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.

June 2018 Update

Hey guys! June was pretty good. I had a lovely month of vacation, which started promptly at the beginning of the month, and I buckled down to some serious book writing. I am happy to report that The Pawn of Isis is now in the hands of Curiosity Quills, awaiting its final fate. Hopefully I will have news on that front soon.

This month was great for local book appearances. M&M Book Stores in Cedar Rapids has begun sponsoring local authors, so Beth Hudson and I hung out there on June 9th. A whole bunch of authors from the Shohola Press Abandoned Places Anthology–Chris Bauer, Doug Engstrom, Ransom Noble, Shannon Ryan and myself–spent June 30th at Beaverdale Books, where we read from the anthology, met a lot of people, and had a generally great time. On the whole, a pretty good month.

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In case you hadn’t noticed in the navigation line, I’ve started a new part of this blog called Fantastic History, where awesome guests come in to write articles about writing history and fantasy at the same time. If you are a fan of this genre, as I am, you may well recognize some of the names. Definitely read some of their work.

I should also mention the podcast I’m part of–The Unreliable Narrators–just posted its 150th show. Congrats and a shout out to my friends Chris Cornell, Chia Evers, and George Galuschak. We are a great team. Also a shout out to all our wonderful guests for 150 shows.

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What’s coming up in July? A lot of stuff. First of all, I will be at Convergence from July 5th until July 8th. If you’re in Minneapolis that weekend, I will be there too! Then, after I take a quick duck into the hospital for some outpatient surgery, Bryon and I are off to Washington D.C. to take in the Hatsune Miku North American Expo. Not only is it fun, but it is also research for a future writing project. Finally, I’ll be back in Marion, Ia for the I.O.W.A. (Imagine Other Worlds with Authors) event. Looks like a busy, traveling July.

Writing-wise, I still plan to have my first draft of Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science ready to go for beta readers before I head back to Kirkwood in August. I’ve also started playing with ideas for a serial entitled Samuel and Amanda for the moment, and have begun laying the groundwork for The Wisdom of Thoth, (Klaereon Scroll Series #3). AND I plan to put out a self-published collection of shorts. Those of you who have been keen for some of the stories I’ve been reading in public over the years should have some soon.

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Have a great July, and I’ll see you again in August.

Fantastic History #7: The Creative Spark in Ancient Worlds by Rachel Marks

Every story has been written. Every tale has been told. As you look at history you begin to see how true this idea is. At this point, as artists, we’re all basically re-creators. There is nothing new under the sun. What one man leaves behind another picks up and reshapes, and this is especially true in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. From Harry Potter, to Star Wars, to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, most well-know speculative creations have been inspired by, or seem to echo ancient mythology, a historic culture or a historical event. According to George R.R. Martian, Game of Thrones was inspired by his fascination with the War of the Roses. Tolkien was inspired by his love of ancient language and Norse and Celtic mythology. And the much maligned/loved Twilight could easily be seen as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

After I finished work on my debut series (The Dark Cycle), I found myself in a slump with a very real case of writer’s block. I had several projects in the baby stages but nothing that had enough meat on its bones to allow for me to really dive in as my next big challenge. I went back and forth between projects for several months and just couldn’t make any of them work. I decided to take a break in writing and focus on research. Just research. Because that’s my sandbox. I would soak in information based on ancient culture, historic wars, colonization and change, and I would go into my sponge time with no preconceived notions. I’d just take it all in and see what my subconscious did.

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Irish-Celtic mythology/culture, and Norse as well (having a grandma who sprouted from each of them), with a solid knowledge base on both of them, and so I naturally gravitated towards those. I knew that I wanted to write something with an ancient feeling, but told in a modern setting. I planned on laying out a few paths I could possibly walk down as I started taking notes.

Within the first two weeks of soaking, I had a new main character waving at me, a mythology structure rising to the surface, and a very real mood I wanted to create; all the bones I needed to build the new world of Fire and Bone. A world woven through with ancient Irish Folklore, wrapped in the mood of a dark European faerie tale, with a twist of sassy modern wit.

I was surprised how quickly my writer’s block was broken by simple historical research, my mind opening to new ideas from old stories and ancient imaginings. And while I may not have had all the details laid out perfectly, I had a baseline to jump off of. I was finally weaving a story again. A new story sparked because I couldn’t get the vision of what I’d read out of my head; I felt the plight of the old gods clashing with the new as the East met the West through Rome, I saw the image of a god transforming into a raven, I marveled at stories of children abandoned in the woods by parents who feared the illusive fae. Because they had faith that not setting out fresh cream for the pixies brought fate’s mischief, that a sickly child was a changeling. Superstition was the order of the day. And the gods walked among us.

