December 15th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Writing Religion in Fantasy

Happy Saturday and Howdy Folks!

I put out the call for a Genreality topic and my pal (and amazing research scout of all things Psalms of Isaak) Tracy suggested the topic of religion in fantasy.  What a great suggestion!

I suspect I have some unusual qualifications on this particular topic.  In 1985, at the young age of 17, I gave up my childhood dream of being a writer, disappointed my English teacher, and pointed myself at the ministry.  I preached my first sermon at Foothills Baptist Church in Wilkeson, WA on “Putting on the Full Armor of God” (from Ephesians chapter 6) that spring and I was off and running.  By 1989, I was licensed as a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention and working as a Youth Pastor. By 1992, I was pastoring my own church.  I stayed at one form of ministry or another (to include performing religious songs I’d written and preaching various sermons all over the northwest) until around 1996 when I eased back into writing.  I moved very slowly through a fundamentalist Baptist/Pentecostal type of faith to eventually becoming Episcopalian.  By 2004 or 2005, I had slowly evolved into agnosticism and now, today, I’m a wholly secular humanist who does not believe in any of the gods heretofore proclaimed by my fellow humans and thinks that religion is more dangerous than helpful for lots and lots of reasons.  I’ve experienced a pretty broad spectrum of religious faith (and rejection thereof) between those two polar opposites and it gives me a different perspective from many.

That being said, religion is also absolutely a part of human existence, a ripe and juicy bit of low hanging fruit to pluck for world building and building dramatic tension in Story.  And Story is a great sandbox to play with and explore religious notions.  Anyone who’s spent any time in my fiction knows I play in that sandbox a lot.  These are some of the things that I keep in mind when I write religion:

1)  In a fantasy, if part of the fantasy is a belief in gods, I have to know as the author if those gods really exist or are imagined.  If they are imagined, why are they imagined?  Were there other beings or legendary-type heroes mis-cast into the role of gods by the mortals?  And if they are real, how do they operate?  Are they personal?  Impersonal?  Both/and?

2)  If my gods ARE real, they have to be governed by consistent rules in much the same way a magic system is.  And the religions springing up from them are going to differ based on that god’s values, expectations and interactions with its worshipers.  So those gods become more than a world-building prop — they become characters in the history, backstory and present of my world.

3)  The language and behavior of faith has a cadence to it as does the language of sacred writing and the things written about.  I saturated myself in religious life and thought so a lot of it comes naturally to me.  But it can never hurt to spend some time getting to know some of the things folks have believed over the history of our species.  Having the religious interactions in my world “feel real” to readers feeds  their suspension of disbelief.

4)  People have varying degrees of adherence to their religions and the beliefs across a fantasy world should reflect that.  And if there are societal or divine consequences for too much or too little faith, that’s a rich soil to grow Story in.   As are the inevitable clashes between groups, though in a polytheistic system where gods are know to exist, it would stand to reason (heh…I said reason) that all gods would likely be believed in and approached based on their specialty.

And this is just a starting off point.  There’s much more to dig down into if you’ve a mind to do it.  But make it feel real.  And if you want to read an excellent essay on it, check out the Kobold Guide to World-Building…I think it’s the best world-building book I’ve read and Woflgang Bauer’s essay on the pantheon is really amazing.

As a holiday treat, I think I’ll close with a prompt to go read aboutone of my made up religions, Dragon’s Mass Eve and its Santaman, in my holiday story “If Dragon’s Mass Eve Be Cold and Clear.”


December 14th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Why I Love the Norton Award

Today, I’m participating in the Norton Award Blog Tour to help raise awareness of this award.

The Andre Norton Award, named for pioneering SFF writer Andre Norton, is an award given to a children’s novel of speculative fiction by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at their annual Nebula Awards Weekend. I highly recommend reading the other stops on the tour (link at SFWA site, above) for beautiful posts on Norton’s work and influence, the creation of the award in 2005, the award process, and people recommendations for this year.

This year was my first trip to the Nebula Awards Weekend, but it certainly won’t be my last. I’m a relatively new member of SFWA (joined in 2010), but right now, it’s the most valuable professional organization I belong to. The Nebula Awards weekend gave me the opportunity to learn so much about the genre I write in, and to meet and interact with marvelous writers I may never otherwise have met.

