Monday, September 29, 2014

World Building: A Gamer's Perspective

I am very happy today to welcome Jon Cleaves to Heroines of Fantasy. I met Jon through the Dead Horse Society, a speculative fiction writer's group that chisels good writers into exceptional ones through a lot of tough love. In addition to writing fantasy, Jon owns and runs DGS Games. He's here today to talk about world building in both games and fiction. Welcome, Jon!

On World Building

Hi.  My name is Jon Cleaves and I am the lead designer for DGS Games.  DGS Games’ main game line centers on a game called Freeblades, which is a fantasy skirmish tabletop miniatures game played with 32mm models that represent characters and creatures from our fantasy world of Faelon.  Tabletop miniatures means the game is played with miniatures that players move across a modeled terrain setting and not according to a board or grid.  Skirmish means each model represents one person or creature and the game is relatively small scale – a small group of characters and not an entire army of soldiers.  Fantasy means exactly that, the game plays out in a high fantasy world where the players not only get to read and learn about the world and the people and things in it, they get to carry out their story on the tabletop with other fans of the background.  Freeblades focuses on the world’s adventurers for hire and the trouble they get in trying to accomplish the tasks their patrons set for them.

Yes, we make the models and yes we make the game rules.  But that is not why I am here.  I am here because pieces and rules are not enough to make a truly enduring and endearing game – the world matters.

When Karin asked me to write a blog post for Heroines she left the subject matter wide open.  I know this is mostly about sharing ideas, so I thought I would share my ideas about fantasy world building and setting fiction within it.  Not that my ideas are better or worse than anyone else’s, but I sure do have a lot of lessons hard learned that I would not want someone to struggle with in the same way.

Yes, it is true, our fantasy world is derived from the one I designed as a kid in the late 70’s for the original Dungeons and Dragons game.  It’s been a long 35 year road since scribbling out the original map on my dining room table.  I think every game master dreams of their world gaining the international acclaim of something like Westeros or Middle Earth.  Like a lot of us, I drew my inspiration from the fantasy authors I loved to read.  I drew maps, made up languages, arranged lineages, sorted out timelines.  I had a lot of material stored up when myself and a group of friends decided to not just be gamers, but to join the business end of things.  Since none of us wanted to start at ground zero with our background but each of us knew how important background is to a game like ours, we decided to go with Faelon.  That’s when I learned just how much more there needed to be done.

The first rule in game design is: don’t make the game for yourself, make it for your players.  I think that should extend to world building.  I originally built Faelon for me.  Sure, I game mastered dozens of people in it over the years, but if I had not enjoyed the making of it for the making’s sake, I could not have put in all those hours.  Like an author trying to get published, you are trying to capture an audience with this world of yours.  And unlike Tolkien, you have to compete with hundreds of worlds whose builders already have many laps on you.  Give some thought to whom your world is really *for*.  There is a truly big difference between a world that will appeal to 14 year old boys and one that will appeal to 30 year old women.  Ask yourself which fans you want.  And then take a moment and think about the fact that, unless you are targeting kids who just learned how to read, you are going to have to supplant something they are already into.  That should lead you to examine what your target audience *doesn’t* like about the things it is currently into.  What can you give them that they are missing?  You want them to need you; you have to figure out why.

In our case, we recognized that gritty and steampunk fantasy are the orders of the day.  Also that worlds have had to seek to outdo each other in over-the-top elements.  And finally, that we as a genre still are not giving the best home to the female fan.  Surprisingly, high fantasy is not terribly in favor.  This, I think, is partly because it seems boring to the young fan who just has to have another laser-shooting mega-death sword and partly because derivative trad fantasy is so played out.  So, we chose to carve out a niche where we gave the fan a high fantasy world with some familiar elements, but with their own unique story, with characters with which one could identify without the need for super powers and in a way that our female fans could find themselves equals and without the need for barbie proportions or chainmail bikinis.  Are we right?  Don’t think we know for sure yet.  The response has been very favorable, but we are not yet well known.  Yet I still would not do this without some clear thought for whom this world is supposed to become a second home.

I’d suggest hanging the world together with some sort of theme.  A lot of the material out there on world building makes this suggestion and I think it important.  In world builder books, you will typically be asked a bunch of questions about how wealthy people are, how much of the land is wilderness, the presence of monsters and a great dark being, the role of magic.  Our theme is basically that people are monster enough.  We have chosen to focus on groups of people and their interactions and the things they do to one another.  In Men in Black, when the soon to be Agent J tells Agent K that people are smart, K says “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals…”  In Faelon, we tell the story of the things countries and religions and factions do to each other.  At the person level, they typically look like they are doing something perfectly normal.  We leave the theme of individuals constantly doing horrible things to each other to George Martin… Do we have monsters?  Yes, but they are on the fringes of the world and not walking down the street or serving as mayor.  Do we have magic?  Yes, but it is wrapped in religion and is too much for our people to handle without periodically causing a catastrophe. 

