In doing a bit of research looking for a dark-fantasy-related topic for this article, I sought something that I knew at least a bit about, something I felt strongly about, and something where I could add meaningfully to the conversation. Many things were considered, from angles on escapism vs. exploration, to writing some kind of how-to. Then the search engine offered me a Pinterest collection, women in dark fantasy.
All the boxes on my requirement list could be check off with that topic. Excited, I clicked it, expecting Ellen Ripley (Alien), Sarah Connor (Terminator), Aeowyn (LotR), Sarah Williams (Labyrinth), Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series) Buttercup (The Princess Bride).
The images that came up were all art of scantily clad, large-breasted and small-waisted women.
I called myself naïve and a mental conversation began.
On one hand, I totally understand why the sexualized images persist and who they are for.
On the other, I cried, “Will we ever get past this?” But honestly, even my naïve side doesn’t think we will. Those characters have a place and there will always be readers who want stories that contain them.
In the midst of this frustration, my next thought was, “I’m straddling that line myself.”
It’s true. The cover of Jovienne (my seventh novel, the first of the Immanence Series, was released last year; it is currently unavailable unless you buy it either used or directly from me – but that’s another story) featured a young winged woman standing atop a building and wearing lingerie. It’s a striking cover and I’ve heard many admiring remarks about it. I loved it when I first saw it, and I love it equally now. As book covers go, it’s a great one. But maybe I’m biased because I know that inside those pages, when Jovienne is given ‘sexy’ armor, she rejects it. It’s a plot point.
Fantasy and Science Fiction are well known as genres where perceptions and social constructs are often reexamined, where the best- and worst-case scenarios are explored, respectively, as aspirations and warnings. They are also the genres filled with damsels in distress who are rescued by virile, womanizing heroes.
As a teen, I devoured as much Sci-Fi and Fantasy as possible. I was ravenous for it. Some of my favorites were Laurana and Goldmoon and even Kitiara of Weis & Hickman’s Dragonlance. They were strong and capable and given respect. And there’s Del, from the Sword Dancer series by Jennifer Roberson. But when those stories ran out, and over and over the books I picked up featured a hero and not a heroine, I began to write my own.
Always, my stories have seemed to step away from what was typical.
In my first series, Persephone Alcmedi is definitely not the average UF heroine. She’s demure and unassuming, and she wears a tee shirt, hoodie, jeans, and hikers. She’s a heroine who doesn’t have sex in every book, and one whose power – and the overarching plot – is linked to her pagan spiritual journey. An additional difference is that most UF novels were set in a closed world or an open world, but I split the difference and gave them a recently opened world – meaning people had mixed reactions to vampires and werewolves being real, and the government was struggling to figure out things like legislation and special law enforcement.
As for my upcoming work, my short story that will appear in the second Blackguards anthology, Knaves features an older knight who happens to be a woman, and she is facing something that, while not unique to modern life, is something which I have not seen addressed in fantasy.
I know where the genre has been, and it has come far, but there is yet a long way to go. I am excited to be a part of the genre, to have produced work that reflects those changes, and I am eager to see where we go next.
About Linda Robertson
Linda will be appearing at International Horror Hotel and Film Festival June 2 and 3 in Richfield, Ohio, at DragonCon in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend and World Fantasy Convention Nov. 1-4 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Working as Linda Reinhardt she composed, created, and produced an original musical score for Jovienne, which is available on Spotify and iTunes.
Fan page: lindarobertsonbooks
Earlier this year, I met the only student Katy Kellgren ever had. He told me he just about had to bully her into being his teacher. This amazing, multiple award-winning voice actress with hundreds of audiobooks under her belt truly didn’t believe she knew anything that anyone would want to learn.
And yet, I totally understand why. Because I felt exactly the same way.
As writers, we tell everyone that “Impostor Syndrome” never goes away. It’s true, in a sense. The more we work, the more we learn to recognize it when it pops up—and then we tell it to go away. I mean heck, I winged my fairy tale talk at the Library of Congress. Sure, I wrote up an outline and jotted down a few notes, but fairy tales are something I’ve studied my whole life and genuinely love to talk about. The “OMG WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU IDIOT?? THIS IS THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!” didn’t hit me until about 3/4 of the way into my talk…and by then it was time for questions.
