Learning to Play

When I was a kid, my best friend and I spent half our time pretending—we were lock smiths who moonlighted as thieves, we were pioneers on the Oregon Trail, we were jockeys riding in the Kentucky Derby, we were witches making potions, and we were a thousand other things I can’t even remember.

It’s easy to play when you’re a kid. Pretending comes easier to children, who don’t feel the same limiting attachment to the so-called real world. Sure, maybe you had to clean your room or pick up sticks in the yard to earn your allowance, but responsibility was only something you knew for a spelling test.

As an adult, playing is hard. We’re attached to the notion of ourselves as our ideas and our pesky responsibilities. We are our jobs or our relationships, and we very often like those identities. It’s hard to let them go without feeling self-conscious or just plain ridiculous.

Enter RPGs.

Role playing asks us to put aside our grown-up selves and take up new, fantastical identities. It asks us, for a few hours at a time, to pretend we can cast spells, fight with a sword, heal a wound, or fly like a bird. It asks us to become an entirely new person, a character of our own creation, and to guide that persona through the most magical of adventures.

Role playing is fun.

When I ventured into my first tabletop RPG, I fell in love. I wanted to play. It’s a writerly pursuit, one that demands creativity and willing suspension of disbelief at every turn. And I knew that my nerdy, delightful, online writer-buddies would make just about the best role-playing troupe the world would ever see.

I was right, of course. I’ve teamed up with fellow-Scribes Emmie Mears and Shauna Granger, plus Emmie’s agent and her boyfriend, my own husband, and two other writers, to start an online RPG that will broadcast on the SearchingforSuperwomen.com YouTube channel.

As Game Master, I’ve been in charge of facilitating world and character creation, and these folks have blown me away with their ability to pretend it’s possible for magic to make science and for humans to lock away Elder Gods and let the world around them deteriorate from overuse.

Hmm. Okay, maybe that’s not so impossible to imagine.

But believe me, they’re phenomenally creative, and Magetech, our game, is going to be a rich world populated by strong, unpredictable characters who are nothing short of heroic.

So if you want to see creativity in action, and adults re-learning how to play, be sure to tune in. It’ll be a hoot, I have no doubt, plus we’d like to open up the world and the notion online tabletop gaming to a wide audience and to other gamers and writers.

Intrigued? Emmie and I will be doing an introductory broadcast on Monday, July 1 at 8 PM EDT and the first gaming session will be Monday, July 8 at 8 PM EDT. Be sure to check in on Twitter and our websites for links!

The Draw of Book Signings

As writers we have dreams of having readers, fans, and a long line of folks waiting to meet us at book signings. Well, I have readers, a few loyal fans, and the reality is, unless you’re a household name, you the few that actually approach your author table at a signing have probably never even heard of you. 

Me at our local Railroad Festival last June. Photo credit: Jan Rayl

After doing several book signings, I told myself I wouldn’t go through the trouble again. The majority of my sales are from ebooks, so why put in the extra effort and money into print signings? 

Another book signing last July at the local coffee shop. I think my uncle was the only one who bought any books that day!

But then I got an email a few weeks ago asking if my husband and I would be interested in participating in the 15th annual Fall for the Book event. Now, for those unfamiliar with Fall for the Book, it is a week long book festival in Northern Virginia (DC area) that invites authors from around the country to participate in events and panels throughout the area. Their yearly literary awards has given us an opportunity to meet literary greats like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.


So my answer? A resounding YES! 

Now, I got this invite by way of my husband. A man who never reads, much less writes. But one of the events this year is a food showcase that will highlight chefs to promote their cookbooks. Well, because my husband doesn’t have a cookbook, they asked if I would like to team up with the hubby and speak on how his culinary career impacts my books. And fortunately for me, I have a new book I’m working on that has a very strong food component, Darkly Beings

I’ve always incorporated food into my books. Whether it be Aunt Maggie (Travelers Series) cooking up mouth watering culinary creations and later becoming the host of her own cooking show in an alternate reality, or the DeLeon sisters who capitalized on their talent for cooking by opening up their own restaurant in the small fictional town of Caldero, Texas (Darkly Beings), food has always been a focal point in my writing. 

