Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

It’s blog hop time! I’ve been tagged by the lovely Aussie writer Ellen Gregory, who adores both fantasy and travel (sound familiar?). The idea with this one is to answer four questions, then tag three other awesome writers to answer the same questions on their own blogs in a week or so. If you’re the sort who loves to read about the writing process, then do be careful or you could be lost down the rabbit hole forever….

Please enjoy a picture of one of my notebooks, with bonus hand-knit socks.

Please enjoy a picture of one of my notebooks, with bonus hand-knit socks.

1. What am I working on?

I’m currently editing a YA historical fantasy novel, with plans to query agents once it’s done. I’ve also just finished a serial story set in a fantasy version of Thailand (the fifth and final part of the serial will be posted next month). My next project will be to revamp the serial into a single (longish) short story.

What I’ve mentioned so far happens to be fantasy, but I also write other types of speculative fiction — steampunk, science fiction, Gothic — and sometimes even non-genre fiction.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

One answer is that I often write at the border between YA and adult. (New Adult, I guess you’d say, except that NA is usually contemporary and mine usually isn’t.) Another is that I think my writing has an essential optimism that shines through…the sense that yes, your place in the world is out there and you will find it, even if you have to cross the world or fight your way through larger events or live through years of your adult life to get there.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because speculative fiction makes my heart sing.

Because when I say “I wish I could write like that” or “As a reader, I loved that book to pieces”, it’s usually speculative fiction I’m talking about.

Because it makes my inner 12-year-old happy, and she’s important to me.

Because making up worlds, genre-bending, and mashing elements together to see what sticks…is fun.

Because I want to see more like what I write. Much as I love medieval Europe, there are whole other civilizations out there, and I want to see them in fantasy too.

Because I love the moment when I stumble on a genre mash-up, or a crazy worldbuilding thing, and think, “You can DO that?!” (Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere blew my mind back in high school. So did discovering steampunk, sometime later. So do most of my favourite writers, even now.)

Because I love the tropes of the genre.

Because the sky’s the limit.

4. How does my writing process work?

I like to say I’m a reformed pantser (seat-of-the-pants writer) or headlight writer (you can only see as far as your headlights). My short stories are often still written that way. And I’m gradually moving from longhand to typing, even in the brainstorming and outlining stages…which were the last to go.

For longer works, I usually start with a lot of brainstorming, research, backstory, and character development — not via questionnaires or “outtake” scenes or dialogues, just jotting down lots of notes. Then I develop a very broad outline with the opening/setup and major turning points (act breaks). There’ll be some one-liner descriptions for scenes in there too, mostly in the first quarter of the story, getting nebulous very quickly. Or, in other words, more or less what Ellen said.

When it comes time to start writing, I prefer to draft quickly so I don’t lose the feel of the story or the overarching plot. NaNo works great for this, even if it means that what I end up with is rough.

And what happens after that? I do have some trusted critiquers, but I’m still working on finding a process for editing that works for me. If you have any advice, please share!

Tagged

And the tagged writers are…

  • Erin Zarro — writer of science fantasy, and of poetry
  • KD Sarge — writer of science fiction romance, with shenanigans
  • Kit Campbell — writer of paranormal romance, with banter

Christmas Gift Ideas from Turtleduck Press

You knew I was obliged to do one of these, right? *winks* Don’t worry, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled non-promotional content on Wednesday.

Turtleduck Press has been working hard at putting out good stories for the past three years, and we’ve amassed a variety of books designed to appeal to a range of SF&F and romance readers.

(All but one of them are available in your choice of ebook or print. Click on the covers below for more info!)

If you like…

…season-themed SF&F anthologies: you might like Winter’s Night (a variety of winter-themed stories and a poem) or Seasons Eternal (one longish short story for each season, set in a world where the seasons have stopped changing), edited by me and contributed to by all the members of Turtleduck Press.

Winter's Night anthology cover

…urban fantasy, paranormal romance, banter, or modern takes on mythology: then you might like Shards by Kit Campbell.

Shards by Kit Campbell

…science fiction set in space but with a focus on character, banter, or m/m (gay) romance: then you might like Knight Errant, His Faithful Squire, Queen’s Man, or Captain’s Boy by KD Sarge.

Knight Errant by KD Sarge

…science fantasy, genetic tinkering, or paranormal romance: then you might like Fey Touched by Erin Zarro (and watch for the sequel, Grave Touched, coming in April!).