A theme helps you hang together why things happen the way they do.  You’d be surprised at what it gives you.  The first act of future sci-fi world building is to decide if and how FTL travel works.  The first act of fantasy world building is to decide if you are going to have a great darkness.  I would suggest not on the great darkness thing, it’s just simply been done to death.  So try this.  Choose not to have a great darkness and then decide who your enduring antagonist(s) will be.  I bet once you do that a whole lot of things fall out for you.

After choosing a theme, you will have to sort out your rules.  The advice you will get or have gotten that your world needs rules is dead on.  I’d add that having a ton of them different from normal human experience is not necessary.  And the more core to our experience, the more difficult, and likely worthless, the rule change. I started out with a 10 day week and 30 hour days and 10 months er year and a bunch of other stuff about the calendar and struggled mightily to make that work in a world with two moons.  Too much, ultimately.  What was important to me and the world was having two moons, so I abandoned all that with the explanation that the units of time were normalized to our own to make it easy for the reader/player to follow. I then made an appendix the interested could look at if they wanted to know Faelon’s actual astronomical calendar.  Turned out the audience didn’t want that either and were perfectly happy seeing the moons change in the sky the way two moons would and not worrying about constantly having to account for a ten day week and four leap days.  If you need your rivers to flow from the ocean to the mountains, you have a lot of work ahead of you.  Make sure it is worth it.  I’d suggest focusing on your magic first.  If it is not going to be a big part of your theme, make it small magic.  If you need magic in a big way, spend a LOT of time on it.  It’s the first thing that makes fantasy not medieval historical fiction.  I got lucky.  Having a specific thing I wanted to do with magic is why I left D+D behind and wrote my own rules oh those many years ago and I have a 30 year head start on a lot of what is out there today.  Here is what I would do if starting from scratch. I would make a list like this:

Who can do it?

Do they need a god to do it?  If not, what do they need?

How do they find out they can do it or learn to do it?

How do they get to do more?

What does it cost a person to do it?

What is the least a person can do and what is the most?

How do items of magic get made and by whom and why aren’t they a dime a dozen?

Answer those – and THEN go read a bunch of magic sections of different roleplaying games.  Don’t read another book with magic in it until you have answered all those questions and made the answers fit your audience and your theme.

And why is that?  The Similarity Conundrum.  You are going to face situations where you develop things and then find someone has done something exactly like that.  The best defense is to establish what is of core importance to you without looking at one more thing in your research and readings.  Then, stick to your guns.  I named my world Faelon nine years before Faerun was published commercially as a D+D setting.  But Don Greenwood invented Faerun for himself in 1967.  Should I have changed it?  I have a county named Kandor in Faelon starting in about 1980.  In 1990, Jordan’s Eye of the World is published and his world has a Kandor in it.  However, products about Faelon did not start to get published until 2010.  My/our plan – stick to our guns on what is core and let the rest change if it needs to.  So, with magic, and anything else in your world that makes it what it is, get those core ideas down first.  Make that the backbone of what you want to do and don’t sweat changing the small stuff as you need to.  Remember, Tolkien has the Misty Mountains and Robert Jordan has the Mountains of Mist, so if it is good enough for them it is good enough for you.

There are two things from which Faelon has benefitted because it serves as a backdrop to a game that I would recommend to someone making a fantasy world even if that is not its role.  The first is, put your friends in it and have them move around.  Roleplaying games test the mettle of a world by having thinking humans doing things in it.  They uncover flaws in your lingual schemes, lapses in timelines and rules inconsistencies.  Put them in a scene and ask what they would do and what would be important for them to know and see what happens.

Secondly, let other people help.  In a so-called perfect world, I would have developed the fantasy world to end all fantasy worlds.  Everyone would stop reading Martin and Tolkien and Jordan and revere me for my genius.  I would be the sole author of the coolest thing to happen to the fantasy genre for the next hundred years.  One of the hardest things I have had to learn is that is colossally stupid.  The best worlds are not designed by a single person, nor are they designed by committee.  They are designed by an integrator with a vision who lets others help – and takes an ego chill pill to do it, even if hard to swallow at first.  A Roddenberry-only Star Trek would have sucked and the Okuda model is even better.  A Lucas-only Star Wars would have condemned us to Binksawoks forever.  I like the model of Thieves’ World as an alternative.  Faelon is a better place for the involvement of my friends and our fans.  Try letting a friend or two have a hand in a couple of parts of your world.  Yes, you need to stay in charge of the overall theme and vision so it all hangs together.  But give them some basic marching orders about a country or faction or region or language or culture and tell me if it is not better and does not make your world more alive and colorful.

