Speculative Fiction Worth Reading - Review for Faebourne

Blurb: Duncan Oliver was in every respect an unremarkable gentleman. 

When mild-mannered Duncan Oliver is abducted by the Milne brothers and taken to their legendary home of Faebourne, his unexciting life becomes much more interesting. Adelia Milne has been cursed, and Duncan is her chosen champion to break the spell. Duncan may not be a hero, but he is a gentleman, and he refuses to leave a lady in distress. He becomes determined to take on the quest on Miss Milne's behalf. 

Meanwhile, an unlikely rescue team forms in the pairing of Duncan's best friend George and valet Davies. As they set out for Faebourne--and also perchance to learn more about Davies' obscured family history--what begins as an unequal partnership quickly blooms into friendship... and possibly something more.

My review: Duncan Oliver's sedate life is turned on its head when he's kidnapped by two odd men he's just met at the local club. They bring them to their mysterious manor Faebourne to help remove a curse from their sister, Adelia Milne. A task which Duncan is unsure he's up to. Yet his trusted valet, Davies is quick on the case to find his employer. Duncan's best friend George accompanies him on the journey, hoping for some excitement. The two men find so much more.

This is not what I expected from a Regency Romance, but in the most wonderful of ways. The writing is light and crisp, true to its genre, but coming to the beautiful Faebourne we have a whole different type of story. It is like a fairy tale of old with its curses and quests. Grass slippers and a song who is many songs. Plus Adelia's fox familiar Aloysius who is quirky and clever and makes me want my own! The Milnes are odd themselves and often had me smiling. While I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the book, it is the cast of characters that shine. Duncan is the polite and boring everyday man who must stretch himself to try to become a hero. Davies wrestles with his newfound lineage and his attraction to George. While George himself is surprised by what he finds in himself traveling with Davies and what he wants in life.

I'd love to read much more from the author and this of this type of Regency Romance. Well done!


Evolution of a series cover

In the book world, both indie and traditional, common knowledge is that one should occasionally recover and repackage a long-running novel or series. I run into this all of the time when I teach. Even though I assign the same booklist, the covers keep changing from year to year!

Recently, I attended an "author mastermind" conference that involved branding and taking one's authorship more seriously. Upping one's game. It seriously kicked my you-know-what! It also inspired me to take a hard look at my covers, my promo style and release schedule. In this post I'll focus on my Fireseed series covers.

Here is the evolution of the first two of the Fireseed novels, Fireseed One and Ruby's Fire over time.
See the whole series here.

Oldest, on bottom:
When I launched the series in 2011 I wanted to break out of the YA trope of girls in gowns, and even from the photo retouched cover. Coming from the art world, I also wanted to include my own interior illustrations. I hired digital cover artist Jay Montgomery, who taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I designed the roughs. These worked for a while as they attracted attention from their unique look. But I decided to scrap my interior illustrations as some thought they made the book seemed aimed for the 9-12 year-old set. They are meant for older teens and adults. And though the covers were an homage to the classic 50s sci-fi covers, they also began to seem dated.

The big portraits, next oldest:
Najla Qamber designed these next incarnations, with close-up heads and a more trendy type font. These sold quite well and I was happy with them.

The edgy setting covers, second to top:
Then, I hired publicists, who convinced me YA sci-fi covers no longer featured up-close faces, but had object covers such as the Hunger Games crests or otherworldly settings. We looked at the top 100 YA sci-fi on Amazon, and I took the bait. Again, Najla delivered spectacular covers with a futuristic title font. The look was sophisticated, gritty - everything I love. But the covers did not sell as many books. Ultimately, I realized that in YA, and even in adult fantasy, people are drawn to, well PEOPLE!

