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Fantastic History #13: An Interview with Kate Heartfield

Cath: Almost everything I’ve ever read of yours has some aspect of history coupled with fantasy. What do you find attractive about blending historical and fantastic fiction?

Kate: I remember walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for the first time when I was a teenager and experiencing a kind of frisson I’ve noticed many times since: I was feeling deliciously creeped out by the oldness of the things around me. There’s an uncanny quality to the past, or maybe to our awareness of the past. The pavement under my feet both is, and is not, the same street that bore the footsteps of people long dead. That duality feels inherently fantastical to me. So it feels like a natural fit. Real history is so very weird and sometimes the best way to illuminate that is to hold it up against something that’s obviously invented.

Cath: Much of high fantasy is considered to be about medieval Europe. Yet, your works “The Course of True Love” and “Armed in Her Fashion” much more accurately portray what the medieval period is documented to be like historically. Do you have a historical background in this time frame? What helped you to get this tone and accuracy?

Kate: I’m not a historian, but I am a journalist by trade, so I suppose my instinct is always to go to the source. Both of those books were inspired by other works. The Course of True Love was an homage to Shakespeare, so I reread the plays and tried to imagine what Shakespeare would write if he were reincarnated as me. (This made sense in my head, I swear.) Armed in Her Fashion was inspired by a 16th century painting by Pieter Bruegel and by the kinds of stories people were telling in 14th century Europe: stories like the bizarrely legalistic Reynard the Fox cycle, for example, or legends about revenants and sea snakes. The Middle Ages and the Renaissance were full of fascinating notions, technologies and stories, many of which haven’t been fully mined in medieval-inspired fantasy.

Cath: Can you talk a little bit about your game The Road to Canterbury? What are the objectives of the game? How much does it borrow from Chaucer?

Kate: The Road to Canterbury is a text-based game you can play on your computer or phone; it’s interactive fiction, which means you make choices as you read to determine the path of the character. That character is a weaver in London in 1375, who goes on pilgrimage with a civil servant and occasional poet named Geoffrey Chaucer. I had fun with the fact that in 1375, Chaucer’s wife, Philippa de Roet, is arguably a more important person than her husband, and she’s the one who drives much of the story. It’s a game about politics, economics and the role of the individual in history, but there’s a lot of just plain fun medieval stuff: I actually coded a version of the medieval dice game Hazard, for example. And there is a lot of story-telling, naturally. There are many references to Chaucer’s work, but the story in my game is its own thing, and many of the characters bear only a passing similarity to the characters in The Canterbury Tales. My editors at Choice of Games made writing the game a wonderful experience.

Cath: Both Alice Payne Arrives and its sequel are set in many time frames. I want to focus on Alice as a highway robber. Why did you choose to set her part of this story in 1788 and make her a robber? What are good places to learn about how to portray highway”men”?

Kate: The germ for this story had nothing to do with time travel and little to do with any particular period: I was struck by the idea of a highwaywoman leading a double life, who has to solve the mystery of a murder or disappearance to throw the local authorities off her scent. I suppose I liked the idea of the same person being both criminal and investigator. I still have my notes, in which I considered the 1580s, the 1640s, the 1810s, and several different countries. In the end I settled on England in the 1780s because it allowed me to create a very recognizable “highwayman” and because I had read a lot about real English highwaywomen in my initial research. I talked about some of those real-world examples in a recent Twitter thread.

Cath: Alice and Jane are together in these books. Can you discuss how you used history to both bolster and impede their relationship?

Kate: In the draft of the second Alice Payne book, there’s a cameo appearance by two elderly lesbians who are inspired by the real-life “Ladies of Llangollen”, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, who lived happily together in the late 18th century. The sculptor Anne Damer was another example I drew on of a probably-queer woman in 18th century England; Emma Donoghue’s novel Life Mask is about her. There are many such examples, and they suggest to me that two women in love could be fairly open about their relationship in certain circles and with certain friends; on the other hand, the dangers were real. This is all background to the relationship in Alice Payne Arrives, though, rather than foreground. Jane and Alice are together, they’re in love, and they’re having perilous time-travel adventures.

Cath: Alice’s backstory is an interesting one. What can you tell us about Jamaica in the 18th century?

