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Airships and Alchemy


Helen Rochester has a dream: unveiling her airship at the Paris Exposition of 1867. It’s sure to make a splash. But her interfering father wants to chaperone the journey — and she has doubts about the Italian alchemist. He has promised a revolutionary new fuel but why does he need the winged Venetian lion?

 

From the author of the comic Gothic novel The Mangrove Legacy and the medieval Breton Lais series, Airships & Alchemy brings you magic, mayhem, mechanicals — and beasts of various sizes!

 

Airships are nothing new in steampunk, but in my latest novel I tried to add a slightly more surprising angle. I imagined a world in which alchemy was not dropped in favour of chemistry alone, but continued to develop as the primary science. No longer simply in search of the philosopher’s stone, alchemists in my alternate history work on mundane tasks as well deeper occult secrets. They bring their mystical expertise to practical problems—like providing interesting fuels for airships.

 

Attitudes from the past linger: Helen’s father always refers disparagingly to the alchemist with whom his daughter plans to work, often calling him a mountebank. As far back as Chaucer’s time, this image of alchemists as frauds seemed to be the norm. The poet’s Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale offers up a portrait of the alchemist as con man, passing off recipes for gold that required nothing more than sleight of hand tricks.

 

Alessandro Maggiormente, the alchemist in my novel, is most notable for his proclivity for explosions (although to be fair, most of them are fairly small) and for his familiar, a Venetian lion named Eduardo. Because he is so accustomed to the beast, Maggiormente seldom notices the stares his familiar causes. Of course, so deeply absorbed in his work, it might be more accurate to say he notices very little that doesn’t have something to do with his alchemy.

 

Eduardo, however, is very hard to overlook. Imagine: a large lion would always stand out in Paris. It is not their natural location. But a Venetian lion is something extraordinary beyond a mere lion, too, for it has a pair of wings that are prone to draw gasps of amazement even after the initial reaction to finding the king of beasts prowling the Parisian pavement. While mostly ornamental—being far too small to actually cause the lion to fly, a fact Eduardo is generally loathe to admit—the idea of an airborne lion unsettles even the most hardened denizen of the City of Lights.

 

The addition on many occasions of a jaunty fez to the lion’s head might undercut somewhat any sense of alarm, even if it is also likely to leave many confused. Surely Parisians would appreciate his sense of style. In the novel, many people are initially frightened by the sight of Eduardo, but when they realise his nature is mostly gentle (provided one is not a pigeon, a creature for which he has no tolerance) they are inclined to accept him as they do much smaller cats.

 

How does he help the alchemist? Here’s a good scene to illustrate it:

 

“We don’t have to move,” the lion said, looking a little too pleased with himself. He stretched his wings out to their full size and then folded them back down again.

The alchemist looked at him with an eyebrow raised. “What?”

“I said, we don’t have to move anymore.”

“We did before?”

“You were thinking it.”

“True enough. So why don’t we have to do so now?”

Eduardo grinned, showing his big teeth. While the alchemist was very accustomed to this display, many were understandably intimidated by the gleaming choppers, a fact Eduardo chose to be aware of only some of the time. “I solved our problems with the concierge.”

The alchemist had a momentary image of the lion eating the poor woman, but doubtless he would be lying down to digest a meal of that size and he was looking far too alert and pleased with himself for that—which was a relief to say the least.

He was not pleased with Mme. Gabor, but he would not wish her to become Eduardo’s supper.

“How did you solve our problems?”

“I reasoned with her.” The lion looked even more smug now, shaking his mane to emphasize his pronouncement.

“How exactly did you do that? You worry me, Eduardo.”

His familiar barked with laughter, which seemed an entirely unsuitable sound for a lion to make. “What can I say? I made her an offer that she could not reasonably refuse.”

Maggiormente did not like the sound of that. “What sort of offer? Did this involve pigeons?”

“Only as an example,” Eduardo said with a small growl.

“Eduardo!”

