Handle with Care – Author Inside

Handle with Care – Author Inside

When I began writing several years ago, the idea of pursuing my passion felt like an exciting adventure. But when it came time to share my work with the world, other emotions joined the party, including vulnerability who showed up as an unexpected, uninvited guest! Besides my husband, the first group I felt safe talking about this with was my female tribe, many of them artists and writers themselves. But recently, when I wrote about it in my newsletter, the overwhelming response came from male writer and artist friends. I think this theme of feeling vulnerable crosses gender, age, and orientation. I think as artists we often feel exposed. We all know the sting of rejection. We’ve all questioned our own talent. My experience with the writing  community, especially the sci-fi/fantasy crew, has been one of support and encouragement. I’m inspired by all of you who dare to bare your souls to the world and create your art. Even if we’ve never met, I feel like we are walking this path together. 

Something unusual has happened to me since I started writing. I find myself feeling rather vulnerable, and with some regularity. I had a different career before this – one where I was confident in my abilities and proficient in my day-to-day work. Of course I made mistakes, and I grew and learned from those mistakes, but this isn’t the same thing. This vulnerability is raw and unsettling.

And, to my great discomfort, it’s been creeping into other areas of my life. I’m more emotionally fragile with my husband. I’m less secure in a crowd of new people. I’m sometimes hesitant to talk about my work. I barely recognize myself. My own sense of identity has been completely challenged. And yet…

I can’t imagine doing anything else. The artist side of me is someone I haven’t recognized or honored in a long time. She feels like a different version of the person I knew so well and worked hard to cultivate – but she’s been in there all along. Now I have to acknowledge her, and I have to find a way to balance the discomfort of vulnerability with the joy of creativity.

During a recent yoga class, my teacher and friend played us a portion of a TED talk given by Brene Brown. It was titled: The Power of Vulnerability, and I highly recommend listening to the whole thing. The one piece that serendipitously resonated with me was about people Brene called “whole-hearted.” These were the people from her study who had a strong sense of worthiness, love, and belonging. And all of them had a few things in common – they had the courage to be imperfect, they had compassion for themselves and for others, they created connections by being authentic, and they fully embraced their own vulnerability. I’ve been really sitting with this last one for a while. The healthiest, most well adjusted people in the study were those who fully embraced their own vulnerability. Huh.

My older kids are choosing careers in the arts. One is pursuing film acting and the other screenwriting. We’re all storytellers in our own way I guess. We’ve had thoughtful conversations about what it means to be true to your voice, but appreciate constructive criticism; how to be confident in your talent, yet constantly seek to improve your craft. In some ways they have an advantage – they’ve been putting themselves out there all along. They’ve learned to deal with the critics, the naysayers, and the failures with good grace. They’ve learned to embrace their vulnerability.

My husband is a singer and songwriter. A while ago he said to me, “Honey, it’s time to stop singing in the basement and get booed on stage.” This was around the time I’d finished an exhausting round of edits for my first manuscript and needed to send my book-baby into the world. I was terrified. As a musician, he understood my fear right away, but that didn’t stop him from giving me a gentle shove. After all, he doesn’t sing in the shower or in the basement – he sings on a stage. He shares his love of music with anyone who wants to listen, and risks getting booed.

In the face of self-doubt, failure, and sometimes-callous criticism, why do we push on? Why do we continue to create? Perhaps because it is immensely satisfying to touch another person’s soul with something we’ve made. Perhaps because the world needs its painters, storytellers, sculptors, photographers, musicians, dancers, and actors. We need them not just to entertain us, but because the mere fact that they exist at all says something powerful about being human. Perhaps because it is uniquely human to create art, and we’re willing to open ourselves up to the world to do it.

Any artist in any field understands that to share our work is to be vulnerable. We’ve risked opening our hearts to strangers – with words, in images, with a paintbrush, on a stage. We’ve put something of our private selves out into the world. Even my stories, full of spaceships and evil villains, myths and magic, have some of the real “me” in them. People who know me well will recognize those pieces. But it’s worth it to tell the story. And, finally, I’m learning to make peace with the discomfort.