Kate: The history of Jamaica in the 18th century is amazing; I think it says something about the history we learn that I was well into middle age before I learned anything about the enslaved people who rose up for their freedom there more than once, and who formed lasting, sovereign communities within colonized Jamaica. Alice’s family life and upbringing was partly inspired by that of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who lived in late 18th century England and was the child of a white Englishman and an enslaved black woman in the British West Indies. Colonial efforts to define racial categories in service of slavery-based economics had to contend with a steady migration of people of colour from Jamaica to England, usually so they could be educated with their father’s families, and sometimes so they could apply for the privileges of whiteness on their return. Daniel Livesay’s book Children of Uncertain Fortune is a fascinating look at those families and at the social and political creation of race in that era. I didn’t want to write a book about that dynamic per se, as it is very much not my story to tell, as a white Canadian. But at the same time, it would be dishonest to write about 18th century England and have everyone be white; that just wasn’t how it was. So while the books are not really about Alice’s position in English society as a woman of colour, her Jamaican origin is definitely an important aspect of her life, especially when it comes to her complicated relationship with her father.

Cath: Having read your work set in the time frames we’ve discussed above, plus the writing you’ve done regarding Marie Antionette, I have to ask: do you have a favorite historical period? Do you have any other historical periods you would really like to write a story in?

Kate: I don’t have a favourite, really! I bounce around, when it comes to time. As for space, although many of my short stories are set in Canada at various points in history (and the Alice Payne books come to North America for some scenes) all my published novels and novellas so far are set mainly in Europe. That’s partly because that’s my own heritage, both in a literal sense (my dad emigrated from the UK) and in the sense that those are the stories that I have an itch to explore and subvert. But that’s not really by design and could change.

Cath: Tell us all about the release details for the Alice Payne books.

Kate: Alice Payne Arrives will be out in paperback and ebook from Tor.com Publishing on Nov. 6, 2018; it’s available to pre-order now. Alice Payne Rides will follow in March 2019. Each is a novella of about 30,000 words. Each book is written to stand on its own, but there is space for the story to continue, if readers respond to it. We’ll see.

Cath: Are you at liberty to talk about any of your future projects?

Kate: The other book I have written and sold is a full-length novel called The Humours of Grub Street. It’s coming in 2019 or 2020 from ChiZine Publications, which published Armed in Her Fashion. It’s set in London in 1703. I’m currently revising another 18th century novel, and I’m working on a second game for Choice of Games. That one is set in Renaissance Florence and will be out sometime in 2019, if all goes well. After that, well, I have some plans but they’re still in the delicate secret stage.

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Kate Heartfield’s first novel, a historical fantasy called Armed in Her Fashion, was published by ChiZine Publications in 2018.
Tor.com will publish two time-travel novellas by Kate, beginning with Alice Payne Arrives in November, 2018. Her interactive novel for Choice of Games, The Road to Canterbury, was published in 2018. She’s working on another.Her short fiction has appeared in magazines including Strange Horizons, Lackington’s and Podcastle, and anthologies including Clockwork Canada and Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World. Her stories “The Seven O’Clock Man” and “Not Valid for Spain” were longlisted for the Sunburst Award. Until 2015, Kate was the opinion editor for the Ottawa Citizen. She was shortlisted for Canada’s National Newspaper Award for editorial writing in 2015. She now teaches journalism at Carleton University and creative writing online for the Loft Literary Center. Her agent is Jennie Goloboy at the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Guest Post: Travis Heerman

Please welcome Travis Heerman. Travis is the fine writer who shares credit with me in Alembical 4. His novella, Where the Devil Resides is a dark examination of a character’s descent into the lawless Everglades of Florida, and what he finds there. I’m going to let Travis tell you all about it.

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The Devil Resides in a Ground Full of Teeth

I’m delighted for my novella “Where the Devil Resides” to share Alembical 4 with a story like “The Ground is Full of Teeth.” As I was reading Catherine Schaff-Stump’s dark, disturbing piece, I couldn’t help but recognize a fellow writer who also grew up in a very small town. Her keen eye for the details of small-town life spring out of every page.

Astute readers will recognize also the thematic resonances between the two stories. You can thank a couple of awesome editors for that, Lawrence M. Schoen and Arthur Dorrance.

So when Catherine suggested we trade blog posts talking about the geneses of our respective stories, I got to thinking about where I initially thought the story was going, and where it ended up.

It all began with a phrase in my head that sounded cool: Black Rose in the Garden of Eden. This became the title of the story, until the editors talked me into changing it as the story neared readiness for publication.

I started off writing what I thought was a short story. I was aiming for a kind of neo-pulp hero for the modern age, the kind of character who was larger than life, who could carry over into multiple stories, walking in the shoes of old, pulp icons like Conan, Doc Savage, the Shadow, and Jirel of Joiry, but with more modern sensibilities. What emerged was Black Rose, so I definitely got what I was after. But then I had to create a world that was worthy of her, and what came together was a steampunk-noir, alternate history where the American Civil War never really ended—in many ways, just like today.

