Saturday, December 21, 2013

News: Giveaway Winner and New Publications

Season's Greetings!

I'm delighted to say that the Unlikely Heroes giveaway drew many entries. The winner of the digital copies of Green Light Delivery and Blue Diamond Delivery was David. Thanks bunches to all of you who entered. and thanks to Milo James Fowler for hosting the wonderful 'Tis More Blessed giveaway extravaganza!

Santa and his elves may be hard at work, but it's also a busy time around the writing workshop:

1. I've had eight drabbles (stories of exactly 100 words) accepted by SpeckLit. They will be published one at a time over the next few months.

2. One of my stories was accepted by Rainbow Rumpus, pending revisions, for their Spring 2014 issue.

3. Old Hedgy Times will publish my science fiction story "New World Symphony," about aliens who invade Earth by means of musical sound.

4. "Bark of the Covenant," the silly speculative YA story I co-wrote with Araminta Star Matthews, is now available on Amazon and B&N.

5. I'm working on the revision of my YA novel, Space Surfers.

6. Also for C&G, I finally finished the first draft of the third Webrid Chronicles novel, Red Spawn Delivery.

As you can see, I sure can use a short end-of-the-year break. I hope you get to take a break, too. All health and happiness to you and yours in the New Year!

- Anne

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Miranda Paul on the Blurred Line between Fiction and Nonfiction

Over a year ago, in an effort to become more involved with the children's writing community, I volunteered to become a judge on a writer's website offering critiques, line-editing, and other writing services. That's how I met today's guest, Miranda Paul, the founder of Her forthcoming picture books include One Plastic Bag (Millbrook/Lerner Publishing, 2015) and Water is Water (Neal Porter Books, 2015). 

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Blurred Lines
By Miranda Paul

When I speak of “Blurred Lines,” I’m not referring to the Robin Thicke song that has topped Billboard charts despite its controversial message.

I’m talking about that controversial gray area between fiction and nonfiction. You know, that one in between research and invention.

With the rise of more creative nonfiction and historical fiction, especially in #kidlit, there has been a lot of discussion over authors taking “liberties.”

Where exactly is the line? Can the two be mixed?

Here’s my short answer: Just about every good story is a mix of truth and imagination.

My long answer is: The rest of this post.

Whether you write novels, creative nonfiction, historical fiction, sci-fi, picture books for the very young, or even memoirs, there is always research involved. (Or, there should be.)

My first two picture books, due out in early 2015, are both books that blur the lines between traditional nonfiction and poetry and fictional storytelling.

The first, entitled ONE PLASTIC BAG, is about a group of women in West Africa who began a grassroots recycling project. These women are real—and I’ve met and interviewed them all. I’ve gathered photographs from the project’s beginning and been to their village several times. However, in between meeting the women and writing the story, one of them passed away. Others revealed events from their efforts that I felt were too complex or wouldn’t translate well to a young audience. Others remembered things slightly differently from one another. And so on.

For the sake of writing a compelling story that captured the magnitude and essence of what they had accomplished, I pared down their stories to a sequence of events. I made the choice to invent dialogue, with the help of one of the women. We came up with things they might have said to each other back then. In essence, I took a few liberties. If that makes it fiction, that makes it fiction.

However, I have an author’s note at the end that identifies the fact that the story I shaped is inspired by true events. If you’re going to take liberties with writing a story about a historical subject or figure, make sure that you have an author’s note at the end separating fact from fiction, or supporting your fictional choices with reasons.

Candice Fleming did a great job of including an author’s note in her book Papa’s Mechanical Fish. In the back matter, Jonah Winter also 'fesses up to the fact that he’s blurred some lines between fact and fiction in The 39 Apartments of Ludwig Van Beethoven, because there are so many unknowns even after extensive research.

Remember that an author’s note isn’t a place to excuse a lack of research, but it is a chance to be candid with an editor, book reviewers, and ultimately, your reader. Whether you write for kids or adults, make sure that any blurred lines between fiction and nonfiction are clarified up front or at the end of your book.

But creative nonfiction or historical fiction is tricky. Always get an outside opinion before submitting your work. I’m biased, because I run a critique site called Rate Your Story, but I truly feel that getting feedback from a professional before submitting your work, wherever it falls on the fiction/non-fiction spectrum, is one of the best gifts you can give your career.

Many editors and agents today only allow a single submission, and “no means no.” Those aren’t blurred lines! Whatever you can do to make your work ready before you hit SEND will hopefully end in a clear “YES!”

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Learn more about Miranda Paul on her webpage or blog.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Webrid's Unlikely Heroes Giveaway!

Milo James Fowler kindly invited me to join a series of giveaways he's linking to from his blog, In Medias Res. Hop on over to see the other great authors raffling off books each Friday in December!

I thought it would be fun to offer both of the Webrid books (that is, one reader gets both Green Light Delivery  and Blue Diamond Delivery) in any ebook form preferred by the winner. The Giveaway is up and running, and the winner will be chosen on Friday, December 20. The theme of my giveaway is Unlikely Heroes.

Webrid never wanted to be the star of adventures, or risk his life, or get off his couch for that matter. Yet, time and again, fate swoops in and forces poor Webrid to fight the good fight.

Do you love unlikely heroes in literature? Who are your favorites? Please share them with us in the comments, and also enter the giveaway here:

Good luck!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Paul Kavanagh: Hemingway, Dante, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Ballard, and an Iceberg at the End of the World

My guest this week is Paul Kavanagh. According to one critic, his dystopian novella Iceberg exhibits "scabrous innocence and scarifying pathos." Yes, that's meant as a compliment. The author shares some thoughts with us here. Or maybe it's one long thought.

