Taboo Or Not To Taboo

A guest post by Jo Zebedee, author of Abendau’s Heir, Sunset Over Abendau, Abendau’s Legacy, Inish Carraig, and the brand new dark fantasy release, Waters and the Wild.

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When I started my first book – which eventually became Abendau’s Heir – I had nothing more in mind than writing something that had been floating around my head for a number of decades. What I intended was to confront the concept of the ‘chosen’ one and challenge it. Which meant the poor main character had to go through an ordeal. That ordeal turned out to be a lengthy torture regime, including a rape.

Now, in genre novels rape is the great taboo. It is often used for weak plot reasons. It brings about accusations of gratuitousness quicker than practically any other trope. And, to add to the fun, torture isn’t that far behind it… And all in a debut novel….

I’ve often asked myself if I would have the guts to write something just as hard hitting as Abendau again. If I’d have known then what I know now (that many people would find the book too dark, that it might define me as the dark little bunny in the writing group), would I do it again?

On the face of it, Waters and the Wild, my latest book, is a million miles from Abendau. There is no torture. There is no rape. The darkness within it is subtler and less confrontational to the reader. But there are still themes within it which will challenge a reader and which were not the easiest to write about.

Firstly, the book has a main character dealing with the day-to-day reality of coping with a mental illness. Whether she is mentally ill or whether fairies really do speak to her is largely irrelevant – because, whichever it is, it causes compulsions in her, bring anxiety and fear, causes her confusion and disassociation. That Amy has had these thoughts, or has heard these voices, since she was a child, is redolent of our modern era – where teenage mental health problems are growing and our services (where I am, at least) are stretched and support is often patchy.

But the thing that Waters and the Wild does (which has been picked up in even the earliest reviews) is question what that does to a wider family. The repercussions of mental health difficulties – not just Amy’s – reverberate through the book. No one is unscathed by it – because we are not islands and when someone we love struggles, we can’t just close ourselves off from it.

Up to this point, I’m on safe ground, I feel. I researched. I got feedback from people who were more knowledgeable than me and acted on it. I researched some more. I drew on whatever personal knowledge I have, or have been privileged enough for people to share. As with Abendau, I’m confident the themes that have arisen have been dealt with carefully, with thoughtfulness and honesty.

That’s before the book is released, however. Once it goes out as a published book, I no longer own that book.

With Abendau, I hoped I’d be recognised for writing a thoughtful trilogy about a character’s journey. Mostly, though, I’m known as the lady who writes great torture. Those 3000 or so words in a sea of 250,000 are what define the trilogy. With Inish Carraig, my Belfast-based alien invasion novel, I’ve had to come to terms with people reacting to a reflected Belfast in the book. It’s not why I wrote it, but that’s okay. It’s what resonates with so many readers.

What, then, for Waters and the Wild? I hope the dark mythology will stand out but, looking at early feedback, the character interactions in all their quirked and strained ways, are coming to the fore. The mental illness themes, too, are resonating. We’ll see where they all settle down and what the book’s identity becomes.

What I do know is that, for me, it’s only by writing challenging themes that a multi faceted book emerges. Which I suppose answers my question. Would I tackle hard themes again, knowing they might cause discomfort, and put some readers off?

Yes. Yes I would. Because I should be honest to the story, the characters and their theme. And I hope readers will find that I have been.

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You can buy Waters and the Wild here.

Add Waters and the Wild on Goodreads.

Follow Jo on Twitter @jozebwrites, and check out her wonderful blog posts on writing and publishing at her website, www.jozebedee.com

Small Press Publishing

*Based off my notes for the April 2017 Barnes & Noble panel on Publishing Your Book that I took part in, along with authors Carrie Firestone, Stephanie Robinson, and Jessica Haight*
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Publishing Your Book panel participants

 

Yesterday was #smallpressday2017. Congratulations to all those hardworking small presses out there! Keep up the good work!

What is a small press?