So now, I have to work double time to ensure my book is done this month, so I’ll have enough time to promote and prepare for the event in September. For the first time, I’ll have a built in audience to promote my books (they anticipate over 200 at this event) and my husband will draw them in with his spectacular gumbo! 

Now let’s just hope there are a few attendees interested in picking up a YA paranormal book amidst the sea of cookbooks!

What about you other authors out there? Book Signings… love them or hate them? 

Get thee to a writing group!!!!

I remember when I first started writing….

It was my first book, and I had no idea if I could do it. All these ideas flew in and out my head at random times of the day. I saw my characters everywhere – there was Jenna, in the shape of a blonde girl ordering ham at the deli aisle in the grocery. There was Sam, a scruffy-faced guy on his way to the beach. There was Lola, a tiny woman with frizzy red hair gassing up her car at the local Wal-Mart.

I felt crazy.

I wanted nothing more than to be at my computer, writing, all the time. I heard voices in my head, the voices of my characters coming to life. I’d obsess over a scene, lose myself in a simple written conversation.

There was no way to tell if this was normal, or if I’d fallen into a rabbit hole from which I’d never return.

So I started poking about online. I told myself I was researching book publishing; really, I was trying to find a place to go with people like me. People who heard those same voices and obsessed over words in the same way.

I found my first writer‘s group when I signed up for an online class about the publishing industry. Eight people from around the country came together under the guidance of a fabulous teacher. Through the use of Skype, we were able to hear and see each other. We knew each others’ faces, gestures, frustrations. We laughed – a lot. We learned – a lot. And when the class was over, we kept in touch, cheerleading and commiserating.

I don’t know how I would have survived the early days of my publishing journey without that group. I didn’t have to explain the writerly things to them…they simply understood.

Since then, I’ve found a few other fantastic groups. The lovely Spellbound Scribes are one – we support each other on the hard days, high-five each other on the good ones. I’ve only met one of the girls in person, but several are quickly becoming good friends.

I have another group, too. A tight-knit group of email-philes. We’ve none of us met in person, but they are my friends, my favorites, my dears. They know without me even having to tell them the trials and tribulations of the publishing world. They know when I’m rejected; they know when I’m accepted. They know about me personally, too.

These little groups of people are incredibly important to me as a writer. Writing is a lonely career on which to embark. Everyone says that, but unless you’re doing it, you don’t actually know it. And other writers? They get it.  They get how much it hurts when you get rejected on that project into which you poured your heart. They get how much you want to get something right, so bad it hurts your brain. They get how many hours you spend thinking about a character, a plot point, a setting.

They just get it.

So…if you want to be a writer and you don’t have one already…get you to a writer’s group. If you can’t find one, let me know. Maybe you can borrow one of mine.

Excerpt time!

Happy Thursday everyone! Look, you can just see the weekend coming up over the horizon! Hold on for a few more hours and it’ll all be over.

Today I’m sharing with you an excerpt from one of the manuscripts I’ve been working on this year. This one is near and dear to me and I have a lot of high hopes for it. The other day I called on my FB followers to call out random page numbers for me to pick an excerpt from and I was more than impressed with the enthusiasm and how so many of the choices landed on, what I think are some awesome scenes.

So here goes. The winning page number was 225 provided by Patricia Davis! No intro, I’m just gonna throw you into the deep end and hope you enjoy!

2300(ish) word excerpt from: Wytchcraft (working title) – Copyright Shauna Granger 2013

It looked like any other dive bar in any other neighborhood in the world. Dimly lit so you didn’t see just how grimy the floors and tables were. Tiny candles flickered on the round tables around the room. A couple of worn pool tables stood in one corner and dartboards hung in another. Booths lined one wall while a long bar took up another. Two bartenders worked the bar and the crowded stools in front of them with waitresses coming and going with tiny round trays like mini shields full of glasses.

The only thing that set this bar apart from any other was the number of vampires lurking around every corner. They were in the booths along the wall, cloistered with their prey, they were leaning on the bar, flashing cheesy fanged smiles at the humans milling around them. They were everywhere and if you took a deep enough breath you could taste the tang of iron in the air. I shivered, trying to shake off the creeping crawling sensation this place gave me.