“What? She was trouble—and it was only likely to get worse. You need to work. I need to eat. It’s a fairly simple equation.” The lion coughed and a couple of pigeon feathers wafted out of his mouth onto the floor.

Maggiormente considered the situation. “Well, I suppose anything is worth not having to move again.”

Visit Kit Marlowe’s website http://kit-marlowe.com or find her on Facebook.

Buy Airships & Alchemy on Kindle or as a paperback.

 


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Gender Balance Made Easy - Add an Apocalypse and Stir!

 

Thank you, Catherine, for inviting me to talk about my post-apocalyptic steampunk novel, A Circus of Brass and Bone (Amazon).

 

A Circus of Brass and Bone began life as a serial story that I wrote as a medical fundraiser. This led to several unique challenges. The one that I'm going to talk about today is how inconveniently generous women are.

 

Yes, you read that right. 

 

One of the rewards I offered for supporters was to have a character named after them. In the beginning, this was well and good. When a new character appeared, I would choose a name of the appropriate gender from the donor list and keep going. Because the book focuses on a circus traveling through the collapse of civilization and the challenges they must overcome in each new city, there were plenty of new characters. Then the female names from supporters began to pile up.

 

Now, for context, you need to know that I laugh and point every time I encounter a book or a TV show that falls prey to the Smurfette fallacy. My favorite movies usually pass the Bechdel test with flying colors (and flying kicks!). I'm a female science fiction writer. I thought I had this stuff down.

 

The circus members were fine. From the conjoined sisters to the skeleton man, the girl sharpshooter to the snake oil salesman, the gender balance came out about even. They were important characters, after all. I'd spent some thought on balancing their motivations, personality quirks, abilities, and, yes, genders.

 

Minor characters didn't matter as much, right? After all, they were spear carriers. If they did their job, whether they had girl bits or boy bits was irrelevant. It wouldn't really affect the story.

 

But now I had all these extra female names. I started having to stop and question why I'd assigned a particular gender to a bit character and if I could do it differently. A Circus of Brass and Bone is set in a slightly alternate version of the United States not long after the War Between the States, which complicated things. Restricted gender roles! Historical verisimilitude!

 

Fortunately, the book has an apocalypse. After an aetheric chain reaction wipes out a third of the population, many things change. All sorts of people step up to do what needs doing. The way they do it is of course strongly influenced by their previous roles in life. And that, gentlepersons, is why some of the most interesting stories happen during or after a disruptive event.

 

Some characters' genders were still locked in by their historical role, but not as many as I'd initially thought. Avoiding the default spear carrier minor characters changed the story more than I'd expected, and for the better. The scene excerpted below would not have existed without those changes.

 

From what I've described, you might be imagining a heavily female-weighted book. Not so. Even though it felt strange writing so many women in minor roles, the kicker is that I ended up with a cast of characters that was pretty much equally balanced. I have to wonder how many stories that feel "naturally" gender-balanced to their writers and readers are nothing of the kind.

 

What I learned is that gender balance requires active thought about even minor characters, especially in historical settings. And when in doubt, add an apocalypse!

 

Excerpt from A Circus of Brass and Bone (Amazon):

 

Mrs. Della Rocca opened her door wearing an apron lightly dusted with flour. The aroma of biscuits drifted out to greet them.

 

“Welcome!” she said. “You must be new to town!” She tossed a questioning glance in the storekeeper’s direction.

 

“This is Mr. Knall,” the storekeeper told her. “He’s a traveling salesman, selling ladies combs. I told him how good your biscuits were.”

 

“Marvelous. Come on in! Lunch is still cooking, but I’ll get you some biscuits and tea.”

 

As soon as they sat at the table, Christopher opened his salesman’s suitcase. “Let me show you—”

 

“Wait.” The storekeeper put up his hand. “First, let’s enjoy the biscuits.”

 

Mrs. Della Rocca came out of the kitchen with a plate in each hand, and a biscuit on each plate. She set the biscuits in front of the men and beamed. “Go on then!”