Where that Impostor bugger really loves to rear its ugly head is when you’re starting something new and different. Who are you to think that anyone will follow you down this path your forging? Sure, you’ll make it to the top of that mountain, but what if you turn around and they’re all laughing instead of cheering? That’s right, show up on [Famous Author]’s doorstep, hotshot—she’ll either love you or hate you! And teaching? I mean seriously! Who the heck are you to think that you know anything that anyone wants to learn?
Well, you might be Katy Kellgren. Or you might be me.
In the last few months, it seems like every time I check in on social media, another friend has made a movie deal. Or a TV deal. Or comic book. Or they’re writing for a property I would give my left arm to be part of. Or they sold foreign rights in twenty countries. Or they just shared a picture where some super famous performer is reading their book to his/her kids.
We all reach an age at some point where everyone around us is getting married or having kids, right? Well, when you’re a writer, you reach the age where everyone around you is suddenly Announcing Big Deals. And YES I am happy for them. Immensely! And YES, I get that comparison is the thief of joy. My time will come! But when I posted the link to my online writing workshop for teens, that Impostor voice seeped through the cracks.
Who are you? the Impostor said. Your bestselling book was published 12 years ago. No one remembers you. You haven’t walked a red carpet. No movie stars retweet your posts. Where’s your coloring book? Where’s your HBO series? No one wants to learn from a Nobody.
I could lie and tell you that voice wasn’t constantly in the back of my mind, poking at my ego with its malice. But I won’t. No, I heard that voice loud and clear. But you know what? I did it anyway. And not a ton of kids signed up, but that’s okay. Because SOME DID.
Besides, I told myself, smaller groups are better. Fewer students to forgive me if I screw up, so less pressure for me to put on myself. I’ll feel more comfortable. Stretch my legs. Work the kinks out.
By the end of the first online session (of four), I could feel the magic. I missed working with kids, yes, but more importantly, I had never worked with young writers before. And I don’t ever want to stop working with them for the rest of my life. You know how some teachers say that they feel “a calling”? I do believe I’ve found mine.
AND HERE IS WHY:
—Writers are always asked “If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?” (When I asked Anne McCaffrey this, she said, “To have more sex while I’m young and beautiful.”) My answer is always: Write more. Never stop. And finish what you start. Now…until they invent the TARDIS, I can’t actually go back in time and tall my teenage self this. BUT I CAN TELL THEM. I can tell them all of that, and more!
—I was a teen writer. Would you believe that I actually forgot this would make a difference? I remember what it’s like to have parents who tell you to “major in something that will get you a real job.” I remember form letters from editors telling me never to use a pseudonym. I remember staring at that novel and KNOWING that I wasn’t old enough to write it. Knowing that I just didn’t have the experience yet to tell the story the way it needed to be told. Knowing that I had not known enough pain and hardship and broken hearts and death. I remember how the stories still wanted to be told, regardless, and how my friends wanted me to write them all, no matter what.
—I had that Cinderella story. I peaked early, both as an actress and a writer. Of course, I didn’t know it at at the time—that’s the curse of peaking early in one’s career. You don’t know how to handle it until it’s too late. But if writing is what you want—if it’s what you really want—nothing will be able to stop you. In the meantime, you lean the hard way how to buckle down and teach yourself a work ethic. You watch friends come up from beneath you and rise above you in record time. Sometime they stay your friends. Sometimes they don’t. You begin to recognize which projects are wort spending time on…and which people, too.
That last bit came directly out of all that vile nonsense the Impostor voice had been spewing. It made me laugh to think that all those reasons I was telling myself I had no business teaching young people was exactly the reason why I should be teaching….especially young people.
It’s true. The Impostor never really goes away. But my teens will learn its tricks, and they will learn them far earlier than I did. AND THEN THEY WILL RULE THE WORLD.
Want to know more about Alethea Kontis’s upcoming classes? Follow her on social media (Twitter @AletheaKontis, Facebook @AletheaKontis) and check out her Eventbright profile here: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/alethea-kontis-16376673838
New York Times bestselling author, Alethea Kontis, is a princess, voice actress, a force of nature, and a mess. She is responsible for creating the epic fairytale fantasy realm of Arilland and dabbling in a myriad of other words beyond. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. Born in Vermont, Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives here: http://www.patreon.com/princessalethea.
