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January, 2019

Well, this one’s later, and it’s because I was waiting to be able to tell you about my new books. Let’s hit the ground running.

As of yesterday, I entered the exciting world of the self-published author. This was a choice made after about a year of thinking about what I wanted from my writing career, and finding self-publishing was closer to my goals and desires. There will be (coincidentally right after I finish writing this update) a post about all of this reasoning, so if you find yourself ever contemplating walking the indie road, you can see how I got here. It was my plan to remain a hybrid writer, but then the small press I had published with radically altered its business plan, and I decided to go all in.

But you want to know about Brazil. 😀 Brazil was an amazing adventure. I could regale you with stories of all my classroom antics, but those looked remarkably like my actual day-to-day work. I met some awesome professors and attended more Brazilian barbecues than I would have guessed. Lavras was a great town, safe, rural, where I could drink student-grown coffee from the college where I taught, and could see Christmas lights in 90-degree weather.

The author side of the trip was also wonderful. Christopher Kastensmidt set me up to speak at the Instituto Estadual do Livro in Porto Alegre. A sudden summer storm meant we gave our talk about publishing in the US by candlelight–very atmospheric. I met some wonderful editors and authors, and was very impressed by the Port Alegre arts scene. Now, having returned to the States with a taste for Guarana Antartica and pao de queijo, I search for alternative ways to get my fix.

After Brazil, Bryon and I had a wonderful holiday and a relaxing break at home. This was my longest break in thirteen years, one of the benefits of returning to classroom teaching and giving up the administrative piece of my job. I wish I could say I wrote and wrote. I can say I edited and edited! I have 3 books being released in three months, with covers and formatting to arrange, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the disadvantages of going indie. I really am enjoying it, but yes, it does take time.

So, okay, you can read all about the indie choice, but what’s important for this update is that I have put out a book of short stories. The Devil’s Wingman and Other Stories is only available in ebook form, because the print form is currently getting a final edit, but that will be available soon. Every story in this book has been requested by someone who has heard me read it, so I wanted to put them all in one place for those folks. You might enjoy some of the stories too, if shorts are your thing.

Well, I gotta catch up with my January stuff, and then move onto some book support for The Pawn of Isis, which is coming your way on March 19th. More on it and the re-release of The Vessel of Ra forthcoming. Until next month, best of luck to you with your writing goals, and stay warm. Unless you are in Brazil, in which case, stay cool.

Fantastic History #22: Revisiting Shakespeare by Carol Anne Douglas

Writing historical fantasy is fun! I have felt compelled to put established character into my own stories ever since I was a child. I made up new adventures for Robin Hood, Lancelot, and Jo March, as well as for the characters in my favorite television shows.

So it isn’t strange that as an adult I wrote two novels in which Lancelot is a woman in disguise (Lancelot: Her Story and Lancelot and Guinevere) and that when those were done, I found myself writing young adult fantasy novels about Merlin and Shakespeare, starting with my recently published Merlin’s Shakespeare.

I have loved Shakespeare’s plays for many years, so it was natural for me to also read books about his life and literary criticism of his work. When I started doing that, I didn’t realize that I was doing research for fantasy novels.

My primary research for Merlin’s Shakespeare is reading and watching Shakespeare’s plays. He created—or borrowed—so many fascinating characters that I can’t resist using them. I also read the plays of Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson and learned about their lives because I knew I would want to use them as characters.

My choice of a villain was easy. How could I find a more interesting villain than Richard III? I love how he tells the audience what he’s doing. “I am determined to prove a villain.” That’s my kind of villain.

The daughter of one of my friends has been an excellent actor since she played Puck at age nine and learned all the lines in the play. She is the model for my protagonist, a high school girl who loves to act. Getting to know my friends’ daughters turned out to be a kind of research for me, though of course I did it because I love them.

I knew who would send my protagonist back in time: Merlin, of course. Having spent years researching and writing about the Arthurian legends, I knew he would be immortal and still active in magical doings.

