A Fantasy Interview: Almost as good as fantasy baseball–

by Mandy Broughton

Last Friday, Houston Writers Guild launched its new anthology, Tides of Impossibility. This collection of fantasy short stories is written by some of the field’s up-and-coming stars. And everyone knows what happens when I hear about a book launch–I find myself a new person to interview. After a flurry of emails, I was able to hunt down speak with one of the editors, C. Stuart Hardwick.

TOI

Mandy Broughton: I’m always curious how editors are chosen. Kyle Russell selected you as a co-editor on the Tides of Impossibility Fantasy Anthology. Is it true that when you gave Kyle a sample of your editing style, you used a gallon bucket of red paint versus a red pen? And you told him the tears of writers fuel you like Dilithium crystals do the Enterprise?

C. Stuart Hardwick: That’s a vile rumor started by the guy Kyle pays to clean out our buckets! Actually, editing an anthology is as much about time and energy as line editing. You spend a lot of time with each story, and you want it to be as pleasant as possible. Kyle and I had worked together promoting the scifi anthology, so we knew we had compatible tastes and temperaments. The guild has done a lot for me, so I was eager to give back. The rest was easy.

MB: Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Hmm. I see distinct lines separating science fiction, fantasy, and horror, mostly determined on the basis if the story contains robots, magicians, or men in hockey masks. You write mostly science-fiction, but as an editor for a fantasy anthology, what do you see the differences among the three genres?

CSH: That sums it up rather well. It’s principally a topical difference, though fantasy readers are a bit more into world building, and horror of course has its own take on tension and pacing, and each follows its own tropes and conventions. But beneath all that, stories are about people, and the best are about interesting people in interesting circumstances changing in interesting ways. That’s what we tried to put into Tides.

I’ve found that the more I work in the field, the less I feel tied to any one sub-genre. If you asked me to recommend three books right now, they’d be Andy Weir’s The Martian, Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides, and Randy Henderson’s debut, Finn Fancy Necromancy. That’s one hard scifi and two fantasy, and all thoroughly enjoyable. What really drew me to scifi was how readily it skirts reality to act as a foil or lens through which we can view ourselves. But storytelling is more than social commentary. Space opera like Star Wars is arguably really fantasy with a technological aesthetic, and many of my perennial favorites, from Groundhog Day to SyFy’s Warehouse 13, are fantasies that I enjoy for the character arcs as mush as the plot conceit, which is why I think Robert Heinlein has the right idea in championing “speculative fiction” as an umbrella term.. 

MB: [An aside: Warehouse 13 BRILLIANT!] Okay, speaking of speculative fiction, umbrellas, and the great Robert Heinlein, you have been rubbing elbows with the top echelon of science-fiction. Tell us about your awards and publications.

CSH: I was fortunate enough to win the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest last year, and they flew me to LA for a week long workshop taught by Tim Powers and Dave Farland. I got to meet a whole slew of scifi legends, from Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven to Nancy Kress and Nina Kiriki Hoffman. I dined with Starlog founder, Kerry O’Quinn, shared pizza with Robert J Sawyer, and spent the evening of my birthday standing out on Hollywood Boulevard watching the lunar eclipse with my awesome new writer friends.

I was also a finalist for the Jim Baen Memorial award and a semifinalist for the BSFA’s James White award, and I’m tremendously proud of making those lists. WotF, though, really lit the fire for me. It’s oddly humbling to be welcomed by such an array of luminaries who tell you in no uncertain terms, that while you have the ability, making it or not is still a long slog of hard work and perseverance.

MB: Is it true when Orson Scott Card asked you for your autograph that you told him to get to the end of the line with the rest of the losers?

CSH: Nooo. I think when Orson stepped up, I may have giggled like a little girl while I tried and failed to think up something memorable to write. Ender’s Game is once of my absolute favorites. And Orson was wearing sneakers with his suit, the devil.

MB: Sneakers with his suit, I like that almost as much as I love Ender’s Game. In your bio, you’ve mentioned that you’ve worn a cape. Readers want to know, when wearing the cape, who do you most resemble Bela Lugosi, Snidely Whipslash, or Batman?

CSH: Lugosi, of course. I was in a college production of Dracula. I’ve been told I have a light foot-step. That experience was very valuable, as my Van Helsing was always loosing his place in the script, and I found that you don’t get stage fright if you have something outside yourself to worry about. The image on my website landing page is of me sharing that advice on stage at the Ebell theater in LA.

