Posts Tagged ‘fantasy week’

Kalayna Price had me at “hello.”  Seriously, the opening of the Alex Craft series is like a textbook example of how to hook readers right out of the gate.  Check it:

The first time I encountered Death, I hurled my mother’s medical chart at him.  As far as impressions went, I blew it, but I was five a tthe time, so he eventually forgave me.  Some days I wished he hadn’t—particularly when we crossed paths on the job.  — from GRAVE WITCH

Since then she’s continued to impress me with her voice, her characters and, yes, her wicked streak.  I hope you’ll enjoy her guest blog and that you’ll leave a comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of one of her books.  The latest, GRAVE MEMORY, will release on Tuesday, July 3rd!

                                                           

Okay, but it’s going to cost you.

In life most of us avoid conflict. We don’t necessarily take the easy path, but we’d rather avoid the old Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” The smoother ride is preferred.

In fiction, the opposite is true.

Characters are put through the wringer and given two bad paths to choose from. Why? Not because the writers are evil overloads who wish to torture their unsuspecting characters, but because conflict creates interest and forces character growth. A story in which everything went well for the character and around each turn something even better happened would be like sitting down and tackling an entire triple chocolate cheesecake. The first couple bites might be decadent, but it would get sickening fast. No fun.

So we make it hard for our characters. We give them no good place to turn. We make every action count and each one come at a cost.  This cost may be major or minor and might be physical or emotional, but it has to hold a proportional amount of weight in comparison with what is at stake. It also has to affect to story, not just be thrown in there to create false conflict. If the cost is easily sidestepped or has no bearing on the story, it isn’t good conflict, and the reader probably won’t care.

How do you find this cost? Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen in the situation you are dealing with (or make a list of worse-case scenarios) and then find a compelling reason why the character has no other choice but take that route. Note the words “compelling” and “no other choice.” If the reader is sitting in their seat thinking, “Why didn’t the character just . . . “ the writer hasn’t done their job well and the suspension of belief is broken.

Of course, all these hard choices and agonizing decisions pay off in the end. They force the character grow so that in the final challenge, they can succeed—at least partially.  Depending on your genre, boy might get girl, the killer found, the bad guy foiled, and/or the world saved. For now.

Hey, we all like our cake at the end, right?

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Check out Kalayna Price’s Alex Craft novels (GRAVE WITCH, GRAVE DANCE and GRAVE MEMORY) and Haven series on her website.  Follow her on Twitter.

I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating, since it’s one of my more colorful “how I met my author” stories.  Years ago, Steven Harper, aka Steven Piziks, came to me with an offer on the table.  It was the week before my wedding.  Was I interested in taking a look at his material?  If it hadn’t sounded so intriguing, sanity would have reigned, and I wouldn’t have wedged in reading a new submission in the midst of arguing with the caterer, coordinating guest arrivals and doing all of the last minute things that had to be done.  Sanity and I have never been close, and I was very glad for it that week.  I fell in love with Steven’s work and added “haggling with the publisher” to my To Do list.  I think you should add “reading his work” to yours!  Comment for a chance to win a signed copy of one of his steampunk novels or run out and be certain to get one today.

Steampunk by Steven Harper

I recently realized that when I finish THE HAVOC MACHINE, I’ll have written four novels and two novelettes.  That’s about 385,000 words of steampunk.  In other words, by the time September rolls around, I’ll have put more words into steampunk than any other genre I’ve touched–and I’ve written 17 books now.

I still don’t know what the hell steampunk is.

No, seriously.  My non-writer friends often ask me what kind of book I’m working on.  I say, “Steampunk,” and they quite naturally say, “Steampunk?  What’s that?”  And I have no idea what to say.