Once I decided that I would send a teenage girl to Shakespeare’s London and the worlds of Shakespeare’s characters, I had to decide who would guide her in those worlds. Again, the choice was easy. I needed someone who would interest a high school girl and who would say outrageous things, so I quickly decided on Mercutio. But though he would introduce her to other characters, he wouldn’t give her the advice she needed. Who would do that? Macbeth’s witches, of course. They would give her clues in obscure language. Unlike Macbeth, she wouldn’t leap to conclusions but would try to find out what the witches really meant.

I did some research to learn about Shakespeare’s London. My favorite Shakespeare scholar is James Shapiro, who has written many excellent books like Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, which shows that the contention that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays didn’t emerge until the nineteenth century, and Shakespeare and the Jews. For information on Shakespeare’s life, I drew partly on Shapiro’s books A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 and The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. Of course, I also tried to learn more about London in Shakespeare’s time by reading books like Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, which provides a great deal of period detail about what people ate, what they wore, how much things cost, and what shops stood on various streets in London.

I try to avoid anachronisms. I deliberately kept a few in my Lancelot books, primarily having the Virgin Mary be important to Lancelot, although devotion to Mary was generally later than the period in which my books are set. I try not to have hilarious anachronisms, like one prominent contemporary Arthurian novelist’s description of King Arthur and his men eating corn on the cob at the Round Table. (No, it wasn’t supposed to be a spoof.)

Writing Merlin’s Shakespeare and the upcoming sequel, The Mercutio Problem, has been the most fun project I have ever undertaken. What could be more fun than time traveling and having the opportunity to meet Shakespeare’s characters, not to mention Shakespeare himself? Putting lines in Shakespeare’s mouth requires a great deal of chutzpah. Writing historical fantasy allows me to live a magical life.

***

Carol Anne Douglas was supposed to have been born in a magical world but somehow ended up in the United States. She is unable to converse with birds and animals, but she spends a great deal of time watching them. Her role model is Nick Bottom, the weaver, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, because she wants to play all the roles, but only a writer can do that.

In addition to writing Lancelot: Her Story and Lancelot and Guinevere and her young adult fantasies, Carol Anne writes plays, one of which has suspiciously Shakespearean content. Several of her short plays have been read at the Kennedy Center’s annual Labor Day program showcasing local authors’ work. She is also working on a contemporary novel, tentatively titled Shakespeare, Yellowstone, Refugees. In real life, she has spent a great deal of time in feminist organizations.

All of her books are available on Amazon in print and eBook versions.

Lancelot: Her Story

Lancelot and Guinevere

Merlin’s Shakespeare (also available in eBook form from Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple’s IBook Store)

Fantastic History #21: The Accretion Theory of Story-Telling by Tiffany Trent

First, big thanks to Catherine for inviting me here. Because I’m a process geek, I thought talking a little about my story development process might be fun.

Stories for me come together in very odd ways; they’re pastiches of anything from weird science news to little snippets of conversation I’ve heard. (Beware! she says. I am a magpie!) I call this the “accretion theory” of storytelling, but I suppose I could as well call it distillation or alchemy. Whatever it may be, I love taking seemingly disparate or unrelated ideas and mashing them together to make something—a mixed-media collage of story elements.

All of my stories seem to start with a simple base and then get all kinds of flotsam and jetsam pasted on to them. In fact, this year’s anthology project, THE UNDERWATER BALLROOM SOCIETY, co-edited with Stephanie Burgis was very much like this. At the core, was an underwater ballroom (that actually existed!). We asked our authors to riff on that idea. I think I was perhaps the only one who used the actual historical ballroom, but that’s absolutely the idea. We wanted people to add their own spin to it, so we had a ballroom used as a smuggler hideaway, a ballroom under the inland sea of Mars, a ballroom on the verge of collapse, a ballroom that was the scene of a magical heist, a Faery rock-n-roll fete, etc. And in my own story, the signs of accretion were very much present because I used my keen interest in mudlarking, historical research about Chinese and Indian lascars in 1800s London and the quarters that sprang up to serve them, and the underwater ballroom itself to add another story to THE UNNATURALISTS series. Thankfully, our readers were willing to go along for the ride, and we got some truly lovely reviews in response.