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Hemingway wrote something somewhere about style and an iceberg. I wrote a book about an iceberg that was won in a spam email. Don't you just hate those pesky emails. Hemingway said his style was like an iceberg. My iceberg was an Antarctic iceberg. It was concrete and not some abstract notion. The iceberg I wrote about drifted all the way up from the Antarctica to New York City. It could happen. Hemingway’s theory of the iceberg is very clever. My iceberg could have been a huge peach. I tried to use Hemingway’s method. I thought it would be interesting and clever and funny. I wrote about the end of the world, a Ballardian end of the world, but I left out all the details, well most of the details, I could have written a thousand pages about a Ballardian end of the world, a litany of – clichés? - but I decided to try the Hemingway approach and leave it all out. My book is very small now. It makes people giggle because it is so small – I like that though. There is a huge mess floating in the sea between Hawaii and California. The huge floating mess is the result of the bad weather that destroyed Japan. In that mess there are televisions, beds, kettles, all the things one would need to create a comfortable home. On my floating – up to New York, it could happen – iceberg, a lovely couple do just that, they create a comfortable home out of the debris of the Ballardian end of the world. They create a Modern Eden. I used Dante Alighieri’s template. The first chapter in the book is the antithesis to the late chapter in the book as hell is the antithesis of heaven. I enjoyed writing Iceberg. Writing even though is like sitting on top of an iceberg is nevertheless a lot of fun. Writing should never be painful. I wrote many years ago, when I thought I was Rimbaud - now I have to admit I look more like Verlaine - one should not suffer for art for art will not suffer for you. I was once very silly. I am still very silly. Iceberg is a very silly book. I hope it makes people giggle. In the movie I hope Bert and Ernie will play the leading roles. Sesame Street is the cause of all this. ABC. One Two three. There are three chapters that make up Iceberg. As there are three Books in Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia. “Very Oulipo!” I am repeating myself. I am turning into that drunk at the end of the bar. Hemingway emptied a shotgun into his mouth because he had turned into that drunk at the end of the bar. I will not empty a shotgun into my mouth I’ll simply stop

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You can purchase Iceberg on Amazon.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Enita Meadows Shares ShapeShifting Demons

Who doesn't like to expand their knowledge of monsters? Edita Meadows complies with this fascinating description of the very scary-sounding creatures called Aswangs, which feature in her novels.

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Vampire vs Aswang
 by Enita Meadows

These days, vampires are in. They’re cool, they’re trendy, and sometimes it’s just plain difficult—near impossible—to find an author who hasn’t written a vampire story. And who can blame them? However, deciding whether I am or am not one of those authors is tricky: It all depends on how strictly you define “vampire!”

The “tricky” part is that my Aswang Wars trilogy is about aswang, a type of shapeshifting demon. They don’t burn (or sparkle) in sunlight, they aren’t weak to a stake through the heart, and they don’t sleep in coffins. But they do drink blood. They do change their shape. They are nocturnal. So are they vampires? Or are they not?

I spent many sleepless nights researching these ghouls of Philippine folklore while writing the Aswang Wars. Their lore is completely separate from vampire myth, existing before the introduction of western cultures. There are similar ghouls in surrounding areas like Indonesia and Malaysia, but none as profound and culturally influential as the aswang is to the Filipinos.

But what is an aswang, exactly?

Essentially, an aswang is a creature which takes an unassuming form during the daytime only to transform at night and feed off humans for their blood or internal organs. The word aswang in the Philippines covers a wide array of ghouls and monsters, but most share common traits, such as a taste for human blood/entrails, some form of shapeshifting, and a trademark cry described as a wak wak or tik tik. An aswang can be many things during the day; usually a beautiful young woman, and other times an animal, the most common being a black cat or dog, a large pig, or a bat. They have proboscis tongues capable of stabbing clear through human skin, a voice that is louder when far away but softer when nearby, and have a knack for snatching up small children and even unborn babies straight from the mother’s womb.

In The Aswang Wars, the main character is one of these creatures, who has forgotten his true nature and everything about himself and the aswang world. He knows only his name, Jei Rivera, and nothing else. When an aswang named Malaya comes along to tell him not only is he an aswang, but the most vital part of the battle between warring clans, he’s thrust back into that world with his only true motivation being to learn about the past he’s forgotten.

Although I put my own twists on the aswang while molding them for the story, a lot of honest research went into the creation of the Aswang Wars trilogy. On top of that, there was a lot of discovery to be had about these blood-suckers during the writing process itself. I learned what it was like to think from a monster’s point of view, and found the distinct differences between aswang and vampire to be too great to categorize them so closely together.

Aswang are monsters, all on their own. They’re not infected with their condition. They’re demons, from birth to eventual death. Despite feeding on blood and changing shape, there’s not a lot to justify the aswang to be categorized as a “vampire” at all. In fact, maybe the vampire should instead be categorized as a type of aswang. Let’s just hope there aren’t any walking among us tonight.

Hope you all had a happy Halloween. Don’t let the monsters bite. ;)

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Learn more about Enita Meadows on her website.
Purchase the Aswang Wars series on Amazon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

There are readings, and then there are readings

Last week I made my debut appearance at Enigma Bookstore in Astoria, Queens, New York. The sci-fi /fantasy shop and community center has been open only a few months, but it's already the go-to place for spec fic fans of all ages.

I was joined by fellow Candlemark & Gleam author Leonard Richardson, who read from his hilarious  gaming novel Constellation Games, which I heartily recommend if you enjoy humorous sci-fi, video games, or generally silly geekiness (and ain't that what we're all here for?).