Broad Universe and Power in Numbers

Broad Universe and Power in Numbers

As I write my blog, I’m sitting at a long table set up in a living room, surrounded by women on laptops, with notebooks, reading books…and a loving doggy who inspires us with snuggling. We go between soft-clicking silence and conversation; we talk about the science of ceramics, what scares us, and mind-controlling fungus. We pause for “what’s that word for…” requests and brain farts. It’s our first New England Broads writer retreat of the year—but not the first we’ve organized either formally or informally.

There’s a certain energy in a room full of writers, and a slightly different energy if all the writers are women. After all, we can talk about periods, uteruses, and not being listened to by doctors; we talk about the specific horrors (and magic) we face as women. In a mixed crowd, certain members would run away or be uncomfortable with such topics; there’d be pressure to not offend anyone or avoid being judged. There is a particular trust and candid honesty that weaves into our writing and inspires us, comforts us, and gives us courage to submit our work out into the world.

I’m not saying there’s not magic in writing retreats of mixed gender; there is. Any good group of writers can make an awesome retreat. Sometimes, though, you want to be in a group where certain things are shared experiences.

Writing retreats aren’t the main draw to being a member of Broad Universe—in fact, that’s more closely related to the fact there are a lot of members who live close to each other in the New England region.  However, we found ourselves through Broad Universe.

Broad Universe is an international non-profit dedicated to promoting, celebrating, and honoring women’s contributions to science fiction, fantasy, horror and all the speculative crevices in between.  It started at Wiscon, a feminist SF convention in Wisconsin in 2000, on a panel about how women can get more recognized as authors (and artists). At that time, the gap in pay, advertising, reviews, recognition, etc. was still exceptionally massive. While that gap has shrunk some in the past eighteen years, it isn’t yet “small.” While we’re updating our website, we’ve collected quite a few statistics about who still gets more reviews, better advances, and better placement in bookshelves.

And we’re working to change that.

With message boards, email lists, Facebook groups, and other tools, we help women talk to each other, support each other, and share their collected knowledge so we all can do better. We work together at events selling each other’s books because we all know how hard it is to sell our own; we get the still-strong stigma of a woman selling her wares. In a group, we’re stronger. We also do this online, sharing our news and publications. If a member has ties to a convention, we try to get other Broads (yes, we have claimed that term proudly!) onto programming so more people can discover them.

Broad Universe certainly wasn’t the first women’s organization to do this. We designed a lot of our work based on what Sisters in Crime had already done—and is still doing—in the mystery genre. There are other local and regional women’s groups that are genre specific or general interest. Seek them out.

The world still isn’t an easy place for women to get recognition, pay, reviews, or awards for their writing. Working as a group, we are stronger and have a better ability to change that. Whether you find a local informal group or seek out a larger organization, consider the power in numbers and don’t go it alone.

Find out more about Broad Universe at www.broaduniverse.org.

Find out more about Sister in Crime at www.sistersincrime.org.

Trisha J. Wooldridge writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry—sometimes even winning awards! You can find her work in a variety of anthologies, magazines, and online markets. She’s also editor of over fifty novels and two anthologies.  As child-friendly T.J. Wooldridge, she’s published three kids’ novels and poetry. Find out more at www.anovelfriend.com.

The Final Summons Artist Open Call

The Final Summons Artist Open Call

Accepting Cover Submissions
“The Final Summons” Anthology!

Theme The Final Summons

A final call to action for our characters.

What does the “Final Summons” mean? Is it the end of a world? The end of a long war? The changing hands of a political hierarchy? The promise of only one more spell? The handing down of a death sentence or banishment? The possibilities are endless.

Whether by magic or science and anything in-between, we want to see artwork that tells its own narrative that bridges the gap between science fiction and fantasy. We are open to styles ranging from oil paintings and illustration to photo manipulation and everything in between. Ultimately, we want original artwork that acts as an attention getting representation of the theme “The Final Summons” while telling its own story.