When you’ve been part of the writing community for a while, as I have, it’s easy to forget that many of the publishing terms that we author-type people tend to toss around can be pretty obscure to those who are unfamiliar with the industry. For instance, I get a lot of people asking me what I mean when I say I’m published by a small press. I’ve been asked several times if that’s the same as self-publishing. No, I tell them, it isn’t. Of course, self-publishing is a perfectly valid option, if approached in a professional manner. I have many writer friends who have self-published, or who are ‘hybrid’ authors (both self- and traditionally published), and who thrive within that format. But that’s not the publishing model I went with for my Blade Hunt Chronicles.

Heart Blade (and the upcoming sequel Night Blade) is published by Woodbridge Press, a small Canadian publishing house. A small press follows the same model of ‘traditional publishing’ as Penguin Random House, or Simon and Schuster, or any of the big giants. The difference is the size and scope of the company.

What can you expect from a small press? Like any large press, you can (and should) expect editorial input that contributes to a polished end product. This may be only a copyeditor, or it may include other sorts of editing. For Heart Blade, I had a developmental editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader. Other things you should expect include professional cover art, professional layout and design work, etc.

What you should NOT expect: to pay for any of this from your own pocket. Just like with a large publishing house, in the traditional model the money flows TO the author, not FROM the author. If you’re paying for any of it, you’re looking at some form of vanity press, or one of the many companies that facilitate things for self-published authors. Again, that can be a valid choice, as long as you make it with your eyes open and know exactly what you’re getting into.

Downside to small press

Your main downside is going to be reach. A small press will have a much smaller marketing budget than a larger company, and visibility will be limited. Your book deal probably won’t appear in Publisher’s Weekly, your ARCs (advanced reader copies) probably won’t reach any of the big reviewers, and your book itself may not even be in physical bookstores.

Another downside is impermanence. Of course a large press can also go under (and when they do it can be spectacularly catastrophic!), but a small press is far more likely to go bankrupt, or just quit the business. Make sure you get decent reversal of rights clauses in your contract in case this happens to you.

Upside to small press

You don’t need to have an agent (query letter phobics, take note!). Most small presses take direct submissions from writers. Some have specific submission windows, some take all-year-round subs, but they rarely deal with agents, because for an agent there’s not much point in a book deal that’s going to be worth either a tiny advance or no advance at all.

A small press is more willing to take risks on subject matter. With Heart Blade, for instance, I had two agents tell me that no publishers were interested in demons, angels, and vampires; that this sort of thing was all over and done with. But a small press such as Woodbridge can take a chance on something they like. UK press Kristell Ink is a good example: they’ve been publishing some really innovative fantasy work that might not have stood a chance in one of the bigger publishing houses. And Tickety Boo Press have invested heavily in space operas and science fiction (among other genres).

The ‘risk factor’ is especially important if you write something niche. For instance, Aqueduct Press specializes in feminist literature in all genres. Headmistress Press is even more niche: they only publish lesbian poetry. If you think your manuscript may be hard to pitch, perhaps a small press is for you. Do your research – there are many good small publishing houses out there.

Another advantage of a small press is it’s a lot more agile and fluid than a large press. If you get a publishing deal with a large press, it can take anything from 18 months to 3 years before your book comes out. A small press can go from signing to publication in a matter of months. So if you’ve written something time sensitive – maybe about a recent or upcoming world event – a small press can be a good fit for you.

Small press caution!

Study all your options. Look into the different publishing formats and models out there. If you decide that a small press may be the ideal home for your manuscript, then put all those researching skills to good use. There are plenty of less-than-savory companies out there, and that’s where resources such as the SFWA’s ‘Writer Beware’ page, or the Water Cooler at Absolute Write, can be invaluable in helping you avoid the scammers and find a good, legitimate fit for your work.

Also, dip a toe into the small press waters by reading a few authors who have chosen this publishing model. Get a feel for different companies by investing in the work they publish. At the very least, you may discover some hidden gems (check out the #smallpressbigstories hashtag on Twitter for inspiration). If you find a writer you like, help spread the word (and stretch the tiny marketing budget) by sharing your discovery. All of us small press authors thank you!