Maybe steampunk is fantasy.  My publisher seems to think so.  My contracts call the Clockwork Empire books “works of fantasy.” Nowhere on any piece of paper I’ve signed does the word “steampunk” actually appear.  (It occurs to me that this could be the source of some serious weaseling at some future date.)  Certainly a lot of steampunk has a paranormal element or three.  Gail Carriger and Cindy Spencer Pape both rather famously write steampunk about werewolves and vampires and warlocks, for example.  We often have the big, world-shaking events fantasy is famous for.  In THE DOOMSDAY VAULT, the clockwork plague (which I based on the medieval bubonic plague) reshapes humanity.  And we have zombies, a fantasy trope, though mine are more objects of pity than of horror.  In THE IMPOSSIBLE CUBE, a mad scientist uncovers the power to stop time itself and destroy the entire universe, which again sounds like fantasy.  In the upcoming third book THE DRAGON MEN, I use winged men and clockwork monsters taken from Chinese mythology.  But my steampunk books don’t actually use magic.  Neither do Cherie Priest’s, who set her books in nineteenth-century America and who uses zombies of her own.  So as an overall genre, steampunk doesn’t quite qualify as fantasy.  That’s okay–we love it anyway.

Maybe steampunk is historical fiction.  Well, alternate reality fiction.  A lot of steampunkers start by saying, “What would have happened if Charles Babbage had actually built his difference engine and, as a result, the Victorians had embarked on a computer age before micro-processors?”  Of course, there are a lot of other alternates as well.  What if Victorian women were given more independence than they actually were?  What if the Victorians were more tolerant of racial and religious differences?  What if the Victorians didn’t care so much about sexual orientation?  What if Victorian women wore corsets on the outside of their dresses?  And what if the Victorians were enough like modern people to allow modern readers to find them likeable instead of finding them really racist, scornfully sexist, and casually cruel?  So many alterations don’t just nibble at the edge of actual history–they collapse it entirely.  No, steampunk doesn’t quite qualify as historical or alternate reality fiction.  That’s okay–we love it anyway.

Maybe steampunk is science fiction.  I mean, you do have big machines that work with pistons and steam and brass.  And you have computers and robots and sometimes even spaceships and stuff.  For my steampunk, I created a bacillus-borne plague that nearly destroys humanity and a virus that cures it.  All straight-up SF.  Except none of this stuff has a hope of working in the real world.  The robots would collapse under their own weight.  Boilers are inefficient and unreliable sources of energy for anything smaller than a building.  A brass computer processor that poked out even basic computations would weigh several tons and be completely unsuitable for controlling the little spiders and mechanical horses that make steampunk so much fun.  So it doesn’t quite qualify as science fiction.  That’s okay–we love it anyway.

So maybe a better question is, why define it at all?  Steampunk is more of a movement than a genre.  It involves not just literature, but fashion, music, games, role-playing, philosophy, and even movies.  How can you define anything that shows up in all that? Sure, it makes my publisher’s marketing division nervous, but let them deal with it.  I’m in it for the awesome stories, the thrilling adventures, the powerful themes.  To define it is to pin it down like a butterfly on a board.

Once it’s pinned down, it can’t move anymore, and it dies.  Why would we want to do that?

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Steven Harper is, among other things, the author of the fabulous Clockwork Empire series for Roc and WRITING THE PARANORMAL NOVEL from Writers Digest Books.  Check him out on his website or follow him on Twitter.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of my clients chose to write about characterization for fantasy week.  I’m a sucker for strong, unique characters and a huge fan of voice.  Also, I was an anthropology and writing double-major in college, so D.B. Jackson‘s wonderful new series, beginning with THIEFTAKER, is right up my alley.  A fantasy novel in colonial Boston set in the time leading up to the American Revolution with all the requisite tension and happenings.  Sold!  (To Tor Books, as it turns out.)  Anyway, I hope you’ll check out the new series and that you’ll love it as I do!  One lucky commentor will get to check it out for free, so please stay awhile and leave word to let us know you’ve been here or ask some really biting questions.  He’s up for the challenge!

D.B. Jackson:

She stood as tall as Ethan, and while she looked at first glance to be as slender as she was fair, the appearance was deceiving. He had seen her fight; once, he had felt the bite of her blade. She was as strong and quick and cunning as any man Ethan had ever battled. But her sex remained her greatest weapon. Her hair, her body, her eyesshe was bewitching. Ethan couldn’t help but watch her as she walked, and, he noticed, neither could the men who worked for her.THIEFTAKER, D.B. Jackson

THIEFTAKER, my new historical fantasy, which will be released by Tor Books on July 3, tells the story of Ethan Kaille, a conjurer and thieftaker who works the streets of colonial Boston in the years leading up to the American Revolution.  The book is written solely from Ethan’s point of view; there is never any doubt but that he is the protagonist.