That Inspire Us

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What We Don’t Want We will not accept artwork that promotes racism, sexism, or imagery of hate. We will not accept Fan Fiction. In fact, we strongly urge bold representations of diversity.
Deadline March 27, 2018, 11:59PM EST
Restrictions Must be a resident of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont.
Pay $300 (USD), 1 Physical Copy, 1 Digital File
Rights Accepted work will grant New England Speculative Writers first exclusive  rights for one (1) year and non-exclusive rights in perpetuity for digital, print, and audio formats. The artist will retain the copyright to their respective work.
Multiple Submissions No multiple submissions.
Publication Date February 2019
How to Submit We understand that art takes time and that submitting spec work is daunting. To save you time we are asking for the following:

  • A comp sketch (near completed rough) so that we can see the narrative and approach the artist is going to use in their work. These do not need to be completed works. Sketch must be scanned or photograph as a High-Res .JPG/.PDF.
  • A link to your existing portfolio. If your style varies wildly from project to project, please indicate pieces similar to what you are intending to do for the final draft.
  • Email to authors@newenglandspeculativewriters.com

Writers and their Superstitions

Writers and their Superstitions

I used to work as a union gaffer (lighting), scenic artist, and makeup artist. The entertainment field is full of superstitious people. I remember all the superstitions associated with stage work like don’t whistle on stage. Actors telling each other to “break a leg” before a performance supposedly leads to good luck and a fine performance. Leaving a single lit bulb upstage center when the theater is empty is meant to ward off mischievous spirits. Anything associated with Macbeth, especially saying the word “Macbeth” in a theater, will lead to disaster. It’s the curse of Macbeth. Don’t leave peacock feathers or real money on stage or actors will forget their lines and set pieces will break.

So I wondered, what kinds of superstitions do writers have?

I don’t have any myself. I have a schedule I like to adhere to but if I miss a day or don’t start at a specific time each day I don’t panic over not being able to write. I don’t have a lucky pen or statuette or piece of clothing I must wear. Some famous writers had some downright bizarre superstitions. The closest I come to a superstition was keeping the cats away from my laptop because I was afraid they’d delete my files. That’s not really a superstition. That’s being practical.

Here are a few examples of famous writers and their superstitions:

Isabelle Allande – Always starts a new novel on January 8 because that’s the date she began her first novel, The House Of The Spirits.

John Steinbeck wrote his drafts in pencil. He kept 12 pencils on his desk, all perfectly sharpened.

John Cheever put on a suit, took the elevator with other men who were on their way to their office jobs, and he would get off in the basement. Then, he’d take off his pants and write. He said it was more comfortable.

Truman Capote refused to begin or end a work on a Friday. He also wrote lying down.

Mark Twain, George Orwell, Edith Wharton, and Marcel Proust also wrote lying down.

Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, Philip Roth, and Charles Dickens wrote standing up.

Alexandre Dumas wrote his poetry on yellow paper, his fiction on blue paper, and his articles on pink paper

J. K. Rowling refused to title a story until after it was finished.

Carson McCullers wore her lucky sweater whenever she wrote.

Friedrich Schiller, friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, couldn’t write without the smell of rotten apples around him. I have no idea why. That one is just weird.

Superstitions have always struck me as a bit foolish, but sometimes I fall prey to them. For instance, I won’t walk beneath a ladder not so much because I believe it’s bad luck but because I’m afraid a full paint can will fall on my head and crack my skull in two. That sounds like very bad luck to me. When I was a kid and mad at my parents I would step on every crack in the sidewalk, but no one’s back ever broke. I knock on wood because I think it’s a great way to accentuate a point.

Then again, a ladybug just flew into my hair. I’m at a writer’s retreat in central Massachusetts, and I’m working on this article in a bedroom with a beautiful view of the snowy outdoors. I’ve attached a picture of my view to this blog post. How a ladybug survived the winter is beyond me, but I know they’re good luck. I’ll take whatever good luck I can get. Ah, wait, another one flew by! I feel especially lucky right now

Rather than superstitions related to writing I have rituals. I always must have something to drink nearby – most often coffee, hot tea, seltzer water, red wine, or especially champagne. I sometimes must have music on or I can’t concentrate. Other times, I need quiet.

Are you a superstitious writer? If you are, what quirks do you have that help you express your creativity? What do you do to keep disaster or writer’s block from happening?

Elizabeth Black writes horror and dark fiction as E. A. Black. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter. Visit her Amazon Author Page.

Don’t Be Silenced

Don’t Be Silenced

As I sit here, typing this post at quite literally the last moment, (this blog goes up as soon as I finish typing it and figure out how to post it to the site) I am still not sure what to say about being a woman that writes sci-fi and fantasy. But I can tell you what it is like in my personal experience to be a writer. And I just happen to be a woman, so woo hoo!

