Chivalry: Might is Right… Not Quite What You Think

Friday, August 28th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Chivalry and Violence

I love writing knights because they had such a fascinatingly simple way of looking at the world.

I love writing knights because they had such a unapologetically simple way of looking at the world (first blog entry in this series here).

The knightly world view was internally consistent, but must have been infuriating to anybody with a logical turn of mind. In Swords Versus Tanks, I had fun imagining just such a conversation:

Ranulph swept his arm around the cell to indicate the corpses. “God has just shown you His will.”

“Knights!” The red-haired girl gestured at the carnage. “You think that was a trial by combat.” Her eyes narrowed. “You wear a somewhat soiled arming jacket, so it was defeat in battle which brought you to this dungeon. Was that also God’s will, Sir Ranulph?”

“I suppose that God wanted me here to save you,” said Ranulph, with a vague, familiar, feeling that he was going to regret arguing with her.

Swords Versus Tanks 1: Steel Tide (forthcoming)

In fact — if Kaeuper’s Chivalry and Violence is to be believed — real knights tended to take things further with an utterly glorious piece of reasoning:

Knight: “God granted me victory, therefore  I am more pious than the dead guy.”

Priest: “But you still need to do penance!”

Knight: “Penance, Sir Priest? Pah! Wearing armor in the field is mortification enough.”

Partly this was lazy thinking at work.

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When Is Fantasy Not Fantasy? Or, One Person’s Religion = Another Person’s Mythology

Friday, August 28th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Peters BonesI’ve always been intrigued by the appearance of the supernatural in historical fiction. When a modern writer sets a novel in the historical past, and uses elements of the supernatural, or magic, or some such item, it’s fantasy, right? Or, is it magic realism? Or is it magic realism only if the story is set in modern day South America, preferably written by a modern day South American?

Just what is magic realism, anyway? Is it more than magical thinking on the part of characters? Or a way for non-genre critics to talk about supernatural elements in books they don’t like to think contain supernatural elements?

Are Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael novels examples of magic realism? Or plain old fantasy, for that matter? Cadfael prays to the Welsh Saint Winifred, and she responds. Miracles happen. The authorities, in this case the Abbot of Shrewsbury, might check for fraud (was the lame boy truly lame to start with?) but no one doubts the possibility of the miraculous, and no one searches for another explanation. On the other hand, no one suggests that this is a series of crossover books. Why not?

It’s one thing for modern writers to write of historical times and include the belief systems of the people of those times. Maybe that isn’t, strictly speaking, fantasy. But what about contemporary writers, by which I mean the people writing in those times? What about that kind of “historical” fiction?

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Adventures In Benign Cults: Parable Of the Talents

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Parable Of the Talents-smallIf a book vaults from mere printed text to a work of serious literature by virtue of posing a question, and then exploring it through the course of the story, then Octavia Butler’s The Parable Of the Talents fits the bill very neatly indeed.

Its primary question seems to be discovering meaning in what is for Butler a necessarily godless world, but it takes on secondary questions galore. Among these: what is the difference, if any, between a religion and a cult? How fine is the line between healthy determination and destructive obsession? And just how often do we reject others simply on the grounds that they challenge those (shaky) convictions on which we’ve built our lives? In other words, we blame and hold accountable people who represent our own failings.

Butler has a field day with all of these and more in charting the life of Lauren Oya Olamina, founder of Earthseed, a cult that locates God in change — the concept of change — and sets its sights on the stars when life on earth (or at least in the Disunited States of the 2030s) is nothing but chaos.

Formally, Butler’s Parable Of the Talents (the sequel to Parable Of the Sower) is epistolary work. The story is related through select journal entries, mostly Olamina’s, with other voices interspersed. These include her husband, her lost daughter, and her estranged younger brother.