I like fairies—not a difficult admission for a fantasy writer—and I don’t mean the safe Victorian ones with gossamer wings that spread sparkles when they walk. I mean the ones that steal little children and make Faustian bargains. They were ancient and magnificent and knew worlds beyond our own. Is it any wonder they acted like gods?
What attracted me to the idea of fairies weren’t the fairies themselves. It was the idea that they were hidden, usually in plain sight, and only the initiated would be able to find them. It was a test of worthiness and the outcome was never guaranteed to be a good one. Catching a leprechaun earned you a pot of gold, but if you weren’t careful it also came with a curse. No one ever said adventure was a good idea.
But as I got older, I was pulled away from the fairy world. I could say I outgrew it, but that sounds sad, like someone who no longer catches wishes on the wind or searches for four-leaf clover. No, I moved away from fairyland because no one there looked like me. My roots are Latina and I knew very early that all those fairies—pixies, gnomes, sprites—were not mine. They were Northern European with pale skin, long, straight hair and bright, light eyes. Just as I knew I would never be compared to Snow White, I knew fairies were just as far from reach.
That didn’t stop me from wanting to write myself and people like me into the stories. I wanted a mythology, folklore that looked like the fairyland I’d grown up loving. And then I discovered something wonderful. Fairies are for the rest of us. The trick is to expand the idea of what constitutes a fairy
One of the early inhabitants of Puerto Rico was the Taino. They had a rich culture and heritage and during my studies I discovered something that looked familiar—beings that only walked the mortal realm after sundown. They were shapeshifters, pranksters, and could be benevolent (when moved to be) or malevolent (when crossed by mere mortals). During the day they lived in a realm called Coaybay, which was considered “the other side of the island”, as though people could get there. The ruler of their realm was called Marquetaurie Guayaba and he had a dog Opiyelguabirán who guards the entrance to Coaybay. In the stories the realm was only for the dead when their goieza, or souls, left their bodies. Then the goieza were judged and the good ones became hupia, while the bad ones became Maboya. Both could be identified by the lack of a navel and were attracted to guava.
The more I read, the more I saw similarities to other fairy stories I’d read. Their changeable nature. The ability to do kind and cruel things. Having a kingdom, tantalizingly close to the world of man, complete with a ruler. Only emerging at night and having a distinguishing feature. These were spirits of the dead, but they never moved on and after centuries they forgot where they came from and became spirits of the forest, the rain forest. It sounded like fairies to me. And I wondered, what if I had been asking the wrong question? Maybe every culture has a fairy and I didn’t know because it’s not out there to find. But it is. I just had to look for it. Kind of like fairies—close at hand, but only for those who know what to look for. They don’t make it easy, but if you’re one of the chosen, you may get a glimpse of a fairy that looks like you.
About a Smuggler’s Path by I.L. Cruz (coming soon!)
In Canto, magic is a commodity, outlawed by the elites after a devastating war and brokered by smugglers on the hidden market. But some know it’s more—a birthright.
Inez Garza moves through both worlds. She’s a member of an old, aristocratic family and she works for the hidden market as a magical arms dealer. Inez must keep her smuggling of magical contraband a secret for her sake and her family’s safety. Her worlds stay separate to hide her real purpose—funding The Heir Apparent, an underground group determined to return magic to the people at any cost.
But the discovery of a relic from before the war threatens her delicate balance.
Inez’s inherent magic, which lives in all the Canti, has been awakened by an ancient cowry shell. Now the Duchess’s daughter and smuggler must add another title to her already precarious position—mage, a capital crime. This could bring her to the attention factions at home— both the rebels she secretly supports, and those at the highest levels of government, doggedly holding to the status quo to avoid another magical war—and abroad.
And Inez must decide who she can trust and what her powers mean for her future and the future of Canto.
“Mr. Broaddus, you need to start a Creative Writing Club.” Thus began a four week campaign in which different members of my eighth grade class wore me down and I agreed to run an after school program. We ended up with nearly a dozen intrepid souls in our merry band, including two sixth graders. Each one with a story (or novel or series of novels) in progress.
Maurice BroaddusThe timing of the call to write for the Knaves anthology couldn’t have been more perfect.
It gave me an opportunity to write alongside my students, which is always one of my favorite ways to teach creative writing because it demystifies the process in very practical ways (minus the profanity when I got stuck…though my kind-hearted middle school students offered to fill that in for me, but for the sake of me wanting to keep my job, I declined their helpful offer).
