A cliché as old as genre: sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In the texts, this power of tech is often stranded in terms of semi-intelligible ways humans control their environment. But, were it truly embraced as a concept, the technology stories would feel like fantasy novels. Magic is a technology of human control that is sufficiently removed from our anthropology and culture such that we do not even see what magic used to be when we slept upon the naked skin of the earth. Science is a young invention.
To the text in question, my new novel, MAZE, it means that it feels like a fantasy with a landscape so alien as to become magic. The survivors of the maze stumble loosely through the terms and concepts of their own cultural history, but the stone cows are not cows and the djinni are creatures of meat and light, not fire, and the trails are called trails, though what they are is unknowable.
Separated from her tools and equipment, the scientist from the far future does not conduct experiments worthy of the name. Instead the vast unknown swallows her. The biology is magic. The geology is magic.
Sufficiently removed from our own networks and technologies, most of us would die very quickly, and the ones that do not die will have lives that return to the origins of myth in the flickering campfires at the dawn of our consciousness.
There's a linear park here in town where anybody could get lost. Staring out into the unreadable wild, the deer stare back. If I did not have the tools or training of the ones who have survived on the soil, I would die, or else I would find survivors, form tribes, work together, and live a while in the brush where living is so hard.
I watched Jim Henson's Labyrinth more times than I can count. One time, I realized that if it were me instead of Sarah, I would never reach the center to solve the maze. I would find a patch of ground to work, a place where I could hunt and cast nets, and if it was me alone, I would not live for long. Read MAZE and imagine yourself there, and what you would do if it was you, and see the unfamiliar biologies and geologies as a kind of magical real.
Bio: J.M. McDermott is the author of Last Dragon, Disintegration Visions, The Dogsland Trilogy, and Women and Monsters. He holds an MFA from the Stonecoast Program from the University of Southern Maine. He lives in San Antonio, Texas.
I so backed Zuva. Apocalypse Girl approves!
Jenn was kind enough to invite us onto her blog to tell you about a solar-powered flashlight/phone charger we designed called Zuva. She absolutely swears it has nothing to do with the impending zombie apocalypse / alien takeover / world ending storm.
Zuva means "Sun" in the Shona language, one of the many dialects spoken in southeastern Africa. After living in Mozambique and Angola for nearly 5 years, we discovered that two of the greatest needs of the people are a dependable light source and a way to charge cell phones without access to the power grid. Even the poorest of people in Africa have cell phones. Used phones are cheap, and in most places, only the person originating the phone call pays for the call. But, the question is how to charge your cell phone when you have no access to electrical power?
One of the communities that we visited several times in Mozambique is called Luaha. It is located 40 kilometers from the closest power grid. The leader of the village, Lucas Bento, has a cell phone, along with several other villagers. But, because they can only charge their phones when someone goes to the larger village which has power, they keep their phones turned off unless they need to make a call or send a text. We were able to send text messages to Lucas, but he only received them when he turned on his phone, and that could take several days.
Another issue that the villagers face is lighting. Unless there is a full moon, there is absolutely no light at night. We have rarely experienced anything so dark. So, a combination solar flashlight and cell phone charger is exactly what they need since what they do have in abundance is sunlight during the day.
While we were designing Zuva we realized that many of us in the US also face the same issues. What happens when our power goes out due to an ice storm, hurricane, or any number of natural disasters, where not only could we use a flashlight, but a charged cell phone - especially in this day and age where we are encouraged to text, not call, during large scale emergency situations to free up the phone lines for emergency responders.
The problem with most flashlights is that when you reach for them the batteries are often dead or weak. We designed our flashlight to be zero maintenance – you never have to replace anything. The best place to store the Zuva is in a sunny windowsill or on the dashboard of your car. That way it is always charged and ready to supply hours of bright light, or charge your cell phone when you realize that your battery is nearly dead.
Lastly, and most importantly, given that we were originally inspired to create while living in Mozambique and saw everyone there struggling with an inconsistent power grid, lacking light, or a means to power their phones (a lifeline in many cases), we’re donating 1 flashlight to "Care For Life" (a humanitarian organization that works in Mozambique helping the people there by teaching them self reliance) for every 4 flashlights that are funded through my indiegogo campaign. So not only will you be able to have light and power during your own emergencies, but you'll also be helping people in a developing country maintain light and power as well.