My next reading takes place on Monday, October 21, 7:00pm. I'll be at one of my usual haunts, the Rough & Ready New Works Series at the Alchemical Theater Lab, 137 W. 14th Street in Manhattan. Suggested donation is $10, well worth it for an evening of play and screenplay excerpts, shorts stories, and often a song or two. My contribution will be a flaneur story called "A Long Way Down Broadway." Don't know about flaneur stories? Well, stop by and find out!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Writer's Joy: The Editor Who "Gets" You

This week my story "Rain Puddle Man" was published in the e-zine Spaceports & Spidersilk. The October issue is full of Halloween stories for kids, and you can buy it here.

When the editor, Marcie Tentchoff, emailed me that link, I started reminiscing over my relationship with that publication, and with her specifically. She's chosen to publish six or seven of my stories over the past three years. In fact, of all the stories I've submitted to her, she's rejected only one. It was the first one, and I was very green; she was absolutely correct in calling it seriously flawed.

Marcie is an editor who "gets" me. I've been incredibly lucky to find a few such advocates already in my short career. That kind of partnership is a huge boon to a writer's self-confidence. Statistically, I suppose it's as unlikely as a successful love affair, since it's all about taste and personality and world view. Those three elements are very tough to match between two people.

An editor who "gets" you doesn't necessarily always buy your stories, but s/he always sees what you're aiming for and appreciates what you've tried. And s/he is always eager, even impatient, to see your next submission. I hope every writer gets a chance to work with an editor who's so in tune with his or her vision. It can make all the difference.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pre-ComicCon Reading and Other News

Lots going on these days, now that Fall has fallen upon us. Here are some highlights:

1. I'll be part of a multi-author reading at Enigma Bookstore, a wonderful new sf/f community center in Astoria (33-17 Crescent Street), Queens, New York. (The adorable alien shown here is their logo!)

The event is at 7pm on Wednesday, October 9. Details (and optional RSVP) can be found on the FaceBook event page.

2. I'm proud to have my dragon story, "Koob and Akilah," featured in the inaugural issue of FrostFire Worlds, a print (yes, PRINT!) sf/f zine for middle grade and YA stories and art. You can purchase it here.

3. Red Spawn Delivery, book 3 of the Webrid Chronicles, is well under way. Turns out Webrid is not a natural when it comes to babysitting!

Plenty of other projects in the works. I'll keep ya posted!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Marie Laval on Mixing History with Fantasy

One of the joys and challenges of writing fiction with a historical backdrop is deciding how close to stick to actual history. Should you invent other realistic plot elements as central points in the story? Should you step away from reality and let in a touch of magic? For her novel Angel Heart, Marie Laval found the perfect opportunity for the latter choice.

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I'm not the first author, and I certainly won't be the last, to be fascinated by the history of the Knights Templar and to find inspiration in their troubled, secretive and dramatic past which to this day has been the source of so many tales and myths. 

In ANGEL HEART my heroin Marie-Ange must recover a sacred relic hidden by the Knights Templar - the Cross of Life – which is rumored to give eternal life. With the help of cuirassier captain Hugo Saintclair, she unravels an old family mystery linked to the legendary Count Saint Germain, a man reputed immortal, and returns the cross to its original hiding place in the crypt of the chateau of Arginy in Saône-et-Loire, to the North of Lyon, my home town. Whereas the Cross of Life is my invention, I have interwoven myths and historical facts about the Knights Templar and places linked to their Order.

The Knights Templar, also know as the Poor Fellow-soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, was a monastic order founded in 1118 to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land, defend the Saint-Sepulcher and fight in the Crusades. The Order grew rapidly in power and wealth and the Knights Templar, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades. They managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, acquired vast estates, became the French King’s bankers and built fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.

The Templars' existence was tied closely to the Crusades and when the Holy Land was lost, support for the Order faded, and rumours that they indulged in heresy and devil-worshiping grew rife. In 1307, as he found himself deeply indebted to the Order, Philipe IV of France – also known as Philipe le Bel – decided to have most of their members in France arrested, tortured into giving false confessions, and then executed. Under pressure from the French King, Pope Clement V disbanded the Order in 1312. The abrupt disappearance of the Order gave rise to speculation and legends.

One of them stems from the curse issued by the last Great Master, Jacques de Molay, against the Pope and the French King. As he was being burned at the stake, he predicted that the Pope would die within forty days, foretold the French King’s imminent death and cursed all his descendents for the next thirteen generations. The Pope died three weeks later, Philippe le Bel eight months later. Some claim that the execution of King Louis XVI in 1792 put an end to the Templar malediction on the royal family, since Louis was the 13th generation of the Capet line.

King Philipe’s actions against the Templars did not make him a wealthy man since only a fraction of the Templar rumoured vast treasure was ever recovered. Perhaps it was because, forewarned of their imminent demise, the Templar Knights arranged for their treasure to be shipped away - to Scotland or Cyprus - or transported to a secret location, like the chateau of Arginy in the Beaujolais or Gisors in Normandy. 

In ANGEL HEART I chose to make the chateau of Arginy the treasure's hiding place. Arginy is a fascinating place. It was built on an ancient Roman salt mine in the 11th century, then extended in the 16th century. With its three towers and a dungeon, its moat and two draw bridges, it looks imposing and mysterious, even to this day. Its tallest tower is named the 'Tower of Eight Beatitudes' and had internal walls covered with alchemic symbols. Between the 13th and the 15th centuries the chateau was owned by members of the powerful Beaujeu family, the family of the man who was the 21st Grand Templar Master between 1273 to 1291, Guillaume de Beaujeu.