Just a couple of scenes into the writing, I had to accept the fact that it was going to be too long for a short story. Maybe I could get it in ten or twelve thousand words. When I passed the 15k mark, I thought maybe I could do it in 20k. But then I hit 30k, and I was almost done. The story’s thematic foundations had become much richer and more complex than I was expecting, and there was nothing else to do but finish it.

Writing this story was as immensely disturbing as it was immeasurably satisfying. Some Very, Very Bad People do some Very, Very Bad Things—and then they get what’s coming to them. Rereading the story now, I still feel the drive for justice that was almost palpable during the first drafting. The trouble with comeuppance, however, is that the evil leaves its mark anyway. It is not a comfortable thing to sit back in one’s writing chair and gaze into The Abyss, because, as we all know, it gazes back into you.

The initial idea for the plot came from reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Of course, I had to follow that with a viewing of the film Apocalypse Now, a modern retelling of the same tale, where the river is the Mekong, not the Congo, but both are metaphors for rivers into Man’s darkest heart. And I use “Man” here specifically to mean the male of the species, because there are certain kinds of atrocities unique to men. In “Where the Devil Resides,” the part of the metaphoric river is played by the Everglades. Just how far could men fall on the scale of depravity if they have no fear of law or reprisal?

Like Catherine’s story, “Devil” is about abuse, and the ripple effects it has on the world even after the abuse is ended. It is also about the lengths that men will go to control women, and the stunting effects of certain narrow-minded, lazy ways of thinking. This is the story in which my neo-pulp heroine, the Black Rose, is enfolded, like a corpse-dark flower waiting to open and lash out with her whip.

Since the story’s acceptance, I’ve had some time to do more with it. I developed the novella into a screenplay of the same name. The screenplay won the Best Horror/Fantasy Screenplay at the 2018 Famous Monsters Silver Scream Fest, and, as I write this, is a finalist in the Feature Screenplay category at the Shriekfest Horror Film Festival. I’ll be traveling to Los Angeles for the festival October 4-7, 2018, hoping to meet some filmmakers, and if luck is with me, bring home the win.

I hope you’ll procure yourself a copy of Alembical 4. If you like to squirm a little as you read, you won’t be disappointed.

Fantastic History #12: An Interview with Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis writes historical fantasy, most notably the Kat Incorrigible and Harwood Spellbook series. She’s one of my favorite authors and a perfect author to spotlight on the Fantastic History blog.

Cath: Although not all of your novels are set in what might be called Austen-ian times, two series are. What is your attraction to this time frame, and why do you choose to write in it?

Steph: I imprinted HARD on Regency England as a kid when I fell in love with the novels of both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. They were both incredibly formative for me – but so were JRR Tolkien, Emma Bull, Ellen Kushner and Robin McKinley. So it’s probably natural that I just love mixing magic with Regency-style manners!

Cath: What do you think was your most challenging bit of research to find out about this time frame for your stories?

Steph: The hardest part with my Kat, Incorrigible trilogy (which was set in real 19th-century England, with magic added only in secret and on the sidelines), was figuring out all the small day-to-day details that don’t generally get mentioned in contemporary novels, like: how would my heroine actually go about lighting a candle in the middle of the night?

Since the Harwood Spellbook series is set in an alternate history – in which magic is an accepted part of life – I don’t have to stick nearly as closely to the real-life details of British history. However, it’s led to a different major challenge, which is to extrapolate plausible world-building that stems from not only major use of magic but also MAJOR differences in the historical timeline and in the social structures of the nation. I’ve always been a history geek (I was reading British history books for fun when I was a teenager!), and I don’t just want to hand wave any of this – so I’ve really tried to come up with timelines and changes that seem possible to me.

Cath: I’d like to focus on your new series, as you have two novellas out, and a one soon on the way. The Harwood Spellbook is set in Angland, rather than England. Clearly, this is an alternate history. What is different about the universe of the Harwood Spellbook, as opposed to Jane Austen’s England? Could you give us some examples?

Steph: The first, major difference in the history of Angland is that, in this world, Boudicca actually succeeded in throwing out the Romans – because she married again, this time to a practicing magician. Her political savvy and leadership abilities combined with his magical skills to form a winning combination for a new nation – and together, they set the mould for gender roles in Angland from then onwards. In the 19th century, Angland is ruled by a group of women known as the Boudiccate, while Angland’s upper-class young men are all expected to become magicians after training, first at prep schools and then at the Great Library of Trinivantium.

Of course, I always enjoy writing characters who *don’t* fit neatly into their social structures, though! 🙂

Cath: In Snowspelled, we meet Cassandra Harwood, who is atypical because she is a female who practices magic in Angland. You allude many times that men are the more emotional sex, and therefore more suited to magic. In what other ways are gender roles different than we expect from our world in the Harwood Spellbook series?