 

Obediently, Christopher picked up his biscuit and bit in. The biscuit was hot and fluffy on the inside, but he noticed a slight bitter aftertaste he didn’t like. Too much baking soda in the recipe, perhaps.

 

Not wanting to alienate his host, however, he finished the biscuit, smiled, took a sip of tea—and slid sideways as the world tilted and darkened around him. He barely felt the impact when he hit the floor.

 

Today.

 

Christopher Knall straightened from his labor in the chicory field, pressed his hand to the small of his back, and leaned into a stretch. Dried sweat made his shirt crackle under his hand. Mud coated his pants. He was hardly the fine sight he’d been when he walked into town with a suitcase full of ladies’ hair combs and men’s shaving sets to sell.

 

Something moved along the road in the distance. He squinted. Wagons, traveling their way. Poor bastards don’t know what they’re getting into. Can I warn them somehow?

 

When the caravan got closer, the thought vanished. He gaped.

 

It must be a hallucination. He’d finally cracked. The procession was led by a woman standing on top of her saddle as if that was a perfectly ordinary way to ride a horse. A freakishly thin and elongated man rode in one of the wagons behind her. A pair of miniature humans perched atop another. And the giant bone and brass thing that flanked them could only have ridden out of a nightmare.

 

Continued in A Circus of Brass and Bone.

 

Read more

Ebook available at major online retailers for $3.99: Kindle | Google Play | Smashwords | B&N | Apple | and many others
Trade paperback available from Amazon.com for $13.99: Amazon

Book website: http://www.circusofbrassandbone.com/

Author website: http://www.aswiebe.com/

 

Reviews

"Read if: You would love to read about circus freaks, espionage, war elephant golems, intrepid female ship captains, monkeys finding true love, and the authentic smells of large cities."

- Goodreads reviewer

 

"the world has a texture and a past that appeals even as it appalls ... The characters have a lot of bad stuff happening to them, but they retain both agency and their moral sense. The darker scenes never devolve into hopelessness or pointless gore."

- Marissa Lingen, Novel Gazing Redux

 

"'Circus' is a steampunk fantasy piece told in a period voice. It has a thick Dickensian accent and the affectations of Christie, Shelley and Austen. It's sparking conversations you'd expect at a dinner party where Katherine Dunn, Cormac McCarthy and Kurt Vonnegut had a little too much wine. It's imaginative modern literature."

- Rob Callahan, Vita.mn


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What Weirdness Lurks in the Minds of Authors:

 

Some Thoughts by Ginn Hale

 

What does a fantasy epic set in a mythic northland and featuring shape-shifting witches, a troubled gay swordsmen and the siege of a city have to do with Macklemore’s song Thriftshop? I have no idea and yet I listened to that song over and over for two years while writing Champion of the Scarlet Wolf (Books One and Two). The books are completed and published, but I still don’t know why I found the song so inspiring. Something in it kept me pounding out bloody battles and tender admissions. Demon lords consumed immense towers and lovers fought for their lives—all while Macklemore bragged to me about his awesome second-hand scores. Flannel zebra jammies—oh yeah!

That’s the strange quality of personal inspiration, like attraction or humor, it simply works or it doesn’t.

I think every author employs different stimuli for inspiration and to maintain motivation. Often, we incorporate our inspirations into our writing processes as if invoking sacred rituals.

I know authors who don’t clean their desks until a project is completed. Others require a particular blend of tea, wear bizarre slippers, or assemble scrapbooks of various people and settings that embody some essence of the story being written. All these things are highly subjective and some are more incomprehensible than others. Only the author may possess any idea of how a picture of a spider monkey fueled the penning of an epic space opera.

Perhaps because of the happenchance nature of some of these inspirations—or possibly because of the sheer oddity of others—many authors don’t discuss the weird and random details that have brought about their books. This can give a beginning writer the sense that they should look for their inspirations in direct sources and research. (Both are wonderful means to enrich a story and characters but often fail as lasting inspiration.)