Another example: A novella I have on submission is an accumulation of my feelings about adoption (I’m the mother of two adopted children), space exploration, symbiosis, anglerfish mating rituals, sacred cycles (like the Aztec flowery wars), and virulence, to name but a few. The last bit in particular has long fascinated me. In my day job as a science writer, I often come across interesting scientific facts or principles. One recent idea is that many bacteria that become virulent require the activation of only one gene to become virulent/disease-causing. I wanted to think about this in terms of an entire race of beings who when quiescent interact with their environment in one way and when virulent act in another.

I have absolutely no idea if anyone will buy this novella, of course, but I loved setting myself the challenge of writing something so dense and difficult. Whether I succeeded remains to be seen.

As to how I manage to find and remember all these tidbits, I used to try to keep them all in my head. But the combination of motherhood and middle age has left me with precious little storage capacity. I now have a notebook where I just jot down whatever little story seed interests me, sure I’ll use it later. There really isn’t much pattern to what seizes me, except wonder or a sense of the sublime or macabre. But I reread them all periodically to see if any of them are speaking louder than the others and try to figure out how I might string some of them together.

I think a lot of why I do this is that these story seeds are bits of code that I string together to decrypt a bigger story. I often don’t even know why or how they go together (and truthfully sometimes they just don’t!), but I’ll try to find the story in them with everything I’ve got. Stephen King mentioned in On Writing that the bones of stories are already there; we writers just have to find them. Like him, I believe the story is already present. We just have to fit the bones together to make it whole.

***

Tiffany Trent is the author of eight novels of young adult science fiction and fantasy, including the HALLOWMERE series (Wizards of the Coast) and THE UNNATURALISTS duology (Simon & Schuster/Saga). Her first novel, HALLOWMERE: IN THE SERPENT’S COILS, was named a New York Public Library Book of the Teen Age. THE UNNATURALISTS was a 2012 Green Earth Book Award Honor winner. She has published numerous short stories and is the co-editor with Stephanie Burgis of the anthology THE UNDERWATER BALLROOM SOCIETY. She teaches in the Southern New Hampshire University online MFA in Creative Writing and is a science writer for a research institute at Virginia Tech.

December, 2018

Happy holidays to everyone out there. My professor life has taken center stage this month, as I am journeying forth to Brazil to teach a course for our partner college in English as a Medium of Instruction. I will be flying to Sao Paolo on December 7th, and I’ll stay in Lavras for a week, at which point I’ll fly out to see Christopher Kastensmidt in Porto Alegre. For those of you who don’t know Christopher, you REALLY want to read his collected Elephant and Macaw Banner novelettes, which just recently came out from Guardbridge Books, a fine Scottish publisher. I’ll be home on December 19th, well in time for Christmas with the best husband in the world.

A sad event occurred last Friday. Our beautiful 2000 Hyundai Elantra, which had served us for 18 years and 392,000 miles (yes, that is NOT a typo) died, due to a dead transmission. Honestly, we’d been riding it quite hard since Bryon retired. Still, it was a member of the family, an honored car that had become part of personal mythology, and we will miss it so much. Today Bryon is out there getting it taken away to salvage, and we have purchased a second car. but we will feel this grief for a while.

I did one book event this month at our beloved M&M books for small business Saturday. If you are a local author, I cannot say enough good things about M&M. While I have always felt welcome at our local Barnes and Noble, M&M handles a great many indie authors on sort of an equal footing. If you are looking for something diverse to read, it’s a great place to stop and see what they have for your literary adventures.

Writing-wise, I am currently in editing mode. The first week of the month I finally finished what is a feasible draft of Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science, which I will revise in the New Year and submit for traditional publication. I imagine it and the first book Abigail Rath Versus Blood-Sucking Fiends will be my self-publishing projects for 2020, but you never know. At any rate for the foreseeable future, all the new series will make the rounds with new agents until and if my self-pub career demands so much time it’s not feasible to do that anymore.

Just this past weekend, I finished editing my book of short stories, and now it’s off with my graphic design friend Michele, who is doing its cover and layout. There is a story about the aforementioned Hyundai Elantra in it. The volume is largely for people who have heard me read these stories at conventions, and wanted these stories somehow. Every story has been requested. Look for The Devil’s Wingman and Other Stories in January, very soon.