So that out time together wouldn’t degenerate into “goofing off with Mr. Broaddus” (I’m not admitting that on rare occasion my time with my eighth graders may have slid into this), I outlines a series of topics for us to discuss: brainstorming, world-building, plotting, beginnings, scenes, middles, dialogue, endings, and revision. The thing about eighth graders, especially ones who believe that after school they are “off the clock,” is that they “listen” in different ways. To the casual observer, it may have looked a lot like them insulting one another, throwing paper wads, attempting to listen to music, and cruising the latest Fortnite skins. However, when it came time to write, they were all business.
With this in mind, I wrote “Daughter of Sorrow.” This story features a heroine named Rianna (I’m not admitting that I had a student named Rianna who declared herself my favorite student. I will say that if you notice in any of my work produced between the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018 the phrase “Rianna is Queen,” know that she was prone to “editing” my drafts). She’s facing the prospect of going to high school. And as many people have rightly assumed, high school is a place full of assassins. So it’s handy that her father happens to be one who has been training her and allowed her to tag along (remotely) on some of his missions.
Writing is often a very solitary art form, which has always frustrated me a little because I hate the idea of extended periods of isolating myself to create. So whenever possible, I have tried to find ways to make my art/process as communal as possible. Surrounding myself with eighth graders to brainstorm and plot is a lot like attempting to write in the Thunderdome. On the flip side, they poured that same energy and passion into their own work, too. In our final meeting, we did readings of our work. And it was obvious they really paid attention. In fact, in a moment I still think back on with pride, it was one of our sixth graders who wrote a piece so profound it ripped out our hearts and sent us spiraling into our feels.
So “Daughter of Sorrow” is dedicated to my Creative Writing Club who are eagerly awaiting to see it in print (and whom I have promised to buy copies for). They were my critique partners, they were my editors, and they were my inspiration (I won’t lie: I bawled like a baby at their promotion ceremony). However, right after their graduation, my sixth graders came up to me and said “Mr. Broaddus, you need to start a Creative Writing Club.”
About Maurice Broaddus
Maurice Broaddus is an exotic dancer, trained in several forms of martial arts–often referred to as “the ghetto ninja”–and was voted the Indianapolis Dalai Lama. He’s an award winning haberdasher and coined the word “acerbic”. He graduated college at age 14 and high school at age 16. Not only is he credited with inventing the question mark, he unsuccessfully tried to launch a new number between seven and eight.
When not editing or writing, he is a champion curler and often impersonates Jack Bauer, but only in a French accent. He raises free range jackalopes with his wife and two sons … when they are not solving murder mysteries.
He really likes to make up stories. A lot. Especially about himself.
I remember watching Phantom Menace in the movie theater wondering what the movie was missing. There was awesome Jedi action (and way better choreography than the original trilogy). The music was fantastic. Tatooine looked pretty much the same, and pod racing was pretty nifty. (It was even more fun as a segment in later Star Wars video games). But there was some core element of Star Wars I felt was just absent.
It didn’t take me more than a few times watching it to realize that what the film didn’t have was Han Solo.
I don’t mean Han Solo literally. What I wanted was a loveable rogue. (You’ll note that I found a TV Tropes link for the character type–that’s how common it is). It’s all well and good to have the earnest hero in the center of things. That’s kinda their job. But there needs to be someone around with a smirk and a wink and a hard edge—a little too cynical to believe in the mythic importance of everything around them (even if they’re later proven wrong). Sometimes it’s their job to undercut the narrative, to give it a little breathing room so the audience can laugh. Pretty typically, their witticisms are the ones people leave the theater quoting. They’re not in this story for the higher mission of the plot. They’re in it for some selfish reason.
But not really. Because when the chips are down, they show up to help save the day.
Or, actually, they don’t.
Even though I grew up with the Han Solo type of scoundrel and grew into the Malcolm Reynolds kind of scoundrel (as a freelancer, “I do the job, and then I get paid” became a mantra for me), I’ve developed a bit of a taste for the varied palate they can offer. Around the time I was loving Firefly, I was also reading Steven Brust’s “Vlad Taltos” series. Which centers on a character who is, effectively, a crime lord in at least a portion of his novels. He’s an assassin. He’s not a nice man. But he’s affable, the kind of narrator you want to follow on whatever mission it is he’s undertaking. And, even when it’s not really the right thing, you want him to win.