The inevitable story questions rose: what would that look like in modern day? And how would the ancient gods of Erin, of Albion and Prydain play with us now, if they could? The answers to this author’s inspiration came from the past.

Maybe yours will as well.

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Rachel A. Marks is an author and artist, a cancer survivor and the mom of four awesome humans. She’s the author of the bestselling Urban Fantasy series, The Dark Cycle. And her new book Fire and Bone was one of SyFy.com’s most anticipated books of 2018. You can read more about her on her website: www.RachelAnneMarks.com

May 2018 Update

Starting off with another image from Catrina Horsfield, this is the logo for Team Lucy. I have had tattoos and bookmarks printed for both sisters now. If I see you at a convention, just ask. I also still have some of the The Vessel of Ra bookmark/bracelets left, and some cover cards and bookplates. Yup, I am officially swag-a-licious.

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When last we talked, I had a date with Demicon in Des Moines on May 5th. The con was book-ended by a fantastic visit to Iowa State to see an old friend retire, and give my husband Bryon a chance to once again perform Kermit the Frog for the Rainbow Connection Experiment, and the celebration of my mother-in-law Phyllis’ 92nd birthday.

The con itself was great. There was an author meet and greet a well-attended reading, a chance to kibbitz with some local and indie authors, and this fantastic karaoke party. It was a great weekend, so thanks a bunch, Demicon.

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Wiscon was my other exciting trip of the month. Every year I take the pilgrimage with my good friends Dan and Lisa, and if it’s a very fortunate year, my friend Yolanda also joins us. This was a fortunate year. I was involved with some great writers at Wiscon at a reading, participated in a comic book panel, and attended the signout. I love Wiscon, and I’ll see you all back there next year.

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An unexpected series of events last month caused me to shift my focus, and I am now finishing The Pawn of Isis. Abigail Rath Versus Blood-Sucking Fiends is making the agent rounds again, and I hope to come out of my two-month vacation with The Pawn of Isis in the hands of my publisher, and Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science ready for whatever the future holds for it. Tomorrow I go on vacation, and I will be a full-time writer for a couple of months. Living the dream!

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Next month, right out of the shoot, I have a signing with Beth Hudson at M&M Books in Cedar Rapids. M&M is a new bookstore on Edgewood in town, and they are proving to be super friendly to writers. That will be from 11 am – 1 pm on Saturday, June 9th. If you’re around, come visit. And if you can’t come to our signing, consider attending their grand opening on June 2nd.

On June 30th, five writers from the Abandoned Places Anthology will be reading at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines from 2 pm – 4 pm. There will be a chance to pick up the anthology, which has my story “Mark Twain’s Daughter” in it. This will be a chance to meet Chris Bauer, Doug Engstrom, Ransom Noble, and Shannon Ryan, all amazing writers. Oh yeah. I’ll be there too.

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And next month will bring the lowdown on living with a retired chemistry teacher (Bryon retires after 33 years in education), news from the world of Chinese drama (yes, I’ve been sucked into Ice Fantasy, and now I’m diligently seeking out a similar buzz), and the lowdown on my big summer party, aka my fake family reunion. Stay frosty, my friends.

Fantastic History #5: Don’t History Yourself into a Corner by Chia Evers

As J. Kathleen Cheney said in Fantastic History #4, “If you set a book in NYC, in London, in Paris…a gazillion readers will point out every little thing you get wrong. If you set a story during WW1 or WW2, during the American Civil War, during the Napoleonic Wars…enough readers will know that era to spot any glitch.”

Unfortunately for me, I’m writing a book set in London. During World War II.

Well, shit.

In the years (more than I care to consider) since I started this project, I’ve studied everything from medieval magic to Hitler’s “vengeance weapons” to the black market in WWII London to the history of the Metropolitan police. But nothing broke the narrative loose for me like reading John Gardner’s Suzie Mountford mysteries and figuring out that my protagonist, Josephine “Feeney” Marston Grove, didn’t have to be a civilian consultant bound by what I thought were the rules of female protagonists in World War II narratives—she could be an active participant in the investigation.