The brand new 2019 covers, on top:
In a meeting with a mentor from the author mastermind conference, we looked again at the Amazon top 100 in YA sci-fi. Yes, we still saw object covers, but we also saw a resurgence of faces and human figures, which filled me with relief. The lead characters in this newest set by Najla are in mid-picture, walking or standing in front of spooky cool settings, the hallmark of the series. It's a burning sky, it's harsh desert, it's strange jutting rock formations and thorny Fireseed blossoms literally on fire. It's topped off with a big, brash title font that reads clearly from a thumbnail.

Who knows if and when I'll design another set. There's something I love about each rendition. Which one do you like best and why? Have you recovered and repackaged your novels? If so, what prompted it?


Three Books #review #fantasy #scifi #review

With the Holiday Season firmly upon us, I thought I'd push the boat out and post three quick book reviews, in case anyone is looking for a present idea...

First up is a fantasy classic you may not have heard of: Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees. My copy of this book has a Neil Gaiman blurb that says:

The single most beautiful, solid, unearthly, and unjustifiably forgotten novel of the twentieth century ... a little golden miracle of a book

Now there's a certain amount of hyperbole there, but he's really not far wrong. This book is a gem. It's a fantasy novel originally published in 1926, eleven years before Bilbo Baggins hurried out of his round, green door. It's also a long way in scope and theme from the epic fantasy of Tolkien and his followers. Perhaps it's really a "fairy story". Or it might be a murder mystery. Certainly there are no armies or Dark Lords in sight. The book's concerns are smaller, but dramatic enough in their own way. It concerns itself with the staid and proper city of Lud-in-the-Mist, whose citizens are horrified to find that "fairy fruit" is being smuggled into their town, down the river Dapple from the Land of Faerie. The citizens never mention Faerie or its - literally - forbidden fruit, trying to convince themselves that such unsettling things don't exist.

The fruit is dangerous, subversive even: it makes people waste away their lives in all manner of unproductive ways: writing, playing music and, you can be sure, much else besides. The modern reader might see the fruit as an analogue for drugs, but equally it represents the role of beauty and art in our over-controlled, rational lives.That said, Mirrlees is rather ambivalent about the merits of Faerie. We are never actually taken there; it remains an unknown in the text. Faerie as the id to Lud-in-the-Mist's ego perhaps? This is a story of ideas as much as anything. This isn't just another "fantasy" story, and that's wonderfully refreshing.

The book is elegantly, charmingly written. It's as if Virginia Woolf sat down to write The Hobbit and not John Ronald Reuld. Or as if Tolkien had had a crack at a Barchester novel. Or something. I do wonder whether it would struggle to get a publisher these days, though. It starts slowly and proceeds at a gentle pace much of the time.

Still, fans of fantasy and, you know, good writing should seek it out. Available from Amazon and all good book stores.

Next up is a book that isn't fantasy and isn't really science fiction - but which readers (and writers) of science fiction will love. It's Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku.

Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel by [Kaku, Michio]

In case you're not familiar with him, Kaku is a theoretical physicist, who here takes a serious look at some of the tropes and devices commonly used in science fiction (time travel, phasers, teleportation etc.) But this isn't one of those works that sneers at the crazy ideas of those writer types. On the contrary, Kaku is clearly a fan and demonstrates a pretty good knowledge of the genre. He says himself it was a boyhood delight in the genre that turned him onto physics in the first place.

The result is that there's a treasure-trove of solid scientific material in here for science fiction writers to draw on. Not that I'm that hung up on strict veracity to science in science fiction myself, as some writers and readers clearly are. Story always wins, I think. But the more you diverge from believable science, the more likely you are to alienate a section of your potential readers. Plus I also found that reading the book gave me several great ideas for new stories.You could do a lot with gamma-ray bursters, for example.Or nanoships. Or antimatter rockets.

Kaku's writing is always clear and he obviously knows what he's talking about. And it's surprising just how much stuff actually probably isn't impossible. Time travel? FTL? Invisibility? Kaku sees all these as ultimately possible, in that they don't appear to contravene any known laws of physics. We just can't do them yet. He returns to the SF canon again and again and then explains how, actually, quite a lot of it just might work.