First published in 1998, Parable Of the Talents won the Nebula Award in 1999. Like a good many other Nebula winners (such as The Speed Of Dark, which I wrote about here recently), this is not hard science. If you’re looking for the nuts and bolts engineering or chemistry found in Kim Stanley Robinson or Andy Weir, look elsewhere. Butler’s near-future tale focuses on social disintegration, and its rebirth via the benign (?) cult of Earthseed.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro Tip From Karen E. Taylor

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Photo by Chris Whitlow

Photo by Chris Whitlow

About every other week, I’ll be hosting the wit and wisdom of professionals across the Spec Fic field. I’ve compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked questions posed by new authors, and provided that list to some of the pros. (Feel free to suggest a question you’d like answered, using the comments section below.) The pros are invited to pick one and respond to it. This week, the prolific, award-nominated author Karen E. Taylor talks about how she delays the outlining process until she’s well into the piece.

It’s hard to classify Karen’s body of work (though when forced to, most will say she’s a horror and paranormal author). She writes about vampires, intergalactic saleswomen, telepathic dinosaurs, humanoid robots, ghosts, drafty castles, and assorted magic workers. She has at least eight published novels, and two short story collections: Mexican Moon and Other Stories, new out this week (available in trade paperback and Kindle ebook), and Fangs and Angel Wings (a 2003 hardcover from Betancourt & Co.), which received one of the best author blurbs I’ve ever seen:

“Karen writes like an angel – an angel in black lingerie with a straight razor tucked into her garter belt.” – William Sanders

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The Great Serialization Experiment: Attack on Multiple Fronts!

Friday, August 21st, 2015 | Posted by mariebilodeau

As mentioned last time, serializing has its challenges and potential successes, JUST LIKE ANY WORTHWHILE BATTLE!

Plus: Strike a Pose.

Plus: Strike a Pose.

Different Attack Plans:

  • POWER RANGERS MORPHING TIME: You can serialize a novel in several chunks, which can then be put together into one giant destructo-omnibus, like I did with Nigh.
  • D&D MIGHTY PARTY: You can serialize a universe in several stand-alone projects that are all linked to one another.
  • FRANKENSTEINING: You can also serialize a book one chapter at a time, with or without a subscription service or a social media platform such as Wattpad.

My first serialization was done à la Frankenstein with an existing book, Destiny’s Blood, on Wattpad. There are two other books in the series, so the hope was that readers would either get impatient and buy Destiny’s Blood before I was done posting it, or they’d at least buy the other two novels.  Linda Poitevin, author of the Grigori Legacy series, had lots of success on Wattpad. Check out her details on the subject.

Nigh was serialized differently, à la Power Rangers Morphing Time, with the whole novel published in five parts (you don’t *need* five parts to morph together, but if it worked for the Power Rangers and Voltron, you obviously can’t go wrong).

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Peer-Pressure Writing: Offering Encouragement & Just a Little Shame

Sunday, August 16th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Writing group 3Mama may have warned you as a child not to give into peer pressure, but that all depends on what the chanting crowd is pushing you to do. In more and more cases, in a variety of ways, writers are inviting other writers to pressure them to write, right? These can include formal educational writers’ retreats, but can be as simple as you and a buddy meeting at a coffee shop.

The classic model is to attend a writers’ retreat. There are lots of them with varied focuses on writing form, commercial genre, regional location, school affiliation, and more. Often, these retreats also offer work-shopping of the manuscripts written there, and in some cases, guest lectures by top tier authors and editors.

One of the best in the spec lit field is the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. A six-week program held on a college campus, it was established in 1968 and has a stiff competition among applicants to be accepted. It has other regional offshoots. As you can imagine, paying room, board, and instructors fees can add up: the 2015 Clarion workshop was estimated to cost around $5,000, plus travel, and that’s in addition to being able to afford six weeks away from your job.

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The Great Serialization Experiment: The Lay of the Land

Monday, August 10th, 2015 | Posted by mariebilodeau

Nigh Marie Bilodeau-smallSerializing stories is an old art form, from the penny dreadfuls to Charles Dickens. Even Robert E. Howard serialized a few stories in Weird Tales. I recently decided to serialize a novel and, over the next few posts, I’ll share lessons learned. As I tend to leap without looking and landing on thistles, I typically learn a lot of lessons (woo?)

My first serialization, composed of one storyline over five short releases (15-20,000 words each), did well. Released from January to June 2015, it hit bestselling status in Canada, U.S.A., and a few other spots like Italy. It grew my fan base dramatically, which I assume is good for future sales (either that, or they’re waiting to warn people off my next book. Well played, Internet. Well played.) Am I living off this book? Um, no. But I’ve bought many a fine meal with it. And I still have plans to continue growing the series.