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Have Book, Will Read #14

After a ridiculously long hiatus, I’m back with more mini reviews. Have Book, Will Read has been on hold for way too long, and I figured it was time to dust it off and let it out of the dark, dismal e-basement its been hiding in. I’ve read a lot of great fiction since my last book update, and here are a few of the highlights.

Recent Reads: A little bit of this, a little bit of that… A little bit of everything, really.

First off, something I don’t read a lot of nowadays, though I’ve definitely read my share in the past: romance. Suzanne Jackson’s The Beguiler is a fantasy story, set in a world and time reminiscent of our Regency period. Told in Jackson’s clean and elegant prose, this is the tale of Rebecca Vasteer, a young witch living in a society that has outlawed witchcraft. On the run from both the town marshals and the feared Rangers, Rebecca is saved by a Witch Trader with reasons of his own to stay out of the Rangers’ way.

This isn’t a light and summery love story. Jackson’s world is rich and dark, filled with tales of witch magic and the brutal Ranger skills that aim to contain that power. The story is deliciously unpredictable – every time you think you have the plot figured out, it twists away once again, keeping you guessing every step of the way.

I finally got around to reading the last book in Jo Zebedee’s terrific Inheritance Trilogy. The third and last volume, Abendau’s Legacy, does a great job of tying up Kare Varnon’s epic story in a wonderfully realistic manner that’s neither too neat nor too pretty. This is the final confrontation in a war that has lasted since before Kare’s birth, and what a ride it is!

As always, one of Zebedee’s strong points is that she does a great job of showing us the consequences of her characters’ actions, crafting tales with just enough of a dark underbelly to please both ‘grimdark’ fans and those who like a lighter touch to their space opera.

I’d read the first two volumes of Claudia Gray’s YA Firebird series last year, and been blown away by this exciting tale of multiverse hopping and true love. The concluding book, A Million Worlds With You, hits the ground running after the cliffhanger she left us with in Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

Marguerite Caine and her allies across the multiverse have to stop the Triad Corporation before thousands of worlds are doomed to annihilation. But Marguerite is faced with additional challenges: an evil doppelganger from an alternate dimension, intent on her destruction; and the battle to keep her beloved Paul from completely falling apart after his soul was splintered and put together again.

An interesting – and challenging – read was Nik Abnett’s Savant. The first few pages are hard going: Abnett throws us straight into the deep end in her world, and its highly specific language and terms. But once I settled into her tale, I found I was fascinated by this story of love and devotion at a time where everything is highly compartmentalized, institutionalized, and methodical.

Savant is set in a future version of Earth where a living mind mesh cloaks the planet, defending it from alien invasion. When one of the ‘Actives’ that maintains the shield is compromised, global government races to stabilize the system. This is not an easy story, but it’s definitely one well-worth reading. You can read my SFF World interview with the author here.

For fantasy lovers in search of something a little more traditional, Exile by Martin Owton is a good bet. This first book in the Nandor Tales introduces young master swordsman Aron of Darien, an exile without a homeland, and with an oath of revenge to fulfill. Aron gets sidetracked into a quest to rescue the heir of Nandor, and soon finds himself in the thick of another land’s problems.

Duels, daring rescues, subterfuge, magic, and the (lovely but distracting) temptation of love. In Exile, Owton delivers a nicely polished tale, with all the classic elements that fans of epic fantasy will enjoy. The second volume, Nandor, is already out, and I look forward to continuing the story.

I need to mention a non-SFF ARC I read recently. Out in June 2017, Carrie Firestone’s The Unlikelies is a contemporary YA with a lovely, feel-good, summer vibe to it. This is the story of a group of high school kids who become friends at a Rotary Club ‘Home Grown Heroes’ lunch, and decide to put their summer vacation to good use with a series of ninja-style anonymous good deeds.

Firestone’s novel deals skillfully with some pretty dark themes (bullying, heroin addiction), balancing them out with friendship, romance, and some incredibly funny moments. Her snappy dialogue shines throughout, as do her diverse and lovely characters.

