Best of '13 — My Favourite Books by Women
Note: This article was originally published as part of Smugglivus, a year-end celebration of all things books over at The Book Smugglers. Check out the rest of the fun!
To begin the year, I set myself a challenge: read a perfect split balance of male:female authors in 2013. It was a personal challenge, and I asked no one else to follow along with me. This challenge had two purposes. The first was to provide more exposure for female fantasy and science fiction writers. The second was to expand my own tastes, to discover new authors. As 2013 winds down, I consider this challenge a success, but it wasn’t without some controversy.
In particular, the comments thread generated some salty discussion about my challenge and the idea of ‘quotas’ playing against the natural interests of a reader/critic. I read a lot of the same arguments, mostly about being ‘genderblind’, that I had once made. These arguments are so easy to fall back on, a safety net to avoid falling into blame. At first, I was quick to respond the same way, “I just read what I want to read, and ignore the gender of the author completely.” Well and true, maybe, but I started to recognize that, despite these excuses, there was a large bias (about one to three, female to male) in my reading habits. I began to ask myself why. I still don’t have an answer, but I did recognize that a conscious course correction was something I could be proactive about without needing an answer right away. Continue reading
Magic In Shakespeare: We’re Not In The Ghetto, We’re Literary Old Town
Why did Shakespeare write fantasies? Why not mainstream topics, such as histories and romantic comedies?
Before we examine this question, let us examine a few others first: Fantasies are fun! Why doesn’t everybody read them? What is mainstream? Why is a story about ordinary life considered mainstream, while an equally charming fantasy is relegated to the back of the bookstore?
I had a bit of insight into this many years ago, when I first became a writer. Through a mutual friend, I connected with a fellow writer who was hard at work on a mystery. I was writing a fantasy with a great deal of mystery elements, so this sounded like a great meeting of minds. We exchanged manuscripts and then met for coffee.
How could a staff be magical? It caused a person to teleport? How does that work? The reader isn’t going to be able to follow this without an explanation.
I pointed out a few inconsistencies in her otherwise well-appointed story. She thanked me. Then, frowning over her drink, she pointed to my manuscript and said, “In this scene here, your character uses a ‘magic staff?’ You don’t explain what a ‘magic staff’ is. How could a staff be magical? It caused a person to teleport? How does that work? The reader isn’t going to be able to follow this without an explanation.”
In that moment, I learned a tremendous amount about writing and human nature.
I learned that my novel would never be a mainstream novel, that people who lived their lives only concerned about daily life wanted to read about the issues they encountered in said daily life, and that the ideas that we fantasy and science fiction readers take for granted are extraordinary and intimidating to the ordinary reader. I was writing a novel for fantasy fans. People who already understood what a magic item was. Such people did not need explanations about the basics. They were already familiar with these concepts.
Mainstream readers are not. Continue reading
Explorations of Faith in the Sandbox of Fiction
I’m really grateful for Aidan’s invitation to come and guest blog here at A Dribble of Ink. When he approached me, we talked about a post on religion in fantasy, which is a rather broad topic – and one that’s of great interest to me. But as I’ve thought about it more and more, the topic has narrowed itself down to my own personal exploration of religion through the mechanism of writing. Anyone even the slightest bit familiar with my work will see that religion shows up in one form or another across my body of work, probably even more so than my other favorite exploration: apocalypse. Frequently, the two of them are hand in hand.
These days, I’m mostly known as the author of the series The Psalms of Isaak (hey, look at the religious language right there in the title!) but long before I wrote novels, I was slogging it out in the world of short stories with something in the vicinity of twenty stories published before my first novel found a home. And while one important aspect of my series is an exploration of the role of religion in human life and how it can be used as a weapon or tool, my short stories are wide-open playground jam-packed with far more opportunities to explore many of the “what-if’s” around the subject. Continue reading
Shawn Speakman discusses Unfettered, its UK sale to Orbit Books, and his next anthology(!)
I’m proud to announce that the rights to publish Unfettered have sold to Orbit Books UK.
This is great news but not for the reasons you might think.
A little background. When I found out I had cancer, you might be astonished to find that my first thought was not survival. It was there but it was in the back of my mind, like an itch that can’t be scratched. No, my first thought was, “How the hell am I going to pay for treatment?” Due to a pre-existing condition, I could not find affordable health insurance. Then the inevitable happened. I was diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkin’s lymphoma and quickly accrued a massive medical debt.
Luckily, I’ve made some friends over the years. Unfettered exists because of those relationships and their good will, the anthology paying off my debt in its entirety as of two weeks ago. Continue reading
Tips for Writing Locked-Room Mysteries
I’ve been a fan of crime fiction probably for as long as I’ve been a fan of fantasy books, even though I’ve not delved into the heritage of the genre as much. So for Drakenfeld – which is every bit as much a crime book as it is a fantasy novel – I wanted to use part of the crime genre’s heritage as a vehicle for the plot. I didn’t want to write hardboiled fiction, nor did I want to write a thriller – even though I enjoy both. Also, I wasn’t writing the type of urban magical crime, so I couldn’t rely on those things to carry the narrative. So I decided to make it not just a whodunnit, but a howdunnit by using one of the crime genre’s great formats: the locked-room mystery. Or rather, in my case, a locked-temple mystery. The set-up is a lot of fun – because it’s not just about an unreliable narrator, it’s about a manipulative author. Continue reading