And The Pawn of Isis is edited! Kate Heartfield, and excellent historical fantasist herself, has edited it for me, and J.Kathleen Cheney, another amazing writer, is working on the cover. My current publication date is March 19th, and I will be looking for reviewers to share the news, as well as organizing events on and off line. Stay tuned.

I will see all of you in January, when I return from my adventures abroad and we’ve all had wonderful holidays. Take care, and we’ll talk again in the new year.

Fantastic History #20: Fact or Fantasy? Challenging Readers’ Expectations about the Past by Anne Lyle

Fantasy as a genre is inextricably linked to history; with its roots in myth and legend, it cannot help but reflect our past, even when the stories are set in some version of our present. The fantasy aspect gives us some leeway, of course, but a writer who is ignorant of historical fact is bound to attract criticism and even turn readers away. I well recall wincing at a book set in an otherwise fairly accurate medieval Western Europe that described a garden as having tulips among its flowers, despite “tulip mania” being a well-known 17th-century phenomenon (speculators would pay ludicrous sums for the rarest specimens of this new plant). I have not bought any other books by this author!

What is less obvious is that the reader’s ignorance of historical fact can also result in criticism of your work. Jo Walton christened this “the Tiffany Problem”, after discovering that Tiffany (an anglicized version of the Greek name Theophania) was quite popular in the Middle Ages. Because the name was out of fashion until fairly recently, it sounds very modern to a present-day reader and is likely to make them find a medieval fantasy novel with such a character “inaccurate”.

I had a similar problem with the gay and bisexual characters in my alternate history fantasy trilogy. Most of them move within the world of the Elizabethan theatre, well known for its practice of employing young male actors to play female roles, and it seemed likely to me that, then as now, such a milieu would be welcoming to gay men in a way that wider society tended not to be. I did my research, pretty thoroughly I think, but inevitably some readers found it implausible that anyone could be openly gay in Elizabethan London and not get burned at the stake.

In case you too have your doubts, I’ll briefly summarise my research. Firstly, it’s well known that laws get passed because something undesirable is already happening; it doesn’t in any way mean they will stop it continuing to happen (just look at the effect of the death penalty on murder rates). Secondly, I discovered that despite homosexuality being illegal, there were actually fairly few court cases on the subject in early modern England, and only a small percentage of those resulted in prosecution. Much of that is undoubtedly because any sexual misdemeanour is difficult to prove, and in the case of consensual gay sex neither participant is likely to come forward with an accusation. Indeed the case most often referred to, that of the Earl of Castlehaven, centred not around homosexuality but the alleged rape of Lady Castlehaven by a male servant with the earl’s assistance. Castlehaven’s homosexual leanings were then exploited by his wife and son to get him executed, along with the accused and another male servant.

Such a high profile case is atypical, and should not be considered the likely fate of a working-class gay man. More probably he would be subjected to queer-bashing, much as happened well into the twentieth century (and sadly still happens today), which would leave little or no historical record. However since my books are intended as fairly lighthearted adventure novels, not examinations of what it was like to be gay in Shakespeare’s London, I deliberately played this down, as I did with the bear-baiting, cock-fighting and other unpleasant activities that were considered perfectly acceptable in this period. For the same reason my characters don’t wallow in angst about burning in Hell, but apparently neither did the playwright Christopher Marlowe, who is alleged to have said “those who love not tobacco and boys are fools”. All in all I don’t think there’s anything in my novels that openly contradicts the historical evidence; the problem is all in the eye of the beholder.

A reverse form of the Tiffany Problem can afflict writers of secondary world fantasy, which by definition is not our world and therefore doesn’t have to work by our rules. The fans of grimdark fantasy like to claim that their favourite books are full of rape and torture because “it’s realistic for a medieval world”, ignoring the fact that it was the writer’s choice to focus on these aspects of the real Middle Ages and overlook the positive ones. You might therefore find that your heroic fantasy is criticized for being unrealistic, just because your world has sexual equality or decent public hygiene or whatever.