Now Reading: Guts and Glory.

I’m currently in the middle of Snake Eyes, by Hillary Monahan. Part of the Gods and Monsters series by Abaddon Books, this is the story of Tanis, a lamia who gets tangled in a war between her own kind and the vengeful Gorgons. I was a little reluctant about this one at first, as I know of Monahan’s reputation as a horror writer, and I don’t really do horror. But – dark, bloody, and foul-mouthed as it is – this is more of an urban fantasy, and I’m finding it hard to put down. The pacing is relentless, and Monahan’s descriptions and dialogue have me straight out laughing aloud at times.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve also been dipping in and out of Journeys, a fantasy anthology by Woodbridge Press that has one of my own stories in it. With a stellar line-up of authors, this is a great read for fantasy fans – and not just because I’m in it. There’s a bit of everything, to please all tastes, and it’s been interesting seeing what directions my fellow authors have chosen to take.

To Read: There’s magic afoot…

I currently have a ridiculously long to-read list – and that’s just considering what’s already loaded on my Kindle, or sitting in paperback or hardback on my bookshelf. So here are just a couple that I can’t wait to start.

I’m a huge fan of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels, and the last one left Alex in a really dark place. I’m part excited for and part dreading the new volume, Bound, because Jacka is a master at making his characters suffer. If you love urban fantasy, and haven’t tried Jacka, please do!

Another urban fantasy novel I recently picked up is the latest in Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, Magic For Nothing. So far, McGuire has introduced us to Verity and her brother Alex. Now it’s time to meet the youngest Price sibling, Antimony. Ever since Book 3 in the series, when we switched from Verity’s story to Alex, I’ve been hoping for a closer look at the infamous ‘baby’ of the bunch, so I was delighted when I found out who the protagonist of Book 6 was going to be.

A quick shout out to Rick Riordan, whose latest novel, The Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo, Book 2), recently landed in the bookstores. I’m a absolute fan of Riordan’s work, and my kids know that their mother always gets first dibs on any new novel. I’m sorry, did you say ‘It’s a kids book’? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of my unapologetic fangirling.

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I’ll get there, eventually!

Journeys Anthology

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I’m thrilled to have a short story in a brand new anthology by Woodbridge Press, to be released on February 15th. Fourteen fantasy road tales by a fabulous list of authors. And a stabby little story by yours truly, called ‘Fool’s Quest’. The collection has been edited by Teresa Edgerton, and should be a truly drool-worthy addition to any fantasy fan’s bookshelf.

Stories byJohn Gwynne, Gail Z. Martin, Julia Knight, Jacob Cooper, Steven Poore, Dan Jones, Anna Dickinson, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Juliet E. McKenna, Juliana Spink Mills, Samanda R. Primeau, Davis Ashura, Charlie Pulsipher, and Thaddeus White.

E-book pre-orders are already up, with a special 99c/99p promo price. Paperback coming soon!

Amazon US/ Amazon UK

Add to Goodreads

 

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Gorgeous cover art by Tom Edwards

 

(Not So) Bad Boys and Girls

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I recently tore through the entire Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. This was serious binge reading of the ‘don’t come up for air before you’re done’ variety. I love (Love, LOVE) all of her characters from the first to be introduced, Blue, to latecomer Henry. But my hands down absolute fave has got to be Ronan Lynch.

What is it about those fictional (not so) bad boys and girls? I’m talking about those characters that are all rough and tough on the outside, with a center core of sweetness. The ones who give off all the appearance of a grumpy porcupine to their fellow characters while we sit on the sidelines silently screaming, “Just love them already!”

Take Han Solo. (Put your hands down, I’m not actually offering him!) When we first meet him in New Hope, he’s all, ‘Oh, I’m so bad, I’m the baddest badass smuggler around.’ But by the time the original trilogy is over, we all know him for what he really is: yes, grumpy and irritatingly stubborn. But, at the same time, loyal, caring, and 110% a secret Hufflepuff. (Shut up. You know Han would be a Hufflepuff. Just sayin’.)