So, while a goofy tune about wicked savings garnered at a thrift store happened to strike some chord in me that evoked, a wild witch, a fallen noblemen and a city at war, I hope that other things—perhaps equally as strange—will ignite creativity and the creation of others stories for all the authors out there.

(And if something already has, please do share!)


Ginn Hale resides in the Pacific  Northwest with her lovely wife and their sinister cats. She is an award winning author of LGBT fantasy and wishes one and all the very best of New Years!

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GENDER EQUALITY AT MAGIC UNIVERSITY
by Cecilia Tan


When I was putting together the magical system used in my Magic University books I wanted it to be very different from the Harry Potter books. In my world, one can't use a wand like a gun. Wands exist because they exist in this, the real world, but they're mostly used in certain rituals, not carried around like a smart phone or Swiss army knife.

I wanted magic to be complex but with enough predictable parts that readers would feel they got a grasp of what was going on. I followed that idea that some elements of magic might be known outside the magical community, but the knowledge might be imperfect or incomplete. Like flying brooms on Halloween: how did non-magical people find out about that? I looked at various sacred traditions from around the world, from Native American ritual and Tibetan meditation to tantric practices and at other forms of sacred sexuality.

In the end, though, I didn't borrow much from tantra or other forms of sacred practice that were highly gendered. In my world sex magic can be practiced by people of any gender, with people of any gender, regardless of one's biological gender. The only "magic" that has to be performed by a biological male and a biological female is conception of human life. The way energy is channeled in my magic system is more important than the DNA in the person.

I felt this was important not just for my plot, but for my own feelings that I wanted equality for the genders in my fantasy world. Many real-life sacred and magical systems create special roles for women (i.e. "Earth mother") while fiction and literature as a whole tend to give male characters agency but not always female ones. While I made it that some things are easier if one is biologically equipped in certain ways, it's not a requirement--i.e. if your spell requires a phallus for ritual purposes, no one said it had to be a biological one. Our protagonist Kyle's main talent is considered a phallic one: he can easily call down or gather energy through his arousal and then channel it into a spell or even transfer it to another magic user. (They don't use the term "wizard." Too patriarchal.) This is useful for certain kinds of enchanters who require a lot of energy but who would otherwise take weeks to gather what they need for a given ritual.

Another thing I did to try to redress the imbalance between male and female characters in fiction is I put a lot of female characters in. Geena Davis founded a think tank in Hollywood to study representation of female characters and they found that in crowd scenes there would only be 17% women. Another study showed that in real-life groups of people if there were 17% women and you asked the men how many there were, they would say the group was 50/50. Whereas if you had 33% women, they would say there was a majority of women. They also found that 17% of cardiac surgeons and tenured professors were women. "Is it possible that 17 percent women has become so comfortable, and so normal, that that's just sort of unconsciously expected?" Davis on NPR. (
http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=197390707) When I heard that I panicked. I had been striving for racial and ethnic diversity among the characters, but I couldn't remember what the gender balance was. Might I have unconsciously shorted the women's ranks?

I went and counted the named characters in the series and breathed a sigh of relief. I have 26 named female characters and 26 named male characters. And looking over book one in the series, The Siren and the Sword, many of the male names are only "spear carriers." They don't have speaking parts, whereas the women do. Whew.

Looking back on it now I can't determine if my subconscious was really working hard to keep things even, or if it's a coincidence that I hit 50/50. I wouldn't put it past my subconscious to have planned it that way, though. I hadn't realized it at the time, but ultimately the balance between the genders becomes an important theme in the overarching story. I can't tell you why without giving away the plot, though. No spoilers, I hope you will find the idea intriguing enough to go find out for yourself.

BOOK BLURB: Kyle Wadsworth arrives on the Harvard Campus only to discover, much to his surprise, he's magical. Thus begins his four-year journey to learn where he fits in the world, which ultimately becomes a quest for true love.

Upon arrival at Veritas, Kyle quickly joins a group of peers who become involved in solving the mystery of a seductive siren in the library, while they learn about the magic inside themselves and around them, as well as the secret history of magic and those who practice it.