“Kinda creepy, right?” Ronnie whispered to me, but despite her lowered voice a few glinting pairs of eyes turned our way. I averted my eyes, not wanting to invite any of them over to us.

“Yeah, kinda creepy,” I agreed, keeping my voice low as well. The vamps could glare all they wanted, we were whispering so the humans couldn’t hear us, we weren’t fang blocking them or anything.

“So, do you want to get a drink or something?” Ronnie asked.

“Not even a little bit,” I said. “I want to get out of here as soon as possible.”

“Right,” Ronnie nodded, but when I looked at her face I realized she wasn’t looking at me, she was watching some of the more open couples in the booths. There were couples and groups huddled together, a mixture of vampires and humans. One such couple, a female vampire and a male human, were twisted around each other on a bench seat, the woman had the man’s wrist clamped to her mouth, not even the tiniest of trickles escaping her hungry lips. His head was thrown back, his eyes fluttering closed and his lips parted in a moan.

“Ron, you okay?” I leaned into Ronnie, tugging on her arm.

“Yes,” she said slowly, pronouncing the word carefully. “Yes, we should move on.” She turned us away from the sights and sounds of the room around us. Ronnie had never been with a vampire, never felt the sweet sting of their bite, it was normal to be curious and I was definitely not one to judge in this instance.

There was a huge arch in the back wall leading to a sunken room that, at this distance, looked like it was completely pitch black. That was the room I was looking for: the opium den.

“Ready? Ronnie asked.

“No,” I said, but I lead the way forward anyway. There were no guards at the entrance, no one checking anyone for weapons or ID, but I guess if you made it into the bar, you were allowed to come and go through the rooms as you pleased.

When we passed under the arch I felt a ripple of power pass over us, it was cool and soothing, like walking through a gentle waterfall. Ronnie turned surprised eyes to me, but I only shrugged. I figured it was some sort of charm to keep the vapors and smoke inside this room and out of the rest of the bar because once inside here I realized how difficult it was to see.

Claro,” I whispered and suddenly it was easier to see. Ronnie repeated the charm under her breath so she could see just as well.

There were huge cushions strewn about the floor and fainting couches set all along the walls. There were bodies lying everywhere, it almost looked like a mass suicide. I closed my eyes and shook my head, trying to get that thought out of my mind. When I opened my eyes again I could focus on the moving parts of the room. People were lounging next to their pipes, smoking and passing them along to the next person.

Soft music filled the room and went a long way towards calming my nerves. Only Ronnie’s clutching fingers in my arm kept me on edge.

“Be careful not to touch anyone,” I reminded Ronnie in a whisper. Psychics could control their visions for the most part, but when surrounded by too many people or were touched, the visions took over. After too many years of seeing too many people’s fates, murders, pain and suffering, they either checked out of society and became hermits or their minds would snap. Many a middle-aged psychic lived in assisted-living complexes.

“May I help you?” a woman asked, appearing in front of us through the vapors and smoke. She was dressed in traditional Kabuki robes and makeup. Her pitch black hair was rolled and pinned artfully on top of her head with a jeweled hair comb. Her face was paper white, making the red lipstick stand out on her face even in the poor lighting.

“I, uh,” I stumbled, not really sure how to answer her.

“Can I show you to a seat?” she half turned, holding out one hand to guide us. Ronnie started to take a step, but I stopped her. I wasn’t interested in smoking and I had no idea how much something like that would cost anyway.

“No,” I said, “we were looking for someone.”

“Whom are you looking for?” the hostess asked, making me stumble again. Who were we looking for? Anyone who would help us I guess. We’d come to a place where psychics went to get away from their visions and here we were hoping one of them would be willing to help us find Roane. Roane, who was being held captive, possibly tortured. Yeah, I’m sure anyone of these people would jump at the chance to help us.

“We needed the help of a psychic,” Ronnie said, stepping forward to answer the question. I cringed at the look on the woman’s face. She looked ready to pull her hair comb out and stab us in the eye.

“My patrons do not come here to be bothered by tourists,” she snapped, stepping toward us again, pushing into our personal space to herd us back through the archway.

“We’re not tourists,” I said, holding my ground. “We just need help.”

“I suggest you look elsewhere, now go,” she pointed a perfectly manicured finger over my shoulder.

