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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
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Saturday, 30 March 2013

Love Hurts: Why Modern Romantic Comedies Inevitably Suck

Hello hello!

Time for more thinky bits. I know y'all love it when I analyse things, and for a change, I'm going to focus on something I hate instead of something I love. Namely: modern romantic comedies. 

Why do I hate them, personally? Sure, I'm a cis (that is, 'happy with my born sexual identity') white female, but I always preferred action and explosions for a dumb flick over something a couple of chocolates and a frilly bow short of estrogen poisoning. Romcoms, like the ones that proliferated in the 90s, are an insult to intelligence, the characters are shallow...well, I could go on about the whys, and I'm about to. It's not that I don't like love stories--I do, in fact, and often write a bit of romance into my plots. 

What may surprise you, then, is that I absolutely love Jane Austen. I've touched on this before, as well as my abiding love for the Brontes. In fact, I'm fond of a lot of 19th century literature, and a bit of an Anglophile (although I love French and Russian literature from the same era to exactly the same extent). So--how, you ask, can I like the original queen of the genre's writings, and race to Netflix and the internet whenever I hear that Pride and Prejudice or another Austen work has been adapted or re-adapted? Shouldn't I be shrivelling up like a salted slug at the mere thought of romance? 

I was watching a few reviews tonight on ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com, a favourite site, when the answer hit me: modern romantic comedies totally deserve my ire because they're broken, and have been for years. Many serious romances are also pretty phuqued, but it's the comedies that are really boiled dry, and I finally know why. 

A brief note before I get into things--I'm going to focus on what I know, which is confined to English-language romances, mostly American and Hollywood-based. The issues I bring up may not be relevant or fit for a critique of Chinese, Indian, African, or other international romantic comedy films (which, unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to see many of), and certainly not the far more intelligent romantic comedies I've occasionally seen coming out of Europe.  I'd love to see some of the romances and romantic comedies of other countries, so if you have recommendations, please mention them in the comments. 

Source. It's only romantic because there are no nocturnal predators. In neolithic times they would have been so dead. 

A bit of background (pink background)

Just in case you've been fortuitous enough to escape one of the many lackluster rom-coms that have come out in the last couple of decades, let me save you a bit of work. From Meg Ryan to Julia Roberts to Katherine Hegel, we've had a number of stars make their careers based on rom-coms. Sex and the City milked an entire series of movies and a TB--I mean, TV--show from it, and there have been many other TV shows as well. From the 1980s to the 2000's, an absolute rash of films powered by these and lesser stars came out to appeal to pink-wearing period-suffering female cliches everywhere. 

The formula

The formula is simple: man and woman meet. Man and woman fight, often because they are competing over something. Man and woman may also be longterm friends who suddenly realise they're perfect for each other. Token love interests crop up to add complications. Woman's friends do girly things. Man's friends make misogynistic remarks. Man and woman are attracted to each other and sometimes sleep together. Awkwardness/personality faults/some contrived competition drives a wedge between them. It appears all is lost, but then a last minute save of some sort (usually the man's apology and rarely the woman's) fixes all. Harmony is restored and the couple dwells blissfully in ForeverDatingLand. 

It tends to be loaded with cliches and very poor. The movies are also notoriously repetitive. And yet, older versions of the same story are often charming, or at least bearable, for all their faults. Modern romantic comedies, like 500 Days of Summer and Kissing Jessica Stein, are also starting to move in a different direction. 

I'm ignoring the escapist side of things, such as the fact that romcoms and romances usually feature wealthy and attractive people that the audience wishes they could be/knock boots with, for the simple reason that most media has something of a fantasy element to it. I can't use magic or ride a steam-powered horse in real life, either, so that vicarious element averages into other genres as well. 

Source. As we all know, this is how people dressed in the 19th century. At all times.

Let's drop the history. 