Yet, I have to admit that he is not my favorite character in the Thieftaker books and stories.  That distinction belongs to the lovely and deadly Sephira Pryce.

The concept for THIEFTAKER grew out of a footnote in a history book.  (What can I say?  I’m a nerd; so sue me.)  The footnote was about Jonathan Wild, London’s most famous thieftaker, who built a profitable empire by solving crimes for which he himself was responsible.  He had men in his employ steal from wealthy Londoners, and then he “retrieved” the stolen goods, receiving not only a hefty finder’s fee, but also the praise of the city’s most powerful citizens, who saw him as the only thing standing between themselves and criminal armageddon.

Upon reading about Wild, I knew that I wanted to write a book about thieftakers, with my hero being an honest man who had to grapple with thieves and murderers, as well as with a powerful and thoroughly corrupt rival.  In a sense then, the concept for this series began not with my hero, but with his nemesis.  At first my Wild character was a man named Sefton Pryce, but as I worked my way through an initial draft, I found that their rivalry was not nearly as compelling as I had hoped it would be.

That first version of the book was set in an alternate fantasy world.  When I began to contemplate rewriting the book as a historical urban fantasy, I also changed Sefton into a woman named Sephira.  Immediately upon starting my second draft, I knew that I had made the right decision on both fronts.  Fitting my story into a historical setting and blending it with actual events in pre-Revolutionary Boston brought higher stakes and greater intrigue to the murder mystery at the core of the narrative.  And making Ethan’s nemesis a woman made their rivalry crackle with tension and energy.

I will admit that I worried about creating a character like Sephira in a historical novel about colonial Boston.  Women with as much independence, power, and overt sexuality as she exhibits were rare in that time and place.  But the more research I did about Boston, and particularly about women in the city, the more my concerns abated.  I didn’t find mention of female outlaws in the texts I read, but I did find many references to women owning and running their own businesses, and to enjoying generally far more social and financial independence than one might expect.  Historically speaking, Sephira might be something of an outlier, but that’s all right — she is in my book as well.  She is absolutely one of a kind.

Like Jonathan Wild, Sephira has made herself wealthy and famous by recovering stolen items for affluent families who have been robbed by men in her employ.  She has toughs who escort her everywhere, and who do her bidding while she keeps her hands (mostly) clean.  She lives in a large, beautiful home, dresses impeccably, and counts among her friends the most influential men in the Province of Massachusetts Bay.  She has the advantage over Ethan in nearly every respect.  He works alone and lives in a small room above a cooperage.  He has a few close friends, none of them powerful or rich.  Ethan’s only advantage lies in his ability to cast spells.

She is cruel, arbitrary, ruthless in pursuit of whatever she might want at any given moment.  She is both calculating and capricious.  And she is brilliant, outthinking Ethan at almost every turn.  She is also stunningly beautiful.  Her voice is low and somewhat gravelly — think Lauren Bacall.  The word “sexy” hadn’t entered the lexicon in 1765, when the action in THIEFTAKER takes place, so Ethan would never have thought to describe her that way.  But she is sexy as hell, and though Ethan detests her and finds her lack of scruples repellant, he cannot help but feel some attraction to her.

Sephira’s feelings for Ethan are also conflicted.  She fears no one, and is confident to the point of arrogance.  But she is intimidated by Ethan’s conjuring talents.  She has some understanding of how he casts his spells, but by their very nature his conjurings are alien, uncanny, unfathomable, and she does not know how to combat them.  And since she occasionally takes on inquiries as a thieftaker that did not result from crimes perpetrated by her men, she sometimes finds herself confronted by other conjurers.  In those instances, she is forced to send her clients to Ethan.  So this woman, who most of the time needs no man, finds herself with no choice but to turn to her rival for help every now and then.