“Look, I’m sorry,” I said quickly, “but two men’s lives are at stake and I’m desperate. I’m running out of time and I didn’t know where else to go.”

Before the Wave many psychics had shops where they read palms and cards for humans because few enough people believed in them that they could manage the number of customers they received., but once we were all out of the closet humans realized that psychics were just as real as the rest of us and suddenly their quaint little shops were overrun with humans looking for winning lottery numbers, begging to speak to their passed loved ones and any other life altering request you could think of. Within ten years of the Wave most shops had been shut down. Now it was very difficult to find a shop with a legitimate psychic running it and not some human, witch or warlock pretending to be a psychic to scam innocent customers out of their hard earned money.

Now psychics were just trying to assimilate into society as best they could. Many of them worked from home, hell most telemarketers that call and interrupt your dinner are psychics, just trying to earn a living while staying away from the populace. They were often erratic and difficult to talk to so I mostly stayed away from them and just depended on my own castings for answers to questions I had.

“Please,” I said again, reaching out a hand to touch the woman, but before my fingers touched her she roared, her face contorting from the porcelain perfection to a lined and aged face. Her mouth split open into a gaping maw full of needlelike teeth and she lunged at us.

“Get out,” she snarled, her back hunching over and her manicured nails turning into stained claws as she tried to swipe at us. I fell back into Ronnie, stumbling over the step and nearly sending us to the floor.

“Onibaba,” Ronnie hissed, scrambling back and pulling me with her. I could feel the edge of the curtain separating the bar and the den.

“Wait,” a lazy voice called out, catching all of our attention. I watched at the woman’s face melted back into the perfect mask of beauty before she turned to face the man who spoke.

He was lounging on the floor, a pipe held in one hand. His head was dropped back so that he was staring at the ceiling as he expelled a stream of white smoke. Ronnie pushed me forward to help me back to my feet and off of her. I straightened my jacket, tucking my hair behind my ears before taking a step forward. The Onibaba hissed at me as I walked by, but I kept my shoulders straight and refused to look at her.

“Excuse me?” I said when I stood close enough to the man that he could hear me whisper.

“Sit,” he said, waving a hand at the cushions scattered around him. There were two other people with him, a man and a woman. The woman’s head was resting on his thigh and he dropped his empty hand to toy with her curly brown hair. The second man was lying on the floor, not touching anyone or anything, not even using a pillow to cushion his head. His eyes were wide open and glazed over, a strange smile tugging at his lips, making his cheek twitch.

I glanced over my shoulder at Ronnie; she was staring at the man on the floor, watching his cheek jump. I wondered how much opium he’d had already – too much by the looks of it. I took a breath and crossed my ankles before lowering myself to sit on the floor. I had to reach up and tug on Ronnie’s hand to get her to sit next to me, finally blinking and tearing her eyes away from the man.

“You’re looking for help,” the man said, not making it a question, but if he’d heard me pleading with the demon then it wasn’t that impressive.

“Yes,” I said as I reached into my pocket to dig out Roane’s ring.

“There is a man missing,” he said. Wrapping his lips around the pipe and took three quick puffs, holding the vapors in for a moment before passing the pipe to the woman on his thigh. “His life is in danger,” he went on, expelling the smoke.

“Look, guy,” I said, cutting him off as my temper started to rise. “You heard me say all that right over there.” I jabbed a thumb over my shoulder. “You’re not fooling me alright? I’m not some two bit human fresh off the bus. If you’re just gonna waste my fucking time, we’ll be on our way.” I tapped Ronnie on the knee and started to get to my feet. The couple started to snicker, making me pause to glare at them. I shook my head at them and stood.

“Wait, wait,” he said, pushing up on his elbows to look up at me. “I’m sorry, please, sit.”

“I’m good, thanks,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest.

“Here,” he dug into his pants pocket until he came out with a black leather wallet. “Go see my friend,” he said as he dug through the many creased business cards until he found the one he was looking for. He held the white card out to me.

“Your friend huh?” I asked, arching a brow at him. “Is he as helpful as you are?”

“I said I was sorry,” he said, glaring at me, “do you want the help or not?”

“I do.”