The problem with romantic comedies, compared to their source material, is a temporal and societal one. Back in the days of Austen and her contemporaries, firm and rigid social rules determined the fate of women in the middle and upper class. Fail to follow them, and exile and disgrace--the sort that could ruin a family financially and socially--inevitably occurred. A woman's marriage meant everything, determining not only her own future and that of her children, but influencing that of her family, as well. Marrying for love wasn't really that common--one married for duty and love was supposed to develop. The rise of the middle class and the Industrial Revolution changed things, making people more prosperous, and cultural shifts led to a greater emphasis on freedom of expression. 

It's no coincidence that the many women in factories and even in the upper classes started to get uppity. The beginnings of women's rights and suffrage started here; dragging women into the workforce and out of the countryside changed everything. 

These societal clashes were very important in romantic books of the time, too. Tess of the D'Urbervilles is a fine example of a woman helpless to and aware of the dis-empowerment forced by her social class. Mansfield Park, one of my favourites, is all about the inequality within a household. Of course, Jane Eyre is another prime example of the same, as is Wuthering Heights (which is also about faeries and changelings, by the way. I should post about that for you guys some time). If you ended up at a disadvantage or made a simple misstep, boom, that was it. For the rest of your life. It provided a lot of tension, and because the issues are serious, the books resound with us to this day.

Say what? What do you mean by 'broken'?

The problem is--and here, I admit I'm conflating romances and romcoms a bit--modern stakes just aren't the same. The older books generally tend to have real antagonists, and a better understanding of human nature. Even when modern comedies are rather good, they still avoid the really uncomfortable issues implied or explicitly explored in older works. Instead, they play contemporary issues for drama to an exaggerated extent (hello, Nicholas Sparks), rely on illnesses, or make mountains out of molehills. 

Women had little to do except marry up. Now that we have careers and independence and enough money to be wasteful, or almost enough, the issues that made earlier works so urgent are basically gone. Things that would have been social death in a previous era are now mere inconveniences at worst, and that makes the social awkwardness in movies feel forced at best and terribly shallow and annoying at worst. We're allowed to talk, albeit poorly, about uncomfortable subjects now, and to really appreciate the stakes in a previous era's romance, one must understand that openness was verboten. Sex is usually offscreen, or goofy, or perfected for romantic comedies, and is almost never raunchy or kinky in a realistic way. 

In addition to easy fixes and simple solutions, romcoms skim over real emotional issues and avoid long term repercussions, focusing to psychotic exclusion of reality on the gratification of the romance. While a lot of women who read Austen kind of ignore this, the appeal in her books is that everything has repercussions and that all the small actions are followed up on later. The romances determine the women's life paths, and their interactions with other characters all pay off. The overarching human stories--somewhat touched on--that involved things not at all related to the LOVE STORY actually threw it into greater focus. People remember Elizabeth's sisters as much as they remember Elizabeth and Darcy, and there's a reason for that. 

Modern stuff has simply recycled the formulas used previously without understanding why they work. From the rote formulas, they copied the stories' details and took diligent notes, but failed to get across the soul of the story and the real conflict. Simply, they're a mix of unrealistic and unhealthy ideas with a fatal dose of anachronism. That's why they suck, empirically speaking.

Source. This would accurately reflect the fact that romance isn't a tidy affair.

How do we fix it? 

For starters, diversity would be nice. White people inevitably and sickeningly dominate the romantic scene. My Big Fat Greek Wedding explored culture clashing, and was reasonably smart and fun, but we need a lot more of that--preferably without condescending racist subtext. Adjusting the expectations for the female and male lead--such as the male lead's generally useless career and role--is also needed. 

Fortunately for us, the industry is starting to respond to the fact that romantic comedies are kind of a dead market. Only 19 of the hundreds of films coming out in 2013 are romances, and of the comedies, only a couple are remotely romantic. Having realised that chicks like guns and action and plots as much as guys do, the market is finally dead. We're still dealing with poor representation of women in action movies and mostly whitewashed casts, and with the majority of films (even from feminist Joss Whedon) failing the Beschdel test ( a) two female named characters b) talk to each other c) about something other than a man), the death of romcoms hasn't done much on its own to move us forward.