Ethan and Sephira’s relationship is fraught, to say the least.  They are mortal enemies whose hostility for each other often spills over into violence.  But they are also intrigued by one another.  Ethan finds her alluring; Sephira sees in him a challenge to her own superiority that is at once threatening and fascinating.  Like all good rivals, each endeavors to use the dynamics of their relationship to good advantage.  When Sephira isn’t menacing Ethan with the threat of violence, she is using all of her seductive powers to bend him to her will.  And Ethan relies on his magic, and her unease with his abilities, to keep her and her toughs at bay.

Sephira is by no means the only strong female character in THIEFTAKER.  But she is far and away the most important and the most diverting, in large part because her rivalry with Ethan lies at the heart of so much that happens in the book.  Turning this key character into a woman did far more for my story than merely introduce a bit of sexual tension, though it certainly did that.  It made Sephira Ethan’s perfect opposite:  corrupt where he is honest; powerful where he is weak; vulnerable where he is strongest; socially connected where he is isolated; beautiful where he is physically flawed.  Her femininity emphasizes these contrasts, bringing them into further relief.

For me as a writer, though, the best thing about their rivalry is that it never ends.  Even as other “villains” come and go with each new Thieftaker story or book, Sephira remains Ethan’s most significant and entertaining antagonist.  She is Catwoman to his Batman, Kate to his Petruchio, Nurse Ratched to his McMurphy, all rolled into one.  Among all the characters I’ve created, she is one of my favorites, in large part because she is part of the most intriguing relationship I’ve ever written.

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D.B. Jackson also goes by the name David B. Coe for his epic fantasies in the wonderful LonTobyn Chronicles, Winds of the Forelands and Blood of the Southlands series.  Check him out!

David B. Coe

D.B. Jackson

Follow him on Twitter!

Lynn Flewelling’s wonderful Nightrunner series and Tamir trilogy have been continuously in print and back (and back!) to press since their original publications.  She’s truly one of the masters (mistresses?) of high fantasy and one of my earliest clients.  We’ve been together ever since the beginning, and I couldn’t be more please to present Lynn Flewelling to you here, guest-blogging about The Female Character in High Fantasy in the 21st Century.  Comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of her latest Nightrunner novel, CASKET OF SOULS.  Go on, ask her some really pithy questions!  Here’s your chance.

The Female Character in High Fantasy in the 21st Century by Lynn Flewelling

We’ve come a long way, baby, from the days of the strapping berserkers and boobalicious barbarian babes of the pulp days, of reticent square-jawed sword swingers  and wilting princesses desperate for rescue. And yet high fantasy and all its permutations persist, reflecting, as fiction does, the time stamp of its conception.

Now we have female soldiers, powerful queens who aren’t evil, snarky urban fantasy detectives, and paranormal heroines with harems of men—living and otherwise. All to the good, I say. But what if a female character isn’t that, doesn’t fit the new heroic mold? Is there still room for women who aren’t in a position of power? To create a believable world, don’t we have to address the fact that there are were and are myriad permutations of what it means to be female?

My answer as a writer is yes we do. There is no such thing as a mono-level society, and probably never has been, outside of a few short lived utopias, and maybe not even there. If you want to write a realistic fantasy world—and that’s not an oxymoron—then you have to know how the real world works, then play with those toys. I do lot of research for my writing, and am fascinated by how the great anthills we call societies have functioned across the centuries. Women have very often gotten the short end of the stick, it’s true, but some women also had their own spheres of power: the home, as the mistress of a guild, craftspeople, artists, and even soldiers and pirates. Real world stuff.

To make a fantasy world believable, it has to have social stratification. Historically the poor are always with us, and the oligarchs, and the sinners, and the saints. In my work I do a lot with gender identity, and strong female figures, but you can’t populate the whole world with them. It’s not realistic, any more than making all the men powerful—or weak—is realistic. Worse yet, it would be boring. I have my downtrodden streetwalkers and homeless children, as well as the nobles and merchants and soldiers, etc, etc. I just don’t divide them by gender.