So how do you avoid the Tiffany Problem? The short answer is: you can’t. You just have to do your best and then prepare to roll with the punches.

The long answer is that you can work around the most glaring issues by having some beta-readers who don’t know much about history. They may tell you that your coin-operated water dispenser sounds a bit too steampunk for an Ancient Greek setting, at which point you realise you need to explain earlier in the book that the Ancient Greeks knew all about steam power and levers but only used them for gimmicky devices, because they had slaves to do all the hard work.

With secondary world fantasy, strong internally consistent worldbuilding can help. A public sewer system and abundant clean water requires massive resources and organisation, which is why the ancient Mediterranean empires had them and the squabbling kingdoms of medieval Europe didn’t. Baths need lots of hot water, which in turn requires fuel and hard work, so before the invention of domestic boilers only rich people with plenty of servants or slaves could afford them. Think about where your “modern” luxuries come from, rather than dropping them into the world just because you want them there.

In either type of setting, more complex pseudo-anachronisms like my gay Elizabethans are much harder to “explain”, and you will have to decide whether to try to slip in a brief incident or bit of dialogue to give it some context, or just accept that readers bring their own experience to a story and may find some things implausible. I feel it’s best to avoid infodumps unless your beta-readers have flagged it up as a major obstacle to believability.

Be warned, however, that there’s nothing you can do about the willfully ignorant, like the commenter I saw online the other day stating that the Ancient Greeks couldn’t have been gay because they followed the teachings of Jesus (*headdesk*). Like any criticism of your work, you just have to suck it up and move on—and on no account respond to the reviews! If it really bugs you why not write a blog post about it? The article I wrote on homosexuality in Elizabethan England is one of the top search hits on my website, which probably brings in a few readers who otherwise would never have heard of my novels, and all without feeding the trolls.

I hope this article hasn’t made you nervous about including lesser-known historical facts in your fantasy world. It will enrich your writing, make your story more believable to those in the know, and might even open readers’ eyes to how complex and sophisticated our ancestors’ worlds really were.

References
Tulip Mania
Archived version of interview with Jo Walton
Mervyn_Tuchet,_2nd_Earl_of_Castlehaven

***

Anne Lyle was born in what is popularly known as “Robin Hood Country”, and grew up fascinated by English history, folklore, and swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately there was little demand in 1970s Nottinghamshire for diminutive swordswomen, so she studied sensible subjects like science and languages instead.

It appears, however, that although you can take the girl out of Sherwood Forest, you can’t take Sherwood Forest out of the girl. She now spends practically every spare hour writing – or at least planning – fantasy fiction about dashing swordsmen and scheming spies, set in alternate pasts or imaginary worlds.

She prides herself on being able to ride a horse, sew a sampler and cut a quill pen but hasn’t the least idea how to drive one of those new-fangled automobile thingies. Paradoxically she is a big fan of 21st century technology, being a Mac geek and full-time web developer. Well, it’s the nearest thing you can get to magic in our own universe…

Fantastic History #19: You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up by K. Bird Lincoln

As a writer starting my first historical novel, I spent untold hours Googling obscure facts and combing through my old college textbooks about Japanese history for my medieval Japanese fantasy series, Tiger Lily. Fun facts like “at what year were cats introduced to Japan?” (Either during the Yayoi period around 200 B.C. or around 500 B.C. along with Buddhism from India via China like so much else in Japanese cultural history) and “when exactly did the Nanboku-cho period start when Japan split into a Northern and Southern Imperial Court?” (1336 A.D. when Ashikaga Takauji drove Emperor Go-Daigo from Kyoto).

The fantastic parts of Tiger Lily, like singing to nature spirit kami gods and shape-changing trickster foxes, took far less time in creation. Melding imagination with a basic mythological framework didn’t send me down any time-consuming rabbit holes. Don’t get me wrong, I love historical rabbit holes. I could live full-time down there if there were coffee and chocolate ?. But it’s slow work.