Interestingly, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, much as I have previously mocked both, have helped us get away from traditional romcoms, replacing them--and much of romance--with paranormal romance and BDSM and more erotic fiction. It's a somewhat lateral move, but the fact that women are more comfortable with these decidedly less passive and more aggressive displays of sexuality is probably a good thing. They still play into the same cliches as their predecessors, though, for the most part, so the real effect of the shift has yet to be seen.  

So, in summary of things to fix--a plot that deviates from the classics and gives female characters some agency, and gives men actual desires and feelings (rather than making them wish-fulfillment machines) would be great. Also, more lesbians and more gay men who don't just do hair or interior decorating or serve as hetero women's pets. Everything focuses on people between the ages of sixteen and thirtysomething, with a few rare exceptions, so we could stand to see a few more (dignified) comedies and films about middle-aged and old people. Queering up the joint would be a lot of fun, but anything not dealing with hetero white people usually gets confined to film festivals. Glee, of all things, and other media, are sloooowly bridging the gaps between 'alt' sexuality and 'normal' sexuality (can you see me wincing over the internet?) but we still have a long way to go. 

Fortunately, a few of these films do exist, so you can still cuddle up with a love story and you won't absolutely have to turn your brain off. 

Source. Those candles and rose petals should be used, not just sit there for decoration. You can do some fun things with a little hot wax... 

My recommendations 

I like my romances to be more complex and dark, as well as to have a lot more context and content than your average Harlequin in film or TV form. Here's a mixed list of a few of the romantic movies I've seen and liked. 

1) One of the best romances I've ever seen has to be Be With Me, a Malaysian mostly-silent film about intertwining storylines that's truly beautiful and moving. 

2) Across the Universe also earned points from me for not only having a stunning visual design, but addressing human flaws, multiple sexual issues, identity, and the ugly side of the 60s in a nicely stylised way. 

3) Mambo Italiano was an uncomfortable but memorable and realistic little Canadian comedy about an Italian-Canadian boy who has to deal with being gay and a painfully funny emergence from the closet. 

They're available on the internet and Netflix, so go enjoy them when you have a moment. 


Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. Watch out for my fantasy-themed spring: interviews with fantasy authors, content related to fantasy films and reviews, and some political commentary--the phuquerie you've come to expect from me. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Monday, 18 March 2013

Xena 2.0: An Interview with Shannon McRoberts

Hello hello!

This week, I have an interview with Shannon McRoberts. Her books are pure fun, Raimi-esque romps through a mixed up mythology pastiche world. We had a pretty thought-provoking interview, so let's get to it. Please welcome Shannon!

Q: Describe yourself in 20 words or less.

Willful, artist, mother, hard worker, intelligent, charitable, loving, cautious, fun, believes in doing things for the principle of the reason.  

Q: Tell us about your novels.

My main series is called The Daughter of Ares Chronicles and features a mythological world that I have revamped to my liking.  It has some old favorites like Zeus and Odin, but it places them in situations that are unique to my story and my characters that I have created.

Q: Why did you choose a mix of Greek, Norse, Celtic, and invented mythology for Athine?

I have always been interested in mythology of all kinds and often what was available to read about certain deities was limited in scope; it was like none of these larger than life characters had back stories.  I always wanted to know more.  I think subconsciously that is why I have all of these mythologies mixed in with my Athine character.  I wanted back stories and interconnections between the characters that were not available; so, I took them and wrote them into my stories.  

Picture supplied by the author. You know you're up for some slightly campy fun from the get-go with this kind of cover. 

Q: Your writing is very friendly and lends itself to a kid audience surprisingly well. Are you going to write for YA audiences in future?

 I have been told my stuff is "young adult" in a few reviews and I am fine with that. I enjoy a lot of young adult novels as well.  I just don't know that I could write specifically for that audience.  I know back in the day when I first saw Red Sonja it was rated "R" and my mom freaked out about me having the movie.  Times have changed as far as what is acceptable for a child or young adult to read/see and I recently re-watched that movie on Amazon PRIME and was like hum pretty tame compared to what is around these days!
My problem with "YA" is that I want the freedom to write the story the way it needs to be written; the way I envision it.  I don't know that I could do that if I kept in the back of my mind that it is "young adult" because to me that would include very little violence and noooo love story of any kind that involved more than simple kissing.  I don't think that is what it means in this day and age, but that is what it meant when I WAS a young adult!  So, for now I think I'll just write the story and classify it as speculative fantasy/mythology/origins and let others tell me if it is safe for a "YA" audience.  I would use the "would you let your child read this meter", but my baby is only 4 and so that doesn't help me out!    