One of the advantages of writing fiction in general, and fantasy in particular, is that you can design the world to suit yourself. In the Nightrunner series I try for egalitarianism within each strata. So there are female guild leaders and soldiers, women of noble birth who own and manage their own property, wives and mothers who raise strong families by being strong women, not meek and subservient. But you have to have to have the weak and the negative, too, or your world building is flat, and worse yet, a soapbox.  But—and this is a major but—either way, weak or strong, you have to have a good reason, as a writer, for creating those particular characters, one your overarching societal construct  both needs and justifies. If you degrade a character, it must be for a logical reason that advances the story. Otherwise it’s gratuitous. If it’s your main character you degrade in some way, then chances are she overcomes that and triumphs in the end. But with secondary and background characters, that may not be the case. Your female hero may encounter women in desperate straits. What she does or doesn’t do about that is indicative of her nature. But you also have the desperate secondary character. Can they be saved? Do they want to be? Are they trapped by fear or a view that does not allow them to change? That may sound like a lot of work on a background character, but it builds your world by giving the reader insight into the types of things that can happen to people in your society.

In the Nightrunner Series, although the two heroes are male, they are surrounded by and often helped or even saved by strong women. In my Tamír Triad, however, I give the girl hero front and center, despite the fact that she spends a significant chunk of her childhood as a boy. Not dressed or disguised as a boy. As a boy. Or rather, in a boy’s body. Although she does not know it, she is still female in her essence and while that in no way precludes her from being a kickass fighter with a lion’s heart, she is plagued by moments of dysphoria when her female soul doesn’t quite match up with her male body. To some extent, she could be called a transgender character. What I really wanted to do was to explore the idea of identity and gender.

So, let’s say that you’ve created a female character who can master “male” skills, who is strong and confident, who is a leader. All good. Now, what does her being female have to do with that? How does she manifest her personality, her power, as a woman rather than, as we say, a “man with breasts”? As a writer, that’s something you have to look deeply into, because your own personal attitudes and beliefs are going to jump onto the page.  Her prowess and power must be firmly enmeshed with her personality. No, she’s not going to scream and drop her sword if she sees a spider. No, she’s not going to give up the adventuring life to settle down and have babies. Or maybe she does. You, as the creator, have to make that logical and fitting. And you have to know why she makes the decisions she makes. I’m not a psychologist or a social scientist. But I am a woman, and I have some things to say about what that can encompass. While I do write from inside that paradigm, however, I’m not Everywoman. No one is. And my characters aren’t me. They are ideas on legs, and that’s why I say you have to examine what ideas you put on the page very carefully. Your words have the power to illuminate, encourage, educate, inspire, and elucidate. You can change hearts and minds.

A final word on writing across gender: can men write believable women? Of course they can, if they’re good writers who are observant, do their research, and have a decent imagination. I write about men, after all, and the feedback makes me think that I am doing ok with that.  I may bring different insights to female characters, but it’s not a “girls only” sandbox.

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Check out Lynn Flewelling’s latest novel CASKET OF SOULS or any of her fabulous fantasies, like her story in the TALES OF THE EMERALD SERPENT anthology.

Follow her on Twitter!

I’m so excited that we’ll be having fantasy week here on my blog.  Check back each day for a post by wonderful fantasy authors Lynn Flewelling, D.B. Jackson, Steven Harper, Kalayna Price and N.K. Jemisin with a chance to win signed copies of their books!

To kick things off, I want to start with a huge congratulations to epic fantasist Carol Berg, whose THE SOUL MIRROR won the 2012 Colorado Book Award for Genre Fiction this past weekend!  THE SOUL MIRROR is the second novel in the author’s amazing Collegia Magica series (which starts with THE SPIRIT LENS and ends with THE DAEMON PRISM), and well worth the read.

I also want to give a shout out to amazing new releases coming to you within the next month:

GRAVE MEMORY (out July 3rd) is the third novel in Kalayna Price‘s USA Today bestselling Alex Craft series, which has sold in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, Russia and Turkey.  So excited for this new release!

Blurb: As a grave witch, Alex solves murders by raising the dead—an ability that comes at a cost. After her last few cases, that cost is rising.  But her magic isn’t the only thing causing havoc in her life. While she’s always been on friendly terms with Death himself, things have recently become a whole lot more up close and personal. Then there’s her sometime partner, Agent Falin Andrews, who is under the glamour of the Winter Queen.  To top everything off, her best friend has been forever changed by her time spent captive in Faerie.