The thing that I do, maybe not the best but definitely the most, is I Mom. I am a mom first. Four boys. Which keeps me busy on any given day, anyway. These boys of mine like to eat, and drink, and play video games, and watch YouTube, and have very recently gotten into playing Dungeons and Dragons. We play it as a family. And so I need to feed them, at least once a day (we are working on independence in eating, like making sandwiches and stuff, with the youngest at this point. He is 8.)

And this past week has been a stressful one because the youngest was diagnosed with influenza A and has been home sick. We also had a snow day yesterday, so that made chaos at the house too.

BUT if it wasn’t for my youngest child, and my life as his mom, I would most likely not be published. Ever. I am a writer, at all, because of him.

Here is my big old back story about why I was never going to be a writer. A lot of women I know have been in abusive relationships. Men too, but as I am a woman and this is my experience, it is what it is. I was in an emotionally and psychologically, and sexually abusive one. The biggest thing that happened to me, that impacted me, revolved around my writing.

This guy threw my writing away. My journals, my stories. And the ones that he didn’t throw away, he edited. Secretly. I still have a copy of a journal of mine in which he literally crossed out what I wrote and wrote a different version of the events. And even though the writing was his and not mine, he told me I did it. Writing, for me, had always been personal and mine. If I wanted someone to read it, I gave it to them. Never before had I felt that my writing had been so violated. It was like a piece of my soul, torn out. And I stopped. I stopped writing, not trusting that my innermost private thoughts were for my eyes alone, anymore. It broke me. For a long time.

I got rid of him, eventually, but the other damage he had done took a long time and lots of therapy. But I still couldn’t write. I had lost confidence in it and in me. I spent ten years not writing, and I felt like a piece of me was missing. Because it was. I had always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first book, “Just Me and My Mom” like the Mercer Mayer books, when I was young. Creative writing had always been an escape for me that I didn’t have anymore.

BUT that changed.

On August 31, 2012 My world stopped spinning for a bit. My youngest son (who is now 8 and besides the flu, healthy) was diagnosed with Pre B cell ALL leukemia. My baby had cancer. He turned 3, three days later. In the hospital.

I started to write about it. All the things I was feeling, the terror, the sorrow, everything. And it felt right. Not good, because the content was painful. But it felt like coming home again.

Peter Dudar, my friend and mentor, sent me a link to a horror anthology. I wrote a story, but I also submitted a personal essay about my son’s diagnosis. It was accepted. It was my first anthology acceptance and it benefited the National Children’s Cancer Society.

After hearing my son had cancer, which was the most terrifying thing that I could imagine, I no longer was afraid for my writing to be out in the world. Or that someone may reject it. I wrote our experiences so that other families could know that they weren’t alone. I wrote to get out the emotions I had, to spell it out for the world. I wrote to help get funding for childhood cancer research for kids like mine. I wrote because it was something that I hadn’t seen much information on, having thought that pediatric cancer was rare. It isn’t and I really wanted people to know that. And that the treatment was a planned three and a half years. (it ended up being closer to three, but still…)

I kept writing. I kept submitting my stories. Fiction stories. And I had some accepted. To date, I have been published in six anthologies and I am still going. All my publications have been in the horror genre, but last year I finished my “baby.” I finished writing a high fantasy novel and am in the process of edits. I am also working on an Urban Fantasy/ epic fantasy/sci fi/ghost novel . And I have a mystery novel written and am working on edits for that.

I have been called a “horror hag” during women in horror month. I have gotten into some big kablooeys during Women in Horror Month. Several years, in fact. But none of that scares me anymore. I just keep writing. When my 8 year old isn’t playing on my computer, anyway.

*Note. I do not recommend waiting for a cancer diagnosis or something like that to clear you of your fear of putting your work out there. Just do it. Every “no” response to a submission is just a sign that you are working and writing. That you submitted it in the first place. And that is something to be proud of. Don’t let ANYONE steal your words from you. I spent too long living like that and wasted ten good writing years.

April Hawks lives in a small Maine town with her husband, four boys, two bunnies and a Tomato. She writes a bunch of different genres, but she just finished her “baby” a fantasy novel and is revising it before she sends it out of the nest. April is a frequent and often obnoxious facebook poster and is on twitter and Instagram as well. Find more of her work on her Amazon Page.