Q: Your female characters tend to be very beautiful. Do you think female characters who kick ass become beautiful incidentally, or do you write them as beautiful on purpose? 

I think I write my characters beautiful because I am so influenced by fantasy art/comic book art and when I think of my characters I see them in those terms.  I also write them beautiful because it's that kind of ethereal beauty I enjoy seeing personally in fantasy works.  Don't get me wrong, you don't have to be skinny or 7 foot tall to be beautiful in real life, but I think for fantasy it just kind of lends itself to be like that.  I guess I'm not good at breaking that "Hollywood" standard of beauty either.  Truthfully I wish I could be seven foot tall and lift a 150 pound weapon; sadly I am not so I make my characters that way :)

Q: You have mentioned video games as a big influence. Do you intend to work more with game themes in future or move away from them? 

I don't think I can ever move away from them.  I am really into back stories of video game characters as well.  I like to read the walk through guides for the history and lore.  I have been told by more than one person that I write in a video game style or in a script style.  I think between all the Shakespeare, SYFY channel series, comic books, and MMORPGs I have played they all have just imprinted parts of their style into my writing.   

Q: Feminism and egalitarianism in fantasy books--vitally important to add, an irritating hindrance, or not really relevant?

I don't think it is a vital element to add.  I am just attracted to strong female leads and for me I want to write what I would enjoy.  For myself I often write in tones of feminism and egalitarianism because of my real life experiences.  I was the tom boy that knew my way around a car better than many men, but I was also very girly in some respects and embraced my female traits and never fit into that "tom boy mold".  I constantly fought the whole....well she's a girl what does she know about this car or she's a blonde girl she must be dumb..etc etc. stereotype.  I also am a big supporter of soup kitchens and charities that help make sure people get basic items that they need right where I live...so it's no wonder that a tad bit of egalitarianism pours through into my worlds.  

Photo supplied by author. No-one has ever seen her face!  

Q: What do you plan to write or publish next?

Currently I am writing "Cursed Bloods".  It is a continuation from The Blood Sisters and Worlds Collide story.  I hope to get it completed by the beginning of 2014, but one never knows how these things will go.  I am also working on some short stories that go with an expanded universe that may have additional back stories or new stories that link in.  There are two up on daughterofares.com right now.  I plan on distributing on Smashwords soon.

Q: Which foods do you absolutely hate?

 I don't like pork chops and boiled chicken.  My husband loves them.  Dinner time is sometimes strenuous at home LOL!

Q: Which type of mythological creature would you kill to have as a pet?

A winged unicorn or maybe a dragon....I currently have a lot of my own pets so knowing me I'd have both :)

And, in case you want to pick up some light spring reading, here's her buy links: 

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. For March and April, expect more interviews with fantasy authors, content related to fantasy films and reviews, and some political commentary--the phuquerie you've come to expect from me. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

An Unexpected Backlash: A Tolkien Commentary

Hello hello! 

So,by now, most of you have probably seen 'The Hobbit'. I finally caught up to it in theatres just recently. I wanted to touch on the relevance of that, but I'm going to splice an analysis of Lord of the Rings in here too, and look at why the series has been so instrumental in creating the fantasy worlds of writers today. However, I also have a few choice remarks to make on culture and possibly colonialism, so don't expect an entirely comfortable post. Get your sword, your bow, and your axe; this could get ugly. 

For the sake of expediency, and because I don't have time to reread the entire trilogy AND The Hobbit AND The Sillmarillion (blech!) before writing this review, there may be a few factual detail errors. However, given my 'to be read' shelves on GoodReads and Amazon, I figured it was best just to get on with it. 

Photo belongs to the internets.