“Then go see my friend, tell him Micha sent you.” He held the card out for me, waving it in his impatience. I glanced at Ronnie again, but she just shrugged at me, leaving it up to me to decide. With a sigh I reached out and took the card, my fingers grazing Micha’s as I did so.

Micha’s eyes went wide and his body shook before his back arched. His fingers grasped at mine as the vision took him. My body went cold as I watched him convulse on the floor and I had to wrench my hand free of his to stop it. Clutching my hand to my chest I stepped back to place my body against Ronnie’s.

The woman scrambled to Micha’s head, putting it in her lap and brushing her fingers over his sweaty forehead, making soft, soothing noises. She spared me an evil look and I knew, she wanted to hit me, throw me from this place to make up for what I’d just put her man through.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, shaking my head. I could still feel the shivers running over my body like millions of invisible ants racing over my skin.

“Just go,” she hissed at me.

“Be careful,” Micha rasped, stopping me a second time. I turned and looked at him; his eyes were open, but distant, like he was looking through me. “She is watching; she is waiting.” Then his eyes fell closed and he passed out in the girl’s lap, his body going limp.


Part II, The Best Serial Fiction Today: One Reader’s Opinion


If you missed Part I of this series, go check it out here!

Last time we talked about what serial fiction is, exactly, and why you should care. The main pros of the format are that it’s conducive to reading quickly–say, when you’re waiting with a sick kid at the doctor’s (not that I’d do that. I’d obviously be busy comforting said sick kid).

Now let’s get to the good stuff–recommendations! Here are my current favorites in serial fiction:

bloodandsnow1. Rashelle Workman’s Blood and Snow series. Not only is it chock full of magic, humor, and vampires, the complete season is only $3.99. Pretty cool. She also has a spin-off serial she’s starting soon, based on one of the secondary characters.


debtcollector2. Susan Kaye Quinn’s Debt Collector series. I’ve read Quinn’s Mindjack series, and it is awesome. I’ve only read episode one of her Debt Collector serial, but it has her trademark sci-fi/action “movie” feel. I think she’d be a great script writer. The premise is sooo interesting, too–it’s about debt collectors who take souls from people who aren’t living up to their potential. Spooky.


Serials on my TBR list:

indexingseananmc1. Indexing. This one is an urban fantasy, and it looks so good! Here’s the description, from Amazon.com: For most people, the story of their lives is just that: the accumulation of time, encounters, and actions into a cohesive whole. But for an unfortunate few, that day-to-day existence is affected—perhaps infected is a better word—by memetic incursion: where narratives the rest of the world considers fairy tales becomes reality, often with disastrous results.

TheImmortalCircusActTwo_COVER2. The Immortal Circus, Act Two. I haven’t read Immortal Circus yet, which is why this one has had to be put on hold. But it looks amazing.



So, what about you? What serial fiction have you read lately and what’s on your TBR list?  

Juggling it All

It is possible that I have nothing to post about today? A writer that has absolutely nothing to write about?

Perhaps I’m suffering from a brain fart, writers block, or maybe I’m just spent.

Nah, I think I just have too many things running around in my head, not to mention my life. That happens when you try to juggle too many things at once. When you’re an indie writer, you have the awesome responsibility of wearing a lot of hats, and perhaps taking on more than one can handle.

Right now, I’m finishing up the last few chapters of my latest book in a new series, Darkly Beings. I’ve got another 15k words to go and I am really hoping to have it completed by the end of the month.

I’m also brainstorming on the storyline for book four in my Travelers Series, Parameter. I have so many fans emailing me about a release date that I find myself so overwhelmed that I’ve created a total mental block! I promise, the story will come to me!

On top of all that, I am working part-time during the summer (in-between semesters teaching at the college) at my favorite clothing store in the whole world and it’s taking up much more time than I realized (I have to bring my laptop to work during breaks). I’ll also be teaching one summer course two nights a week for six weeks starting in July, so there go a couple more nights that I’m not writing.

Then there’s keeping up with Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and all the other social media outlets. Yeah, I’m kind of lazy about posting updates… Okay, it’s more like I forget.

But with all the craziness in my life right now, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Sure, I could stop all the madness at anytime and go back to working full-time at a 9 to 5 job. But everything I’m doing right now is to realize my dream of being an author. I already have three books published that are earning me nice royalties every month, but giving up isn’t an option. I have too many stories to tell and readers still wanting to read them.