A few nights before his execution, Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master, called his nephew Guichard de Beaujeu to his jail in Paris for a final meeting. Nobody knows what they talked about but a few days after Molay's execution, Guichard asked King Philippe for the permission to remove the coffin of his ancestor Guillaume from the crypt in the Paris Temple to the chateau at Arginy. What was in that coffin? Beaujeu's remains only or the Templar treasure that Jacques de Molay had asked his nephew to keep safe?

So the legend was born...Ever since the 16th century, many treasure hunters tried their luck at Arginy, and every time there was a mortal accident or tales of 'diabolical' goings-on. People soon believed that the chateau was cursed. In the 1950s the chateau's then owner, Jacques de Rosemont, called in a team of occultists who decreed that the Templar treasure was indeed hidden in the crypt at Arginy, and was guarded by the ghosts of eleven Templar Knights. 

The chateau is still privately owned to this day, but  nobody has been looking for the treasure for a while...

With such a history, it's no wonder that Arginy plays such an important part in ANGEL HEART. There are however other places that I absolutely loved to research, including the village of Malleval in the Pilat mountains South of Lyon, which was linked to sorcery, esoteric societies and bandits, and of course my home town of Lyon. But these will have to wait for another post!

A final word about the Knights Templar...The Knights Hospitaller – or Knights of Saint John – who were founded at around the same time as the Knights Templar to care for sick and injured pilgrims, still exist today. They are now a charitable organization based in Rome

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Learn more about Marie Laval on her blog.
You can purchase Angel Heart directly from MuseItUp Publishing or on Amazon and AmazonUK

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tracy S. Morris and the most haunted hotel in America

A spooky story with a fascinating historical background: that's what you'll find in Bride of Tranquility, a new novel by Tracy S. Morris. She stopped by to give us the scoop.

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Right in the wedding and honeymoon Mecca of America, there sits an unlikely attraction – the most haunted
hotel in America.  This hotel was the inspiration behind the haunted hotel in my novel, Bride of Tranquility.

The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs has been a Victorian Resort and health spa, a private school, a cancer hospital and a women’s college. Once visitors step within the hotel’s walls, they may encounter ghosts from any one of these periods of occupation.

In the early 1880's when the hotel was constructed, visitors came to the Ozark Mountains to ‘take the waters,’ as a form of early alternative healing. The hotel earned its first ghost during construction, when an employee fell from the roof and landed in the second floor area. The place where he landed, now room 218, is said to be the most haunted room in the building.

Though the hotel was initially successful, when the healing waters fad passed, tourism dried up.  Eventually the building became a private school, then a women’s college. Sometime during this span, legend says that a young girl threw herself from one of the hotel’s balconies after being rejected by a beau.

These ghosts were only an encore to the tale of gothic intrigue that was to follow.

In 1937, a man named Norman Baker turned the building into a cancer hospital. Baker was a charismatic inventor and radio personality. He drove a lavender sports car, dressed entirely in purple, and even had the walls of his hospital painted with the color because he believed it had healing properties. On his show, he promised to cure cancer without resorting to invasive procedures.

 Records show that no one died due to Baker's treatments. However, local rumors paint him as a quack at best, and a mad scientist at worst. 

When the current hotel opened, guests and staff alike reported sighting ghosts throughout the building, including the aforementioned girl jumping from the balcony, Dr. Baker and his nurses wandering the halls, and even the cancer patients themselves.

No one is quite sure why the hotel has so many ghosts. Perhaps it’s the mineral water that runs beneath the hotel. Or maybe it’s a form of tourism snake oil peddled by the hotel’s owners to attract guests. But whatever you believe, it makes for a good story. 

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Learn more about Tracy S. Morris on her website.
Purchase Bride of Tranquility on Amazon.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Film vs Fiction: Paul Almond compares novel writing and screenwriting

Today's guest comes with a perspective unusual on this blog: Before turning to fiction-writing, he had a career in TV and film. I asked Canadian writer Paul Almond to discuss the differences between these two types of storytelling.

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Yes indeed, there is quite a difference between writing a screenplay and writing a novel.  After some forty years directing and producing television dramas and motion pictures, during which time I wrote quite a few, I realised that since screenplay writing was a very tight little craft, novel writing might well be that also.
    So when I had open heart surgery in 1990, and could no longer make movies, my wife, Joan, insisted I turn to my first love, writing.  So now what?
In a screenplay there were so many rules, so many points at which the plot had to turn — as Linda Seager so cleverly outlined in her modest, but essential, book, Making A Good Script Great, I thought that perhaps the same kind of skill might required in writing a novel.

So I enrolled for two or three years in the full curriculum of writing programs at UCLA extension.  Curiously enough, most of the students (of all ages) seemed to want to write screenplays to submit to the studios.  They believed (rightly, I’d say) that studio executives were such idiots, they didn’t know how to read a screenplay.  So they wanted to learn novel writing only to submit them to studios for screenplays.
The first thing that alarmed me was that in a novel you can't just say:
and leave it to the art director and set decorator to do their job.
You had to write that description and find a way to do it in a few sentences. That was the first big difference.
The second big difference was that screenplays are written in the present tense.  Most novels are written in the past tense.  I found that out when I started to turn one of my screenplays into a novel.  My instructors soon showed me how wrong I was.

There is, of course, the question of literacy.  When George Lucas wrote “Star Wars”, it was apparently horribly illiterate.  I had the pleasure of employing several from his British production crew right after it, who told me.  It is of course hearsay.

For advice on the actual writing, there are as many different “experts” as there are novelists: whether to use adjectives or not, adverbs or not, and other adjuncts to simple good writing.  Writing schools with their own rules proliferate, the best being one (I hear) in, of all places, Iowa.  But two or three years away to study at a school was not possible, so I did my best with UCLA extensions.  And yes, I did learn a great deal.