Cover of Fey Touched by Erin Zarro

…poetry about broken love or about living with disability: then you might like Without Wings or Life as a Moving Target by Erin Zarro.

Without Wings by Erin Zarro

…YA novels about stepping through a portal into a magical universe: then you might like Hidden Worlds by Kit Campbell.

Hidden Worlds by Kit Campbell

We also have lots of SF&F short stories available to sample for free on our website, but if you’d like to support the authors and get your own copy (ebook only), we’ve collected our favourites in The Best of Turtleduck Press, Volume 1.

Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol. 1

And finally, if you’re not inclined or not in a position to buy one of these yourself this Christmas, but would like to support Turtleduck Press, you can still help by:

  • spreading the word — the biggest barrier to success in publishing (after quality, of course!) is getting noticed, and word of mouth is super important
  • leaving reviews – again, reviews on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, or LibraryThing, or your own blog if you have one, help authors get noticed
  • letting us know how we’re doing — if you want to see us do more of something in particular, or just want to send encouragement, we’d love to hear from you in the comments
  • buying or recommending another author’s book – Sure, we’re technically competitors, but really, the more people read, the better it is for all authors and the publishing industry as a whole…so go out and buy someone’s — anyone’s — books this Christmas!

The Gothic Novel and the Feminine Touch

In celebration of Halloween, we’re talking Gothic fiction this week. That’s a big genre, ranging from Mary Shelley to Edgar Allan Poe. But what I’m particularly interested in are stories that exemplify the core of the genre — novels like Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw.

What tropes do these stories have in common? Here’s a clue…

This recent edition features Heathcliff at his most, er vampiric.

This recent edition features Heathcliff at his most, er vampiric.

Gothic Tropes

  • An old, decrepit mansion in the wilderness.
  • A mysterious, emotionally distant master of the house (or sometimes mistress, if it’s not a romance).
  • A young woman (such as a governess) who is new to the scene.
  • An orphaned/unwanted child or children living at the house.
  • A terrible secret (sometimes supernatural).

As with all horror, there’s something wrong in the setting — a moral transgression that has resulted in something terrible. The young woman has to solve it and right the wrong. The master is mixed up in it — it’s his secret, though usually some of the servants are helping him keep it. Sometimes the young woman and the master are involved in a romance, which can’t be consummated until the secret is uncovered and robbed of its power.

Clearly Gothic stories are highly gendered — think of the young innocent woman (and children) in danger, or the brooding Gothic heroes like Rochester and Heathcliff. But more than that, it’s always a woman coming into the man’s house.

So what’s up with that?

What This House Needs is a Woman’s Touch

Maybe This Time coverThe Gothic house is cold, run-down, loveless…kind of like its master. Only the young woman can turn it into a home and rescue the children (and, if it’s a romance, warm the heart of the Gothic hero). Sometimes she fails — as in The Turn of the Screw or Wuthering Heights. Sometimes she succeeds — as in Jane Eyre or Maybe This Time, Jennifer Crusie’s modern-day retelling of The Turn of the Screw.

(Side note: Maybe This Time is quite different in tone — it’s got heavy romantic-comedy elements — so don’t pick it up expecting a dark, broody psychological horror tale, even if many of the plot elements are the same.)

But the young woman isn’t always a virginal, innocent type. Jane Eyre is virginal, all right, but she’s pretty cold herself, thanks to her own upbringing as an orphan (in a cheerless boarding school run by a harsh master — almost a Gothic mansion in its own right); it takes meeting Rochester for her to develop passion. Andie, the heroine of Maybe This Time, isn’t young — she’s already been married once — but she’s certainly cheerier than the other denizens of the house.

The Maiden and the Crone

Jane Eyre coverYou’ve heard of the mythical three stages of womanhood, yes? Maiden, mother, crone?

If we can accept that the young woman is more-or-less a maiden, who develops into a mother (and wife) over the course of the story, then what about the crone?

Well, as it happens, the young woman usually isn’t the only woman in the story. Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Turn of the Screw (and Maybe This Time) all have a housekeeper who isn’t able to keep the house running as it should. Of course, she’s not the mistress of the house. She’s also not young and marriageable — which makes her the crone, and therefore somehow unable to provide a “woman’s touch”.

The Madwoman in the Attic

I love how this cover screams "horror pulp", unlike the Jane Eyre cover, which screams "serious literature". Wuthering Heights has some fun pulp-y covers too.

