What Lovecraft Taught Me About Harlem

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by Victor LaValle

Victor LaValleH.P. Lovecraft spent almost his whole damn life in Providence, Rhode Island. Born and raised into an insular family, young Howard could be described, generously, as sheltered. Then along came Sonia Greene, writer, hat-designer, single-mother, and Jew, she and Lovecraft fell for each other and married in 1924. Lovecraft was thirty-three, Greene forty. Greene moved Lovecraft down to Brooklyn to live with her and supported him financially, but eventually she lost her job, budgets got tighter, and they moved to cheaper parts of the borough.

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Fanny & Dice: A Book is Born

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by Rebecca McFarland Kyle

BeckyIndyI’ve always dreamt of meeting Peter S. Beagle. The Last Unicorn and Inkeeper’s Song  are two of my all-time favorite novels. When he offered a writer’s workshop at a nearby convention, I signed up immediately hoping he could give my career the kick in the pants it needed.

I looked at my body of work and nothing seemed worthy. The deadline to submit my 5,000 words fast approached.

About a week before the submission was due, I had a dream. Persephone hadn’t gotten called to bring Spring to the Upperworld for years and she was taking matters into her own hands. She convinced her cousin, Eurydice, who hadn’t gotten word of her husband Orpheus for years and still grieved his loss, to come with her. They climbed up into the Badlands, a vastly different world than the one they’d last walked — and quickly had to adjust to the Wild West.

I had no idea where the dream came from. I’ve been a fan of Greek mythology since I was introduced to Bullfinch’s Mythology in fifth grade. I hadn’t seen anything related to the characters in year, but I have studied lucid dreaming and used the concept to write scenes before. I scribbled down the dream as fast as I could. Big surprise the dream story came in at almost precisely the 5,000 word limit for the workshop.

As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep too well the night before the workshop. I was grateful we’d have individual sessions instead of a class. If my hero didn’t like my sub, I’d hear it alone. Instead of talking immediately about my work, Peter Beagle mused about Persephone herself, the connected mythos, and how her story still resonated with the world. I took notes furiously, unsure of what to think.

“What did you think about the sub?”

“It feels like a novel,” he smiled and handed the papers back without a red mark on them.

I sat there and mouth-breathed. Okay, I’d gotten the dream whole cloth, but nothing else since.

“How do I write it?”

“Let the characters tell their story.”

Easy for him to say. He hadn’t had such a vivid dream and scribbled the thing down in a notepad from the nightstand at 3:00AM and then heard nothing since! Still, I went home and re-read the excerpt as well as my notes of what he’d said.

What would happen next?

No surprise that Peter Beagle’s notes actually helped me get back into the storyline. At the time, they didn’t seem related to the writing on the page. Like all great teachers, he was gently directing me in the path I should take for the rest of the story.

I finished the book two years later — with help from some amazing beta readers. I turned it in on Christmas Eve, just a week before the publisher’s annual submission deadline was over. She notified me that she’d received the submission, read and liked the first chapter, and would be reading it over the next several weeks as time permitted.

I was shocked to receive an acceptance letter the day after Christmas. My publisher said she’d started the book and couldn’t stop reading, so she was buying Fanny & Dice. That was the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten!

If you think the hard part was over then, you’re wrong. At that point, I had to do final edits and start thinking of promotions. For a generally shy person, I found this phase the hardest of all.

I was fortunate: the four authors I asked to blurb me all readily agreed to help launch a freshman author and blushing fangirl. They all provided kind words to include with my book and helpful advice.

blog1Fanny & Dice launched at Mile High Con this past Halloween. I can’t say I’ve taken the world by storm, but I wasn’t aiming specifically at that. My goal was to tell the characters’ stories and hopefully to find fans who love them as much as I enjoyed writing about them.

Awe filled me when I realized how close to the mark I’d come. While visiting my favorite aunt at an assisted-living center, I encountered an octogenarian who’d immigrated from Greece in her childhood. This tiny woman filled the hallway with her luminous presence. She strode everywhere with her head held high, intelligent eyes bright and studying the world. When she introduced herself, she offered up two-syllable given and surnames.

“But that’s not my real name,” she said with a grin after I worked to pronounce her name as she had. She spoke two names which resonated with the blue sky and sea of her homeland. “They shortened my name so Americans could pronounce it.”

Right then, I learned her real name and I realized I had hit on something very real and true from most immigrant’s experience. Readers have already asked if there will be sequels. Perhaps Eurydice will sage into a luminous lady who walks the world with determination and grace.