But even so, I still wrote two full-length (unpublished) novels (one did come out in a French translation) before I sat down to The Deserter, the first book of The Alford Saga.  It went to practically every agent in Canada and several publishers, to no effect whatsoever.
I sat down and wrote the second book, and then the third, and so on.  After six or seven years, my wife again took me in hand and said, “Paul, just get them published.”  So by that time, I found a couple of publishers.  Indeed, the first five books of the Saga are now in print, and my new publisher, Red Deer Press, a subsidiary of Fitzhenry and Whiteside, has happily taken all eight books.  The next two, The Gunner (spring 2014), and The Hero (autumn 2014) are coming out next year, and The Inheritor in 2015.

The fact that a couple of them have become national bestsellers in Canada just shows what agents know.  As you can see, I'm not a big fan of agents.  Every publishing contact, I did myself.

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You can learn more about Paul Almond on his website.
You can buy The Chaplain (The Alford Saga, Volume 5) on Amazon.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mary E. Lowd explains Otters in Space!

When I heard about Mary E. Lowd's Otters in Space series, I absolutely had to have her on my blog. I mean, come on, otters in space! Please! Tell us everything!

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Writing Furry Speculative Fiction
by Mary E. Lowd

My favorite books as a kid were all about talking animals.  As I got older, it got harder to find those sorts of books.  Sure, there's the occasional piece of science-fiction with animal-like aliens or off-beat literary novel from the point of view of an animal, but, mostly, talking animals are seen as kid-stuff in our culture.  So, when I set out to write a serious, hard science-fiction novel featuring talking otters as the main characters...  Well, I was breaking new ground as far as I knew, and I had to make up the rules as I went along.

Since then, I've learned that there's actually a name for the genre of fiction I was craving, and there's a whole community of readers, writers, and publishers who've put a lot of thought into how that genre works.  I was ecstatic when I discovered the furry genre.  Finally, I wasn't alone, writing about otters with spaceships.

There are a couple of different kinds of furry fiction.  Perhaps the most mainstream is 'the secret life of animals.'  These stories are usually set in our normal world -- talking animals co-exist with humans who are simply unaware of the dramatic tales unfolding around them.  (E.g. Watership Down by Richard Adams and Charlotte's Web by E.B. White.)  Animals in these stories are often only slightly anthropomorphic.  They can think and talk like humans, but they're otherwise normal animals.

The other extreme of furry fiction features animals who are so thoroughly anthropomorphized that the differences between species have become largely aesthetic, possibly metaphorical.  Foxes date bunnies; elk work in office buildings with mice.  Instead of co-existing with humans in the normal world, these anthropomorphic animals replace humans.  In this kind of fiction, the different animal species are merely different flavors, adding texture and color to characters in a simple short-hand.  (E.g. Maus by Art Spiegelman and Save the Day by D.J. Fahl.)

When writing speculative furry fiction, it's possible to fall into these extremes.  You could tell the story of the first colonists on Mars from the point of view of their pet cat.  Or, the first colonists on Mars could be cats with no explanation given for their furriness.  However, I love the stories that fall in-between, and, I like it best when those stories have an answer to the obvious question:  why can the animals talk?

This question has been explored so much by the furry writing community that some people feel it doesn't matter anymore, much like the question of faster than light travel in mainstream science-fiction.  How does the FTL drive work?  Who cares?  It just does.  However, the type of FTL drive in a sci-fi universe determines the sorts of stories that can be told there.  Similarly, the type of anthropomorphic animals determines a great deal about a sci-fi universe's history and culture.  So, it's worth knowing the tropes.

The oldest trope is parallel evolution.  See, those golden-furred, feline bipeds who live in family groups with one male figurehead where the females do all the work...  Those aren't lions.  They're aliens.  From a different planet.  They just happened to evolve to be really similar to lions.  (E.g. The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh.) This is a great trope.  It's easy to use and widely accepted.

Another answer to the question, 'why can the animals talk?', is that they were genetically uplifted by humans.  (E.g. Startide Rising and The Uplift War by David Brin)  This is my personal favorite.  Of course, it raises its own question of 'why?'  Were we designing soldiers, slaves, or simply companions?  Are they treated as equals?  If so, did they have to fight for their rights?  How long did that take?  Different answers to these questions lead to wildly different universes.  If we were designing soldiers, then the talking animals are probably larger, predatory species.   (E.g. Forests of the Night by S. Andrew Swann.)  If we were designing obedient slaves, they  might be dogs or a docile species like bunnies.  (E.g. Ship's Boy by Phil Geusz.)

A final possibility is that the animals actually are humans who have drastically modified themselves. (E.g. The Book of Lapism by Phil Geusz.)  In this case, the species of animals will be chosen by individual characters for personal reasons.  Individuals who choose to modify themselves so extremely are likely to be rich, eccentric, socially outcast, or part of a fringe subculture.

And, of course, all of these answers can be adapted easily to fantasy universes by substituting science with magic and scientists with wizards.

As you can see, explanations have been developed that will fit anthropomorphic animal characters into almost any piece of speculative fiction.  And, from fantasy to space opera to near future hard sci-fi, most speculative fiction can benefit from the color and texture added by a few talking animals.  Besides, they're just fun to read.

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You can learn more about Mary E. Lowd by visiting her website.
You can purchase the Otters in Space books from Fur Planet and Amazon.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Anola Pickett, The Unexpected Historical Novelist

Today's guest, Anola Pickett, has made an essential discovery: Not only does history not need to be boring to learn, but it can be an absolute joy to teach, especially when presented as fiction for kids. She shares the journey of discovery she undertook to research and write her novel, Whisper Island.