So, what makes the series so special? Let's have a look at some common misconceptions and ideas while we're trying to figure it out.

Lord of the Rings was the first book of its kind! Well...actually...

It's more than just clever marketing, certainly. Although The Lord of the Rings series was written during WWII and published in three volumes between 1954-55, it wasn't the first high fantasy work ever written. Before The Hobbit in 1937, Robert Howard's Conan the Barbarian hit the shelves in 1932. Weird Tales, the magazine that started it all, had hit shelves back in 1923, bringing stories of horror, science fiction, and the fantastic to pulp readers everywhere. Reading these contemporary works definitely reveals some very common themes. If you've read H.P. Lovecraft's work and a bit of Howard--which I have--you can see the overlap in the style of the antagonists, as well as in other elements. The spooky and mysterious forces even return in modern game narratives, such as DragonAge, The Elder Scrolls, and World of Warcraft. 

What LoTR did, though, was refine the style and give it a voice, a look, an emblematic work that encompassed new ground. Only children's stories had been written about knights and beasts and dragons, and before that, the mythology of a people. Tolkein managed to combine children's stories, folklore, and the organization of mythos into a single work. There's no getting around it--the Middle Earth stories are the sort of creation myth territory that had previously belonged to whole cultures. 

He single-handledly defined orcs (inventing those himself), dwarves, elves, and halfings/hobbits for generations of fantasy writers. He defined the period and setting (a sort of sparsely populated mediaeval Britain/Germany/France amalgam) for what high fantasy would become. He defined the idea of a big bad scary villain working through armies of henchmen. He codified the Merlin-like figure of a wise old wizard and crafted many tropes and archetypes that we still rely on. High fantasy, as it currently exists, just wouldn't have come to be without Tolkein, or would have been markedly different.

Source. Some time, we'll have a long talk about my mixed feelings about dragons, but this is a pretty epic picture. 

So, what can you possibly say about LoTR's impact that could be negative? He invented the genre, right?

LoTR begat many other authors' works. Ursula Le Guin and her literary descendents have diverged a bit, but both Arthurian structure and LoTR dominate the flavour and types of worlds created by modern writers. Stories revolve around magic and whether it ought to be used (or not), kings and their courts, power struggles, fantasy racism and ancient grudges, looming evil forces or ideological conflicts, the role (or lack thereof) for women, and Epic Grand Battle Royales. Tamora Pierce, Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb, George R. R. Martin, and many other authors have all experimented with variations on this formula, with varying levels of success.

There is some really wonderful high fantasy out there, but as one reads the list, certain patterns emerge. Even from titles alone, a tendency towards the mediaeval is obvious. That's all right on its own, surely, but a second glance reveals more. The vast majority, in fact, almost every single book, is set in some sort of British/Germanic/French/Nordic world. Mongolians, Chinese, Arabs, or Africans are the antagonist forces--sometimes cloaked in scales or green skin or in various deformities. While some books do deviate and head to a Middle-Eastern world--Tamora Pierce's Circle, Guy Gavriel Kay's canon, or G. R. R. Martin's Fire and Ice quintet--most stay firmly in the classic mediaeval Europe zone.

Now, I am citing classics of the genre. I'm not all that keen on high fantasy, as stated in previous posts, but there are some books here that I truly love. Pullman, Zelazny, Martin, Bakker, Rowling, Pratchett, Nix, Gentle, Goodkind, and yes, Tolkein, are authors I've absolutely adored and who have influenced me. However, even these interesting and fairly diverse voices tend to gravitate to that European mediaeval standard I've mentioned. LGBTQ people are an endangered species, diversity is limited to a few strange folk and tokens, and everything is based on a muddy mix of the worst of 11th century daydreams.

So, why insist that I dislike the genre if I've read so much of it? 

The problem is that reading one or two books in the genre, by and large, is like reading all of them. Sure, some of the authors have the excuse of time on their side, but new authors are still imitating their forebears with religious accuracy. Simply put, if you're reading high fantasy these days, you can count on a lack of cultural diversity and different ideas, and there's not much point in picking up a new book in the genre. I'm not saying the whole thing needs to be chucked out, or that these books are bad, per se, but I do think there's a danger of intellectual bankruptcy and negatively influencing younger, newer authors.