At times I would have liked him to explain things a little more. He mentions, for example, that you can't use quantum entanglement to communicate instantaneously across the galaxy (darn, there goes the plot for at least one of my published stories) and I had to spend a bit of time thinking about why that is. Perhaps it's just so obvious to him he felt it didn't need explaining. I think I get it now...

Oh, and loath as I am to pit my 'O' level in physics against his brain-the-size-of-a-planet wisdom, it does seem to me he does get it wrong when he discusses precognition. This, he says, is definitely impossible because it transgresses basic Newtonian physics; it short-circuits cause and effect. But then he also says "In principle, Newtonian mechanics states that if you had a large enough computer, you could compute all future events". So, if you could build such a machine then maybe you could predict the future...

Anyway, great book. Available from Amazon and all good book stores.

Finally, I've recently been reading What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank: A Fantasy Lover's Food Guide by Krista D. Ball.

It's partly written for writers, but readers of fantasy (and other genres) will find it a blast, too. It bills itself as "equal parts writer’s guide, comedy, and historical cookbook" and that's about right. It's an entertanining and informative read, and I was constantly reminded of episodes in fantasy books I've read where the characters have no trouble living off the land - despite all the very real difficulties that would entail.

So, if you're interested to know how your party of adventurers could survive in the wildlands as they search for the mythical Orb of Raan, or how that dwarvish army could march upon the orc homelands without dying of starvation on the way, this is the book to read. I found I was constantly given cool ideas for scenes and chapters, too. Definitely a book to come back to.

I did enjoy reading about the sociological, technological and economic background to the foods people ate in the past. Plus, there were some good jokes. Also, plenty of things described that I definitely would not want to eat or drink - but which characters in some fantasy story might. The poor things.

If you're interested in world-building a fantasy or a period romance universe, or you're simply fascinated by what and how people in former times used to eat and drink, this book is well-worth checking out.

It's available from Amazon and all good book stores.

Happy Holidays from the folks at Untethered Realms, all!


Unteathered Realms Yuletide Spectacular! #fantasy #scifi #giveaway

Pack your ereader with spectacular reads this holiday season!

Great free books to make your yuletide merry and bright!

Of Blood and Sorrow
by Christine Rains

by M. Pax


Blue House Magic
by Catherine Stine

An Absence of Light
by Meradeth Houston

Wings of Flesh and Bones
by Cathrina Constantine

Hedge Witch (The Cloven Land Trilogy, Book 1)
by Simon Kewin

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Review of Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

When I decided to teach novel craft via Ocean at the End of the Lane to my college writing workshop students I had no idea what I was in for. Sure, there's a plot arc, chapter hooks, rules for magic, and themes: the nature of memory and time, identity, the importance of friendship. Still, Gaiman's newest tome defies definition. It's a mash up of magical realism, psychological horror, fantasy, a coming of age, and dare I say cosmic Jungian theology. Okay, let me back up...

The unnamed narrator returns to his boyhood town for the funeral of an unnamed person (Let me add myth to the mash up list). Distracted by unsettled emotions stirred by seeing his old stomping grounds, the narrator wanders down the lane to neighboring Hempstock Farm. There, he talks to Ginny Hempstock, and inquires about Lettie, her daughter and his childhood friend. He remembers Lettie's claim that her backyard pond was actually a vast ocean. When he sits and looks at the pond, he "remembers it, and in remembering, remembers all."

Lettie, her mom Ginny and the Hempstock granny are no ordinary trio. Old Mrs. Hempstock claims, "I've been around since the moon was made," and these ladies know the magic of "snipping and binding". He recalls taking refuge at their farm after an opal miner renting a room in his parents' house takes his dad's car and kills himself in it. Soon after this, the boy runs to Lettie's when his new babysitter, Ursula Monkton turns out to be a terrifying monster who knows everything about him. Not only that, but she claims to have wormed her way into this world from boring a hole in the boy's foot and traveling up to his heart!