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No one is more surprised than I am that I now write historical fiction for young readers. When I was in school, I found history and geography classes dry and boring, based on memorization of dates and places. Fortunately, I audited a college course in Elizabethan England because it tied in with my English major. The professor was a witty, engrossing teacher who led her class into the lives of the English during that period. It was fascinating to study history through people rather than the pages of a text. To see them and hear their language brought their story to life for me.

I’ve tried to do the same in my historical novels. By exploring a piece of American history through the eyes and ears of my characters, I hope I’ve brought a time and place to life for young readers.

My research has taken me to Cache Valley in Utah, the Blackfoot reservation in Montana, and the barrier islands of North Carolina. I’ve photographed those places and visited the local museums. I’ve read books, newspaper and diaries to gain a sense of place and culture. Most importantly, I’ve listened to many people happy to share their family and community stories. Each experience has given me a real and specific sense of history.

The journey to my new novel, WHISPER ISLAND, began several years ago when I visited the Outer Banks and heard a park ranger speak about notable shipwreck rescues along the North Carolina coast. The details of a 1913 story caught my fancy. The captain’s wife was the first to be conveyed off the ship. All the way to shore, she wailed about the loss of her clothes and finery, completely overlooking the fact that men were risking their lives to save hers. The captain was the last off the ship, and he carried his St. Bernard in his arms. He later gave the dog to the surfmen who rescued his crew and family.

I let that little story noodle about in my imagination while I tried to build a plot around it. A girl character named Primmy stepped into my imagination one day, and I decided to make her the main character. But one character and an interesting historical fact do not make a novel. I needed more.

Another trip or two to the Outer Banks, especially to the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Historic Site, led me to the important, but mostly forgotten, work of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. A group of courageous, determined men, they went to the aid of ships that wrecked on the shoals off their coast. They went out no matter the weather or time of day. Theirs was truly a 24/7 job.

Language is an important window into a time and place. While researching life on the Outer Banks in the early 1900’s, I came across a book titled Hoi Tide, which explored island language. Some words intrigued me, so I used them to introduce my chapters. If you read the book, you’ll learn the meaning of meehonkey and mommucked, for example.

Now I had more information about a group of brave men. I knew more about island language. But I still had no real plot, so I continued to dig into the USLSSS history. When I learned that females weren’t allowed to serve as Life-Savers, I’d found a problem for Primmy to solve. She’s only twelve, but Primmy’s spunky and determined to prove her mettle. Read WHISPER ISLAND to find out if she succeeds!

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Learn more about Anola Pickett on her website.

Purchase Whisper Island on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sandra Saidak on the Joys and Trials of Commissioning Cover Art

We have an especially interesting and practical topic today from author Sandra Saidak, who writes novels inspired by prehistory and folklore. Her latest work is The Seal Queen, and she shares some insight into how its cover came to fruition.

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Art : The Journey

Of course I knew that artists did things a certain way—notably their way.  After all, I’m an artist myself, in that I’m a writer.  As far as I’m concerned, writers, painters, musicians, costumers, jewelry makers, and several groups I’m probably leaving out (sorry folks) are artists.  And there are certain stereotypes associated with all of us: we’re flaky; we create when the spirit moves us, not because someone tells us to; deadlines are more targets to aim for; we’re passionate about what we do, or we don’t bother to do it.

I’ve been a writer since I could hold a pencil and make letters.  But my first novel was published in November, 2011.  Since then, I learned a startling fact: I am no longer a single-person business.  I need professional help (no, not that kind).  With every book, I need editing, marketing advice, computer help, and the most exciting so far: professional cover art. 

For info on artist Fred Capp, visit
I was nervous, but still very excited when I approached my first artist.  I knew just how it would work: I would describe in words what I could so clearly see in my mind’s eye, and I’d get to watch the process of seeing it come to life in all its glory.  Then the plan met reality.  I worked with three artists before The Seal Queen was finally graced with the cover you see here.

The first artist I found sent me some terrific pencil sketches—before deciding she had taken on too many commissions, and just when some real life issues hit her out of the blue.  (It might have been nice if she had told me this; unfortunately, she just stopped responding to my e-mails.  I found out all that other stuff much later.)

I’m not quite sure what happened to the second artist.  I found him through DeviantArt.  We exchanged e-mails.  I sent descriptions, he sent a price quote.  Then nothing.  Apparently, somewhere along the line, he had decided we weren’t a good fit after all.  That was a new one for me.

The next artist was the one who finished the piece on time, and got it to look like what I had envisioned.  Fred Capp is an old friend of mine, and I was nervous about working with a friend.  What if I didn’t like what he came up with?  What if he flaked out like the others?  What if the art was great, but he couldn’t meet the deadline?  What if we ran into artistic differences?  What if he couldn’t draw a seal! I discovered I was scaring myself.  And some of those things did become issues, but I’m happy to say we worked them out.  And we’re still friends.

Out of all this, I’ve come to understand certain differences between the people who write the books, and the people who create the cover art.  Mainly, that an author will usually work on one project at a time.  An artist will likely be juggling many projects at once.  And every client is concerned about the art being perfect for his/her work; that this book will be released on time.

The artist also has the difficult balancing act of getting the author’s vision to appear on a piece of paper (or computer screen).  Easy if you’re a mind reader.  Not so easy if all you have to work with are words.

So a toast to all the artists out there, in all the different media.  As everyone who’s done any of it before knows: it’s not as easy as it looks.  