On Being A Woman In SFF, Or How To Be Your Own Self-Rescuing Princess

On Being A Woman In SFF, Or How To Be Your Own Self-Rescuing Princess

I’m often asked what it’s like to be a woman in the male dominated field of publishing. The best part about being a female author is that there are so many woman-focused organizations that truly are welcoming to writers at every stage in their careers. I’ve joined local and global organizations dedicated to advancing female authorship, and I believe that networking is the best thing an author can do for herself.

The not so great parts about being a woman in publishing are similar to the hurdles women face in many organizations: glass ceilings, unequal representation in industry awards and publications, and receiving less compensation—either via royalties or one-time payments—than their male counterparts. One way to leap over these hurdles is to become your own self-rescuing princess.

What is a self-rescuing princess, you ask? It’s a woman who stands up for herself. She’s not the damsel in distress waiting for someone to rescue her. This lady hikes up her skirts and does her own rescuing, thank you very much.

Remember that scene in Star Wars: A New Hope when Princess Leia calls out Luke and Han’s abysmal plan to rescue her? She didn’t wait for them to figure things out. Instead she grabbed Luke’s blaster and shot out the grate to the garbage chute. Leia didn’t wait for anyone else to hatch an escape plan, she made her own. That’s a self-rescuing princess.

You don’t have to wear your hair in symmetrical buns to be as bad ass as Leia. Being self-rescuing boils down to three basic concepts: asking questions, standing your ground, and walking away if you have to.

Did you receive contract that contained some confusing language? Ask for clarification, either from the editor, your agent, or your more experienced friends (more experienced with contracts, that is). Google it if you have to. Never, ever sign anything you don’t understand.

Did you ask a publisher (or editor, or agent) a question, and they never responded? Ask again! Many woman won’t follow up for fear of being seen as bossy or difficult. Those same traits in men are called confident and assertive, so go ahead and assert yourself and confidently ask all questions you need to.

Is the organization you’re dealing with refusing to work with you?  First, ask yourself if your request is reasonable; we all need to work together, and no one wants to be known as the writer who demanded the equivalent of a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown candies removed. Assuming you are being reasonable and they aren’t willing to negotiate, don’t be afraid to consider ending your working relationship with them. If you haven’t signed anything and they’re acting shady walking away might be for the best.  No publishing deal is infinitely better than a bad publishing deal, trust me on this.

Be warned: if you have signed a contract things get trickier and you may need to enlist help from outside sources. Don’t take the possibility of violating your contract lightly, since there may be severe repercussions for you. Having said that, don’t allow the other party to violate it either.

Thanks to #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and all the brave people who have shared their stories, we are going into an unprecedented chapter in history where women’s voices are being heard and respected like never before. What a great time to be a woman.

Jennifer Allis Provost writes books about faeries, orcs and elves. Zombies too. She grew up in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and had read every book in the local library by age twelve. (It was a small library.) An early love of mythology and folklore led to her epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Parthalan, and her day job as a cubicle monkey helped shape her urban fantasy, Copper Girl. When she’s not writing about things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day) she’s working on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Her latest releases, the urban fantasy Gallowglass and the sequel, Walker, are available wherever books are sold. Connect with Jennifer online at http://www.authorjenniferallisprovost.com.

Superheroine Creators in Comics

Superheroine Creators in Comics

Being a woman in comics requires you to be your own kind of super hero: a powerful mutant, strange alien, or arcane magical creature. You need to develop armor-like skin, unshakable nerves, and brass ovaries (metaphorical brass ovaries – trans comic ladies know all about the struggle, and then some.) The female comic-creator must be willing to work hard, constantly develop her skills, and promote herself relentlessly; all while deflecting irrelevant questions, graciously taking criticism, and not throat-punching people who feel it necessary to question if she’s really into comics at all.

For most of its history, the comic industry has been something of a boys’ club. The reasons why could be an entire doctoral dissertation, so I’m really not going to attempt to get into them here. However, women have always been involved as creators, editors, and readers. Romance and slice-of-life comics were big business in the 40s through the early 70s, and were primarily aimed at women. Women being a big audience didn’t stop female creators from facing an uphill battle, however. Dale Messick famously had to adopt her androgynous pseudonym in order to stop her portfolio from being passed over (since no one was interested in hiring Dalia Messick) in order to be hired to create the ridiculously long-running comic strip “Brenda Starr.”