MB: Anything else you’ve like to share?

CSH: Yes, Everyone check out Galaxy’s Edge magazine, issue 14., where my story appears along with those of Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Nancy Kress, David Brin, and Alan Dean Foster, among others. Galaxy’s Edge is edited by the inestimable Mike Resnick and filled with scifi and unique and quirky fantasy far afield of the traditional fae and dragon fare My story, Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow, is a good example, about an elemental spirit that learns about love and loss as the copper it’s trapped in is passed down through human history.

CCrAPlFUgAAeOEd.jpg-large

MB: I do believe May, 2015 is when your story will appear. Everyone check it out, it’ll be on the final exam. Thanks again, Stuart. Great work on the anthology. I’m looking forward to the release of Tides of Impossibility.

CSH: Me too. It’s has quite a variety and some really compelling worlds and characters. I know everyone will find something to their liking.

MB: Artemis Greenleaf has an excellent story in the collection as well a humorous piece from yours truly. That’s it. I hope everyone enjoys. **looks around** Hmm, I believe Stuart still has my pen I loaned him last Friday at the signing…

TOI

Covering Your Trail

By Mandy Broughton

Cover art is a reader’s first experience with a book. Will it entice her to pick it up and give it a glance? Or will it cause her to chunk it across the room? [Full disclosure: I have ripped the cover off of two different books and shredded them because they were so bad. But the books were good.]

I love to design covers. Selecting art, placing and manipulating it, and finally the reveal. I love the satisfaction of a job well done. What could be better? [A bestseller? The love and envy of other writers? The adulation of adoring admirers? An excellent alliteration? But I digress—]

Writing is fun—ultimately a job—but still fun. But designing cover art—that’s where I get to let myself go wild. I can’t draw but I do think I have an eye for balance. And that discerning eye made me want to write a post on designing covers.

Here are a few ideas on what to look for in a cover. Tell me if you agree, disagree, or if I’ve left something out.

Organized vs Disorganized

Is the cover planned, organized chaos, or just Chaos with a capital C? A jumbled cover is fine—it can work—but there must be a method to the splattering we are looking at. Randomness is only our friend when selecting subjects for experiments, not in our covers. Think of a bomb: a placed charge can move rock so the road can be built. But throwing TNT willy-nilly on the hillside will rarely result in a benefit to the driving community.

Complexity vs Crowded

I like minimalist covers. That’s a personal preference. Simple lines, smoothness, those are soothing and invite me in. An overcrowded cover gives me a headache. It reminds me of my house and how I need to clean. I want to enjoy a book, not be reminded of housework.

Flow vs Splat

Where do my eyes want to go? To the authors name? The title? Am I looking at the woman swimming for her life and ultimately to the shark underneath her? The shark just wants a small snack before breakfast. He’s so misunderstood. [Jaws a great cover even forty years later.]

Symmetry vs Hot Mess

Balance. Even if it is a full and busy cover, there must be balance. Think of Star Wars: “In the time of greatest despair [often when I design], a child shall be born [hmm—a cover?] who will destroy the Sith [all bad covers] and bring balance to the Force [an excellent cover].

Appeal vs Avant-Garde

Avant-Garde is trendy. It can work on a cover but always remember the readers. When appealing to a large group, try to get what most people prefer. Think of ice cream flavors: more people like vanilla over Marbled Cream Cheese Brownie, Southern Peach Cobbler, or Birthday Cake. Vanilla ice cream may not be the first choice but, for many people, it is in the top three. There’s a reason the latter flavors are flavors of the month while vanilla is always available.

So tell me dear readers… what do you look for in a cover? What are some of your favorites?

Raccoons, Poltergeists, and Exits (RUN FAST!)

ExitPoint_FullCover

Mandy Broughton has found another willing victim for her hot seat. And hot it is. We’re here with Artemis Greenleaf, Purveyor of Fine Collocations.

MB: Most of your fiction features the supernatural. Is it true that you have a ghost in the attic of your house? And that she regularly bangs on the walls and floors to tell your family, “keep it down, you’re all too loud?”

AG: Well, there is something that lives in the attic, but I suspect it’s a raccoon.