So maybe I don’t have anything enlightening to write about today, but that doesn’t mean I’m out of stories to tell.

For all you writers out there, how do you deal with juggling it all?


Are Romance and Adventure Incompatible?

The short answer: no.

The last few weeks have seen a lot of talk about sexism in the sci-fi/fantasy world—and no, I’m not just talking about sexism in fictional SFF worlds. I’m talking about out-and-out hate against women who write science fiction and fantasy. Published, even best-selling women like Ann Aguirre and Foz Meadows have spoken out about the rampant sexism faced by female authors in SFF publishing.

But let’s stick a pin in the overall topic for now and look at one of its bastard children: the question of romance works with a sci-fi and fantasy setting. Female authors who write strong, female protagonists who have dangerous, intense adventures, coupled with some romance, have been maligned for writing “romance novels with a few new sets and ideas thrown in to keep them interesting” instead of innovative, boundary-pushing works of SFF.

As if innovative, boundary-pushing science fiction or fantasy cannot contain romance. As if true adventure never has a sprinkling of sex (or, heaven forbid, love!) in the mix.

Luckily for those of us who include some romance in our spellbound works—and I know that includes some of my fellow Scribes!—that’s just not true.

I would like to submit for reader consideration five works of high-adventure, innovative, genre-blasting works of SFF that contain elements of romance:

1. Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay: Admittedly, this is one of my all-time favorite works of fantasy, so I’m a little biased, but I will say also that Kay’s work is often considered some of the best fantasy currently being written. One of the plotlines in Tigana features a gut-wrenching “love” story that features a woman who integrated herself into a conqueror’s harem so that she could assassinate him—only to fall in love with him. He loves her, too, and the book explores the moral shadings of a tyrant who has a human side. Love, in this book, is just one way to explore the many facets of the human condition.

2. The Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson: When a young, male cousin comes to me asking for fantasy recommendations, I send him straight to Sanderson’s work. These are, to be a weird reverse-sexist, “boy books.” As one of Sanderson’s Writing Excuses co-hosts said of Sanderson’s earliest work, you can hear the dice rolling in the background. Fighting features prominently. And yet, these books explore the relationship between a former thief turned ninja girl called Vin, and a scholarly boy turned ninja turned emperor named Elend. It’s a sweet love story, and it’s wrapped up in a really cool (and kinda violent) magical system that works as a tool in a cataclysmic epic battle. And, oddly enough, my husband found these books via a Romantic Times book review.

3. The Kushiel’s Legacy (Phèdre) Trilogy, by Jacqueline Carey: Although as high-and-mighty of a writer as George R. R. Martin has described these books as “erotic fantasy,” that does not discount the high adventure held between the novels’ sexy covers. God-chosen Phèdre may be a high-priced prostitute, but she’s also a spy, ambassador, and all-around bad-ass who journeys to and from some of the worst places in her world. Threaded through her adventures is her love with formerly-chaste priest Jocelyn, and their story explores how love can change the people who experience it. These books are one part eroticism, one part political thriller, and two parts adventure. If ever there was an innovative fantasy, these books are it.

4. The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan: I’m not a fan of these books, and I actually find their portrayal of women rather sexist. But let’s stick a pin in that, too, and consider the books as most people see them: modern classic fantasy. This is one of the best-loved, longest-running epic fantasy series out there, and it features no fewer than six romantic stories. There’s the Rand-Elayne-Min-Aviendha, erm, quadrangle, the Nynaeve-Lan romance, the Egwene-Gawyn semi-romance, and the Perrin-Faile-Berelain awkwardness. And those are just the love stories I remember. Clearly, for Wheel of Time fans, romance is not an impediment to high fantasy adventure.

5. The Fever Series, by Karen Moning. Here’s where I make a diversion from my list. *grin* These books actually sit on the romance shelf of your neighborhood bookstore. Moning is originally famous for her more typically “romance” Highlander novels, but her Fever series became a runaway hit. They feature a female protagonist who grows from a fluffy, ditzy-blonde Southern belle into a badass warrior and Fae-killer. Yes, there’s sex. Yes, some credit for her transformation goes to her male benefactor/lover. But over the five books of the series, Mac has one of the best character arcs I’ve had the pleasure of reading. These books are violent. They are epic—indeed, the world as we know it ends. They are one of the best contemporary fantasy series I’ve seen lately, but because they sit in the romance section, they will be largely overlooked by fantasy readers.