Let me back up a step. My book revolves around a series of supernatural murders in London in World War II. I originally thought it would take place during the Blitz (September 1940—May 1941), but shifted the time frame when I realized that the Yanks didn’t arrive until 1942, and there were few air raids between then and 1944, when the Germans launched the Little Blitz and the V-weapons. And I originally had a hard-drinking detective, estranged from his wife and children, investigating the murders with the assistance of a young woman whose only real qualification was being the granddaughter of a (male) specialist in occult history.

Only he bored me. And she didn’t.

So, I thrashed around for awhile, trying to figure out how my detective—now known as Detective Chief Inspector Arthur Whelan, and happily married with two daughters who love him—fit with the snarky Ms. Grove, whose damp depression rapidly evaporated when she was given a role of her own. Enter Suzie Mountford—a young woman in charge of her own destiny, who takes a lover and pursues the most depraved criminals in wartime London.

I already knew that women had served in the Metropolitan Police since the 19th century, in civilian and volunteer roles, and as constables since World War I. But I’d historied myself into a corner by focusing on what they were officially allowed to do in the Met—represent and protect the interests of women and children, with a particular focus on vice (prostitution) and underage and female prisoners. Suzie helped me read my sources with fresh eyes—see what British women were already doing in the criminal justice arena, and how they might have contributed even more in the chaos of war. And that led me, eventually, to Keith Simpson’s 40 Years of Murder—the memoir of a Home Office Pathologist, who notes that a Woman Police Constable arrested a murderer just a few years after World War II—and Murder on the Home Front—written by the woman who served as his assistant throughout the War. Those books, along with specialized histories of the Metropolitan Police, and particularly of women in the Met, helped me build a bridge across my preconceptions and get myself out of my history corner.

All of which is to say that my fear of those gazillion readers who might call me on my bullshit also helped me convince myself that the protagonist of my heart couldn’t be the protagonist of my book. I wouldn’t trade a moment of the research I’ve done, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson or three about not allowing what I think I know to blindfold me against the possibilities.

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Chia Evers is one fourth of Unreliable Feed, a graduate of Viable Paradise XIII, and a writer of novels and short stories. She is also an attorney and a communications associate at the MIT Media Lab.

April 2018 Update

I hope you are all enjoying the weather. At least in my part of the world, spring is finally here. We’ve been waiting a while.

April has been a quieter month overall, which was needful after March. I’ve been writing Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science, and in a surprise twist, I’m getting Abigail Rath Versus Blood-Sucking Fiends ready to send out and about. The Ankeny Book Fair went well, I did my stint with the flu, and we’re ready to move into May.

Thanks to Catrina Horsfield, an artist friend from my Sugar Quill days, we’ve designed a logo for those of you who might consider yourselves Team Octavia. Team Lucy is in development. I’ve already got a t-shirt, and I suspect this will ultimately be on bookmarks and stickers as well. Maybe, taking a page out of Jim Hine’s book, tattoos?

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May has a couple of events:

Demicon in Des Moines, Ia, where I’ll be reading, signing, and on panels for Saturday, May 5th.

Wiscon in Madison, Wi, my annual trip with my good friends Dan, Lisa, and Yolanda. I will be attending the whole convention from May 25-May 28, and I’ll be signing, reading, and on panels.

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As soon as I get a viable draft of Mad Science out to my readers, those of you who have been waiting for The Pawn of Isis, well, I’ll be back at it. Stay tuned.

Fantastic History #3: Researching Historical Fantasy–A Dilettante’s Reminiscence by Caroline Stevermer

A large part of the joy of writing historical fantasy, for me, is the research. Although I also read letters, diaries, and newspapers from times and places equivalent to the historical setting I hope to use, the research tool I most enjoy using is obsolete travel guides. They have helped to spark my imagination and to improve my world-building.

Some travel guides had life and death importance for travelers. The Green-Book, written, published, and revised by Victor H. Green from 1936 to 1963, helped African-American travelers survive the dangers of travel in the United States. Some travel guides are centuries old. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea may date from the first century CE. To clarify, I don’t intend to get into the use of such important historical resources here.

Instead, I plan to reminisce about the origin of my fascination with travel guides published to help their intended audience to negotiate travel for pleasure to a particular place for a particular year. My very first obsolete travel guide was a Ward Lock guide. This particular edition of The English Lake District, or to be exact, A Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to the English Lake District, with an outline guide for pedestrians and a special section for motorists, was published in U.K. in the early 1930s.