Here I am at the 2012 Nebula Awards. From Left: Norton Award Nominee R.J. Anderson (Ultraviolet), awesome writer and multiple award winner Ellen Kushner, Nebula Award Nominee (and like, a billion other awards) E. Lily Yu, me, and Norton Award Nominee Franny Billingsley (Chime). Not pictured: the sixth member of what we might as well call the 2012 Nebula Awards singing group: Delia Sherman, who actually did win the Norton that night for her gorgeous novel, The Freedom Maze.

I don’t know if the other writers I spent the weekend with had the same experience at the awards weekend as I did (actually, I think Ms. Yu, a college student whose debut story was up for awards, was in the midst of sorta having her mind blown), and maybe it was just timing, as it was one of the first professional events I’d attended since my maternity leave, but attending these awards and listening to these writers talk about their work, the genre in general, and Andre Norton (author Alethea Kontis gave a teary tribute to her former mentor while introducing the award), was truly a watershed moment in my career.

I was reminded, at the awards, of how diverse and exciting the current field is for young people’s speculative fiction, and as I went home and dedicated the next week to reading the Norton nominees I’d missed out on (my only nominee that had made it to the final slate was Laini Taylor’s excellent The Daughter of Smoke and Bone), I was impressed all over again. Last year’s Norton slate was filled with big, difficult questions in book form; the novels explored identity, evil, history, race, destiny, love, war, and family; they utilized complex narrative techniques and innovative storytelling and meticulous research. These books are about young people, and published for young readers, but they’re universal in appeal.

As another pioneering writer of speculative fiction for young people, Madeline L’Engle, once said: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

The Norton Award is important for science fiction and fantasy, not only because of what it says about children’s SFF, but for what it says about the genre as a whole.

For more information about the Nebulas, the Andre Norton Award, or SFWA in general, please visit


This year, I have a Norton-eligible book called For Darkness Shows the Stars. It’s a post-apocalyptic story inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and received a starred review from School Library Journal, as well as being named one of the best YA books of the year by Amazon and The Atlantic.

I also have several works eligible for this year’s Nebula Awards:

Short Story (<7,500 words):

  • “The Hammer of Artemis” in CAST OF CHARACTERS (Fiction Studio)
  • “Stray Magic” in UNDER MY HAT: TALES FROM THE CAULDRON (Random House)

Novelette (>7,500 words):

  • Foundlings” in BRAVE NEW LOVE (Running Press)



December 13th, 2012 by HelenKay Dimon
Teachable Moment

I’ve spent the last few days at UC Riverside teaching/holding office hours at the MFA program there. I love talking books and writing. In this case, the topic of my presentation was about making a career out of writing commercial fiction. Honestly, I could talk all day on that topic and the students made it very easy. It was a great crowd.

As part of most of the writing talks/lectures/classes I do, I talk about an article by YA author Sherman Alexie in the Wall Street Journal called Why The Best Kids Books Are Written In Blood. He wrote it in response to an article where someone complained about the nature of YA novels these days. Too much sex, too much violence, etc.

I’m moved every time I read Alexie’s article and yesterday was no different. The articles also tends to bring a hush to the crowd. Here’s my favorite part:

And there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them.

As a child, I read because books–violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not–were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life. I read widely, and loved plenty of the classics so, yes, I recognized the domestic terrors faced by Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters. But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King’s books. I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life.

And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.

For me, it stands as a profound reminder of the importance of honesty in books. I love that.

December 12th, 2012 by Charlene Teglia
The season of light

The season of light comes with full fat eggnog and cookies so obviously it isn’t light in the dietary sense. It’s light against the darkness, the promise of spring’s return, the celebration of the end of winter even when we’re in the icy heart of it. And in the icy heart of winter, I want my butter-laden cookies and high-caloric eggnog latte, thankyouverymuch. Along with that I want light entertainment, so here’s a roundup for you of free and low cost holiday cheer.

1. PG Wodehouse’s Another Christmas Carol. Read aloud for you, click and listen to Part 1, then Part 2.

2. Play games on Norad Santa’s countdown village while you wait for the sleigh to take flight on their famous tracker. I especially like the connect-the-Christmas-tree-lights game and Christmas Tetris.

3. In the Seattle area there’s the Garden d’Lights at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens, with tickets for sale (and if you’re an early bird there were several free nights). Check out the botanical gardens nearest you for similar displays.

4. Watch holiday favorites like Die Hard, Scrooged, It’s a Wonderful Life.

5. One of my personal favorites, the Christmas stories of Connie Willis. All Seated on the Ground and Miracle and other Stories are available as ebooks and will lighten your spirits with alien invasions, carols, and even a spine-tingling Epiphany.