Beginning an Urban Fantasy series set in modern Portland seemed like a sensible way to spend less time in research and more time actually writing story. No Googling of Voodoo Donuts or the Washington Rose Garden necessary—I lived there for seven years. There I was, writing happily the story of a Portlandian Japanese-Caucasian college student unaware her father is a dream-eating baku, only taking short research detours down the fascinating paths of Pacific Northwest First Peoples’ languages and myths–such as Dzunukwa, the ogress, bringer of wealth that steals children to eat–and Dream Eater was completed in a timely fashion. Lesson learned. Research costs time and is nowhere near as lively as my own imagination. Or so I thought…

Dream Eater ended with my three main characters headed to Japan. At first I only needed short forays into Tokyo maps. Tokyo, Iwate, and Tochigi have all been my home for short periods of time. But then this memory bubbled up of my Tokyo boy husband’s uncle, born in an obscure village in Northern Aomori, telling me his surname, Herai, was a Japanization of the world “Hebrew” over yaki-niku one night many years ago just before he died.

I Googled “Hebrews in Japan.” That led me to the Takeuchi Documents (or Takeuchi Monjyo.) And that lead me to Jesus’ tomb. In Japan. Down the rabbit hole I went. Not just any rabbit hole of dates and wars and trade, no sir, but a fantastical rabbit hole where a secret Shinto document appearing in the early 1900’s tracing the lineage of kami back through the ages describes how Jesus came to Japan on a flying airship as a teenager, studied esoteric Shinto practices, went back to Galilee to teach. When threatened with death, left his brother to die on the cross while he escaped to Northern Japan where he lived to the ripe old age of 118. Women in this village supposedly kept their babies in woven baskets like Moses, and the very rare surname of “Herai”, like my uncle-in-law, was exclusively from this town, now called Shingo-mura.

And the pièce de résistance? Jesus’ Tomb and museum. Of course I had to use Jesus’ Tomb and the accompanying museum in my story. It was so fantastic, weirder by far than anything my imagination could meld to history. So in Black Pearl Dreaming, (the sequel to Dream Eater) the main characters head to Shingo-mura and encounter Jesus’ tomb. Of course, in my book the tomb is just a front for some far more nefarious dealings by the bad guys, but whether my rabbit hole journey uncovered an actual historical revelation or just a strange attempt to rewrite history, I’ll leave up to you. But, I couldn’t make up something like this. Just goes to show you, dig down deep enough in history and you’ll uncover things more fantastical and weird then ever imagined by an author.

***

K. Bird Lincoln is an ESL professional and writer living on the windswept Minnesota Prairie with family and a huge addiction to frou-frou coffee. Also dark chocolate– without which, the world is a howling void. Originally from Cleveland, she has spent more years living on the edges of the Pacific Ocean than in the Midwest. Her speculative short stories are published in various online & paper publications such as Strange Horizons. Her medieval Japanese fantasy series, Tiger Lily, is available from Amazon. World Weaver Press released Dream Eater, the first novel in an exciting, multi-cultural Urban Fantasy trilogy set in Portland and Japan, in 2017. She also writes tasty speculative fiction reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Check her out on Facebook, join her newsletter for chocolate and free stories, or stalk her online at her website.

October, 2018

Didn’t you notice November started a week ago, Catherine. What’s up with that?

I took a little extra time to post this because I wanted to be able to post this news: Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science finally has a viable draft that is off to my beta readers. Yeah. That feels pretty good.

***

October was an eventful month, even if you don’t take it from a fake 5-week long perspective. First off, there was Icon, which also meant the writers workshop I run every year. It was great to reconnect with friends and see what kinds of projects they’ve been working on. I tried out the first installment of my upcoming serial on them, and got some solid advice, and a good time was had by all.

In the middle of the month, I had the good fortune to attend the Surrey International Writers Conference, which was a wonderful educational experience. I met many fellow writers, agents, and publishers, and learned a lot. Plus I got to hang out with my good friend Chris Cornell and meet some wonderful Canadian writers I know from online forums I’m involved with. So…all around a great time, one I would highly recommend to anyone who’s ever thought of going. I found it very useful in rekindling my desire to write, and giving me some direction regarding my writing career.