Steph: Men are the one who can be “hopelessly compromised” if they’re seen kissing a woman to whom they aren’t married; women are considered “naturally” more hard-headed and practical (and thus unsuited to irrational magic, but perfectly suited to pragmatic governance); women are expected to issue marriage proposals, not men; at the end of a formal supper, men are required to stay at the table until they’re summoned to the parlour, so that the women can have a safe space to talk politics in private until they’re ready to deal with the gentlemen again for the rest of the evening. I had fun turning traditional Regency social rules topsy-turvy! 😉

Cath: Amy and Wrexham are fantastic leading characters, and both of these characters have had to work their way up to their positions. There is clearly room for capable people to move up the ladder, but not without struggle. At issue in both of their stories is the idea of marrying well, or who is suitable for whom. What does a good marriage mean in Angland, and why is it politically advantageous? Do your characters pay any price for marrying out of emotion?

Steph: A “good” marriage in Angland is one that will advance both partners’ careers and statuses in life. Any woman who wants to become a member of the Boudiccate is expected to marry a practicing magician; any ambitious magician will have his own status and prospects improved by marrying a political wife.

On the other hand, it’s considered perfectly acceptable for a woman who doesn’t plan to enter the Boudiccate and has no need for heirs of her own body to marry another woman instead of a man. It’s not a society without restrictive social rules – they’re just *differently* restrictive than real-life 19th-century English rules.

My characters, unfortunately for them, don’t fit neatly into any of these established patterns. Cassandra Harwood is Angland’s first woman magician, and in Volume II (Thornbound), she has to face some of the unjust but very real professional issues created by her marriage to another magician; her sister-in-law, Amy Harwood, married a man who refused to study magic, and was therefore denied her expected place in the Boudiccate; another romantic couple in the series, Miss Banks and Miss Fennell (who will get their own novella sometime in the next year or two!), are determined to work around the rules of Boudiccate membership by being the first-ever f/f politician/magician married couple.

Cath: Jonathan Harwood, Cassandra’s older brother, is discriminated against, discounted because he is a man who does not practice magic. More so than social position, gender roles and a failure of their expectations causes more difficulty in this book. In your next book, I understand you will be making more changes regarding how Anglish society views gender in your next novella. Can you talk about what’s going to happen and how that’s going to change?

Steph: Yes! Thornbound is where the political consequences of both Snowspelled and Spellswept really start to take shape. (Note: Spellswept is a prequel to Snowspelled, but it was published afterwards; there’s no need to read it before you read either of the other books, but I hope you’ll enjoy the others even more with that backstory filled out.) Now that Cassandra has finally shattered the rigid, age-old rule that only men can study magic, every politician can see the next big question coming: why can’t men enter politics, too? There are people (both men and women) who are excited about these oncoming social shifts, people who are absolutely terrified of them (on both sides), and people who are utterly furious – and Cassandra has to deal with sabotage on multiple fronts as she fights to establish her own radical new school.

Cath: And speaking of Jonathan, how hard is it to write a quiet character to convey the qualities of that character? (which you do brilliantly, by the way).

Steph: Aw, thank you for that! 🙂 Really, a character doesn’t need to be talkative to be expressive, as long as the few words he (or she) speaks are to the point and their actions speak to what they feels. In the case of Jonathan, I was also aided by the fact that I was writing about him through the lens of an extremely emotionally intelligent heroine, Amy, who is gifted at reading other people through their shifts in expression and other physical tells. (Which is, of course, extremely important in her political career!)

Cath: For writers who wish to write in this time frame, can you recommend any good books, websites, or other sources?

(strong>Steph: The best thing for writing about any historical period (IMO!) is to read contemporary diaries and letters from the period, along with biographies that give you an idea of the kinds of lives that real people led. I’ve read Jane Austen’s letters obsessively, because they’re far more conversational (of course!) than her novels. Back when I was writing my Kat, Incorrigible novels, I made a routine of spending 10 minutes at the beginning of each writing session just reading random Austen letters to put myself in the right mood! There are also countless biographies of Jane Austen and her family, Fanny Burney, and lots of other fascinating women from that time period.

Cath: Finally, when is your next Harwood Spellbook novella coming out, and where can readers find it?

Steph Thornbound (Volume II of The Harwood Spellbook) is coming out on January 7th in both ebook and paperback. I can’t wait! It isn’t available for preorder yet, but you can already add it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35502203-thornbound

Spellswept (the prequel novella) will become available as a standalone ebook on October 30th, and preorder links should go up around September 30th at the latest. (However, you don’t have to wait to read it – you can buy it now as part of the anthology The Underwater Ballroom Society, which I co-edited with Tiffany Trent!)