But the personal takes a backseat to the professional when a suicide occurs in Nekros City and Alex is hired to investigate. The shade has no memory of the days leading up to his brutal ending, so despite the very public apparent suicide, this is murder. But what kind of magic can overcome the human will to survive?  And why does the shade lack the memory of his death? Searching for the answer might mean Alex won’t have a life to remember at all…

THIEFTAKER (out July 3rd) by D.B. Jackson kicks off a brand new fantasy series featuring history, mystery, magic and murder.  Something for everyone!

Blurb: Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker of some notoriety, and a conjurer of some skill, is hired to find the killer of a wealthy young woman. Soon he is swept up in a storm of intrigue and magic, politics and treachery. The murder has drawn the notice of the lovely and deadly Sephira Pryce, a rival thieftaker in Boston; of powerful men in the royal government; of leaders of the American rebels, including Samuel Adams; and of a mysterious sorcerer who wields magic the likes of which Ethan has never encountered before. To learn the truth of the girl’s murder, Ethan must recover a stolen gem and sound the depths of conjurings he barely understands, all while evading Sephira and her henchmen, holding the royals and rebels at bay, and defending himself and those he loves from the shadowy conjurer. No problem. Provided he doesn’t get himself killed in the process.

TIGER BOUND (out July 24th) by Doranna Durgin is the latest in her wonderful Sentinels paranormal romance series for Harlequin Nocturne.  Alpha heroes, danger, romance, suspense…yup, true love.

Blurb: Like the Siberian tiger he can transform into, Maks Altán is a strong, ferocious fighter who’s incredibly protective of his Sentinel kin. But thanks to a debilitating injury, he feels anything but fierce. That is, until he is sent to guard Katie Maddox, a gorgeous healer who awakens a dangerous lust within him. Problem is, in the shifter world, Katie’s deer alter ego is easy prey…and much too tempting for Maks.

As unnamed danger lurks just beyond her awareness, Katie has doubts—about her abilities, her role in the Sentinels and the strange desire she feels toward her new protector. But somehow, the wounded predator and his wary prey must ignore their instincts, their fears and their dangerous attraction to each other in order to defeat their common enemy!

ALL-SEEING EYE (out July 31st) by Rob Thurman is a dark, tense paranormal thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  This is a move into the mainstream for Rob Thurman, but never fear – fans of her bestselling Cal Leandros, Trickster and Korsak Brothers novels (CHIMERA and BASILISK) will find lots to love!

Blurb: The New York Times bestselling author of the Cal Leandros series delivers a bold new supernatural thriller where one man’s extraordinary abilities come with an equally phenomenal cost.

Picking up a small, pink shoe from the grass forever changed young Jackson Lee’s life. Not only did its presence mean that his sister Tessa was dead—murdered and stuffed in the deep, black water of a narrow well—but the shoe itself told him so. Tessa’s death triggers an even more horrific family massacre that, combined with this new talent he neither wants nor can handle, throws Jack’s life into a tailspin. The years quickly take him from state homes to the streets to grifting in a seedy carnival, until he finally becomes the cynical All Seeing Eye, psychic-for-hire. At last, Jackson has left his troubled past behind and found a semblance of peace.

That is, until the government blackmails him. After Jackson is forced to help the military contain the aftermath of a bizarre experiment gone violently wrong, everything he knows about himself will change just as suddenly as it did with his little sister’s shoe.

And while change is constant . . . it’s never for the better.

HEX APPEAL, edited by P.N. Elrod – because I missed giving the amazing HEX APPEAL anthology a happy book birthday shout out at the time, I want to mention this here now as well.  Lots of phenomenal writers, no waiting!  HEX APPEAL has stories from Jim Butcher, Carrie Vaughn, Ilona Andrews, Rachel Caine, Carole Nelson Douglas, Simon Green, Lori Handeland, Erica Hayes and P.N. Elrod herself.  You don’t want to miss this anthology!

There now, I hope I’ve whetted your appetite both for fantasy week and some new and upcoming titles.  See you back here soon!