MB: A raccoon. How quaint. I’m sure that’s a newfangled codename for “poltergeist.” Exit Point is your latest release. How did you come up with the name? Is it true that you’ve published so much fiction that you’ve run out of titles? And, while at the movie theatre, you saw a kid point to an exit sign and you said, “AHA!”

AG: An “Exit Point” is a metaphysical theory that before people are born, they choose the tasks they need to accomplish while they’re on the Earthly plane, but there are planned “escape hatches,” so that if they get done early, or situations change, they can leave. It might be something obvious, like nearly drowning in a swimming pool, or it may be something they’d never notice, like making a wrong turn or unusual stop on the way to work. If they’d gone the usual route, they would have been involved in a fatal traffic accident. But since they weren’t at the point of departure, the accident never happened, and they were none the wiser. In researching this book, I read a lot of material from Helena Blavatsky, C.W. Leadbeater, and Carl Jung. I came up with the idea for the story because one summer, there were a group of neighborhood teens who were breaking into the swimming pool area and drinking, and doing some malicious mischief. My husband said, “What if one of them fell in the pool and drowned?” and I thought, “What, indeed?”

MB: “What, indeed,” turned out to be a new story in a long collection of novels you’ve written. You are published under several pen names. Is that a secret or can I ask you if [redacted]?

AG: Yes. Artemis Greenleaf is my main brand. If these books were movies, they’d probably be rated PG-PG13. Although, I do have some short stories for younger readers that I’m working on converting to picture books/illustrated stories – those would be rated G.

One of the characters, Belinda Tate, from the Marti Keller Mysteries series (The Hanged Man’s Wife and The Magician’s Children), writes romance novels under the pen name “Coda Sterling.” The first book (well, novella) in her Dragonfire trilogy is Dragon by Knight. I’m about halfway done with book 2, Dragon Killer. The love scenes in Coda Sterling books are tame by 50 Shades of Grey standards, but they are much more explicit that what I normally write. Rated R.

A.B. Richards (Rescue: A Litter of Quetzels) is darker and grittier than Artemis Greenleaf. Definitely a strong R rating.

My experimental brand, Holly Dey (Puss in Spaceboots), is for story ideas that I’m not really sure how to classify. G-PG.

MB: If I had to guess, I would say YA is your favorite genre. Young adult fiction focuses on Dystopian worlds. Do you secretly have a mermaid army (navy?) that is trying to transform the world into a Dystopian Paradise—I mean—Nightmare?

AG: Funny you should mention merfolk – they do turn up in a couple of my stories (Earthbound, Space City 6), but, while they would be perfectly happy to see humans exterminated, they aren’t big on creating a dystopian society. The only true YA book that I have is Confessions of a Troll. It is true that Mimi, the main character in Exit Point, is 17 (so her friends are also around that age), but I’m not entirely sure it classifies as YA. I would say I mostly write Urban Fantasy, but some books are for younger readers, and some are for an older crowd.

MB: Funny, Confessions of a Troll is the first book I read of yours. I suppose that’s why I think YA! You do lots of personal sales, in grocery stores, at book events, farmers markets, etc. And you’ve mentioned that you enjoy people watching. Readers want to know: do you have a transmorgifier that you point at interesting people you meet and transform them into characters for your latest novel? And once transmogrified onto the 2D page, they are forced to act our your story for the rest of their natural lives?

AG: I have tons of notes about people that I scribble down, and I often combine attributes of random strangers. I was once in Target and encountered two young ladies, whose over-loud conversation I could not help but overhear. I wrote a blog post about that, and one of them turns up as Deb in Exit Point. There was once a lady in a store that was rude to me, so I promptly wrote her into a story and ran over her with a truck.

MB: *nervously worried that I’ve accidentally been rude* What’s next on the truck driving writing agenda?

AG: I’m planning on finishing up Dragon Killer, and then I will either write a novel length A.B. Richards book featuring Quetzel Cazares (and of course, Gato, the kitten), or write The Devil’s Advocate, the 3rd book in the Marti Keller series. I’ve got another project that’s set in that same universe, but stars a (mostly) different set of characters. Also working on the illustrated kids’ books – I’d like to have Brain’s Vacation out by summer.

MB: Thanks, Artemis, Coda, A.B., and Holly! Let’s take a look at your book trailer and Exit Point is on sale for $0.99 through December.