There you have it: of these five (series of!) books containing complex romance and, yes, sex, three of them were written by men. Now, I’m not much of a sci-fi reader, but I’d bet my first edition, British copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that epic sci-fi contains romance, too. Are women girlifying SFF with romance? Or is romance just another kind of epic adventure?

What say you, readers? What place does romance have in adventure? What other epic, romance-containing works of SFF can you think of?

A New Normal

The Cat's Eye Nebula, a planetary nebula forme...
The Cat’s Eye Nebula, a planetary nebula formed by the death of a star with about the same mass as the Sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s almost three in the morning, though you won’t see this until later. It took me this long to realize that I knew what I needed to write about. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about stories. What makes me engage with them. What makes me back away like I’ve touched a pane of bees with stingers at the ready.

Last week’s episode of Game of Thrones sort of prompted it, because it reminded me why I’d stopped reading the books. They’d violated something I felt they were obligated to maintain. I read a lot of fantasy growing up. Heaps of it. My favorite stories were always fantasy. As I grew older, those stories evolved.

I’ll be frank and say that I’ve had a severe case of reader’s block in the last year. I’ve been flailing at A Memory of Light for months. I have A Gentleman’s Game sitting next to my bed when it should be getting back to its owner. Maybe it’s circumstance, maybe it’s weariness, but television has been where I get my stories lately. There are any number of stories I engage with on a weekly basis, and even more every year. Dexter. How I Met Your Mother. The Vampire Diaries. Buffy (always). Supernatural. Star Wars. Breaking Bad. Game of Thrones. Two Broke Girls. The Bachelor/ette. True Blood. Homeland. New Girl. Workaholics. The Walking Dead.

On any given week, our DVR is filled with different stories. Some of these stories I’ve kept with for years. There’s something that keeps me coming back to them over and over.

I have managed to read a few books through in the past few months, and they share a common thread.

When you ask a storyteller to tell you lies, you’re asking her to make you believe them.

A great story replaces the world around you with a new one. A world with new rules, whether those new rules allow for gravity-defying pixy dust or simply a group of four friends always managing to sit at the same booth at their favorite bar.

They create a new normal.

The great stories make you sob when a character’s mind reaches out to touch a tainted power source because you know it will drive him mad. Even though no such thing is happening or even possible — that is the normal of his world made yours.

The great stories make you crow with glee and feel pangs of loss alike when a suffering, grieving vampire shoves the world’s only cure for vampirism down the throat of her enemy instead of using it to take back a life that was reft from her. Even though there are no vampires, and you can’t go home again — that is the normal of her world made yours.

The great stories allow you to destroy a Death Star or fly a broomstick or fight an ogre or make love to a god because they are making their normal yours.

Some people call it suspension of disbelief, but I think it’s more than that. Perhaps in the mediocre tales we suspend disbelief. The great tales leave us no say in the matter.

What worlds gave you a new normal? What universes would you choose to visit — or go to stay?

Real life: So Much Scarier than Fiction

I know a child – a five-year-old – who is so very different from what I was when I was her age. I was terrified of my own shadow. I screamed and ran from strangers. I couldn’t even talk about vampires for fear that one would hear me and come take a chomp out of my neck. To this day, I can’t handle the sensation of *anyone* touching my neck – it makes me want to hurl.

But this five-year-old? She is so very brave. She laughs in the face of zombie conversations. She stared down Space Mountain and Darth Vader in Disney World, and she won.

But she does have one fear: fire. I mean, within reason, right? Show the girl a campfire and she’ll ask for the marshmallows. But show her something bigger – an explosion, maybe, or a bomb detonation – and she’ll run for the hills.

It’s like, even at five, she gets it: once something is turned to ash, it’s permanent. Remember Johnny-5 in Short Circuit? When a butterfly gets crushed? “No disassemble?” That is this child when faced with fire.


Seriously – she almost had to leave Disney on Ice when the Cars part had a couple of explosive backfires. She sat, rigid, not enjoying herself at all, until the Cars had left the ice.