Kyle's trials and tribulations range from his need to meet the bisexuality prerequisite before he can study sex magic to the fact that the ancient prophecy he translates for his thesis project seems to be about himself. If Kyle is right, he'll need to find his true love, or the world as we know it is doomed.

BIO:
Cecilia Tan is the award-winning author of romance and fantasy whom Susie Bright calls “simply one of the most important writers, editors, and innovators in contemporary American erotic literature.” Her BDSM novel Slow Surrender won the RT Reviewers Choice Award and the Maggie Award for Excellence. She lives in the Boston area with her partner corwin and three cats.

Website:
http://www.ceciliatan.com/
Twitter: @ceciliatan <
https://twitter.com/ceciliatan
>

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My guest this month is author Craig Laurance Gidney, whose new short story collection, Skin Deep Magic, is out this week from Rebel Satori Press.

Craig on Skin Deep Magic:
Kara Walker’s artwork inspired me to gather the stories in this collection, Skin Deep Magic. Walker uses obscure art forms, such as paper silhouettes and sugar sculptures, to examine issues of race and gender. Her shadowy paper art displays disturbing tableaus that reference the darker aspects of American history—a history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation where the black body was monetized and accessorized. The recent Sphinx she made of sugar was a visual representation of how the sugar industry depended on the subjugation and labor of African-descended women. Even the techniques she employs, such as the Victorian “shadow portrait” and the Medieval ‘subtleties’ are rich with historical resonance. Walker plays with stereotypical images that  that provoke and discomfort and reveal. The kerchiefed woman’s head who sits atop a Sphinx, and a multi-braided female child are recast, and given agency. Their hidden tales are revealed.

“Psychometry, or Gone With The Dust,” the opening story in Skin Deep Magic, is directly in conversation with Walker’s work. It imagines the secret lives of a Golliwog, a Mammy-shaped cookie jar, and a lawn jockey. What she does with her visual artwork, I have tried to do in prose. The other reason I pulled together this work is a direct response to the issues of diversity in speculative fiction that are currently being discussed in the field.  Through the years, I realized that I had amassed a body of work that embraces diversity without even setting out to do so! All of the protagonists in this collection are POC and/or LGBT, so in a sense, it is loosely themed.  Otherwise, I explore different sub genres of fantastic and weird fiction. Skin Deep Magic includes ghost stories, a horror piece, historical fiction and a twist on Green Man mythology. The closing “Coalrose,”  is a novella that explores the effect an African American muse-like figure(loosely modeled on Nina Simone) has on people through the ages.

===================================
Author of Sea, Swallow Me & Other Stories (2008), Bereft (2013) and Skin Deep Magic (2014)
Author Website: http://craiglaurancegidney.com
Twitter: @ethereallad
Purchase: Skin Deep Magic

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2013's upcoming event and writing-related activities. I'll be adding more as they get finalized and linking as soon as there are things to link to.

January
  •  Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event, throughout the month of January. I'll be doing a guest post on host author K.T.Grant's blog on writing lesbian and bi characters in historical fiction, 1/12/13.
  • Guest blog on author Cathy Pegau's blog on the topic of  "In Person Events for Writers."
  • Author reading on Wednesday, January 23rd at 7PM at Subtext: A Bookstore in St. Paul

February
  •  GCLS Conference Blog - guest blog on my experiences at the GCLS Conference. TBD
March
  • Marscon -  March 1-3, Minneapolis. Attending professional.
  • Portland Lesbian Book Salon - March 3. Q&A by phone, since I can't make it to Oregon, alas.
  • Quatrefoil Library - March 16th, Minneapolis. Quatrefoil's new location - annual women's fiction reading with several other authors.
  • Hour of the Wolf Radio Show, WBAI, NYC. Tentatively scheduled for March 19th. Reading and interview.
April

