Pierside is Now Available!

Pierside is now available! Buy it today in eBook or soft cover!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"What Is Fantasy?" Part 1: What Goes On The Bookstore Shelves

Fantasy, along with all genres, is an artificial construct designed for marketing. But that doesn’t mean the there is no definition of Fantasy, it just means that the definition of Fantasy as a genre is “Things people who like ‘Fantasy’ would like.” If you like this book, you’re more likely to also like the other books here. When there’s a clear enough understanding of that relationship, that’s what makes a genre. Bookstores would happily make a genre of “books with cats on the cover” if there were enough of them and they thought that all of those books would appeal to the same readers. 

So, when it comes to Fantasy, what is that understanding? What are people looking for when they’re looking for “Fantasy” stories? Because that should logically tell us the definition of Fantasy

Saturday, August 6, 2016

More Pierside Promo Stories

I added two new prequel stories for Pierside:

The Scars You Live With (1295 words) - Eleven years before the events of Pierside, there are some things Ezzy won’t talk about.

Stepping On Stage (1982 words) - A year before the events of  Pierside, Ian Rathsly tries to get a date.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Pierside Promo Materials

First, two free stories have been added to the "Before Pierside" sidebar. They contain no spoilers for the book, so feel free to check them out! Here are some short descriptions:

Never Look Back (932 words) - Fifteen years before the events of Pierside, Maddy West says goodbye to her parents.

Building a Life (5706 words) - Two years before the events of Pierside, Ezzy is confronted by the uncertainty of beginnings

And second, a look at some of the promotional fliers for Pierside, including the official back cover copy:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

I Have a Pony in this Race: My Little Pony and the Hugos

You know, it’s kind of appropriate that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was nominated for a Hugo in order to troll people. Our entire fandom was built on some trolling.

Way back in 2011, some guys on 4Chan started posting My Little Pony pictures and memes from the then-new series, Friendship is Magic. Other people complained, and being 4Chan, they responded by flooding the site with pictures of ponies.

But somewhere in there a strange thing happened. People checked out the show, whether because they thought the characters were cute or because they thought it would be dumb and wanted to mock it, and they liked it. Not ironically, and not because it was subversive or slipped adult humor in under the radar. They just really liked the simple stories about Twilight Sparkle and her pony friends. And Bronies were born.

I personally come from a unique place in pony fandom. I’m a 33-year-old woman, and I watched the old My Little Pony cartoons back in the 80s, but I was never a big fan. I joined the Friendship is Magic fandom about four years ago, and two years after that I had a daughter, so I’ve gone from looking at the show as a fan, to looking at it as both a fan and a mom. It shines in both ways; it’s a rare show that a two-year-old can enjoy, with messages I’m happy to have her grow up on, and that I still wake up for on Saturdays, even when her father is letting me sleep in (parents of small children know how big a deal that is).

So, from my perspective, I hope this Hugo nomination can do what the show has done from the beginning: turn something sour and ironic into a chance for new people to enjoy it, and offer people some friendship and harmony in a situation where it’s sorely needed.

But Hugo voters are not 4Chan kids; they’re people who are neck deep in the best the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre has to offer, with sophisticated taste and some good reasons to want to avoid feeding these particular trolls. So, the question is, why should Hugo voters spend 44 minutes giving an episode of a children’s cartoon a chance?

There’s plenty to recommend about the show: clean, creative, and often adorable animation; catchy songs that are often up there with Disney; character-driven comedy and development. Those are all things that make Friendship is Magic great, but I’m not sure I’d argue that they’re why you should check it out. There are other shows, even kids shows, that can boast those things.

What I think makes My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic unique is that it’s a show about diversity, and through its unique characters, setting, and design it does a better job portraying that than any other media I’ve come across. It’s not about diversity in the sense of races, or genders, or political views, or any other box you could tick on a form. It’s about diversity of perspectives, passions, values, and talents, and how very different kinds of people can be good and bad, and still care for each other, help each other, and teach each other.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Unexceptional Exceptions

In my internet poking, I came across this:

Writing Woman Characters Into Epic Fantasy Without Quotas

Now, first of all, I thought it was super interesting. It’s a long series of examples of times and places in history where women had different roles, or more opportunities and power than we typically think when we think of “women’s roles in history.” And, for a list like this, it provides a lot of citation so that if you feel the need to you can see how BS the source is (always a danger in history writing, and I’ll talk about some reasons for that in a moment.)

Second of all, it got me thinking and I wanted to blog about those thoughts.

Let me start with an admission/example of what I’m going to talk about.

As far as I am concerned, the Middle Ages™ took place in England, and maybe also France and some of central Europe. I’m vaguely aware that as they were going on people in China and the Middle East were developing space travel and iPhones (okay, maybe not, but they were being way more technologically advanced.) But over in the Middle Ages™, lots of peasants who looked suspiciously like characters from Monty Python and the Holy Grail lived in houses with thatched roofs and and did various jobs that make boring last names (Baker, Farmer, Smith, etc.)

So… what did a fisherman living on a Greek island look like during the middle ages? Where did he live? What did his boat look like? Did he have a boat, or were they too expensive?

I have no clue. Without looking it up, any guess I make is more or less making up a fantasy character.     

Now, I’m by no means poorly read on history. I know way more than average (though I am by no means an expert) about the succession of the British royals, about Charlemagne, about approximately when the crusades were. I know off the top of my head that the Norman invasion was in 1066, I know what happened surrounding the signing of the Magna Carta. But I don’t know shit about what Greece was like.