Source.  This is basically how I feel when I pick up a book and find out that it's exactly the same as a classic fantasy work. This has happened recently. Multiple times. 

So, why has Lord of The Rings continued to keep such a hold on the public imagination? 

I think some of it has to do with not only the greatness of the work and the shocking faithfulness of its adherence in works that followed, but also with comfort zones. I'm not going to rant about American/Eurocentric media right now, but I will say that it's simply what we're used to--Britain and Germany as cultural centres, with blurred understanding of how much even these two nations have changed in modern times. We know Tolkien and we know the works of authors inspired by him, and their sameness and familiarity may actually be a selling point. When people like something, they want more of it. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when even smaller-name, newer authors feel compelled to repeat the same formulas--and the formulas come from only one or two sources--you're bound to encounter a lot of repetition. It's a standard epic escape route. 

Going back to an earlier point, not all the writings were intended to be this homogeneous. Arguably, a lot of these works cross into the real world, and when urban fantasy is lumped into High Fantasy (which it is on the Wikipedia page), you see a bit more wriggle-room and creativity. However, the idea of pushing boundaries isn't a welcome one in fantasy circles. Consider how many of the greats--even those writing in the present--have prominent gay or lesbian characters who are open about their sexuality. Answer: Very few. Even G. R. R. Martin's fiction, which does move away from the Euro-zone a bit, maintains misogyny (though it's explored) and 'European' main characters for all the named, prominent protagonists. 

It's also given people the wrong idea about the actual mediaeval era, which--according to scholarly research I've done--is essentially nothing like the books supposedly written to imitate it. Even without the more exotic and non-realistic aspects, the time between the fall of Rome and the rise of the Medicis in the Renaissance was a very busy period for human history, not just a wasteland of political struggle and plague. The myth has faded into legend, and some things that should not have been forgotten--such as the surprising diversity of mediaeval science and some tolerant attitudes towards gay people--were. However, it doesn't mean that it's the end of the world, or that the genre is doomed to continue cannibalizing itself and Tolkein. 

Okay, smartypants, how do we fix it? 

I've been leading up to this, but the answer isn't really that difficult: we need to diversify. I would read the living crap out of a book set in ancient China or Africa. Mediaeval setting and all. Most authors are Europeans or Americans (yours truly included, though I'm Canadian) and there are certain knowledge limits imposed by that. That said, we're running out of options; ideas are basically tapped dry, and being recycled at this point. Stretching beyond the classics and taking inspiration from other cultures--respectfully--could do a world of good. As well, adding new elements to the classic books, such as clashes over technology, LGBTQ and non-traditional marital structures, and different ideologies, would also change up the formula.  Some issues might arise from incompetent treatment of other cultures and LGBTQ people. That's going to be a problem as people expand their reach and subject matter, without question, and you can bet I'll have more to say about cultural appropriation in future. 

On the other hand, nobody really likes change as a process. It's uncomfortable. I can also anticipate a lot of screaming over destruction of the genre and that sort of thing. Given how well classic high fantasy has survived so far, I wouldn't describe that as a real problem. In fact, some authors have already started to mess heavily with the formulas, and to excellent effect. Bakker, one of the authors mentioned, does a pretty good job of changing around traditional elements in his Prince of Nothing series, in my opinion. Eve Forward's The Animist is another example of a book that bent a few rules by varying the races and species used.  

While there's a good discussion to be had about the realistic value about fantasy (and sci fi) stories for the real world, there's also a need for even the most fantastical works to relate to contemporary circumstances. Our circumstances are just so different from fifty or sixty years ago that travelling back to the make-believe mediaeval Disneyland setting designed in that era is no longer realistic. Real Britain has a very diverse population, women comfortably work in many different industries (and men demonstrate far more than mere combat skills, proving to be excellent solo parents), and equal marriage is becoming a very important issue worldwide. Fantasy just doesn't represent this very well, and a few updates will help the genre stay relevant and interesting for our children and children's children. And that's why we need to dethrone Tolkien as the one and only golden standard of fantasy, especially for new authors: if things stay the way they are, fantasy will fail to move forward. We'll have the classics, sure, but those little pockets of racism and sexism will remain, and no culture needs that. 