Writing Under a Pseudonym

by K.C. Maguire

pseudonymIn the September issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, Ronald Goldfarb contributed an interesting article (at pp 67-68) about whether, and when, it’s appropriate to use pseudonyms for different kinds of writing: non-fiction, memoir, fiction based on true stories, pure fiction etc. This is a timely piece in light of criticisms that have been launched at authors like J.K. Rowling as they have tried to escape from their existing author-identities to change genres or to attempt to appeal to different audiences, or if they simply want their writing to be judged on its own merits without all the baggage their name entails.

An attorney, author, and literary agent who himself writes under a pseudonym when he writes fiction (R.L. Sommer), Goldfarb shares some interesting thoughts on the ethics of using false names when writing for commercial publication. I was particularly interested in a quote he shared from the New York Times Ethics column which stated that:

If the goal of using a pseudonym is to stop the reader from prejudging fictional material based on who the author is (or what the author might represent), there is no problem. That’s an attempt to remove baggage. But if the pseudonym’s goal is to actively push the reader into thinking something fallacious about the writer or the material – solely for commercial or critical benefit – the act is mildly immoral. That’s adding baggage on purpose.”

Goldfarb summarizes the ethics formula as follows: “it’s OK to use a pseudonym if it stops readers from unintentionally altering their reading experience, but if it alters a readers’ reading experience, don’t.”

The devil, of course, is in the details. How does a writer know when the use of a pseuondym will alter a reader’s reading experience? For example, if J K Rowling had written her detective stories under her own name, rather than under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, would this have altered the reading experience or not? And isn’t it completely subjective whether and when a reading experience is affected by the identity of the author?

This is not to criticize Goldfarb or the New York Times ethics column. This question is notoriously difficult to answer. Writers like Goldfarb and indeed R J  Palacio who wrote the best-selling Middle Grade novel “Wonder” are involved in the writing industry in their day jobs, and didn’t want their associations with the industry to impact on the acceptance or rejection of their fictional work by agents and editors who knew them personally by their real names. I actually write under a pseudonym myself (big confession time!) when I write fiction because I write academic texts under my real name and I want to keep the identities separate.

I’ve always been fascinated as to when the use of a pseudonym is regarded as acceptable versus as some kind of fraud on the reading public. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the issue …

Got Brand?

by Artemis Greenleaf

A long time ago, people started burning marks into the skin of their cattle to show ownership. John Maverick was famous, or perhaps infamous, for not branding his animals. He said it was because he thought the practice was cruel. Others said it was because it enabled him to scoop any extra, unbranded cattle into his herd.

So how about you, gentle reader? Are you sporting a brand, or are you a maverick?

Like any other choice in the world, there are pros and cons to each side. On the one hand, being a maverick is freeing. You write whatever you want, however you want. You have one handle. One marketing identity. If people search for your name on the interwebs, they find all of your stuff, bam! just like that. Easy, peasy lemon squeezy. And that’s probably fine if your work is all in similar genres. Maybe you have a police procedural, a political thriller, and a spy novel. There’s probably a lot of overlap between those audiences.

But what happens if you have written a heart-meltingly cute easy reader with butterflies and kittens. Everybody with children younger than six LOVES it. Congratulations! Now that you’ve had that success, maybe you want to write something different. Something like…Bigfoot erotica. What? Yes, that’s a thing. Look it up.

Jane Doe loved your kitten book, so she recommends you to her friend Mary. Mary searches for your books on her favorite e-tailer. Kitten Love comes up. So does Big, Big, Bigfoot. Oh, my. Now Mary starts to wonder if Kitten Love is appropriate for children, after all. Conversely, Jane Public loved-loved-loved Big, Big Bigfoot. She searches your name on Amazon to see what other books you wrote, and – voila! – up pops Kitten Love. Knowing how kinky you got with Bigfoot, she might be afraid you’re doing something highly inappropriate with kittens, and she backs quickly away from the page and pretends she doesn’t know you when her friends ask for book recommendations.

What’s a genre-hopping author to do? Have different brands. Maybe you write children’s books under the Susie Q. Sunshine brand, erotica in the name Ben Dover, and taut thrillers with the nom de plume of C.I. Anderson. Your divergent audiences sort themselves. It might be a little more work to market multiple brands, but your readers will know what to expect from each one. That’s the same reason people stop at chain restaurants when they’re travelling. The chain may not be the best restaurant in town, but they know what they’re in for.

What’s your experience with author branding? Let us know in the comments!