May
  • WisCon, May 24-27th. Attending professional.
June
July
AugustSeptember
  • S.E. Wisconsin Festival of Books - September 20-22. I'm scheduled for a panel called "OUTspoken and OUTfront: LGBTQ Writers Moving Beyond Binaries" on Saturday, 9/21 in the afternoon. 
October
  • North Country Gaylaxians Book Club - October 8th, Discussion of Silver Moon at Quatrefoil Library, St. Paul 7PM.
  • Minneapolis Lesfic Book Club - October 30, Discussion of Silver Moon, 7:30PM (not generally open to the public - contact me for details if you want to attend).
NovemberDecember

Somewhere in here, I'm signed up to do some mentoring for GCLS and a few other things which are very much TBD. All in all, I'm hoping to keep it a lighter year than 2012 so I can get in more writing. We'll see how that goes.
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I thought it might be time for a roundup of my various articles, guest posts and so forth which are still available on these here Internets. Most are worksafe but please use common sense.

Writing and Selling Erotic Fiction - Writing-World.com. An oldie but still has some useful info in it.

Historical Research for Fiction Writers - Writing-World.com.

Highs and Lows of Promoting Lesbian Fiction - This very blog, though originally at Scarlet Letters.

A Field Guide to Genre Fiction Writer's Organizations - Writing-world.com.

An In-Person Appearance Primer for Writers - Author Cathy Pegau's blog

Monstrous Females and Female Monsters - SF Signal

Talking to Book Clubs - This very blog, mirror version

Do's and Don'ts of Self-Promotion for Writers - Author/blogger Morgen Bailey's blog

Lesbian Protagonists in Science Fiction and Fantasy - K.T. Grant's blog, Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event 2012

Swordswomen, Bluestockings and Military Maids: Finding Inspiration in History
- K. T Grant's blog, Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event 2013

Mixing Genres and Crossing Boundaries (Not worksafe because of blog designation) - Beyond Romance blog



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This is part of my efforts to get organized so I can do some archiving this week.

2012 Guest blogs:

"
Do's and Don'ts of Author Self-Promotion" -  on Morgen Bailey's writing blog.

Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event  I did a guest post on host author K.T. Grant's blog on lesbian protagonists in science fiction and fantasy.

Whatever: The Big Idea: Silver Moon

"Writing Silver Moon and Menopausal Werewolves" at the Skiffy and Fanty Show
Blog

Good Lesbian Books  - post on my favorite "starter" books with lesbian protagonists/themes.

"
Adventures in Marketing: Promoting My First Novel"  on author and editor Deborah J. Ross' blog.

"The Highs and Lows of Promoting Lesbian Fiction" on The Scarlet Letter ezine.

"Genre and Border Crossings" at Lisabet Sarai's Beyond Romance

SF Signal Mind Meld - "Directions that SF Hasn't Taken" (with Kelly McCullough, David J. Schwartz, Michael D. Thomas/Damien Taylor and Ayleen the Peacemaker)

2012 Interviews:


Menopause and The Single Werewolf: Ten Questions with Catherine Lundoff, author of Silver Moon on author Tracy S. Morris' blog.

Werewolf blogger extraordinaire David Jon Fuller interviewed me about Silver Moon at his blog, As You Were: Metal, Monsters, Mayhem.

Author Roxanne Bland interviewed me at

2012 Podcasts:

Skiffy and Fanty Show - "Influences on Modern Fantasy"


Reading from Silver Moon, Broad Universe Broadpod
Podcast for Pride Month.

Alternate History - Broad Universe Broadpod Podcast, includes a reading from my collection A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories.

Readings Goes to the Wolves - multi-author interview and reading on lesbian werewolves, includes a short reading from Silver Moon

"Exploring Beyond the Borders: Breaking the Conventions of Genre in SF/F/H." Broadly Speaking Podcast with Larissa Niec, Julia Rios and Kris McDermott.

Episode 49 of the Cocktail Hour - "Catherine Lundoff and SIlver Moon"

2012 Radio:

KFAI, Write On! Radio, interview and reading from Silver Moon (second half Rachel Gold)

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