So, in conclusion: I actually like a fair bit of high fantasy, and have respect for many authors in the genre, but it's already suffering from some serious inbreeding. I haven't touched on the issues in science fiction, and I will get to that eventually. For now, it's time for you guys to tell me your thoughts: is fantasy oversaturated with a certain setting style? Is it just the traits of the genre? Or do we need to change things? Any recommendations of new and unique fantasy series are also very welcome. I want to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. Watch out for my fantasy-themed spring: interviews with fantasy authors, content related to fantasy films and reviews, and some political commentary--the phuquerie you've come to expect from me. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Blog Tour: The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming

Hello hello! 

So, this week is THE BLOG TOUR! CAN YOU HANDLE THIS? There's even a giveaway of The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming

Laurynne did my beautiful poster. Of course, Kit Foster did my cover.

I just got a couple of new and really brilliant reviews already, so I had to post them. 

This one is a bit of self-satisfaction. The insanely talented Sharon Stevenson, who I was lucky enough to kidnap for a review last month, couldn't resist my newest work either. 

Sharon Stevenson's Review

"Well the 17th book I've read this year was the awesome new release by Michelle Browne.  Her characters and storylines are just awesome -

Amazon Review, filed under 'Original Sci-Fi Horror & Fantasy' -

'The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming' is a horror anthology containing one novel & eleven short stories.  

'The Underlighters' is a dystopian sci-fi horror novel told in diary format by a teenager named Janelle.  A few entries in she admits to being jittery and that's very much the tone that's been set from the beginning.  There are some creepy moments with freaky creatures, leading up to the big scares later.  There are also some seriously sexy bits as there's a very sexually liberal attitude in the society created here. The world building Browne does so well is very much present, making all the little differences feel very believable. I was quickly drawn into the story and related easily to Janelle.  There are some really cool ideas in this novel and it's entertaining and scary throughout, I loved it!

The short stories are all good in their different ways, I would probably class them as mostly fantasy with horror twists.  I personally preferred the longer stories 'The Road House'& 'My Shadow Self', as they had more of Browne's fantastic dialogue and characterization.  'A Shot of Vodka', the final tale in the book, was just an amazing story that completely shocked the hell out of me.  

Overall this is a highly original and very well written book.  Brilliant stuff!"


"The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming is a captivating, well written anthology that contains one long work, The Underlighters, and several other short stories. All of them are creepy, sad, and play on the uncomfortable nature of the topics they employ.Michelle has a gift with the written word. She writes engaging, ground breaking prose that is not afraid to test the reader's boundaries. She did a great job in the anthology of showcasing her talent in a variety of tales, each one of which stands out from the others. In short, I would recommend this book to anyone. It's memorable, and unique."

I won't lie...reviews like this warm my heart. Somehow, I didn't factor fans and mutually respectful colleagues into the equation when I started writing, and the glow takes me by surprise even now. 

Okay! Enough gushing! Let's get this show on the road.

Oh! here is the draw box. Be sure to enter! It's a chance to get my work for free, and who doesn't love free things?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here is where I will be touching down this week: 


















Be sure to say hello! And remember...the paperback is coming soon!

**EDIT** My friend, the lovely Dianne Harman, is also doing a giveaway on her ABNA quarter-finalist book!! Don't miss it! Blue Coyote Motel is an interesting travelogue/morality play/romance/thriller with solid research and a diverse cast. Go have a look!

**EDIT #2** I've been on the radio! Check out some interviews where I got involved here, here, and here!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. A review of The Hobbit is coming, as well as more info about The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming in paperback. Spring is going to bring a fantasy theme with it--interviews with fantasy authors, content related to fantasy films and reviews, and some political commentary--the phuquerie you've come to expect from me. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

MEEEE: My Next Big Thing Blog Hop Interview

Hello hello!