I love how this cover screams “horror pulp”, unlike the Jane Eyre cover, which screams “serious literature”. Wuthering Heights has some fun pulp-y covers too.

Besides the young woman and the crone, there’s one more female trope in Gothic fiction: the proverbial “madwoman in the attic”. That’s (the first) Mrs. Rochester in Jane Eyre and Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (though interestingly enough, Great Expectations has a male hero). You could also argue to include the governess in The Turn of the Screw, who turns from maiden to madwoman over the course of the story — a common reading is that the ghosts she sees are hallucinations.

So what’s wrong with these women?

In the standard approach, they’re symbols of repressed feminine power. For example, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys retells Mrs. Rochester’s story from her own point of view, which exposes racial issues as well as feminist ones.

They’re also symbols of broken transitions and unfulfilled roles. Miss Havisham’s fiance left her, which is why she wanders around in her wedding gown for decades. Mrs. Rochester has gone mad early in her marriage (which may or may not be Mr. Rochester’s fault, depending on your reading) and is therefore unable to fulfill her role as wife. In Maybe This Time, one of the ghosts plays double duty as the “madwoman” due to her untimely death.

Again, it takes the maiden-turned-mother to put things to rights.

Next week, we’ll delve into Gothic stories for younger readers and examine some interesting edge cases…

Your turn! What do you think of my theories? Am I out to lunch? What’s your take on the feminine and the Gothic? Which Gothic novel is your favourite?

You might also enjoy my review of the Gothic film The Woman in Black.

Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol. 1If you liked this post, check out the latest anthology from Turtleduck Press, which features TWO Gothic short stories — one from me and one from Kit Campbell, whose novel Shards is out next month.

 

Book Release: Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey

Black Wine by Candas Jane DorseyI’m signal-boosting today, with whatever power this blog has.

I’d like to draw your attention to a book I once loved: Black Wine by Canadian author Candas Jane Dorsey.  It’s speculative fiction, not easily categorized as either fantasy or SF. I read it in university, and I remember it being a literary novel, a rather difficult read both on the level of narrative and for its sometimes brutal imagery. But I persevered, and was rewarded by beauty. The author is also a poet, and it shows.

(Full disclosure: I know Candas from way back. I used to volunteer for her back when she ran The Books Collective — a variety of imprints that included the venerable Tesseract Books, now part of Canadian publisher Edge Press — and I count her among my writing mentors.)

But it’s been a long time since I’ve read it, so I’m turning to others to fill in the gaps of my memory. Cheryl Morgan, Hugo Award-winning SF critic, blogger, and publisher, has this to say about it:

Black Wine, by Candas Jane Dorsey, follows the lives of three women in three very different societies. It is clear from the start they have some connection and are therefore probably in different parts of the same world. Slowly but surely, we see how their lives are intertwined, and they unravel the secrets of their past.

The world that Dorsey has created is very interesting, being just on the cusp of becoming technological. On the one hand there are castles and taverns that make the place seem almost mediaeval. On the other there are airships which bespeak a certain level of engineering sophistication. Best of all, as the book proceeds, Dorsey uses increased evidence of technology as a signal that time is passing and that the societies she describes are evolving.

Read the rest at SF Mistressworks.

And Jo Walton, author of last year’s multi-award-winning Among Others, says this:

It’s fantasy, but it might just as well be science fiction. There are some small insignificant magic gifts. There are some prophetic cards which seem to work. It’s another planet, anyway, a whole planet with as many cultures and climate zones as you’d expect, and a moon that rotates. There’s some technology, airships, medical imaging, but it’s unevenly distributed. There doesn’t seem to have been an industrial revolution, most of what you see is handmade. They know about genes, but children are as often conceived between two same-sex partners as two opposite sex ones. Against this world we have a story of travel towards and away from, of  mothers and daughters, quest and escape, horizons and enclosures.

It’s beautifully written at all levels. The language is precise  yet lapidary—literally. The words are like stones, sometimes sharp and sometimes jewel-bright, and all of them essentially placed in the structure of the novel.

Read the rest at Tor.com

As you can see, it’s not for everyone; it requires a reader who enjoys working for meaning. But don’t let that scare you off. If you’re a fan of China Miéville or other literary-leaning speculative fiction writers, you’ll probably like this.