While a handful of really amazing women have long graced the mainstream of comics (writer Gail Simone, and artist Lynn Varley immediately spring to mind), ladies have also been churning away in the alternative scenes. From Wendy Pini self-publishing Elf Quest to Trina Robbins representing in the underground Comix scene, women have been pulling their weight and doing incredible work throughout comic history.

And now we have webcomics – a comic form that has seen a larger percentage of female creators than any movement before. The great thing about webcomics (about the internet in general) is that anyone can jump online and put their work out there. Even better – anyone can jump online and see your work.(Yes, okay, I know it’s not quite that easy; believe me, I have seen my own site’s analytics. But in essence, this is true.) There is no editor to gloss over your portfolio because of your girly name, no prickly comic shop owner to make new readers feel unwelcome, no chief executive to ponder if “special interests” like half the human race are worth trying to sell to. It’s just the creator and the quality of their work.

Just kidding! This is the internet! Where people delight in burning each other to the ground for things so trivial as existing, having opinions, and getting milkshakes. As we all know, existing as a woman on the internet can be fraught, and comics are no exception. Webcomics and social media have given women creators so much more opportunity and audience than they have ever had before, but with it comes all the pointless obnoxious criticisms (this is just dumb girly stuff), attacks on credentials (what do you know, you’re not even a real comic nerd), and the possibility of being the target of the next coordinated Whatever-Stupid-Thing-Gate should you dare ever speak up for yourself or in support of your peers. Polish that armor-skin, ladies; we can get through this.

This kind of constant challenge to female comic creators is not limited to online interactions. There are still far fewer female comic creators employed by the Big Two than there should be. Those that do work in the mainstream tend to be completely amazing, (have you checked out the awesomeness that is G. Willow Wilson or Erica Henderson?!) in part because they have to be. Despite what some people think, female creators do not get hired just to add token diversity to the payroll and the bar for women in comics, as in many male-dominated fields, is just so much higher. Time to call on those super-powers again to make sure your work is always stunning!

Personally, I have always found the greatest test of my super-human nerve and patience to be in-person interactions. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to comic conventions and shops and meeting prospective fans, gushing about our favorite books, and finding new comics to get into. However, if one more person asks my husband if these are his comics while I’m literally sitting RIGHT THERE I think my head might explode. (I personally don’t think he looks much like an “Amanda” but maybe I’m missing something.) Similarly, assumptions that I must have gotten into comics because of manga (nope) or other comic-fans trying to prove that they know more than me about comics (I have a Mother-Effing degree in them, but okay, sure dude) wear thin. My unshakable nerves need more training, I think.

I definitely don’t want to sound grim; comics are an unbelievably powerful storytelling medium and I love them intensely. There is good news out there: the fastest growing demographic of comic readers is women aged 17-33, there are multiple small comic publishers specifically looking to promote women’s work, and despite how disruptive the handful of trolls can be, the overwhelming majority of comic professionals and fans absolutely stand behind and come to the defense of comic women who get harassed online. As much as we are required to muster our powers and fight now, we are slowly winning the battle. We are forging a better future for women in comics, and everyone else along with us.

Amanda is the primary writer and sole artist for Age of Night.  She lives in a cabin the woods of Maine where she works on AoN and many other freelance art projects.  Between drawing and fending off bears she enjoys cooking, listening to music, watching movies, analog gaming, exploring the outdoors, and playing with her sons and her cat.

New England Speculative Women

New England Speculative Women

It is with great pleasure that the New England Speculative Writers recognize the contributions of women writers in Fiction. Despite making up 50% of the world’s population, a study in 2010 by Vida (an organization for women in literary arts) showed that women are less likely to be reviewed, obtain awards or be the story focus in literature. An informal survey by Tramp Press showed that authors only listed female writers as inspiration 22% of the time. But despite this, women have and will continue to produce amazing Science Fiction & Fantasy. For the month of March, the New England Speculative Writers’ blog will be dedicated to providing an unhindered space for women to speak about topics pertaining to the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Five Things I Learned from, Mistborn: The Final Empire, about Writing Fantasy

Five Things I Learned from, Mistborn: The Final Empire, about Writing Fantasy

Warning, this is going to contain major spoilers along with gushing praise.
If you haven’t read Brandon Sanderson’s, Mistborn, stop here, go read it, and come back later.