And you can sign up to my newsletter to get advance excerpts of all of my books, occasional free tie-in short stories, AND the chance to win ARCs ahead of time.

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Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffee shops. She is the author of four MG fantasy adventures, including The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Bloomsbury 2017) and the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy (published in the UK as The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson). She has also published two historical fantasy novels for adults, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets (Pyr Books 2016) and nearly forty short stories for adults and teens in various magazines and anthologies. Her first book, A Most Improper Magick (a.k.a. Kat, Incorrigible in the US), won the 2011 Waverton Good Read Children’s Award for the Best Début Children’s Novel by a British Author.

August, 2018

I’ve already posted a couple of times this month, once about my recent change in status from agented author with a publisher to unagented author with no publisher, and another much more upbeat article about the remodeling of my new studio. Which, by the way, now has a Baba Yaga-like desk lamp made of three skulls because we picked up some meatloaf for my mother-in-law from Cracker Barrel, and they had this creepy exclusive. Go, Cracker Barrel. And yes, go out and get one for yourself, Russian folklore fans!

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But what you really want to know is how is the writing going, right? I am plugging along on the first installment of my serial, which has yet to pick up its final name, but has a Paradise Icon title of The Poet and the Navigator. Paradise Icon, the annual workshop a bunch of my writing buddies sojourn to every year is in October, and the story needed to be submitted in early September. I’d like to get some other eyes on it to see just how self-indulgent it is. We’ll see.

I’ve outlined the mad science plots in my office on the murder board. In the upper left hand corner is a card which says, “The first rule of mad science is we don’t talk about mad science.” I will work on it diligently in September and see if I can’t get this draft out into the world for some beta-eyes.

I haven’t given up on Abby as a commercial pursuit quite yet. A couple of agents have a full. And no, I don’t expect anything. I’ve been here before. But we cast our net wide. Serial, self-pub, agent stuff. Just keep writing.

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You’ll notice the What’s New page at the front of the blog has now been taken over by Alembical 4, also known as the “Woah. Lawrence and Buck sure did find a couple of creeptastic novellas” issue. Travis Heerman‘s Where the Devil Resides is bleak and dark and I would recommend the book just for his novella if I had to. The Ground is Full of Teeth also has some twisty stuff in it. You can ask for it by name at local bookshops and order it on line too.

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September actually has a couple of events I hadn’t planned on in it.

First of all, I will be having a reading of The Ground is Full of Teeth at M and M Books in Cedar Rapids. If you need any of my books, I want to encourage you to check with them first. They treat local authors exceptionally well. I’ll be reading on September 18th from 5 pm – 7 pm, so please come by if you can.

And then, for my North Liberty peeps, the North Liberty Community Library will be having an Author Fair on September 23rd from 1 pm to 4 pm. I’ll have copies of all the books on sale: The Vessel of Ra, the Abandoned Places Anthology, and Alembical 4, plus a whole lot of swag.

Hope to catch you at either of these events.

So, next month, I hope to tell you that I’ve finished Mad Science. Which means I gotta get busy. These darned books do not write themselves. Asking the philosophical question what is with that? For a friend.

Living Authorly Post 19: My New Studio

Hey all. Different people like to write in different spaces. Some like to write in coffee shops. Some, at home. I wanted to have a dedicated space to write in at home that signaled to me I was getting down to work, so I took the room where I had stored my books and converted it into a classy space to write, read and relax.

In case it doesn’t show, I’ve been reading a lot about tiny houses and she-sheds. Anyway, it did take us a little elbow work. My husband Bryon was instrumental in helping me make this space a reality. He went out to a department store going out of business and found the main bookcase, and we added some bookshelves to it. The other two skinny shelves from the side are cube style book cases stacked.I sorted and paired my books down to the essential research and books that made me. Unread books are now stored until I have a chance to get to them in baskets and in those hassocks by the chairs. We had bought the Italianate desk some years ago, and I think it looks great. The chairs we also reallocated from other areas in the house.

All the art work? Most of it are drawings of characters I’ve written about given to me by other people, with a couple of wonderful pieces that represent other things. And the lights in the windows are VERY soothing and comfortable. And I bought some artifacts from other areas of the house which speak to my creativity and are treasures.

You’ll notice the corkboard? I’ll be able to do some plot structuring now, and that’s what I’m going to do tonight as soon as I’ve put this article to bed.

This feels again like commitment to my art and creativity. I like it, and I felt the need to show it off.

And now, more pictures!