If you'd be interested in supporting Zuva, you can do so here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/zuva-lighting-a-sustainable-world
We're Loren and Tina Spendlove. We lived and worked in Mozambique and Angola for nearly 5 years and gained a great love and appreciation for Africa and its wonderful people. We have a great deal of experience bringing products to market in the United States through traditional means. This is our first crowd-funding project, and we're launching it because we don't just want to bring another product to market. We want Zuva to make a difference in the lives of people like those we met in Mozambique, and feel that it has the potential to do so. We have 5 adult children, 6 grandchildren, and 2 more on the way!
Loren: PhD, Education – University of Wyoming. MBA – California State University, Fullerton. BS, Finance – Brigham Young University. Certified Financial Manager (CFM). Certified Management Accountant (CMA).
Tina: MA, Health Psychology – Northcentral University. BA, Psychology – Southern Utah University.
I met Tracy at one of the myriad conventions I’ve been to. It was a pretty good time and he’s a smart guy. He’s got a new project to tell you about.
When I wrote Bones of the Earth for the Apotheosis Drive X Kickstarter this past spring, I had no idea that it would turn into a real world for me. Now I'm working on funding an expanded version of the setting, and am working on a companion novel.
Without further ado, here's the Kickstarter for Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone.
Iron Edda is a world of Norse Myth, epic scope, and personal stories. And even though the project has only been live for a day as of the writing of this, I've learned so much from putting it together.
Mainly I've learned that you can't do this stuff alone. Working in a vacuum is not a great practice to follow. You need feedback, input, guidance, correction, and sometimes, someone else to shine a light on the path for you. Everyone's process is different. Mine sees me being public from the jump. I share everything. Others may hold off, polish and refine alone, then share.
The ultimate point is this: you can't do this alone. So if you're working on a project, know when you need to reach out and ask for help. Because I've learned how to do that, the entire Iron Edda world is richer and better for it. I can't wait to see where this project goes. And thank you to everyone who has helped make it possible.
Tracy Barnett runs Sand & Steam Productions. This is Tracy’s fourth Kickstarter, and second project in the world of Iron Edda. For more information on everything that Sand & Steam does, check out www.sandandsteam.net.
I’ve not yet read anything by Tamera MacNeil, but these Cheater’s Guides sound pretty cool.
I'm writing a series of guides for SF writers who want to know about something but can't, for whatever reason, go and find out for themselves first-hand. Things like, how does a sword smell, or what does it feel like to spin wool from a drop spindle? It's something I wanted to do for a while, but haven't been able to, and when I had the idea I was a little bit worried that it was yet another great idea that was going to end up on the scrapheap of great-but-un-do-able projects.
I get piles of fun, cool ideas, and I'm sure you do too, but in my case they too rarely see the light of day. In this case, the idea came from a panel I always try to attend whenever I get over to VCon, my local convention. It's called Writing About Fighting and always a good time. The audience asks questions and the panel of writers and martial artists answers. Without a doubt the most common questions are about the gritty details - what does a sword smell like? Where do you get blisters when using a quarterstaff? I realized there was a dearth of access to the telling details that make writing believable, and thought, Wouldn't it be great if someone did a writer's reference for stuff like this? And then I thought, Well, why can't I do that?
Then I got really excited. Then I got worried, because I've noticed my ideas sometimes follow a pattern that goes about like this:
Great idea > excitement > planning > realize I'm not an expert > give up > idea goes into the scrapheap
This time, though, instead of giving up after I realized there was so much I didn't know, I started looking around for help. Did I know someone who could help me with the Cheater's Guide to Swordplay? Sure I did. In fact, I knew two experts. Did I know someone who could help me on Cheater's Guide to Medieval Homecrafts? Actually, I know a woman who has raised rare-breed sheep just so she can have just the right wool to spin. She also makes her own cheese. So that's a yes.
This time, instead of giving up on my project, I started to ask around, and it turns out I know piles of people who do amazing things. More importantly, they were excited about being part of the project.
This is what I wanted to say in my Tell Me; I wanted to remind you that even though you personally might not be able to do a whole project on your own, I bet you know someone, or a few someones, who not only could help you, but would love to help you.