Black Wine won Canada’s top speculative fiction prize, the Prix Aurora Award, for best novel in English, as well as the Tiptree Award for best novel about gender, and the Crawford Award for best first fantasy novel.

It was out of print for some time. But it’s just been re-released, in paperback and ebook, by the Canadian press Five Rivers Publishing. If it sounds like your cup of tea, you can also buy the new edition on Amazon.

Your Turn: SFF Writers of Colour

It’s a holiday Monday here in Canada, so instead of me talking, I’m turning the blog over to you.

I’m pretty good at seeking out SF&F by women and LGBTQ-themed speculative fiction. But I know that one area where I could be doing better is in reading SF&F by writers of colour.

So I’m looking for book recommendations. Who have you read? Who’s on your radar or your TBR list?

If you can’t think of any authors of colour, how about books that star characters of colour (main characters, not supporting characters) or that are built on mythologies and histories that are not Western? (And yes, I realize this brings up the whole question of appropriation, which is why I’m looking primarily for authors of colour.)

Let’s get this discussion going…

Call for Submissions at Turtleduck Press

Last week I told you about a call for submissions from Turtleduck Press, and promised to tell you a little more later. Well, later is today!

Turtleduck Press logo

Turtleduck Press began almost three years ago, when several writers (including yours truly) decided to band together and pool our strengths to start a science fiction and fantasy press. We knew we wanted to operate like a traditional publisher in that everything we published had to be:

  • approved by one or more members
  • edited by an experienced editor (that would be me — editing is how I make my living)
  • formatted and designed to look professional
  • advertised on our website and everywhere else we could get the word out

…so we’d be publishing works of quality and also look professional — both good ways to attract (and keep!) readers.

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Book Review: The Hair Wreath and Other Stories by Halli Villegas

This is a review of The Hair Wreath and Other Stories by Halli Villegas.

There’s a subgenre all about dissatisfied suburban couples, families breaking apart or struggling to hold together, the emptiness in people’s lives. Think Margaret Atwood, or in film, American Beauty.

Now imagine this subgenre with a touch of the fantastical. Sometimes it might feel more like horror, sometimes magic realism, sometimes pure fantasy, once in a while science fiction, other times straight-up realism.

That’s what it’s like reading this collection.

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Genre-Bending: Just Barely Speculative Fiction

I’m fascinated by edge cases — genre-bending, cross-genre fiction, works that don’t fit neatly into categories. Today I’d like to talk about fiction that, for one reason or another, just barely qualifies as speculative fiction. Doesn’t mean it’s bad — often quite the opposite. It’s just doing something different.

First of all, I don’t mean literary fiction using genre tropes. That’s a whole ‘nother animal (one that I also enjoy). Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, for example, obviously uses the convention of time travel, but it doesn’t read like a genre work — it reads like women’s fiction or literary fiction, and it’s interested in the same sorts of ideas and themes. It’s using time travel to speak a non-genre language. Same for Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

What I’m interested in today is the reverse. What happens when a book is “speaking” speculative fiction, but it doesn’t use much or any technology that we don’t have today, or employ magic, or use any settings in imaginary worlds?

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Author Spotlight: YA Writer Megan Crewe

In this Author Spotlight series, I’m talking about other writers you might not be familiar with, or you may have heard of but not read. The aim is to give you enough information to decide whether you might enjoy their work.

Megan Crewe author photoToday’s featured author is Megan Crewe. She’s a Canadian YA author who writes in a variety of speculative fiction subgenres, including (so far) a virus survival novel and a paranormal novel. If those descriptions make you think of heart-pounding thrillers with breakneck pacing, you’d be wrong — her stories are quieter, more character-oriented, but they build to page-turning finales. More after the jump…

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Books: Exploring Science Fantasy

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffreyAs a reader, I’m all over the spectrum of speculative fiction. I’ve been known to enjoy everything from hard science fiction, like Peter Watts‘s Blindsight, to epic fantasy, like George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. (I’ve written a pretty big variety of stuff, too. I also read and occasionally write outside speculative fiction, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.)

One thing that has always fascinated me is the way subgenres nudge up against one another, how the lines are drawn, where they grow fuzzy. Is a zombie story science fiction or horror? What about a time travel story or a superhero story? How about things like Star Wars, whose genre classification depends on whether you prioritize scientific accuracy over the presence of spaceships? Today I’m looking at one of my favourite areas of genre-bending — science fantasy and variations thereof.

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