The aforementioned Ronan Lynch is another one who’s crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. When we meet him in The Raven Boys, he’s all snark and swearwords, a shaved-head-and-tattooed bad boy supreme. When The Raven King rolls around, we know better. Sure, he’s still a street-racing punk with an attitude bigger than anyone I’ve seen in a while, but he has this amazing capacity for love and for goodness, and if by book four you haven’t fallen for this dreamer, then please, what is WRONG with you?

How about those (not so) bad girls? Like Kate Harker from Victoria Schwab’s Monsters of Verity duology. In This Savage Song, Kate’s all sharp edges and nails you wouldn’t trust anywhere near your eyes for fear she’d gouge them out. A gangster’s daughter on a mission to prove herself, Kate could just be one of those thoroughly bad to the bone girls that crop up every now and then in fiction. And nothing wrong with that, but. But. She isn’t. There’s sweetness, somewhere under all those rock-hard layers, and longing, and a desperate need to love and be loved. I can’t wait for the concluding book, Our Dark Duet, to come out in June.

And hey, let’s not forget Disney. The House of Mouse can (not so) bad with the best of them at times. One of my fave princess movies is Tangled, in part for the creative use of frying pans and for the World’s Best Horse. But a big part of the appeal is bad boy Flynn Rider, especially when we find out that under all that sass and ego, he’s actually the adorable and sappy Eugene.

Yup, show me a character who’s a prickly marshmallow, and I’ll show you me in a molten puddle of goo. Or, well, maybe not, because no one wants to see that. But I do tend to melt for the difficult ones, for the tough guys and girls with all the secret hidden vulnerabilities. They’re so hard to resist. Especially when they tip you a smuggler’s wink and whisper, “I know.”

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“Frying pans. Who knew, right?”

BookNest Fabulous Fantasy Fundraiser

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The team over at BookNest.eu are raising money for Doctors Without Borders (Médicins Sans Frontières). 100 fantasy authors are donating signed and dedicated books for a combination lottery/auction event that you can take part in by donating on the fundraiser’s site. It doesn’t take much to join in – for as little as 1 pound (around 1.2US$) you’ll be included in the lottery.

That’s 100 books! 100 authors (including me!).

Click HERE to see who’s taking part and to donate.

MSF do a really great job, operating in difficult and dangerous situations, and are always in need of donations. In case you are not familiar with their work, here’s an overview from the MSF website:

“Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare. MSF offers assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation.”

Aliens – The Truth Is Coming

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I have a short story out this week in a brand new anthology by Tickety Boo Press, UK. Aliens – The Truth Is Coming has a great line up of authors, with a wide variety of takes on the theme.

From the publisher:

Many of us look up into the wondrous night sky and know that we are looking at a galaxy full of life. It doesn’t matter that we haven’t discovered definitive proof of it yet – we know it’s out there and, perhaps, looking back at us, wondering the same thing in return.

The stories in this anthology explore myriad ideas of what ‘extra-terrestrial’ could mean. Not only to humanity, but to individuals. 

You will read stories of invasion, stories of loss and discovery, stories of trickery and subjugation, and so much more.
This anthology throws the doors wide open, and all you need do is step through… 

And here are the authors:

Foreword and Acknowledgements by Andrew Angel

Stories:

In Plain Sight by Juliana Spink Mills

Geometry by Alex Davis

Gods of the Ice Planet by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Island Visit by Nathan Hystad

Even the Klin Are Only Human by Bryn Fortey

A New Dawn by Liz Gruder

Rent by Steven Poore

Salvage by MJ Kobernus

The Devil’s Rock by William Anderson

The Man Who Wasn’t Dead by Terry Grimwood

We Three Remain by Stewart Hotston

Welcome to Cosmic Journey by Michael Chandos

The Zoo of Dark Creatures by Leslie J Anderson

Here by Tim James

 

You can find the anthology on Amazon UK and Amazon US.