I have a BIG DEAL BLOG TOUR coming up next week. Look for reviews of The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming all over the internet! I will be reposting them too. As part of that, Richard Long incited--I mean invited--me to participate in this tag-fiver blog hop. Here are his ten questions! My ten follow beneath it. I have also tagged some authors! 


What is the working title of your book?

‘The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming’ is my most recent work, and it is published. My work in progress is called ‘Synchronicity’, but I’ll be focusing on TLTLTD for this round. I also have two other previously published books, ‘The Stolen: Two Short Stories” and “And the Stars Will Sing”.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had a terribly overactive imagination as a child—and still do. For many years, I had nightmares. Some of the short stories were inspired by real life events or cues, one was inspired by a Russian classic, and the main story of the volume, ‘The Underlighters’, was inspired by a mix of a Russian game, my nightmares, and fairy tales. I wrote it in the darkest days of the year, deep in the Canadian winter, and it definitely shows.

To my surprise, since I wrote the book, they’ve stopped. I miss them a bit.

 What genre does your book come under?

Horror, but it’s definitely cross-genre. There’s some dystopian and cyberpunk elements in ‘The Underlighters’, and other stories suggest urban fantasy. While calling it romantic would be a slight stretch, there is definitely a lot of exploration of love and loss in it, as well. I generally say that if you like fairy tales, madness, and regrets, you’ll like this book.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ooooh. Interesting question. I’m a bit behind on actors, but here goes. I’d go for an indie cast for most of the roles, but for big names, here’s what I’ve got. Uma Thurman as Una, Daniel Day Kim (because I don’t know any Indonesian actors L) for Nathu, and Abigail Breslin for Janelle. Breslin has the skill and the wit for the character, and I like seeing her in slightly grittier roles, such as the one she did for Zombieland.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Based on nightmares and fairy tales, “The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming” is an exploration of madness and regret that will twist your heart.

Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

All of my books are self-published. I haven’t decided whether to go for an independent publisher in future, but for now, I’m looking to stay completely indie and self-pub.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The short stories were written over a period of years. I collected a number of them in a folder from various times of inspiration, and noticed that they all fit together far too perfectly for coincidence. I took a few half-finished ideas, tidied them up, and the book appeared. It was intended to be a bit shorter, but the main title, “The Underlighters”, turned from a novella into a novel. I wrote about 75% of the novel this past winter, but I started it in in either September 2011 or March 2012—I’m not quite sure which.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

If I throw my modesty out the window, Neil Gaiman’s “Smoke and Mirrors” is a pretty good anthology to compare mine to. I am told that “Ember” (author unknown) is similar to the main novel, but I didn’t like ‘Ember’ much. I’d definitely cite Lovecraft and Charles de Lint as inspirations too, now that I think about it, and I think readers will notice definite similarities to those two writers.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Nightmares, as I said. Crime & Punishment by Dostoevsky. The end of the world. Tales of beauty and madness, and of creeping things and forest shadows. Terrifying dolls I saw in a store in Nova Scotia. Shapes and shadows and small moments, and the cold Canadian winter.

 What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

In spite of all the mystery and doom and gloom, it has some very funny and hopeful bits, too. I’m also told that it’s very beautifully written, and even people who don’t usually read horror or science fiction really liked it.

Woohoo! My ten questions:

1. What is your latest book about? 
2. Who or what sparked the idea? 
3. How long did it take to write? 
4. How did you choose/design your cover?
5.Why did you choose indie publishing? 
6. Are you ever tempted by traditional publishing? 
7. Would you rather be famous and read by many (and hated) or read by a few and loved?
8. What is the worst thing most indie authors do?
9. What is the best thing that's happened to you in your publishing adventures so far?
10. What are you working on next?

My five victims: 

Be sure to tag me and let me know about your post on Twitter. I want to see your answers!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the good kind of crazy. Find me on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. A review of The Hobbit is coming, as well as more info about The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming in paperback. Spring is going to bring a fantasy theme with it--interviews with fantasy authors, content related to fantasy films and reviews, and some political commentary--the phuquerie you've come to expect from me. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out!