Those people might be friends, family, the local reference librarian, or an old science teacher. And that means those projects that seem big and frightening, well, they're totally doable.
So go on, and get doing them!
Tamera MacNeil is a Viable Paradise XVI alum who always has a project on the go. Her queer-friendly YA novella, Onsen, was released by JMS books in January 2013, and her most recent work of short fiction can be read for free over at Betwixt Magazine. Expect to see more about Cheaters' Guides popping up @tammacneil on Tumblr in February!
Danielle Ackley-McPhail is an author and editor I admire. I’ve shared a TOC with her, edited her, and been edited by her. Almost all of it has been military fiction. It’s always interesting to get an inside perspective on how people get into cultures they’ve not personally experienced.
As a writer, there is nothing more gratifying than successfully immersing yourself into another psyche so outside of your own. In becoming another person…if only on paper…and having an audience believe in that character. Have them connect and empathize and even cry for that character. It is a humbling experience.
I recently wrote a story called “Brother” for the Defending the Future anthology, Dogs of War. My story is from the perspective of a soldier horribly scarred by war, both physically and emotionally. That soldier has retreated inside of himself and used the extremes of his military psychological training to defend the tattered remains of his spirit.
It probably will not surprise you—particularly if you know me—that I have never been to war. I have never been in the military. My closest connection is being the youngest child of a military man who fought in several wars, and was scarred by all of them. A child who never experienced the military lifestyle. Heck, by the time I was aware of my surroundings I barely experienced my father at all, not until I was much older. Though not consciously, I suppose you could say that my father was a template for my character. Now, looking back, I can see where the more subtle mindset and defenses my father had were amplified in this story. At the time of writing, though, all I had to draw on was the most basic understanding of the military mindset, post traumatic stress disorder, and a bit of research on the internet to flesh things out. And yet the words flowed. The character told his own story and showed me a glimpse of the trauma left by combat.
Apparently I have a very fertile imagination. Or perhaps I truly channeled some unnamed soldier I will never know beyond the words of my story, because I showed it to the soldiers I know. I showed it to medical personnel familiar with my topic. I’ve read it to audiences several times over. And each time I was humbled at the impact of my words.
This may sound like boasting, but please, be assured that is not so. I am in awe at the gift I have been given to touch people with words and as with anything given as a gift, I am not responsible for the outcome. What I have written in “Brother” is a product of inspiration that is beyond my control. It is not something I planned out to write. It was not something I could possibly write from my own experience. I have no doubt that creativity is touched by divine inspiration and I have learned that through my fiction I can be many people, to many people, and none of them have a single thing to do with who I really am. It is an amazing feeling to be given a gift like that, and to be fortunate enough to share it with the world. I certainly count my blessings and look forward to where my muse will lead me next.
The first time I heard about Eel River, Shannon wrote me a lovely, creepy story for my anthology CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE URBAND KIND called "The Hippie Monster of Eel River." I was intrigued. Now, Shannon talks about using her own life as inspiration for a horror story even though her life wasn't horrific.
My Life Is Not A Horror Story...So Why Is My Novel?
When I was five, my parents bought seventy-two acres of raw land in the middle of nowhere, intending to establish a self-sufficient, back-to-the-land commune. They sold all our worldly goods and moved us out of the big, corrupt city. We had no electricity or indoor plumbing in our one-room A-frame cabin with a loft. Our land was twenty-five miles from the nearest “big” town; a little crossroads with a store and a gas station was ten miles away. (Though we never shopped there, because they didn’t like hippies.)
It was just us the first year—my parents, me, and my one-year-old brother. He slept in a crib which took up half the army surplus tent we lived in while my dad built the cabin. Mom cooked over a campfire till we moved indoors, whereupon she upgraded to a wood cook stove. Marvelous things came from that stove! I can still remember perfect lemon meringue pies, though of course, mostly we ate more basic Seventies Vegetarian Hippie Fare—lots of tofu, cheese, and broccoli.
I played alone a lot, outside whenever I could, reading when the weather kept me indoors. My favorite thing to do was construct little villages where tiny ceramic animals would drive around in Matchbox cars and visit each other. The world in my head was very social, even as my life was quite isolated and quiet. (It’s no mystery to me at all why I became a writer!) I was a shy, maybe even spooky child, awkward around people, lonely but also content to be solitary.