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You can learn more about Sandra Saidak on her website.
You can purchase The Seal Queen on Amazon.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Barbara Burgess talks YA, Fantasy, and Medieval Lit

Please welcome my guest, Barbara Burgess. She shares with me an educational background in the Middle Ages, although she went the more fantastical route for her new YA novel, The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions (second in the Magic Manuscript series), which places contemporary teens into the legendary period of King Arthur. Barbara discusses the inspiration for her series. 

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Thanks so much, Anne, for having me as a guest on your blog. 

Today, I’d like to talk about the roles that the key female protagonists play in my latest YA fantasy novel. I thought to open with this quote from sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai’s inspiring words at the United Nations the other day.  Her words about helping young women around the world realize their own strength and potential deeply resonated with me. “We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave – to embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential.”

I specialized in medieval English literature at McGill University. My thesis advisor had been tutored by C. S. Lewis at Oxford University and introduced me to “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and other Arthurian legends. Years later, I decided to write my own version of the timeless Arthurian legend. My YA fantasy novel, The Magic Manuscript: Book One – Voyage to Eve Ilion, was first published by Piraeus Books in 2011. Two teens, Jennifer and Arthur, are thrown back in time after Jen finds a medieval magic manuscript in a cave in England. They meet the wizard Merlin in England around the year 500 AD. In my latest novel, however, The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions, I decided that Merlin should reappear in the twenty-first century as a beautiful Welsh woman in her mid-twenties—Bronwen—who has a key position at the UN. She becomes a mentor and guide to Jennifer Gael, the main heroine in the story. I wanted to present to teenage girls—and all readers—the ideal of a strong and influential female leader. When Jennifer, Lance and Arthur first meet her, Bronwen tells them:

“I’m the daughter of a prominent politician. My mother was a minister in the government. I grew up meeting cabinet ministers at the dinner table—a kind of modern-day court. At university, people became interested in my poetry and ideas, and I found myself in the public arena, championing idealistic causes. The UN has commissioned me to write a manifesto of peace … I need you three to stand as warriors against darkness. Jennifer, this is the age where women can be powerful leaders. That’s that why I returned as a woman, this time around.”

The theme of free-spirited young women reclaiming their right to independence certainly runs through this second book (which can be read without having read the first book). Jennifer and her boyfriend Arthur time travel again; this time, they land in the desert of ancient Sumeria in the year 3200 BC. The two youths are kidnapped by Faizi, a tyrannical leader. He tries to push Jennifer into an arranged marriage. They must escape Faizi, and as they flee through the desert, they are aided by other young companions who also want a life of freedom from oppression and tyranny. Throughout their journey, we sense the hidden, mysterious and beneficent power of Lady Eve. She is the goddess whom Jennifer met in her earlier time travels (described in book one) and who helped Jennifer develop her intuition, ability to understand all languages, and unfold hidden potentials and superpowers, such as the abilities to fly and prophesy.

The cover of The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions was done by artist David Russell, who has worked as a storyboard artist on movies such as “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi,” “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” to name but a few. I was honoured and delighted that he created such a splendid cover for The Nine Companions, in which he depicted Lady Eve, goddess of the island of Eve Ilion. Russell portrayed her just as I envisioned—a powerful young woman with great strength, determination, beauty, and grace.

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You can read more about Barbara Burgess and the making of The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions at her website

The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions can be purchased directly from the publisher, and on Amazon.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Medieval romance A KISS AT VESPERS online launch party! @MusePublishing

Hello and welcome! It's launch day again! My medieval romance novelette, A Kiss at Vespers, is now available for sale.

[PLEASE NOTE: Because of spammers, I have to moderate comments before they post. But I see every comment, so there's no need to enter it twice. Thanks!]

You can get it for Kindle on Amazon, on Kobo, or in any e-book format from the publisher, MuseItUp.

To get you in the mood for this eleventh-century tale, here are the ruins of an ancient Irish monastery:

Of course, with a title like A Kiss at Vespers, you can expect some monks. One of them was kind enough to drop by. (Don't worry, Brother Martinus in the story is much more classically handsome!)

And here's a blurb to tempt you:

A Kiss at Vespers

In 1008 AD, Dublin is just a small town, newly opened to trade now that Viking violence there has died down. A young woman named Asta runs away from her boring life in Britain on one of her father’s trading vessels bound for Dublin, hoping that she and the sailor she loves can find a new life together. But when shipwreck takes him from her, her whole world changes. She is helped up the rocky shores of eastern Ireland by handsome and enigmatic Brother Martinus, who takes her to the Monastery of St. Luran’s to recover. Despite his vows of silence and chastity, Brother Martinus is entranced by the beautiful maiden who seems delivered to him by Providence. Their unexpected relationship causes both of them to rethink their concepts of faith and love.

Would you like some cake? The book starts with a shipwreck, so here's a lovely shipwreck cake:

Don't forget to really help me celebrate by using those purchase links! You can get A KISS AT VESPERS for Kindle on Amazon, on Kobo, or in any e-book format from the publisher, MuseItUp. (Barnes & Noble coming soon...)

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Morgen Rich turns leisure into lit

I know you'll enjoy today's post, by a fellow member of Broad Universe, Morgen Rich. She has some very positive advice about finding inspiration for writing by doing what you enjoy. 

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Let the die be cast!

Thanks for having me as a guest, Anne! I’m Morgen Rich, and I’d like to tell you a story—a story about how the “how to write” light bulb went on for me.

In the acknowledgments of Part One of Incorrigible: Secrets Past & Present, I thanked the roleplaying community for helping me unleash my imagination. I meant that sincerely. Roleplaying has taught me as much about what I needed to know as a writer as reading and practicing writing.