Born on Friday 13, Rebecca developed an early love for the unusual. She currently lives between the Smoky and Cumberland mountains with her husband and four cats. Her first novel, Fanny & Dice, was released on Halloween Day 2015 and there are several more in the works. To learn more, visit her website: http://rmkyle.abckyle.com.

On Writing the Exodus Series

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By Doug Dandridge

12272898_10208404800697316_1421248271_nExodus was the second book ever that I wrote intentionally for self-publication.  Let me backtrack just a bit on that.  I have been writing novels and short stories since 1996.   At first they were pretty awful.  They got better as I wrote more.  The secret to becoming good enough that people want to buy your work is not really a secret.  Everyone who has made it to that place has learned it the hard way.  You get good enough to sell by writing, a lot.  I garnered a lot of rejection letters.  The letters got better, but I still wasn’t a selling writer.  In 2010 I decided to try something different.  I had read years before that a famous agent said that Space Opera was dead, but it didn’t seem that way to this reader.  After all, David Weber and John Ringo had huge followings.  So I decided to write an epic Space Opera/Military Science Fiction series and publish it myself.

This was a departure from what I had been doing.  I had written about sixteen novel length works by this time, some good enough to publish, and many now self-published.  All that I have self-published since embarking on that venture have received for the most part very good reviews, if not exceptional sales.  All had been written as stand alones, because that was what the publishers wanted, but all were left open for sequels, because that was what the publishers wanted.  Exodus was to be a long series from the outset.  I could only hope that each would sell a thousand copies or so to make the series worth continuing.   I had no idea.  I settled on the name Exodus, then added the Empires at War subtitle because I didn’t want people to think it was a bible story.  I later learned at a workshop that I had picked the perfect title keywords for military scifi.

I planned the series for about six months before I started writing.  I wanted something I would love to read.  Much of military scifi seemed to have a lot of lead up to the action, then boom, the action was over, or it was skipped over and we went directly to the aftermath.  As an amateur military historian, I wanted to read about the battles, not the aftermath.  I also wanted to avoid a lot of the common tropes of scifi, while making everything as accurate as possible as far as the science and tech went.  Of course I was going to have some McGuffins, FTL, inertial compensators and the like.  But I wanted the basic science to be right.  With that in mind, I developed my Universe.   I wanted a human Empire far enough from the space we know now that I could do what I wanted with the distribution of star systems and planets.  I used the idea of humankind fleeing an alien menace and reestablishing themselves ten thousand light years from Sol.  I have always loved Harry Turtledove, and used his template of lots of characters to tell a big story, and what could be larger than a war across thousands of light years.   I copied techniques from Jim Butcher and R A Salvatore to cover the action.  And then I started writing.

That year was my most productive, writing two hundred thousand words each of Exodus and my fantasy series Refuge, as well as most of three other novels, all while working full time.  Exodus finished at two hundred and ten thousand words, and I decided it was much too long for a single eBook.  Later I would split it into books one and two, and rewrite sections to make them more or less complete novels on their own.  If I could do it over today I would have put in more work making them almost stand alones, each with their own part of the story to tell.  When I started my Machine War spinoff series I did just that.  It was all a learning process, and I’m still learning.

EXODUS: Empires at War by Doug Dandridge

EXODUS: Empires at War
by Doug Dandridge

I put my novel The Deep Dark Well, written in 2005, on free promotion at Amazon and gave away forty-one hundred of them.  Two months later I put out my first Exodus book.  I said I would be happy if I had sold a thousand of them, and I did, in the first month.  Exodus 2 came out two months later, and I was selling three hundred books a day on Amazon in January of 2013.  Two months later I quit my day job and became a full time author.  In the last three years I have published twelve books in the Exodus Universe, nine in the Empires at War series, two in Machine Wars, and one in Tales of the Empire, a series of books telling some of the stories going on in the rest of the Empire, both before and during the war.  I have sold about a hundred thousand books across the line, compared with fifty thousand of all of my other books.  Along the way I have made some changes, sometimes based on fan requests, sometimes just because they made sense to me.  The technology is constantly evolving, and the stories evolve along with it.

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Guest Post: Exciting Times in Fantasy and History

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Rjurik Davidsonby Rjurik Davidson

Fantasy is often considered a genre about other worlds. It’s less recognized that fantasy is also a genre about other times. Reflecting its origins in myths and fairytales, much of the genre takes place in a kind of faux medieval world: I say faux because it rarely has the a realistic depiction of feudalism, a cold brutalizing world for the majority of its inhabitants, its class stratifications justified at the level of ideas. History offers us few benevolent Kings or Queens, few Aragorns or Daeneryses. Many of these feudal fantasies are a kind of idealized version of the past, and tell the story of the farm-boy or girl destined to become king or queen.