Yet it was an idyllic time. The land was beautiful, and I had absolute freedom to roam it. We had a gorgeous stretch of beach on the river—the Eel River—and, once I learned how to swim, you could hardly get me out of the water. I loved our goats, and our dogs; I even liked the other people who came to live on the land, even though it never really turned into the functional commune my parents had dreamed about.
So, how did all this turn into the horror novel Eel River?
It’s a funny process, how a story becomes Story. Most writers have had the experience of trying to tell some amazing story about their lives—only to have it not work at all, narratively. All sorts of interesting things happened on the land. But when I tell you about it as it happened, it’s just a series of details, without any coherent meaning.
I knew that I needed a Story to tie together the details of my story. So I thought about what it meant to me, to grow up in such an odd environment. I had to learn a lot of resourcefulness and self-sufficiency early on; I saw adults differently than most of the other kids at school did. I had to learn how to straddle the divergent worlds of elementary school with redneck farmers’ kids and my home with pot-smoking hippies. I was sort of an outsider everywhere, observing the different tribes.
In writing the novel, I wanted a self-sufficient, spooky little girl as the protagonist. Naturally, she needed something huge to challenge her. Something that threatened not only her, but her home and everyone she cared about.
I created a monster.
And once I had those elements, set in a place I was utterly familiar with, the Story just flowed. But not back to where it started...rather, forward to something new. And that ‘something new’ was a horror novel: Eel River.
I hope you enjoy the “trip.”
I’m biased about this one. Not only is Janine pretty spiff. Jean Rabe is the editor of this already funded anthology… and a space opera story from me is part of the stretch goals. I love the idea of Athena’s Daughters. I really do. This is what Janine had to say about the Kickstarter and the need for good role models.
Let me tell you about my newest project that I’m super excited about! It's called Athena's Daughters and it's a science fiction and fantasy anthology completely done by women - all the artists, authors, the editor, everyone involved is a woman, and all the stories all have a female lead.
Science Fiction and Fantasy are wonderful mediums to teach our youth (and our adults), to expand our horizons, and encourage thought and imagination. But I still see a lack of women as leads out there*, and I think it's very important for children (and adults!) to have strong female role models in their lives.
That's what inspired Athena's Daughters.
As for my own story in the anthology, "Millie", it's about a modern day Marine pilot (helicopter pilot based on an old friend of mine from my flight school days) who has a chance encounter with a very familiar time traveling Aviatrix (have you ever wanted to know what really happened at Howland Island?).
Oh, and the introduction to the anthology was written by retired astronaut (and more awesome, SHE'S A PILOT!) Pam Melroy!
So to say I’m just a little bit excited about this anthology would be a massive understatement.
The kickstarter for Athena's Daughters has just launched, and you can get the eBook (and a bunch of extras for free!) for only $5.
Even if you're not interested in the project yourself, but think you might have friends or family who might, I'd really appreciate it if you could make a mention of it on your social media or through your email connections. The link to the Kickstarter (order) page is http://tinyurl.com/athenasD.
So in short, awesome women doing awesome things – check it out!
WATTPAD link for a free preview of my story “Millie”: http://www.wattpad.com/32027002-athena%27s-daughters-millie
*Yes, I know we have The Hunger Games, Divergent, my own War of the Seasons trilogy, along with many more female led stories out there that all totally rock, but it's still a dearth compared to male leads.
BIO: Janine K. Spendlove is a KC-130 pilot in the United States Marine Corps. In the Science Fiction and Fantasy World she is primarily known for her best-selling trilogy, War of the Seasons. She has several short stories published in various anthologies alongside such authors as Aaron Allston, Jean Rabe, Michael A. Stackpole, Bryan Young, and Timothy Zahn. She is also the co-founder of GeekGirlsRun, a community for geek girls (and guys) who just want to run, share, have fun, and encourage each other. A graduate of Brigham Young University, Janine loves pugs, enjoys knitting, making costumes, playing Beatles tunes on her guitar, and spending time with her family. She resides with her husband and daughter in Washington, DC. She is currently at work on her next novel. Find out more at JanineSpendlove.com.
Lucy A. Snyder is an author I admire who writes some of the most captivating stories I’ve ever read. Now, she’s got a single author collection of erotica linked into her Jessie Shimmer novels. She talks about why and how this got started.