At first I didn’t understand this fear…I mean, I understand not wanting to get burned, but WHY, when she’s fearless everywhere else, do fires make her cut and run?

Then I started to think about it. She’s very aware that I write books about pretend things: zombies, monsters, aliens, whatever else. She’s very aware that these pretend things cannot hurt her because they’re just that: pretend.

We often read and write scary things to escape reality, telling tales of ghosts and goblins that bring chills up and down our spines to avoid talking about the news at ten. But to me, one of the scariest movies ever made is still The Silence of the Lambs. Serial killers haunt me at night. It’s the terror based in reality – Hannibal Lecter was supposedly created to account for crime scenes Richard Harris covered working as a crime reporter in the 60s. 


I mean, what writer could have preemptively imagined the devastation of the Holocaust? Of deadly nighttime killing raids through ancient villages? Of crematoriums built for thousands of bodies? Of mass graves, filled with the dead, the still living, and covered over with lime that didn’t even begin to hide the stench?

What writer could have ever preemptively imagined the destruction of a single atomic bomb, let alone two? Of the lingering effects of radiation on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Of the fact that Chernobyl is still uninhabitable, all these years after the disaster?

What writer could have preemptively imagined the recent spate of terror in the United States, with crazy gunmen mowing down dozens in movie theaters and elementary schools?

I haven’t told the five-year-old about any of these things yet. I’d rather let her think the real world is safer than fiction, at least for now. Let her fear fire, and fire alone. Let her think the monsters are only in her dreams.

The real world is scary, and bizarre, and it’s utterly unpredictable.

And when the real world gets rough, and you need to find me or that five-year-old girl…you can find us immersed in an analytical breakdown of what makes a zombie tick. And we’ll be laughing about it.

Sampling Serials, Part I: What the Heck Are Serial Novels and Why Should You Read Them?

© Miflippo from Stock Free Images.
© Miflippo from Stock Free Images.

If you’ve been paying very much attention over the past year or two, you’ve probably seen serial novels cropping up everywhere. Amazon has a program called the Kindle Serial where you pay a one-time fee of $1.99 (in the U.S.) and are mailed a new episode every week. Websites like JukePop Serials and Tuesday Serial attempt to deliver the best of serial fiction on the web to readers waiting hungrily for their latest “fix.”

So what, exactly, is a serial novel? Science fiction writer Susan Kaye Quinn describes it like this on her Facebook page:

A serial is a story told through a series of installments, or episodes, released on a regular schedule. … TV series are the most common form of serial storytelling today.

It’s been done before, most notably by Charles Dickens. So the real question is, why should you choose serial episodes when you have everything from flash fiction to short stories to novels available?

Because sometimes you want a story with an arc that continues on, like a novel, but you don’t have the time to finish a whole novel. You’d like a nice, clean break between stories, but novel chapters leave you with giant cliffhangers, begging you to stay awake for another half an hour. With serial fiction, authors generally wrap up the episode nicely. Yet, you know the characters you love will return for more shenanigans the following week (or month, depending on the author’s release schedule).

It’s the best of both worlds. And, when you’re done, you can always buy the box set so you have all the episodes in one place to read later. Another thing that’s really, really cool is reader participation. Since authors are writing these episodes by the seat of their pants, most of them welcome reader feedback on the plot. Want a certain character to die? Get pregnant? Go to jail? Weigh in on the author’s Facebook page or website and see if you get your wish.

I, personally, didn’t think I’d much enjoy the serial fiction format. I like my stories meaty and I like them all at once. Or so I thought. When I began to write full-time, I found that I sometimes needed a break from reading full-length works. I wanted a snappy, fast-moving story I could keep coming back to (unlike short stories). Enter the serial. It’s the perfect-sized read when I have a few minutes to spare before bed or while I’m at a kid’s gymnastics class, waiting. And if I absolutely fall in love with the characters, I know there’s more coming (also unlike short stories).

So, what do you think? Would you give serial fiction a try? Or do you like your fiction in novel format?

This is a two-part series of posts on serial fiction. Coming on June 18th is Part II, The Best Serial Fiction Today: One Reader’s Opinion. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss it!