Ursula is a truly frightening thing, and Gaiman has wicked fun in creating her. She is, in turns, a flea, a dirty mess of flapping canvas, a beautiful woman who has transfixed the boy's father, an alien from another time who tells the boy, "I've been inside you and I'm always watching you." Her defense in being creepy is that, "It's your fault. You brought me here. You tore a hole in Forever." Indeed, it's a dangerous thing for the boy to "be a door."

When Lettie and the boy band together to fight Ursula and "send her home" they must deal with supernatural varmints, or as Lettie calls them, Hunger Birds. These ravenous critters not only peck and injure, but they devour the world, part by part.

I won't tell you what happens except to say that the boy is tested in every way. For one, he must remain alone all night in a fairy ring stalked by visions and specters who try to coax him out of the safe zone.  Gaiman's magic is quite creative, and the last section of the book blossoms to a cosmic level. Gaiman's visionary language is brilliant, and his message transcends the bounds of the fantasy genre. Highly recommended.


You Know Nothing, Jon Snow #sci #fantasy #research #facts

How important is it that writers get their facts straight? It’s a question that often bothers me, because so many books I read get simple factual things wrong. Meradeth touched upon the distinction between a theory and a hypothesis last month, which is a good example of what I mean, but there are many others.

Take computers: that’s an area I happen to know about as I’m also a software developer. It’s very obvious to me, however, that many writers do not really know their megabits from their gigahertz or do not really know the distinction between the internet and the web. They try, and they use so many of the correct terms, they just use them in a slightly incorrect way which shows they’re essentially just using technical jargon and hoping for the best. I still laugh at that bit in Independence Day when our heroes manage to upload a computer virus to an alien and utterly unknowable operating system. Similarly, a friend of mine recently stopped watching a certain Sci-Fi series remake because “they got the physics all wrong” and it ruined the enjoyment for him.

I’ve no doubt the same is true for other specialized areas of knowledge. For example, I’m married to a medical doctor, and she often sees significant flaws in books touching upon healthcare. Viruses and bacteria confused, that sort of thing. The chances are, she won’t notice the IT mistakes just as I won’t notice the medical ones. As writers, we all strive to research our characters and our worlds, but it’s inevitable we’ll get things wrong because we can’t be an expert in everything.

My question is, does it matter? A book with technical mistakes may alienate some readers, but maybe most won’t mind. For me, what matters more than strict factual accuracy is story. If the story’s good enough, if the characters are intriguing enough, I’ll forgive a few slipups in the research. If it’s a great book I may not even notice.

Of course, as writers of speculative fiction we maybe have things a bit easier. If we’re inventing our own worlds then readers often won’t know when we get things “wrong”, because we’re not trying to achieve a reliable representation of the real world. Sci-Fi maybe represents more of a challenge, because there are a lot of scientifically knowledgeable readers out there. I think that what’s important, so often, is consistency rather than accuracy. We can invent all manner of miraculous magics and technologies, and readers will accept them, but if we fail to follow our own rules, contradict ourselves, then readers will spot it and may be jarred out of the story.

Gary Gygax, designer of Dungeons and Dragons once said, “a reader will swallow a whale but choke on a minnow.” It's an important lesson.

As a writer, I do all I can to get my facts straight, but I’m honestly more concerned with story, plausibility and consistency. But maybe I'm wrong to take that approach. I should probably do some more research.

What does anyone else think?


#UnRealms November Twitter Chat - Things With Wings

Angels, fairies, and dragons!
So many creatures real and fantasy with wings.

Join the Untethered Realms authors on Twitter all November for an on-going chat about things with wings. We love to talk about real critters that leave us in awe and marvelous fantasy beasts that blow us away.

Please use the hashtag #UnRealms.

You can find us on Twitter at @UnRealms.