On Writing Erotica
“Does this mean you’re writing your own slash?”
That’s what one of my friends said when I told her of my plan to write some new erotica stories featuring characters from my Jessie Shimmer urban fantasy series and release them in my collection Orchid Carousals.
I thought about it for a moment, and laughed. “Yes, I suppose I am!”
If you’ve read any of the books in my Jessie Shimmer series you know I don’t exactly shy away from portraying sex in my regular fiction. But despite the graphic scenes, books like Shotgun Sorceress or Switchblade Goddess are not erotica.
An erotica story is a narrative that focuses on sex. Sex is crucial to the plot tension. And, yes, erotica stories have real plots. They also have characterization, world-building, and all the other things you come to expect from any other type of fiction. Or, at least the good erotica stories do; take away the plot and the compelling characters and you end up with porn that has a hard time sustaining reader interest over more than a few pages. (This is a lesson that the writers of the webcomic Oglaf know quite well; they have thousands of dedicated readers who probably arrived at their site looking for a bit of diverting cartoon porn but keep coming back week after week to see where the characters’ stories are going.)
So, why erotica?
One of my overall goals as an author is to be able to write well in a wide range of styles and genres. If an editor comes to me and says “I need a 6,000-word Lovecraftian western story written in iambic pentameter that focuses on Nikola Tesla and Sherlock Holmes finding a crashed spaceship outside Tombstone, Arizona in 1890,” ideally my response should be “Sure; when do you need it?”
Being able to write a plot-worthy sex scene is no different than being able to write an exciting fight scene or a heartbreaking death scene; it should be a part of any well-rounded fiction writer’s toolbox.
But more directly, while I was working on the novel trilogy, I found myself with many more story ideas than I had room for in the novel. I wanted to continue the narrative, certainly, but I also found myself with back stories that I wanted to tell. And a number of the ideas that I had seemed to lend themselves well to erotica.
For instance, I wanted to tell the story of how Jessie and Cooper first became a couple; more to the point, I wanted to show readers that because of their age difference, it really wasn’t an easy decision for Cooper. I could have told a story that focused on Jessie’s anguish over her aunt’s death … or I could tell a story that focused on her passion for Cooper and would be a bit more fun for readers. Clearly, I chose the latter.
While I was writing Switchblade Goddess, I realized that I’d given Mother Karen a short shrift in the narrative. She’s a fairly important supporting character, but very little of what I knew about her life had actually gotten into the books. So I used the story “Demonized” as an opportunity to show readers more about her history and her intimate world.
At the end of Spellbent, Jessie leaves poor love-smitten Kai behind. A lot of people told me they particularly liked Kai and wanted to see more of him. So, I collaborated with Kaysee Renee Robichaud to write a noir-flavored erotic story that shows what happens to Kai after Jessie’s out of the picture.
There are more stories floating around in my head that I didn’t have time to write before the collection needed to go to press. Possibly in the future CGP or another publisher might release a volume entirely devoted to the Warlock’s adventures.
In the meantime, I hope readers enjoy Orchid Carousals!
Lucy A. Snyder is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Spellbent, Shotgun Sorceress, Switchblade Goddess, and the collections Sparks and Shadows, Chimeric Machines, and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger.
Jaym Gates is an author and an editor I’ve had the pleasure to work with. She is driven to succeed and a lot of fun to hang out with. I really like the idea of WAR STORIES. This particular kickstarter has 3 days and less than $1000 to go. I’d love to see it funded.
I love cheesy action movies. I'm talking Statham and Lundgren. I'll watch damn near anything with those two. My boyfriend and I have agreed to disagree about The Expendables. I don't care how awful and unreal these are. They're intended to be over-the-top.
I also grew up in a family that owns and uses guns, has a strong military background, and generally tends toward the extreme right, politically. I'm a gearhead. Date night last week included my boyfriend pulling out his warchest to demonstrate the problems with rucks, based on a conversation we'd had earlier in the week.
I love cheesy. I love gearhead. But in my fiction, I want real people, real stories, real struggles. There are military SF stories that have made me tear up, and one (Adam Troy Castro's “Her Husband's Hands”) that I had to stop reading within the first couple of sentences. At its best, military science fiction can be some of the most emotional, powerful work in the genre, an examination of the human psyche at its rawest.