Living Authorly Post 18: Ups and Downs

Hey. It’s been a while since I have done one of these posts, largely because I’ve been working really hard on books and promotions and that sort of thing. I’ve started putting out a monthly newsletter, and doing a post a month. AND I’ve started a page called Fantastic History where lots of writers of, well, fantasy that is historical, have been kind enough to write really awesome articles.

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At this time last year, I was feeling really good about my writing career. The Vessel of Ra was about to come out, and my agent and I were talking about our next project. We’d settled on my middle grade series. This year the story is entirely different. My book did not sell enough copies for my publisher to buy a sequel, and my agent and I parted ways amicably because she didn’t connect with the middle grade book. Mind, I’d highly recommend her as an agent, and I’ve an open invite to submit again in the future if I haven’t partnered with someone else. But you don’t want an agent who doesn’t have enthusiasm about your stuff. Nope, you don’t.

The reason I mention all this isn’t to bemoan my fate. No, the reason I mention it is because authors need to know this sort of thing happens. Being an author is not linear. As a less experienced writer, I had imagined my writing career to be more akin to my teaching career, and once you achieved a next step, you’d keep going up. Writing has a lot of slippage. It’s hard to reconcile yourself to that, and it’s one of the reasons I am glad I am an intrinsic writer, mostly in it for the art and the projects I love. It’s also one of the reasons I’m grateful for my work in teaching, as it supplies a very different type of career movement

Let me be clear. I’m still writing. I am still working on finding a new agent for the middle grade project. I plan to self-publish the Klaereon books, which I love, and write other books which may be more commercially viable. I am not finished because my writing circumstances have changed. I am still writing, and as my very wise ex-agent, now friend told me, as long as you write, you are a writer. No one can take that away from you.

I will admit there was a moment last month when I realized I might be the only person in the world who ever wanted my books. It felt bleak. But, then, I realized that even if that is true, which I think it is really not (hey, at least my husband wants to read my books! And I know many of you do too, so it was an illusion), the act of writing, even if it were for only myself, is enough. This is a hard place to get to. I won’t stay here psychologically. I’ll have to make the journey back here periodically.

None of this means I stop trying. It means I have to change my definition of what success looks like as a writer. And what that means right now is I keep writing, keep sending, and keep doing my thing.

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This month, my novella The Ground is Full of Teeth comes out from Paper Golem Press in their Alembical 4 volume. This is a departure from The Vessel of Ra. Written in 2016, it is autobiographical, a Southern Iowa Gothic werewolf novella. Yes, I will let you decide which parts are biographical. It’s very arty, and well, it’s a horror novel for adults. I would like to encourage you to get on Amazon and order it.

Right now I’m finishing Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science because it’s close to done, and Abigail Rath Versus Blood-Sucking Fiends has fulls out with a couple of agents. I already mentioned my self-pubbing of the Klaereon books. My goal is to write what I want, same as always, and try to publish it as I can. I know many authors go hybrid, and I suspect as publishing continues to evolve, all these skills are good to have.

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With all this in mind, I know I need to write more. I made some choices last April to free up time to write and now that I’m starting with agents and publisher again, as well as adding self-pub to the mix, well…I thought I needed more time to write books with my agent and publisher, but now I need to write for my art and my sake. So I am a classroom teacher again, having shed the administrative piece of my job, and I have turned our catch all room into a lovely writer’s studio, which I will post pictures of. I’ll be spending a lot of time here. Yes, I’m writing here now. There will be pictures soon.

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I hope this post helps you, especially if you find yourself in a place like I find myself. It’s not you, and it’s not them. It’s about money and opinion, and sheer dumb luck. But for the author, at least this author, it’s always got to be about telling the story I want to tell, living in my imagination, and finding that sweet spot. And then putting it out there somehow and moving on. Remember, your writing has value, and the only way you’re no longer an author is if you stop. Don’t stop.

Fantastic History #11: Merlin the Magician–Laying the Foundation for a Not so Friendly Wizard by Pat Esden

The myths and historic truths behind Merlin the Magician legends have fascinated me since I was a child. So it was only natural for him to slip into one of my novels (His Dark Magic—Northern Circle Coven series).

First of all, I want to clarify that I’m far from an Arthurian scholar. My knowledge is limited and the material I’m familiar with is commonly available. In a way, I think limiting the material has worked to my benefit. There is so much converging and diverging information, and endless theories about Merlin that it easily could have overwhelmed the novel’s plot and slowed the pace to a standstill. This is especially true since the Northern Circle Coven series is contemporary fantasy flavored with mythology and history, and not an alternate history or historical fantasy.