But first, the beginning.

Basic Economics (or, Eating is Fun and Good)

A year ago, when I left my full time job to focus on my storytelling (think bard) and writing careers, I wanted to look at different ways of maximizing sales. Because, dear friends, money buys food and every time I try to organize a raid on the supermarket or on my neighbor’s vegetable garden, I’m rather quickly reminded that those activities are not only illegal, they are even frowned upon. Since that societal penchant spoiled my plans for eating, an activity I’ve grown quite fond of, I had to come up with alternative methods. I’m lucky because storytelling offers me a scalable means of making money (tell story, make money. Tell more stories, make more money. Tell no story, get arrested for raiding neighbor’s garden). But writing has a longer term potential of continuous revenue, which is extremely appealing to those of us who eat every day.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro-Tips From Paul Dale Anderson

Sunday, August 9th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Paul Dale Anderson (photo by Tim Hatch)

Paul Dale Anderson (photo by Tim Hatch)

For our Pro Tip this week, we’ve got the first of what will be several installments from the prolific and generous Paul Dale Anderson. He’s answered all of the questions on our list. I’ve grouped related questions together and will share them over the coming weeks.

Paul has written across a variety of media and genres for more than twenty years, including nonfiction for television, radio, newspapers, and academic journals; poetry and book reviews; and all across the spectrum of commercial fiction, including romance, westerns, science fiction, erotica, and horror.

His latest novels are Abandoned (Eldritch Press, 2015), Darkness (2AM Publications, 2015), and Axes to Grind (Crossroad Press, 2015). He has new short stories coming out this fall at The Horror Zine Magazine, Weirdbook 31, and Pulp Adventures 18.

Paul Says:

Just remember, what works for me may not work right for you. But I often find it helpful to know how other writers work.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

From reading widely, especially newspapers.

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Enough, Part II

Monday, August 3rd, 2015 | Posted by David B. Coe

Hugo Award Black GateA couple of weeks ago in this space, I waded into the Hugos nomination controversy with a statement about my own view of awards. Today, I wish to take that discussion in a somewhat different direction.

I’d like to begin today’s installment with an anecdote. Back in 1996, my wife and I were watching the Academy Awards, rooting for our favorite films to win. One of those films was Apollo 13, which was up for nine awards that night, including best visual effects.

The visual effects category was unusual that year, in that only two movies were nominated. And to us, Apollo 13 seemed to have it in the bag. In the introduction of the category the presenters talked about all that director Ron Howard had done to reproduce faithfully for the screen the launch and flight of an Apollo spacecraft, including the use of reduced gravity aircraft. It was impressive stuff. To top it off, the movie was up against Babe, a movie in which pigs and other barnyard animals had been made to look like they were really talking.

So what happened? The pig won. We were flabbergasted.

Looking back in later years, though, I understood what I hadn’t then. As good as the effects were for Apollo 13, there had been, in past years, other movies that recreated space flight, including zero gravity conditions, and did so convincingly. Apollo 13’s effects were amazing, but they didn’t change the game. On the other hand, no one had ever seen a pig talk quite like this.

The Academy wasn’t saying that Apollo 13’s effects were bad. They might not even have been saying that Babe’s effects were better. They were recognizing the innovation, as awards of this sort often do.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: A Story Analysis Worksheet

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Writing Group-smallPeer review or small group critiquing is one of the most common techniques authors use to improve their story drafts. Virtually every author I know has been a part of a critique group at one time or another. Some authors are strong proponents of the exercise, others are adamantly opposed to it. I suspect the primary factor in how authors feel about them is whether their early experiences were helpful, or not.

Feedback that amounts to little more than, “I really liked this!” or “I don’t really like this kind of story,” are equally unhelpful. While the first is more pleasant to hear, it’s no more constructive than the second.

Critique groups are just one of the manuscript analysis exercises I have my students do. Done in-depth, they can take a great deal of time. It is not unusual for it to take five hours to do a written critique of a 3,000 word story. It may take much longer than that.

The instructions I give to my students are as follows.

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