But it's a genre with a lot of baggage, too, often still in the Vietnam or World War era, even in the far-future work.
In WAR STORIES, we wanted to look at the future, rather than the past. Technology is evolving rapidly, changing the tools of war, while the culture and realities of it never change much. Drones, cyber-warfare, sophisticated bombs, the set-dressings. The sense of honor, the bonds between combatants, the grief and shock, the physical wear and tear on bodies, those don't change. Those are the things our soldiers and their families are dealing with now, and will be dealing with in the future. Those are the stories we wanted to see on the page.
Combatants, family members, survivors, civilians, rebels, commanders, grunts. My co-editor, Andrew Liptak, and I wanted their stories to be told. The history, the technology, the political and social triggers, all those elements of war are fascinating, and could fill endless books. But what does it look like from the ground? What are the stories from the front lines, the aftermath, the hospital? What does war do to the internal landscape of soldiers and civilians? How do we, as humans, survive, recover, move on, break, adapt to the unique and awful stress of conflict?
Everyone has a story to tell. Here are a few of theirs.
WAR STORIES is currently in the funding process on Kickstarter. If you want to help us bring these great stories to life, hop on over and throw a few dollars our way.
Jaym Gates is an editor, author, and publicist. More about her business can be found on jaymgates.com, and wacky hijinks can be marveled at on Twitter, as @JaymGates.
Shannon Page is an author I have worked with off and on for years. She’s a consummate professional and I’m really looking forward to reading this anthology.
On the Crafting of An Anthology
Witches, Stitches & Bitches—A Three Little Words anthology, from Evil Girlfriend Media.
Three little words...three simple, innocent—well, okay, maybe not so innocent—evocative words.
When Evil Girlfriend Media publisher Katie Cord asked me if I wanted to edit one of her “Three Little Words” anthologies, I jumped at the chance. I love editing, and hadn’t had much chance to do it professionally. Better still, she let me choose which of the three I wanted to take on. Now, nothing against zombies or vampires, but I knew at once that the witch book was the one for me.
I’ve always identified with witches. I was born on Halloween night, so people delighted in telling me I was a little witch before I even knew what that meant. Of course, I went through a period (like so many girls) when I’d have much rather been a fairy princess; but I eventually got over that and embraced my intrinsic witchiness. I’m writing a series of novels starring a young witch in San Francisco (the Nightcraft Quartet, which begins publication next year with The Queen and The Tower). Even my LiveJournal handle has the word “witch” in it.
So that was a natural. But stitches and bitches? Not as much of a connection there. That’s okay, I figured; let’s see what stories come in. I imagined needlepoint and revenge fantasies.
But wow! Authors are creative! (I know: not exactly earth-shattering news.) I got such a flood of marvelous stories filled with so much imagination, I looked forward to my email inbox every day. We had knitting and surgery and zombies stitching on new limbs. Devious and clever women; bitchy witches; female dogs. And we even had needlepoint and revenge fantasies—but nothing like what I’d imagined.
I received nearly three times as many stories as I needed to fill out the collection—not bad for the very first offering of a brand-new publishing company, paying nowhere near professional rates. I read every story that came in, even the ones where I could tell from the start that they weren’t a good fit. I wanted to see where each story ultimately ended up. I wanted to be surprised—and, a few times, I was. To me, a good anthology is like the perfect smorgasbord: a little of everything; something for everyone. That’s why I like more open-ended themes; they give the authors room to explore, to show off that marvelous creativity of theirs.
Then came the painful process: winnowing them down. I had to reject some really good stories, including stories from friends...including stories I’d specifically requested from friends. (Fortunately, my friends being good people, they forgave me.) But I knew I wanted to put together the strongest group of stories possible. I selected for length and tone and style and subject matter. I wanted balance, and variety. As I mention in the book’s introduction:
“The sixteen stories collected here range from light to dark, fun to disturbingly spooky, and everything in between. We have retellings of fairy tales, modern edgy fantasies, stories of delicious revenge. We have romance, and some broken hearts. We even have a few tales by male authors, just to be inclusive.”
And when all was said and done...I think we ended up with an awesome book. I hope my readers agree!