There were two specific details about Merlin that I centered my brainstorming and research on. One was the claim that Merlin’s father was a demon (the type of demon varies depending on the story’s source). The other—which in my opinion naturally arises from the first detail—is that Merlin wasn’t a particularly kindly and innocent wise wizard. He was a misogynist, perhaps not as much by historic standards but definitely by modern ones, as shown most clearly in his actions towards the Lady of the Lake. Okay, the Lady of the Lake is actually several ladies and they go by different names depending on who’s telling the tale. I’m going to simply refer to her as Nimue since that’s the name I chose to use in His Dark Magic. At any rate, Merlin—an older man—alternately harassed, tricked, and used magic to get Nimue to have sex with him, starting when she was a very young teen. If you’d like to listen to this particular tale, check out Jason Weiser’s Myths and Legends podcast.

It’s not exactly a story of courtly love that many people associate with the tales of the round table.

These two details about Merlin lead to the questions that became the foundation of my novel: what if Merlin at his nastiest became involved with modern day witches, how would they react to his misogynistic behavior? Personally, I think in the legends Nimue’s anger and outwitting of Merlin is a reaction that many modern women would have—if they had access to magic. Nimue’s rise to power and eventual subjugation of Merlin is pretty impressive given the time period when she supposedly lived. It’s also interesting that over the centuries men have been the ones to write down this tale. It leads me to wonder if the tales were first told by women. Stories have always reflected truths about societies, the darkest realities and empowering wishes and struggle for change.

Learn more about Merlin
Reading, thought, and listening list:

Merlin’s demonic roots on Myths and Legends

Sir Thomas Malory Le Morte D’ Arthur

Rumor & Misogyny in “Merlin & Vivien” (Brown University)

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HIS DARK MAGIC
(Northern Circle Coven series book 1) Coming December 11th

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Its power is legendary. It can fulfill every impossible magical desire. But for one young witch seeking redemption, the Northern Circle coven will challenge her skills—and her heart—beyond measure.

One tragic impulsive mistake made Chloe Winslow an outcast to her influential magic family. As a medical student, she wants to combine science with sorcery to heal those she hurt and right her wrongs. But brilliant, charismatic Devlin Marsh re-routes her plans with a once-in-eternity offer: membership in the exclusive Northern Circle, a mysterious Vermont coven known for pushing the limits.

Enthralled by Devlin and their mesmerizing mutual attraction, Chloe makes a dangerous sacrifice to help the Circle’s high priestess awaken Merlin himself—and learn his timeless cures. But a foreshadowing soon causes Chloe to doubt the Circle’s real motives, as well as Devlin’s . . .

Now Merlin’s demonic shade is loose in the human world, while Chloe and Devlin’s uneasy alliance will pit them against ancient enemies, malevolent illusions, and shattering betrayal. And with the fate of two realms in the balance, Chloe must risk her untried power against a force she can’t defeat—and a passion that could destroy her.

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Pat Esden would love to say she spent her childhood in intellectual pursuits. The truth is she was fonder of exploring abandoned houses and old cemeteries. When not out on her own adventures, she can be found in her northern Vermont home writing stories about brave, smart women and the men who capture their hearts.

She is the author of the contemporary paranormal Dark Heart series from Kensington Books, and the upcoming Northern Circle Coven series. Her short fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, the Mythopoeic Society’s Mythic Circle, George Scither’s Cat Tales Anthology, and the Fragments of Darkness anthology.

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Fantastic History #10: Come and Write with Me–When the Fiction Becomes the Source by Christopher Kastensmidt

Reading through the articles here at Fantastic History, I can relate. I’ve been working with The Elephant and Macaw Banner universe for twelve years now, and I’ve certainly faced every challenge mentioned here along the way: historical fidelity, anachronisms, researching in a foreign language and all the rest. The Elephant and Macaw Banner (let’s call it EAMB for short) is a series based on sixteenth-century Brazil: a period marking the beginning of European colonization and a massive clash of cultures along the coast.

Similar to what Tim Powers does in his works, I rigorously follow historical events, while at the same time mixing in the supernatural. In this case, my supernatural elements include creatures from Brazilian folklore and miraculous powers associated with pajés (native shamans) and religious characters (like Jesuit missionaries).

The Headless Mule, a well-known Brazilian myth (artist: SulaMoon)

About 90% of my research is in Portuguese, with the other 10% English and Spanish. The sixteenth-century is by far the least-documented period in Brazilian history. For one, Brazil had no printing press at the time (they were, in fact, illegal in the colony until the nineteenth century). That means that works from the period only got published if they somehow made it back to Europe—a rarity. There are about a dozen relatively reliable first-hand accounts from the period and not a lot of in-depth secondary works. While that has made my research a challenge, it has also created an interesting reverse effect, where the fiction itself has become a reference.