1. You can make old tropes new again

At this point it’s impossible to write something that’s completely trope-free. Even this blog entry you are reading at this very second is a trope-tastic masterpiece. How many people have written list posts? At least 2,546,000, probably more, because listing out your ideas in numerical order just works. It’s as common as the trope of the mean, blonde cheerleader.

The same goes for Mistborn. The tyrannical ruler oppressing the masses isn’t new. We’ve seen it more times than we’ve seen list posts. But gosh darn it, isn’t it great to have a villain we can universally hate? This is why the tyrannical ruler is a most beloved trope of fantasy writers. It’s a cause we can all rally behind. It makes us an immediate cheering squad for the protagonist, and it’s something we can recognize. Um…Hitler, Kim Jong Un, the evil Empire, and Sauron, anyone?

The Lord Ruler is definitely a card-carrying member of this club. He’s enslaved an entire race of people and makes a big party out of public hangings. But he’s more than just your standard, genocidal villain. He’s immortal, indestructible, and he’s got a backstory.

Throughout the novel, we get to see little snippets of his journal, from before he inherited his immortality and became the infamous Lord Ruler everyone loves to hate. Way back when, he was kind, thoughtful, and hopeful. He wanted to save humanity…or at least that’s what we think.

And with each reveal of his humanity, we lower our pitchforks, douse the torches, and go, “I wonder what happened to make such a nice man turn into such a monster?” And just like Luke Skywalker, we’re wondering if that former good guy is hiding behind Darth Vader’s mask. That’s the twist to the trope.

 2. Give Information through Dialogue

World-building is the bane of every fantasy writer, more so than writing a synopsis…no wait, I take that back. They might be on par, holding hands, sitting at the bar together, devising new ways to make writers miserable. But without a doubt, when I sit at a round table and give seven people my first ten pages to read, one half of the table will accuse me of info-dumping (telling them too much about the fantasy world up front,) and the other half of the table will have a list of questions of things they want to know–immediately.

You can’t win.

I think, for the most part, diehard fantasy readers will give the author a little leeway in either direction. Some stories can unload a lot of information quickly, and others string you along with little bits here and there. You might get lost along the way, but eventually, you’ll get your answer.

A common favorite is to use the novice and the expert to explain your world, or the student and the teacher, á la Harry Potter.

In Mistborn, Vin is our novice. She knows very little about Elemancy until she’s found by Kelsier who becomes her teacher. Through Kelsier and the other Mistings, we learn the rules for burning metals, the limitations, the history, the source, which metals do what, and the inner nuances of getting the most out of each one.

Every time Vin asks a question, we become the student, and the world-building is broken into depictions of the scene, snide remarks, and quippy comebacks. It’s a far superior way to share information versus listing it out like a Wikipedia entry.

3. Destroy Everything

This is a widely touted solution for writer’s block. If you get stuck, throw your character into some trouble and see what happens. We reveal our best (or worst) selves when we’re in danger. What does your character do in the middle of a bank robbery? Does she cower under the table? Or crawl toward the robber in an attempt to subdue him? Maybe she stands up and does the chicken dance in an attempt to distract him.

But our dear, Brandon Sanderson did much more than rattle the cages. He burned the entire city down–in the middle of the book. Imagine if the Empire blew up the rebel base before the rebels even got the Death Star plans.

Yeah, it was kind of like that.

There we were, on this jaunty little ride to find out if our lovable crew of thieves and miscreants would actually topple the Final Empire. They have their secret army in the caves. They’re spreading dissent through the wealthy. Everything is going to plan.

Then the army goes on a rogue hunt and ninety percent of them are killed. Whaaaat??? How can they possibly overthrow the evil regime without an army?

That’s a great question, and why I continued to tear through page after page to find the answer. It’s not uncommon for a book’s middle to be referred to as, “the muddle.” Because, frankly, that’s where a lot of authors run out of ideas and lose their readers. You want to make sure your readers keep going? Blow up the whole damn city. Put your heroes at their lowest. Destroy everything they’ve built and make them choose to give up or start from scratch. Now, not only are they righteously fighting evil, they are doing it with sticks and stones. And as much as we love to hate on the evil tyrants, we love even more to root for the underdog.