For almost all of us, history is full of holes like this. We tend to know something, vaguely, about a specific set of people in a specific place and time, and to us that’s the Greeks™, or the Roman Empire™, or the Renaissance™.

Part of this is their fault, because they often kept lousy records. One reason so much of history as we know it is BS is because it’s pieced together based on bits and pieces of mentions in the writing we do have, combined with whatever archaeologists can dig up. And often that piecing together is influenced by what we think people should have been doing or how they should have been acting.  

But a larger part is because we like to imagine things as more homogeneous than they were. Or are, even. Even in the modern United States, there’s probably some place or group where life is totally different than you imagine it. And I’m not talking about extreme fringe groups like the Amish.

Here are some examples just from where I live:

A little ways south of me, in the Chesapeake bay, are Smith Island, MD and Tangier, VA. They’re both tiny, isolated islands that can only be reached by ferry. The accents native to those places are considered “relic accents” that still reflect the speech of original colonial settlers of the area.  

On the other side of the Delmarva peninsula is Ocean City, MD. It’s a city on a sandbar/peninsula between the Atlantic ocean and the Assawoman bay-- less than a mile wide, but about ten miles long-- and as a resort town it has about 8,000 residents in the winter, and about 300,000 on weekends in the summer.
South of that is Assateague state park, another island that’s home of a herd of wild ponies that were brought from Europe as domestic ponies and just kind of set up there.

And that’s just within a few hours drive from me. So, while I’m sure there were plenty of Typical Villages™ in England, where the Middle Ages™ were primarily taking place, there were also probably plenty of weird villages, where people were not participating in approved peasant activities but were… I dunno, raising bears or living in caves or trying to convince religious pilgrims to buy timeshares. They just weren’t the Typical Villages™.

And this goes down to the individual level, as well. There have always been people who looked at what everyone else was doing and said, “Mmm… nah.” And on individual levels, a lot of times people just let them, because that was how they were.

Someday I will tell you all the epic story of why neither Cordelia nor Anne Virginia were eligible for the Civil War pension of my ancestor William Sweet, as dutifully recorded in the US archives because there was a legal case and lots of depositions, but the very, very short version is that William and Cordelia were married, and then decided they didn’t want to be. They both went and married other people without bothering to get a divorce by going a few towns over and not mentioning they were already married. Everyone in their small town knew this. They each ended up having children with their new spouse, but no one cared. As far as the town was concerned, they were married to their “second” spouses.

(Well, according to the depositions by Anne’s family Cordelia was a “fast woman,” but that was reportedly why William left her. The people of Oella seemed to think that the US pension board ought to know all the details.)    

Anyway, another of my relatives, my great-grandmother (who was born in 1913 and lived until I was in my early twenties, so I knew her well) was a married woman with a child in the 40’s and 50’s, her husband had a good job… and so did she. She got her high school diploma in bookkeeping, back when that was a kind of big deal, and then she got a professional job and just worked. None of the other women in my family were that educated or worked, but Hazel liked getting dressed up and going to the office, she liked bookkeeping, and she liked having the extra money, so she worked. Once again, she was the exception, most women in her position wouldn’t have worked if their husbands could support them, but she did.

And the important thing about these situations from my family is that they’re exceptions, but they weren’t big deals in those times or places. It wasn’t how everyone lived, but if someone in the community was going to insist on being weird, and they weren’t hurting anyone, no one really cared.

The world is full of unexceptional exceptions; people, places, and even parts of civilization who were off doing their own thing, not fitting into the boxes we like to put stuff in. Sometimes these things are footnotes in history, sometimes not even that.

Writers, especially writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy, often seem to have two categories: Our Super Special Main Characters/Location/Alien Civilization who are all well rounded or symbolic and guided by fate, and Typical Peasant/Village/Space Travelers/Aliens which are pretty much what you’d expect. The captain of the villains forces is a soldier-y guy. The part of the alien planet where the protagonists land is representative of that culture (in some cases the only culture on that planet.) The fellow space travelers who give them directions to the Maguffionium Mines are researchers who were doing researcher-y things.

But the thing is that when people think of the exceptions, and let the background be the weird pallet of life, it’s really cool. Settings like Discworld, Harry Potter, the Hitchhiker’s universe, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Charles De Lint’s Newford… they’re almost nothing but exceptions. Even the normal people (or Vogons, or what have you) aren’t normal.

It can be hard to think outside of those boxes when the boxes are literally how you think about things. “Imagine something other than what you would imagine.”

But I think it’s worth thinking about. And I think it’s kind of fun to think about, myself.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A short summary of Pierside

To live in the present, you must first confront your past.  

A strange vigilante has appeared in the city of Pierside. Unkillable and knowing far more than any man should, he has begun meting out his own harsh brand of justice in this city known for corruption. When two of his victims survive and wind up at a small clinic, the truth comes out: The Elevati, a race of immortal, magical beings, have returned… including the infamous Saint of Death, who had committed mass murder on behalf of a fanatical cult twenty years ago. 
As the Elevati pursue their own agendas, and the leaders of Pierside attempt to use the situation for personal advantage, the clinic workers Maddy and Ezzy quickly find themselves drawn into the strife. They’ll have to confront vindictive immortals, corrupt politicians, religious fanatics… and parts of their past they’d thought buried forever.

Coming soon...

Watch this space for news of Pierside, a novel by Emily Spahn. Coming soon from Oloris Publishing.