The best fantasies give their worlds a history (though it’s surprising how many exist in a kind of timeless world). One of the most famous, of course, is Tolkien’s Middle Earth, which possesses a long, rich and epic past — described in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and elsewhere. By the time of The Lord of the Rings, Middle Earth has been in slow decline for centuries: the noble pastoral past is winding down, threatened firstly by the industrial world of the Dark Lord (and the ‘sharers’ who take over the Shire), and secondly by the rise of humankind. This combination of moral diminishing and rise of industry gives Tolkien’s world — for all its visionary heights — a melancholy conservative cast.

To depict a history for your fantasy world means to have a theory of that history. You have to explain how the world moved from one stage to another. That means you need to have a sense of history’s driving forces. Is history essentially a movement of progress or (like in Tolkien) a slow fall? Are all possible histories likely to follow the path of our world’s, from antiquity, through feudalism, to industrial capitalism? Or is history more contingent than that, able to move through all kinds of social structures? In this kind of thought experiment, fantasy comes close to science fiction and alternate history, both of which also need to have the same kinds of theories of history. In science fiction: how did the world get from now to the future? In alternate history: what event was decisive enough to change the past?

In recent years, there have been several shifts within fantasy. Most recently, Grimdark has offered us more realistic depictions of violence. Before that, the New Weird opened up a new space for fantasy, out and away from the feudal typologies. One of its innovations was to shift fantasy out of the rural world and into the modern city. This had consequences for the history depicted in the books. Modern cities are a product of industrial (and later in the west, post-industrial) capitalism. Gone are kings and queens, in come parliaments and Directors and bureaucracies. Modern cities mean modern political movements, modern political ideas, modern sensibilities.

Unwrapped SkyFor my own novel in this tradition, Unwrapped Sky, I pictured the city of Caeli-Amur as inhabiting the space between about 1870 and 1920. It’s a modern world, but it’s also a world that is in our past. There are factories, modern political movements, a kind of state capitalism run by three bureaucratic houses, an avant-garde art scene, and philosophical meetings within cafes and tiny bars. All of this is infused with an essence of Greek and Roman myth. Wandering among the dirty industrial alleyways are Minotaurs and Sirens: I still find that image exciting. But I made a second shift to accompany this one. Like Tolkien, I presupposed a lost ancient world. Unlike Tolkien, I suggested that this world — the world of the Ancients — was an advanced civilization, a utopia, ruined by an apocalypse. The remains of its sophisticated technology lie scattered throughout the world, mysterious and incomprehensible. Hence the world has gone through a devolution — a dark age — but by the start of the novel it is beginning to drag itself back up into industry. In this way Unwrapped Sky retains that sense of melancholy loss that so moves us in Tolkien, but jettisons the conservative shell. Hopefully it speaks in some way to our own losses — to the destruction of the environment, to the losses of many cultures and languages of the world, to the sense that things have somehow come apart. Caeli-Amur also has a future, and its story is a story of social change — the movement from that bureaucratic capitalism to something else, perhaps.

This is only one approach to history available to the fantasy writer. The delight of fantasy and science fiction, is that it is a thought experiment. It allows playfulness. Fantasy depicts what isn’t, and why shouldn’t it depict what isn’t, or what can never be, historically? Its fun and it’s also serious to ask what is and isn’t possible in a fantasy world. It inevitable gets us thinking about our own world. Robert Jordan depicted a society in which history is circular, but what other ideas might we depict? How about entirely new social systems, not antiquity, not feudalism, not capitalism, but something else? What about a fantasy utopia, one without oppression? What about a world where minorities are not marginalized? What about a matriarchal fantasy? Each of these would require the writer to think of how this came to be: what was the history of that particular world? We’re only just beginning to explore these regions, these times, but the possibilities are exhilarating. We live in exciting times for the fantasy genre.

Rjurik Davidson is a writer of short stories, essays, screenplays and reviews, and the Associate Editor of Overland magazine. He splits his time between Australia and Europe.PS Publishing published a collection of short stories, The Library of Forgotten Books, in 2010. He has been short-listed for, and won, a number of awards. His novel Unwrapped Sky was released in April, 2014 (Tor). SciFiNow claims it can “go toe-to-toe with China Miéville’s best.” Kirkus Reviews calls it “Impressively imagined and densely detailed.” And according to Library Journal it “marks Davidson as an author to watch.” A sequel, The Stars Askew, is scheduled for October, 2015 (Tor).