I followed Mark Henry’s “Amanda Feral” series, which is narrated by a zombie socialite. Who eats people. Sometimes they’re not even bad people, it’s just that she’s a zombie, and. Well. It happens. And while the whole experience of hanging out with Amanda is kind of like being a spectator to a train wreck, it’s a glorious spectacle.
More recently, there’s Marvel’s Loki, whose Road Movie-like dialogue with Thor was the best thing about Thor: The Dark World. Never quite knowing what side Loki is on is a big part of his appeal—but, even moreso, that he’s ambiguous with charm. If you want to talk about a fan favorite character—I think it’s probably a safe bet that there’s more fan fiction about Loki on the Internet than any of the Marvel heroes. (I’m not going to actually go count them, but I stand by my suspicion).
And while characters like Kate Daniels and Curran Lennart from Ilona Andrews’s “Kate Daniels” series are absolutely the heroes—they’ve got a bit of a edge on them as well. Kate, a former mercenary, private investigator, and also the daughter of one of the universe’s big evils, isn’t always good at playing nice. Curran, who for much of the series is the leader of all the shapeshifters in Atlanta, creates a code for his own people, but doesn’t always play nicely by the rules of non-shapeshifters. They’re a pair for whom the default response is to hit the problem with a sword, and to do so with a gleeful, maniacal smile that makes bystanders scared for their lives.
Fantasy and science fiction thrive on the morally ambiguous characters who can reel you into their stories and make you want them to win, even when they’re the bad guys. While I’m no psychologist, I suspect there’s something cathartic about rooting for the scoundrel. When you’re part of a community (a family, a town, a nation), it’s important to follow the rules—but it’s not always fun. Diplomacy is hard. Sometimes just getting along with other members of your community is hard.
Rooting for the guy who doesn’t have to follow those rules? Sometimes, that’s exactly what we need. In all the varieties possible.
As Han says, “There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.”
Anton Strout is the author of urban fantasy, including the Simon Canderous paranormal detective series and the Spellmason Chronicles. He’s also the host of the Once and Future Podcast. He’s going to have a story in the fantasy anthology Knaves from Outland Entertainment, now on Kickstarter!
There are words and phrases from what one reads that stick with you throughout your entire life. From the moment you read them they inspired or changed you. As a teen, the now clichéd “Carpe Diem, Seize the Day” from the film Dead Poet’s Society was life changing, but it was reading that always struck to the core of my heart when it came to shaping who I was as both a person and as a writer of the fantastical.
No one was as pivotal to who I became in both respects than Douglas Adams. My first exposure was to the PBS import of the BBC television series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Immediately I HAD TO HAVE the books and made my mother take me to buy what was then just the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy. I still have the broken spined, falling apart hardcover, coated in dried green slime from a toy accident years ago. Then I consumed the radio plays on cassette, and bought the annotated transcripts to read along with.
There are a million turns of phrase that the late Mr. Adams wrote over the years that stick with me:
- “Don’t Panic.”—the words inscribed on the guide itself, and an obvious choice as a life motto.
- “Life. Don’t talk to me about life.”—Marvin the Paranoid Android, moping about in his usual depressed state
- From the planet builder Slartibartfast, best known for winning an award for designing Earth’s Norwegian fjords:
Slartibartfast: I’d far rather be happy than right any day.
Arthur: And are you?
Slartibartfast: No. That’s where it all falls down of course.
But the one that has always stuck with me is:
This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
To a 12-year old kid, it just seemed funny, but it also made me think. Adults were weird, anyway. Why would they obsess over these little green pieces of paper? The idea was absurd—later causing me to strive in my own fiction to capture even just a fracture of Mr. Adam’s genius/humor—but his words were also spot on about the human condition. These were IMPORTANT WORDS, important thoughts! As I grew up and became an adult myself (a debatable point, I know), I found the words stuck with me.
I’ve been financially stable as well as pathetically poor, but rarely have I suffered at the hand of that ebb and flow. Money is always welcome and nice to have and all, but I’ve never let a lack of it determine my happiness. It’s been a pretty healthy attitude, focusing me instead on what truly makes me happy—family, writing, rampantly consuming all manners of nerdery…
Such a complexly written yet simply logical line transformed my entire attitude about the true answer to life, the universe, and well, everything. Words…powerful stuff indeed.