Events were rounded out with a brief book fair at my local Barnes and Noble the first week of November. I do not have any events planned for the foreseeable future. In December, I am visiting Brazil in my capacity as an English professor for Kirkwood and teaching a class, so I doubt I will get much new work produced, but I do have some plans.

I joined the Horror Writers of America, so now I belong to that august organization, as well as the Science Fiction Writers of America.

***

This is the part of the update where I give you some ideas about my plans to take over the world my upcoming release/writing schedule. What’s going down?

November: The Pawn of Isis, after being turned down by Curiosity Quills, will be self-published. This month it is with my editor getting a thorough read. Also this month, Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science is being read by my good friends who do beta reading for me. This month I plan to practice self-publishing by curating, editing, and publishing a collection of short stories many friends have been asking me for. Look for the short story collection to be published in early December.

December: I will be soliciting a cover for The Pawn of Isis, and spreading the word about my short story collection. I look for this to be a low key month regarding writing, given the obligations of my other life.

January: This month, I will be doing the interiors for, getting out ARC copies to readers, and releasing The Pawn of Isis. There will be some publicity. I will also be working on revisions of Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science, preparing it for solicitation to agents.

February: I imagine I will be finishing up Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science. This month, I intend to start writing new material. It looks like Klaereon 3 will be entitled The Wrath of Horus, and I will also be working on the first installment of my serial The Poet and the Navigator, which takes place in the same world as the Klaereon Scroll series.

***

Idealistically, 2019 will see the publication of The Pawn of Isis, four installments of The Poet and the Navigator, and most, if not all the writing of The Wrath of Horus. No plan like this ever survives contact with real life, but it’s what I want.

See you at the beginning of December, mostly with information about the short story collection, and my upcoming foreign travel. Enjoy Thanksgiving. Eat lots and lots of turkey.

Fantastic History #18: Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

Today is the book birthday of Alice Payne Arrives, which I’ve been holding onto my opinions about for a while now, except for the 5-star rating I left of it over on Goodreads. I do like Kate Heartfield’s work, and she had been a frequent contributor here at Fantastic History.

Let me just put this out there for the purists on the blog; this is not only history, okay? There is a fair amount of science fiction in the mode of time travel, so if you’re coming to this book looking solely for the ramblings and adventures of a female highway-person in 1788, you might look at the work askance. That said, Alice is an interesting character study in a woman who must carve out her destiny in a time ill-suited for her. Part Jamaican in England, gay, and seeking adventure, the life to which she has been born is not the life she wants to have, Ergo, Alice takes matters into her own hands.

Alice becomes entangled with time travelers, notably Prudence Zuniga, who is battling to save the world, over and over again. This interesting alchemy produces a novel that is part science fiction, party history, and part steampunk (if anyone really knows what that is). The novella feels dense and there are a lot of unanswered questions, but I believe the second Alice Payne novella may answer some of them.

If you are looking for a book that does some interesting things with history, but stretches it out, this is a good read for you.

Fantastic History #17: The Elephant and Macaw Banner by Christopher Kastensmidt

My journey with Gerard Van Oost and Oludara has been five years longer than their fictional journey. Traveling back to 2010, I first met Christopher Kastensmidt, as we were both authors at a small press called Cats Curious. That same year, the first of these novelettes came out in Realms of Fantasy and was nominated for a Nebula. I was hooked.

Most of you know my twin infatuations with historical fiction and fantasy. Historical fiction AND fantasy are a combination I can’t resist, much like chocolate and peanut butter. One of my favorite authors is Alexandre Dumas, and Christopher Kastensmidt is a direct heir to him.

Kastensmidt has written a series of novelettes that span eight publishing years. The main characters, Gerard Van Oost and Oludara, capture the true spirit of early Brazil: itinerant hunters of folkloric monsters who set out to explore the wilds of the jungle in the early days of colonization, using their strength, skills, and wit. The two of them seem more than a match for anything they meet in the end, and their heroics are epic, considering they only two under the Elephant and Macaw banner.

Each novelette explores the beauty of the Brazilian landscape, explores Brazilian folklore, and reveals the texture and tapestry of the early settlers of Brazil. The research is painstaking; the content is woven together expertly. These novelettes are an immersive experience with characters you truly care about. Kastensmidt is committed to inclusivity in his series, and writes other cultures with care and grace.