With the help of others, I “built” the first setting for Incorrigible in a virtual world. In that medieval fantasy landscape, I plopped down my avatar on a rock near a river or in a hidden cave while I wrote a lengthy tale about a girl whose life didn’t turn out quite the way she’d planned. When I wasn’t writing, I was serving as Lead Game Mistress for the roleplay. Although I’d roleplayed for a long time, being a Game Mistress for a large group of talented roleplayers was a challenge. I learned a lot about plausibility, details, planning, and pacing.

The environment in the simulators (we had grown to 6 in less than 2 years) was constantly shifting. Disasters, natural and manmade, were my excuses for tweaking this village or that mountain trail. All the while, I continued writing the tale about the girl but never felt like I’d nailed the story.

After about two and a half years, I hankered to build a setting that was completely different and develop a roleplay challenge that would throw not just the unexpected, but the truly unknown, at the players. I came up with an idea for an environment the size of an entire simulator. The problem was that the “ground” on the simulator was already filled an established environment, and I didn’t want to disrupt roleplay or forewarn. So, I looked to the sky, where I secretly built a sim-sized setting for a quest called What Dreams May Come. What was significant about the Dreams setting was that it wasn’t a magic zone. It was a whole different world!

While I built that world, I made up backstories for the objects in it and the non-player characters who would populate it during the quest. The Dreams environment didn’t just look different; it had different rules!

As I worked to write a challenging roleplay quest and environment, a single thought gnawed at me about the tale I’d been writing. It dawned on me that it, like quests on the simulator’s ground level, was too restricted by setting. Nobody would care if the girl’s life didn’t turn out as planned. NOBODY’S life does! So, three years into the medieval fantasy project, I burned and buried the ashes of five manuscripts. I reformatted my hard drives.

All the experience I’d gained in roleplaying, in being a Game Mistress, and in being a virtual world builder suddenly came to bear on my writing in a dramatic way. The girl needed different challenges! The environment needed to be crisp and vast! The worlds needed rules! Conflict needed to be significant! Themes needed to matter! Characters needed to come to life . . . and death!

And then I wrote the story that wanted to be told. I set it in a universe that was constantly shifting (like the simulator landscapes had over time) with out-of-sight worlds that worked according to their own peculiarities. The first draft of Incorrigible weighed in at about 135,000 words, and I wrote it in 30 inspired days.

Incorrigible is a story and setting I’m continuing to build on as I write Books Two and Three of The Staves of Warrant. I’m enjoying every minute of skipping around the Shifting Worlds universe . . . and I owe it all to roleplaying!

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You can learn more about Morgen Rich and her Shifting Worlds universe at her website and blog. Parts One (Entrapments) and Two (Seeking) of Incorrigible are available as ebooks at Amazon and Smashwords.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Jennifer Allis Provost on the genesis of COPPER GIRL

As an author, finding out what you're actually writing can be quite an adventure and surprise. Jennifer Allis Provost shares with us the journey of discovery she took with her new novel, Copper Girl.

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Story First, Genre Later

Thank you, Anne, for letting me stop by! I’m Jennifer Allis Provost, and I’m going to talk about the convoluted path I took writing my latest release, Copper Girl.

I began Copper Girl with the scrap of an idea gleaned from my boring job as a cubicle monkey. While this seed was germinating, a few other ideas fluttered forth, and before I knew it, I had the makings of a story: I was going to write a YA dystopia.

Or so I thought.

In this initial version, the main character, Sara Corbeau, lived in a world that used to be full of magic, but no one believed in it anymore. Then Sara started seeing a man in her dreams, who turned out to be an elf lord from the Otherworld. Sara even had a snarky best friend, who disbelieved in everything magical, and worried that Sara was losing her mind.

Well, that didn’t work.

You see, an integral part of Sara’s journey revolves around her boring desk job. (I know, art imitating life at its finest) Most teens don’t have full-time office jobs, so that, along with the romance level in the book, pretty much knocked Copper Girl right out of the YA ballpark. Taking a cue from said romance level, I set out to rewrite it as a paranormal romance.

Or so I thought.

In this version, Sara and the dreamy elf lord, Micah, meet in their physical forms fairly early on, and establish a relationship. I also moved a good portion of the action to the Otherworld, and added some political drama. Since I had also added the Element-based magic system during this go-round, this is when Sara actually became a copper girl.

That version didn’t work either.


Before I started the third rewrite, I took some time to really think about the plot. So Sara worked at a lame office job, then an elf showed up in her dreams, and chaos ensued. That’s all well and good, but what was the chaos ensuing to? Then it hit me, the integral part that I was missing:

What the heck was the point of this story?

And that, dear reader, is exactly what Copper Girl had been missing. The characters were there, but the stakes weren’t high enough. I didn’t really understand what Sara wanted badly enough to defy her totalitarian government and begin using magic again. Then it hit me.

That totalitarian government had taken her brother away ten years ago, and she hadn’t seen him since.

Shortly after this revelation, Copper Girl went through its third and final major rewrite, and became a dystopian-flavored urban fantasy. Snarky best friend stayed, missing brother entered, and the rest of the story fell into place. The best part about this version was that it flowed. The words almost arranged themselves on the computer screen, and the plot never felt slow or stilted.

This was the story, just as it was meant to be. Finally, I’d thought right.

It took almost a year of rewrites, crumpled sticky notes, and anguished calls and emails to editors and critique partners before Copper Girl finally came together. But, you know what? In the end, it was all worth it.

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Learn more about Jennifer Allis Provost on her website.
Purchase Copper Girl on Amazon.