Storytelling is one of the oldest and truest ways we’ve kept hope alive in the dark, and it’s good to remember in this season of light that telling stories and listening to them is the human spirit beating in the icy heart of winter.

December 11th, 2012 by Sasha White
The truth in erotica

I write fiction, there’s no quibble about that, but my favorite aspect of what I write is the truth in it. Confused?

Recently, due to a story I’m working on, I’ve been thinking about how much reality in a sex scene is too much?

Realistically, women don’t always orgasm when having sex, let alone have multiples and men aren’t all eight (or more) inches long, and last for hours. Just because I like some realism in my erotic scenes doesn’t mean I can’t have these things. 😉

What I’m referring to is things like….in NO ANGEL the hero rolls right off the bed and onto the floor because he’s in such a hurry to get his pants off. When he stands up proudly without them the heroine makes him take his socks off before he climbs onto the bed again. Then, when she says “Wait, now my socks.” he says “I don’t give a fuck about your socks!” and climbs on.

If anyone here has read My Prerogative, you might remember the mutual masturbation scene between Kelsey (the heroine) and Harlan (the hero). When I originally wrote it, it was slightly different…and for those who haven’t read it, bear with’s going to sound gross, but I really don’t think it was…maybe y’all can tell me what you think int he comments….anyway, in this scene, after they watch each other masturbate, Kelsey gets up off the bed, snags some tissues from the box next to her bed, and walks to the end of the bed where Harlan is sitting in a chair. He still has all his clothes on, but his jeans are open and around his hips so he can stroke himself off. Without a word, Kelsey, the brash and outrageous heroine kneels down in front of him and starts to clean him up with the tissue. Of course a bit of tissue sticks to the uhmm stickiness, and without thinking about it she spits on the tissue and goes to wipe the stuck pieces off. When she realizes what she’s done, she looks up at him and Harlan, hero that he is, is just starting at her. She’s like “What, didn’t your mother ever spit on a tissue to clean your cheek or something?”

He laughs and says “I’m so not thinking about my mother right now.”

This helps her relax, and they chuckle and the awkwardness is gone.

Now, in my original scene, she didn’t spit on the tissue, she actually spat on him.:lol: My editor wanted that whole part of the scene gone, because it was unsexy. I fought to keep it because to me, it wasn’t supposed to be sexy. For me, that was a pivotal scene, because it was when the heroine realized that with Harlan, she could be her true, bawdy, graceless, somewhat raunchy self, and he accepted her. To me, it was something that might actually happen in real life.

To me, that’s reality. I think it’s good to have a bit of reality in fiction…what do you think?

December 10th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
The Revision Slog

Back in the day, I thought revising meant reading the thing over and making sure everything was spelled right, grammatically correct, and that the main character’s hair never accidentally changed color.  Ha!  Those were the days…   I’m in the middle of revising the twelfth Kitty novel, Kitty in the Underworld, based on editorial notes.  Here’s what I’m doing, without any details to avoid spoilers.  It’ll give you an idea of what constitutes a serious, in-depth revision.

  • I’m moving the end of Chapter 2 to the end of Chapter 1.  Thematically, the same thing is happening, and this way the story won’t have to switch gears, then switch back again.
  • I’m adding a scene to the end of Chapter 1, a great big bombshell of a plot coupon.  In the earlier draft, the first three chapters mostly described the series’ status quo as of the end of the previous book, Kitty Rocks the House.  This is one of the pitfalls of writing the twelfth book in the series:  I’m trying to re-introduce characters, remind the readers what’s been going on, etc.  But it’s actually kind of long and boring to read.  So let’s follow good novel writing rules and do something early that actually changes things and starts the plot off with a big push.
  • This Very Bad Thing I’ve added will influence absolutely everything that follows.  The novel’s main plot starts in Chapter 3, and this Very Bad Thing has the added bonus of making the main plot that much more critical and suspenseful.  Note that none of the comments I got from my editor or my beta reader suggested adding a Very Bad Thing happening in the first chapter.  I got notes that the whole book needs more drama, that the stakes and motivation aren’t clear, and that the opening is a little slow.  I decided that having something bad in the first chapter will fix a bunch of the more vague problems my readers pointed out, in one fell swoop.
  • Previously, Chapter 2 was a bunch of people sitting around talking about the status quo.  Now, it’s a serious meeting about what to do about the Very Bad Thing that happens in Chapter 1.  Note, I’ll also be reminding my readers of the status quo from the previous book by having my characters discuss the new situation in contrast with the old.  Now this scene is doing more than one thing plot-wise, which is a big improvement.
  • And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten right now, but as I’ve said, the changes I’ve already made are going to have consequences for the rest of the book, so I need to go over the manuscript carefully to make sure those ripples make it all the way through the story.