To support that conclusion, I’ll have to provide a little bit of history. The series has passed through multiple stages over the last twelve years, which I’ll try to summarize here.

Phase One: Prose

I started work on the stories in late 2006. I read some 20 books before I wrote the first story, a number that would quickly surpass 200 as I made my way through the series. That first story was published in Realms of Fantasy in 2010, and after a Nebula nomination in 2011, the stories soon reached an international audience. They were published in several languages, including a series of pocket editions in Brazil.

To my surprise, the stories were quickly adopted in schools as an alternative method of introducing several cultural elements, including: folklore, slavery, colonization and others.

A school play based on A Parlous Battle Against the Capelobo, the second story in the series (school: E.E. B. Professora Erica Marques)

Phase Two: Adaptation

Parallel to the stories being launched, I began working on adaptations. The first of these, a graphic novel, came out in late 2014. Thanks to sponsorship through a government program, the graphic novel was donated to hundreds of public school libraries in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina.

A flashback to the Kingdom of Ketu, in modern-day Benin, from the graphic novel adaptation (artist: Carolina Mylius)

The graphic novel format is extremely accessible to young readers and helped the series reach an even greater audience. In 2015 alone, I participated in over 30 events and school visits in the states where the donations had taken place.

Phase Three: Interaction

In late 2017, I launched a table-top RPG based on the world of the stories. It was a success beyond my greatest expectations, selling out in just four months. Half of the copies went to public schools in eight states. The RPG gave me a chance to synthesize my (at the time) eleven years of research into an accessible and interactive format. I was able to present historical details such as measurements, currency and professions alongside statistics for fantastic creatures.

Pages from the RPG (art by Marcela Medeiros and Cássio Yoshiyaki)

Just seven months after launch, I know of dozens of schools which are already using the RPG in the classroom to teach students about folklore and sixteenth-century history. I receive almost weekly messages of people telling me how they’re studying history for the first time in their lives, so that they can create their own adventures in the setting.

The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG in the classroom (school: Dom Walfrido Teixeira Vieira EEEP)

Phase Four: Community

The biggest surprise has been adoption by the community. The RPG is quickly becoming a reference in the area and has brought many readers back to the source material. It paved a clear path for people to tell their own stories in the world, in turn giving them a sense of ownership. That feeds back in a loop, with the community creating material for itself, thus expanding the universe and inspiring new creators. The fans are actively participating in every aspect of the future of this universe, providing feedback and ideas for future products. It has been a marvelous and humbling experience.

Examples of fan-written content for the EAMB RPG (content by Jan Piertezoon, Gustavo Tenório and Arthur Pinto de Andrade)

For those looking to know more about ABEA, the stories are available in individual editions at the moment on Amazon, but I recently signed a contract with Guardbridge Books (yeah!), and we’ll be replacing those with a definitive, revised edition in electronic and print formats. That edition will be launched at the World Fantasy Conference in November. Catherine’s Comment: !!!!

The stories are also available in Spanish, through Sportula, in Chinese, through Douban Read, and Portuguese, through Devir. The RPG should be out in English in 2019, and other products are on the way, such as a video game based on the RPG.

My thanks to Catherine and Fantastic History for the chance to publish this article. Congrats on the wonderful blog!

July 2018 Update

Hello everyone. July breezed by dizzily as this author moved from event to operation to event. Let’s dive in.

The first weekend in July saw some good friends, my husband and I attending CONvergence in Minneapolis. There I was on a couple of panels, and did a reading and a signing. It was really awesome to see old friends and make new ones.

I came home for a quick and minor surgery and took off the very next day to Washington. Bryon and I were off to see Hatsune Miku on her world tour, for both enjoyment and future novel research. She and her fellow vocaloids rocked the house. We also saw some monuments and memorials, because when you’re in Washington DC, it’s what you do.

And my final exploit for the month was to participate in the Imagine Other World with Authors event, where I met a lot of great indie writers. It’s really interesting to compare the world of conventions with the world of indie author shows. I feel like I’m getting a real education in the opportunities available to hybrid authors

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Naturally, I’ve been writing. I’m still plugging away on Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science, trying to finish it off. I’ve also started on some other large projects, but haven’t done enough on them to really call them anything yet.

Big announcement: in August, my novella The Ground is Full of Teeth comes out in Alembical 4 from Paper Golem Press. This novella, written in 2016, is a Southern Iowa Gothic were-novella, partly autobiographical. I will let you figure out which parts are real and are not.

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Upcoming in August? It’s looking pretty quiet over here. I’ve started being a professor again, and I’m buckling down to that and finishing my current WiP and getting rolling on some new stuff. Wish me luck.