I found the battered red book in a bargain bin at the excellent used bookstore nearest my college campus. I had no plans to write anything set in the Lake District, nor to travel in the Lake District, and at that point I sincerely doubt I knew where the Lake District was. As an avid reader of The Lord of the Rings, I had devoured many of the other titles Ballantine Books published in their fantasy line. Among them was E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros.
I found Eddison’s deliberately antiquated prose style difficult to read at first, but I think there was an element of the Ikea effect at work. Because I worked harder than usual to read that book, I connected with it more than the other titles from Ballantine. My love for Worm was cemented when I went to college and made friends* based on our shared passion for such novels.

The Worm Ouroboros begins with these words: “There was man named Lessingham dwelt in an old low house in Wastdale, set in a gray old garden where yew-trees flourished that had seen Vikings in Copeland in their seedling time.” Wastdale is in the English Lake District. The index to the travel guide showed a reference to Wastdale, two for Wastdale Head, and two more for Wastwater. Intrigued, I read those entries, then went on skimming the guidebook.
I was eighteen. At the time, the travel guide, which seemed antique to me then, was about thirty years out of date. Perhaps because it was missing one of its maps, it only cost me 75 cents. Its true cost was the time I took to read it, as I should have been studying instead.

The guidebook had maps, photographs, detailed itineraries for hikers, and down-to-earth advice for the cyclists and motorists who were its intended audience.

[“…at this point is the Devil’s Elbow, a sharp double turn down a steep slope. (Cyclists, dismount! Motorists, crawl!)”]

The true reason I bought the book was its ads. The guidebook begins and ends with pages of advertisements to defray the cost of printing. One of the first pages is an advertisement for United Kingdom Credit, placed by the Westminster Bank Limited. “Motorists, tourists, and others traveling in Great Britain run no less risk of theft or loss here than they do abroad.” The ad goes on to say, “A customer of the Westminster Bank who provides himself with the Bank’s Letter of Credit may tour the Kingdom with no more loose money in his pocket than he wants for meeting his needs from hour to hour. By this means, he reduces his risk of loss and is sure of being able to obtain cash in any town throughout England, Scotland, and Wales.”

The hotels advertised had names straight out of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. As I read, I began to get a feeling for what it would be like to journey in this lost world. As a single woman, I thought I’d be more comfortable staying at a temperance hotel. I didn’t know how to drive, but that would present no problem. Walking holidays were popular enough to be catered for, so I could probably get a lift aboard one of the motor coaches that provided transport to the most popular sites. I would certainly obtain a letter of credit from a suitable bank. No travelers checks, or cheques, would be necessary.

In addition to providing help envisioning concrete details of daily life, it is a great source for names. Place names can make good names for people, too. Most of all, the obsolete guidebook can inspire. This is from English Lake District again: “Another feature of the by-roads are the gates, which are generally kept closed to prevent sheep from straying, and which form a real danger to the unwary motorist.” I’m sure I could have imagined a chase scene on a rural road. I might even have imagined the sheep, but I would never have thought to imagine a closed gate across a road suitable for motoring.

In Baedeker’s 1914 edition of Russia, the section on traveling in the Grand Duchy of Finland begins with this useful information: “In Finland Helsingfors (Helsinki) time is kept. This is 22 min. behind St. Petersburg time, 39 min. ahead of Central European time, and 1 hr. 39 min. ahead of W. European time.” I knew that time zones originated when scheduled train travel required such a thing, but not that the time intervals weren’t given in hours. It’s a world-building detail that would never have occurred to me.

When I was writing A College of Magics, I found period guidebooks helpful when considering such vital questions as which hotel in Paris my protagonist would choose and how she would get to the railway station (and which railway station should it be?) when she needed to leave the city. Many years after that, my vintage copy of Baedeker’s United States told me what coins and currency were in use, common and otherwise, in 1905. When my protagonist decided to ride the elevated railway in New York City, I knew how much the ticket would cost her (and what she should do with it), because my Baedeker explained that useful information in detail.

That first 75-cent guidebook has led to my current shelf of battered Baedekers, fragile Satchel Guides, and other out-of-date handbooks for travelers. In recent years, I’ve been happy to find modern reprints, which let me use a book without ruining it (and also contain every single map). I may think I know precisely what I’m looking for in an obsolete guidebook, but I never know exactly what else I’ll find.

* Ellen Kushner, I am thinking of you!

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Caroline Stevermer (b. 1955) is known for her historical fantasy novels for young adults. She published her first book, The Alchemist, in 1981, and before collaborating with fellow Minnesotan Patricia C. Wrede to create a magical version of Regency England. Stevermer graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in art history and currently lives in Minnesota.