This is heavy, tedious, slogging work.  Not the glamorous side of writing at all.  Rewriting entire chapters kind of sucks.  I sometimes feel like I’m breaking the whole book to pieces and I’ll never be able to put it back together again.  Reviewing the manuscript to examine how one big change affects every other aspect of the story is intensely tedious.  But I do it, because I know it’s going to make the book better.

Here’s the really tricky bit:  the manuscript was probably okay the way it was.  A lot of cool stuff happens.  My beloved characters are doing what they do, and the readers who’ve been with me throughout the series would probably like the old version just fine.  But you know what?  It can be better.  I can make it better.  I don’t want to put out an “okay” book.  I don’t want a book that makes my readers think, “Oh, that was nice.”  I want them to think, “Holy shit, that was amazing!”  I want a brand new reader who’s never read any of my work to read this book and think, “Wow, I ought to check out the rest of the series.”  I don’t want to put out a competent book, I want to put out a great book.

And that’s why the slog is worth it.  (But I seriously need a big pot of hot tea and some good music to get me through it…)

December 8th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
On Silver Bullets and Secret Handshakes

Happy Saturday and howdy folks!

Today I want to talk about something we’re all familiar with.  And something we ALL start out looking diligently for when we start down the road to being writers.

Yes, I’m talking about silver bullets and secret handshakes.  And we’re convinced they are out there.  That one, amazing, radical bit of writing advice that will turn us instantly into successful writers.  And that one person we can meet who will open the doors to the universe of promise when it comes to our writing — the one who will usher us into the secret society we’ve always known deep down must exist, made up of the “it’s not WHAT you know but WHO you know” people all waiting to point us on our way to overwhelming success.

We’ve all been there and what we”re really looking for is…a shortcut.  A way to get where we want to be faster than we’re currently going.  Because face it, it’s grueling and disappointing work in the early days.  When the reward for all your effort is a rejection letter to hang on your wall…well, it can get discouraging after a while.

So today I’m going to tell you the whole truth.  There really IS a silver bullet or at least something close to it that will get you there.  And though it’s not a secret society, there are handshakes that can move you closer to your goal than not.


The silver bullet is this:  Write.  A lot.  Often.  Then write more.  And keep writing.  A lot.  Often.  Learn from what you’ve written and from what other people have written.  Then go back to your keyboard or your legal pad and write.  A lot.  Often.  And put what you’ve written in front of people who can give you money for it.  And while your paper darling is sitting out there on their desk, go back to the keyboard and write more.  A lot.  Often.

Every bit we do is practice and practice makes perfect.  Also, to some degree it’s a numbers game like most things in life.  You need a LOT of words to get to the point of writing fiction people will pay you for.  So use every opportunity you have to make more words.

And the secret handshake is this:  Every single one of the people you meet and shake hands with is important.  But it’s not THAT you meet them…it’s HOW you interact when you do.  Meet them.  Be polite.  Be respectful of their time.  Don’t lurk or loom over them.  And let them drive.  If they ask what you do, say you’re a writer.  If they ask where you’ve been published, be honest.  If they ask if you have a book ready and you don’t, be honest.  If you do, and they ask to see it, send it.  And even if all you talk about with Mr. or Ms. Amazing Editor is what it’s like raising teen children, enjoy the conversation and the person you’re having it with.  And when the con is over, send a brief thank you if they offered you a card.  And if all they do is smile and shake your hand and keep moving, go with it.  You’re likely to meet again at some point.  But don’t get in your own way like so many of our socially awkward writer people do.  You don’t need to be suave; just professional and…not needy.  You don’t want to look like someone looking for a secret handshake.

Because despite these two bits of truth out of my writing experience, write a lot and treat everyone well that you meet, the real answer is that it is hard work.  Hard hard work.  Lots of it.  Focus on the work and let go of the expectations around magic bullets and secret handshakes.  Find joy in the wordcount and the number of stories out to find homes.  Hunker down and write, write, write.

You’ll get there faster.

Trailer Boy out!