always seeking thus. We are a race of
Intuitives doomed, like Sysiphus, to push our
Rocks uphill,
Distracted from our course by contradictions
Presented as answers
That are, in reality, only definitions of symptoms
Of the diseases that make the slope we ascend
More challenging than it needs
To be
In our quest for cures…

And so we come to it.
Despair is too easy
And too easily used by those that choose
To follow the politics of greed
And wear their wealth as insulation from the real,
Protected by their binary codes and cash
From the effects of their solipsistic mantras.
And who benefits when the pundits turn
All questions into colors in conflict
And discourse caustic becomes the stagnant
Credo of the hyper-informed but unenlightened?

Pay attention, Mephistopholes!
For all promises made to the dark have their payment come due
In the dark:
A horizon limitless…
And we loiter on our collective gibbets
While the shadow rises like a metaphor
Consuming everything
But that single candle-flame
Where hope still lives…

I, for one, refuse to accept defeat,
And choose to be the flame rather than the victim.
There is no wind
Real or imagined
That can extinguish me.

mtn 2/10/14-5/31/14


Have a great week and keep it civil! J

Mark Nelson