There are, obviously, a hundred more aspects to world building I have not covered.  I will say that most of the world builder advice books you will find do a sound job at the basics.  What I have tried to do is give a more macro and practical view to the larger pitfalls.  And remember, skip the glottal catches.



Jon Cleaves has been gaming for over 40 years. He is currently the lead designer for DGS Games LLC ( make of the Freeblades game line and the World of Faelon. Previously he has been President and lead designer of Fourhorsemen Enterprises LLC ( which designs and markets "Warrior, Miniatures Rules for Ancient and Medieval Warfare, 3000BC to 1485 AD". He is also the published designer of "Star Fleet Battles: The Vudar Enclave". Jon is the developer for "The Lost Battalion, Strategy and Tactics Issue #217". Jon has extensive experience in freelance play testing and design work in over 40 published products for GMT, Decision Games, XTR, Battlefront, and Amarillo Design Bureau. Jon has published articles in "Fire and Movement", "Moves", "C3I", "Captain's Log" and "Spearpoint". He has served as past president of 5 separate gaming organizations. Jon is a 1984 graduate of the United States Military Academy with a Bachelor's in Computer Science. He holds two masters degrees, one in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College in 1989, and the second in Military Art and Science from the Army's Command and General Staff College in 1997. Jon has 20 years of experience as a US Army Military Intelligence officer retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Since retirement from active service, Jon has been employed as the Director of Threat Integration for the US Army.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WEDNESDAY REVIEW: Seeking Solace by Anna Steffl

Seeking Solace by Anna Steffl
Published by evenSO Press
The first book in the Solace trilogy follows Arvana, the only Solacian capable of seeing the Blue Eye's revelations, as she reluctantly leaves her cloistered refuge to seek a champion to wield a relic against the resurrected draeden. The obvious champion is the charismatic Prince Chane Lerouge, who possesses the one remaining sword the ancestors used to end the Reckoning. But the unknown warrior, Captain Degarius, unrelentingly pursues a rumored lake monster with a blade whispered to be blessed. Will Arvana's mission earn her the elusive solace she seeks or spiral her heart—and the world—into a second Reckoning if she chooses the wrong man? Downplaying magic in favor of romance and fantasy, Arvana's adventure boasts strong characters in an immersive, realistic new realm.
I decided to be adventurous and knowingly take on a Romantic Epic fantasy as I’ve always been curious as to how much different novels in a particular genre are when the word ROMANCE is plopped down in front of it. I said knowingly earlier because I find it nearly impossible to believe I have not unknowingly read Romantic Fantasies garnered during my pre e-book years of haunting used book stores.
So what was the difference? I can’t be sure since using the scientific method with a grand total of one test case is frowned upon by those who care for their scientific experiments to have a modicum of accuracy. That said, I can say the portion of the novel involving the likable main character, Solacian priestess Arvana, which was clearly intended to be Romantic turned out to be the part that dragged a little for me. Then again, maybe I only thought it dragged because romance isn’t my thing. However, I will say bringing to bear technical analysis, while Arvana struggles throughout out the novel with her  “major” conflict--is Prince Chane worthy of the Blue Eye?—there were rarely any other “smaller” external conflicts in her storyline. Her POV sections were all about her “religious self” denying her obvious attraction to the Prince, and hers to him, and fearing that attraction is clouding her judgment of his worthiness to wield the Blue Eye. Then again, if you are a fan of chaste Romance, those sections may very well be riveting. Though I never sighed when it was Arvana’s POV, I was never sorry to see it go.
I really liked the other main POV character, Captain Degarius. (Sidenote: the blurb refers to him as “unknown” for some reason when he is actually quite well known.) Of course, that could be because he was sword-swinging fellow, without being a stereotype, with a very interesting backstory that generates a lot of conflict. Revealing it would be a spoiler. He is saddled with a Prince in disguise out to get some military experience during what should be routine border patrols with perhaps just a few skirmishes with outmatched bandits. Successfully getting the Prince that experience and returning him unharmed would make Degarius’s career. Needless to say, having the headstrong young Royal killed on his watch would be a catastrophe. So naturally Degarius runs across the direst situation of his career, not the least of which is coming across a mythical monster of yesteryear which harkens the return of an ancient enemy. Yeah, I know, you’ve heard that maybe a few times, but the return of ancient enemies is pretty much the bedrock of Epic fantasy; it’s just a matter of how well and freshly it’s handled.
Speaking of enemies, they can make or break a fantasy novel for me. Give me an I-do-evil-cause-I’m-evil or an EVIL BEING and I’m outta there. Too cut and dried. But here Steffl gave the villains three dimensions and I actually found myself liking them in a way, though they had very little “screen” time.
Seeking Solace had a strong ending that appeared to be pushing the series in an interesting way and made Arvana as dynamic as Degarius. That’s what will propel me on to the already released sequel Solace Shattered: Solace Book II (Solace Trilogy)
Review by Carlyle Clark for Heroines of Fantasy