Your entry point to these amazing adventures is now. Guardbridge Books is collecting the entirety of the series and is releasing it as a collection, which will be released on November 5th. To read more about the amazing journey Kastensmidt’s story has taken in Brazil, check out this entry in Fantastic History about Elephant and Macaw, as well as our Unreliable Narrators interview with the author.

Fantastic History #16: Creating Geomancy from the Ground Up–Beth Cato’s Blood of Earth Trilogy by Beth Cato

My Blood of Earth trilogy started with a single vague idea: the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, steampunk style. The only other certainty in my head was that it needed to also involve magic, but I needed to make the magic distinct from the healing powers in my novel The Clockwork Dagger, which was just starting to get offers from publishers at the time. My new project was intended to keep me occupied and somewhat more sane during the forthcoming months of existence under an agent-imposed gag order during contract negotiations. I couldn’t talk about The Clockwork Dagger in public until everything was official, but I could discuss my new book in the works. That project was soon titled Breath of Earth.

As I sat down to develop the concept, my first priority was figuring out how magic fit into this alternate history. Once I knew that, I needed to determine how that impacted my heroine. I began to ask an endless sequence of “What if” questions. What if she caused the earthquake somehow? What if something else did? What if the earthquake itself embodied magic?

I suddenly knew the kind of magic I was working with: geomancy. Not only was it a starkly different magic than in The Clockwork Dagger, but it was also a type that I hadn’t seen used much in fantasy fiction.

With geomancy in mind, I then had to look at the world I was building. If this was known magic–not a secret history kind of situation–how had it changed the world? Slowly, gradually, the pieces came together in my notes. Geomancy had a long history. The Romans used it–and even created airships! That painted a ridiculously cool picture in my mind. But with the fall of Rome, the technology was lost. But why? How?

I considered how materials might be necessary to practice geomancy, and that the loss of that resource could have contributed to the Dark Ages. I thought of the Final Fantasy role-playing game series, where I first fell in love with airships as a kid, and how crystals have important roles in various games.

I pieced elements together to form my own magic system within the context of my alt history. Geomancers were sensitive to earthquakes and other outflows of earth energy. They stored that energy as a fever. In an especially bad earthquake, the flow could kill them almost instantly. However, they could save themselves by breaking contact with the ground, or by having special crystals on hand, which I dubbed kermanite. Rome exhausted their original kermanite mines and soon thereafter collapsed as a civilization. In the 19th century, rapid technological developments occurred in America after kermanite was discovered in the California desert. Kermanite charged with earth energy can be used as a battery for everyday objects as well as new advances like airships, autocars, or tanks. That integrated the steampunk genre into the plot, right along with the magic.

That plot included a version of history where the American Civil War ended early due to an alliance between the Union and Japan. By 1906, that cooperation had been formalized as the Unified Pacific, a global superpower currently trying to complete its dominance of mainland China. This had major ripple effects on San Francisco with its high population of Chinese refugees.

Oh yes, and then there was my heroine, Ingrid Carmichael. Not only was she a woman of great geomantic skill–something thought to only be the domain of men–she was also a woman of color. Her understanding of geomancy has evolved with each book. In Breath of Earth, she endures the San Francisco Earthquake–which happens for more complicated reasons than mere plate tectonic action. The second book, Call of Fire, takes her to another geologically volatile region, the Pacific Northwest.

Of course, as a writer, I have to escalate the stakes, which is why the finale in the series, Roar of Sky, ventures to the Big Island of Hawaii to the Kilauea volcano. That book was just released on October 23rd.

Countless “What if?” questions guided me from my initial concept and through about 300,000 words of text. The complex alt history felt as if it broke my brain more than once, but the end result is a complete trilogy that melds geomancy and history in some fun, fantastical new ways.

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Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and three feline overlords.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. Her new alt-history steampunk series began with BREATH OF EARTH and continues with CALL OF FIRE and ROAR OF SKY (out October 23rd, 2018).

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.