4. Really Fool your Readers

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of M. Night Shyamalan, at this very moment, cashing a stack of residual checks from the Sixth Sense, based entirely off of this very classic technique—the plot twist. If you say you didn’t audibly gasp when you found out Bruce Willis was a ghost, you are lying.

There are two reasons why Mr. Shyamalan is able to fill theatres with goosebump-covered patrons: conviction and plausibility.

There was never a doubt in our minds that Bruce was a living psychiatrist, trying to make-up for his failed patient by helping a little boy with the same affliction. But as soon as we learned the truth and went back through the scenes…well, it all made perfect sense.

The problem is, the more we get fooled, the less likely we are to get fooled again. Especially fantasy readers. We’re always ready for an intelligent AI to come crawling out of the floor or for someone to sprout wings in their sleep. It’s really, really hard to trick us.

So I take notice when someone does. Like our friend, Brandon. Through those journal entries I mentioned before, we had committed to the Lord Ruler once being a decent guy, and Kelsier had us convinced that the only way to kill him was with the eleventh metal.

Wrong, and again, wrong.

Our hopeful, all-around-good-guy and journal writer was murdered…by the current Lord Ruler, and it was that secret, not the eleventh metal that helped Vin vanquish the foe. The pieces fit, just not in any order that I expected, and that’s exactly what we all have to strive for in our work.

5. Close the Loop, but Leave a Few Fraying Ends

After spending six hundred pages with a novel, I need some closure. Don’t you dare lead me on an epic, month-long journey and literally leave me hanging at the edge of the cliff. If that’s the case, then let’s all just admit that your novel is nothing more than backstory.

The boiled-down plot for Mistborn: the Final Empire is, a ragtag gang of thieves with heart is in a battle to topple a centuries’ long tyrannical government. You better believe I expected by the end of the book to either see the Lord Ruler crush them, or for Vin and Kelsier to have the Lord Ruler’s head on a post, parading him through the city.

I won’t say which one happened, but I will say that one of them did.

Had it not, I probably would have thrown the book across the room, muttered curses under my breath, and I definitely would not be here, writing yet another list post in praise of Sanderson’s work.

But there’s more. Sanderson left questions, secondary plotlines still moving forward, the potential for more drama in the now changed world. There are reasons for me to keep reading, and because there was no cliffhanger, I’m not reading because I feel like I have to. I’m reading because I want to.

Chris Duryea: Curator of “The Final Summons”

Chris Duryea: Curator of “The Final Summons”

The New England Speculative Writers is putting together its first anthology. The theme, “The Final Summons.” Submissions by members are due January 31st. More details about the submission can be found here. Three curators will be reading through the slush and putting together the best stories. We thought it’d be good to interview each of the curators and give a little background about who they are and what they’re looking for in this anthology. Chris Duryea is a member of the Metrowest Writers and has a background in English and education.

What is your background in literature?

I’ve been a lifelong fan for fantasy and science fiction, from the original Star Trek on television, to appropriating by dad’s copies of Frank Herbert and Tolkien. These original influences guided me into the world of ideas, and ideas of other worlds. Since then I had always been spinning ideas for stories and spent years developing my voice as a writer. I taught high school English for 14 years and during that time I did not write a single creative word. Recently, I left the classroom and have been channeling my creative energy back into my imaginative works. I have sold three short stories since I began writing again and currently have two novels in progress.

What are some of your favorite Fantasy and Sci-Fi novels?

My favorites include the Lensman series, the Stainless Steel Rat series, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the Amber series. I also enjoy almost anything by Greg Bear, John Varley, Robert Heinlein, David Brin and Spider Robinson.

What excites you about the upcoming anthology?

I’m thrilled to be asked to participate in editing this anthology. I’m really looking forward to seeing the different approaches to the “final summons” idea. It’s a wide open, yet perennial storytelling trope, and I’m sure I’m going to read interpretations that I would never have thought of myself.

Is there anything you’re specifically looking for?

I addition to interesting and unexpected approaches to the theme, I’m also interested in seeing how writers from a variety of backgrounds approach short-form storytelling. I don’t have a checklist for what I’m looking for other than creativity and authenticity. If it transports me, moves me, surprises or challenges me–that’s what I want to see.