Monday, September 22, 2014

Magic Moments

Summer is officially over. Autumn is here and the holidays (which begin with Halloween, for me) approach. It's always sad to see summer go; despite the fact that the "lazy days of summer" don't actually exist in this world of cramming in as much as possible before September drops us off in autumn, it still seems more languid. Maybe it's the heat and sunshine. It makes memory lazy.

Summers past have been rolling through my head the last couple of weeks. Just today I remembered a family vacation down on the Delaware coast, where the family and I have vacationed for twenty or more years. After a week of sun and sand and dinners out and lots of family time, we were heading home on the Cape May/Lewes ferry. See all that about sun and sand and family fun? I love my husband and kids, but a week in close company with the lot of them is draining. I admit, I was hiding from them. I needed those last lungfuls of sea air. I needed some quiet to absorb all I could of that vast  and briny love of mine before heading home to the mountains. I stood at the railing, face to the sun and the wind blowing back my hair. Dolphins leapt and seagulls shrieked. Sounds like a scene out of a cheesy movie, but I swear, it was really that perfect. As it happens when I'm alone and my brain is completely free, it bubbled.

I don't write on vacation, but I never stop thinking. I'd been thinking of, dreaming of, pondering over revisions I was working on, getting things settled into place. One point still niggled at me, but I was confident I'd be able to smooth it over once I got home. The sea + peace + dolphins = inspiration. All of a sudden, I had it! In a five line snippet of dialog between two characters, that niggling detail fell into place. I had left my bag in the car, and had only the book I was reading in my hand. I didn't trust my memory, so I went into the bar and asked the elderly barman if I could borrow his pen. He looked at me as if I were a mean-spirited dwarf asking for his firstborn in exchange for gold spun into straw.

"I swear, I won't leave this spot!"

He handed it over. I scribbled my lines of dialog on a cocktail napkin, chills skittering all over my skin, and handed the pen back to him with a breathless, "Thank you!" He looked at me again as if I were that dwarf, only this time I'd danced a jig, too...naked. I went back out to the railing, happy as could be...

...and another bit of dialog hit me. A perfect bit that went with the last. CURSES!!! I couldn't ask the dwarf-hater for his pen again. I went into the snack bar instead. An elderly gentleman, could have been his twin, was happy to hand his pen over. I scribbled away. He watched me with a little boy's wonder. When I was done, I handed his pen back.

"You had all that in your head?" asked he.

I told him I'm a writer, and that I just got hit with a bit of story that had been giving me trouble.

"A writer," he said. "Like, books?"

Yep. A writer. Like books.

Again, that look of wonder. I was no longer the mean-spirited dwarf stealing firstborns and dancing naked jigs. I was something like Santa, or a unicorn; a being people heard about but never really saw in the flesh. The woman at the next register said, "Yeah? Cool. That's cool."

Being among writers most of my day, I forget that there are people who don't write, who don't have other people living inside their heads, under their skin; people who don't live in several different worlds at once, whether that world is a fantastical one, or Chicago. We writers can become jaded by book sales and promotion and the gazillion and one things we have to do just to stay visible, that we forget there are those who get lost in our worlds, in our characters, even in us as writers.

We mustn't forget--something I needed reminding of just this morning, in fact. Selling lots of books makes us successful, of course, but so do little-old-men who look at you like your a unicorn.

Monday, September 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

REVIEW: Memento Mori

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

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

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

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

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

At any rate, I quite enjoyed Memento Mori.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Making the Romance Real

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allowing Awkwardness and Uncertainty.

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

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

Indulging in illusion. 

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

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

Building the friendship. 

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

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

Love does not change who we are. 

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

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

Love does not equal destiny. 

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


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

Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wednesday Review--Paint by Grace Tiffany

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 1, 2014

Guest Post: Katrina Archer

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