Check out my guest post on Katzenworld about how Goose helps me write!
The worst thing about The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden is that it means the series is over. I could read another trilogy about Vasya and Morozko even though this book clearly wraps up the conflicts that began in the Bear and the Nightingale. Now, before I wind up spoiling something, I’ll get on with my review.
The strongest features of The Winter of the Witch are definitely the characters and world building.
I love how Vasya resists the gender roles of her time, how she grows into herself and figures out who she really is. Her persistence, pain, wildness, courage, and dedication are tangible things. I loved struggling and succeeding and navigating a myriad of complicated relationships through her point of view. Morozko was my second favorite character, perhaps made more intriguing by the fact that readers really did not get to see much from his point of view. The others were okay, but every time the narrative shifted to them, I just wanted to get back to Vasya.
I did find myself annoyed at the way the book shifted point of view. This varies from reader to reader, but I prefer to read from one point of view for a whole chapter and get annoyed when scene breaks indicate a switch in point of view. On more than one occasion, I found myself rereading to remind myself which character’s eyes the world was being filtered through.
The world building was fantastic. I was smelling, tasting, touching, seeing, and hearing right along with the characters. And it wasn’t boring or overwhelming. Every detail Arden chose to focus on was relevant and added to the tone or mood of the scene. I loved that the magic system and creatures were based off of actual myths, and that some of the characters were named after people who actually existed and fought in a battle the one in the book was based off of.
One downside of historically accurate fiction is that it is often loaded with sexism and misogyny the contemporary world is struggling to shake. Throughout this trilogy, were there was no shortage of sexist men treating woman like inferior beings or objects. However, I was happy that there were less of those in this book and that Vasya had earned the respect of men who previously looked down on her.
As much as I enjoy escaping to worlds without sexism, to worlds where gender isn’t a rigid binary thing people are judged by, I do believe there is plenty of room for those books to co-exist with novels like this that don’t censor the shitty parts of history. Historical fantasy has it’s value too. It makes me appreciate how far society has come.I’ll certainly miss Vasya, Morozko, and their complex, slow burn romance, but I’ll look forward to reading whatever Arden writes next.
Because all the cool kids are doing it, here’s the list of work Broadswords and Blasters published in 2018. This doesn’t include the blog posts, twitter rants, or other nonsense we may have engaged in. We would love to hear what your favorite story was from last year, and you can use this if you are thinking about nominating any of the stories below. Stories are listed by issue and by the order they appeared in the table-of-contents. All stories fall into the short story category.
2018 saw Broadswords and Blasters publish 4 issues:
Issue 4 (January 6, 2018)
- “Commander Saturn and the Deadly Invaders from Rigel by Richard L. Rubin
- “Demons Within” by Karen Thrower
- “Monsters in Heaven” by Steve Dubois
- “A Brush With Death” by Benjamin Cooper
- “Granny May Saves the Day” by Freddie Silva, Jr.
- “Regarding the Journal of Jessix Rutherford and Its Connection to the Beacon’s…
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The Disasters is a treasure. After the last future-set, sci-fi book I read, The Disasters was like a breath of fresh air. The Disasters had a narrative kept me glued to kindle, only taking a breaks to do necessary things like eat, use the bathroom, and walk the dog until the book was done.
Thankfully, I’m a fast reader, and this was a fast book (in a good way).
So, what is the story?
A group of teens who just failed out of an elite space academy survive a attack that takes out their classmates, flee the system, and fight to stop the terrorists from killing more people.
Said group of teens is pretty awesome.
The narrator, Nax, is a bi pilot coping with anxiety from a wreck he was in a few years ago. I loved seeing how he decided to say things that made him seem like a classic, cocky, hotshot pilot while being very scared and insecure. I was rooting for him from the start, and loved his interactions with a crew that was diverse in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race, and nationality.
Terrorist attack aside, this future was super optimistic.
For the most part, humans weren’t fighting each other. There was peace on Earth and in the “the colonies.” Most people were getting along…except for this one group that wanted to kill everyone…but that group was a small portion of the population. Most groups got a long way better than they do today.
The word “colonies” made me cringe a little the first time I saw it on the page, however, it’s un-inhabited planets, not cultures and people, that are being colonized. This universe is similar to the one Firefly was set in, where humans have found habitable worlds and terraformed others to make them habitable, but have not yet discovered other sentient life in the galaxy.
I also loved how the book handled diversity. It wasn’t about diversity. It wasn’t about being bi, muslim, trans, black, gay, white, or straight. It was about teens trying to save the galaxy. Their identities were part of them, added richness to their personalities, made them unique, and made them feel real. The book gave me hope that one day, things like racism, transphobia, islamophobia, and homophobia will be things of the past. This future is the kind I seek out in science fiction.
I’ve read books like this before, that do all the amazing this one does, but most of them have been from small presses. I’m happy to see that larger publishing houses are finally catching on.
Next time you are in the mood for some great science fiction, read The Disasters!
What are your favorite and least favorite questions people ask you about your writing?
I love answering questions about writing and publishing.
How did you decide to write a book? What did you have to do to get published? What type of things do you do when you revise? What are your favorite editing strategies? What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
The above questions are among my favorite conversation topics. I love talking about the hows and whys of writing and publishing.
As a writing teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and researching how to help people (including myself) improve their writing. I’ve found one way to do this is to develop a good writing process, and as a result, I spend a lot of time observing, analyzing and tweaking my writing process. I love hearing how other people write as much as I love sharing what I do, what works about it, and what bugs I am still trying to work out.
Publishing is another topic I’ve spent countless hours researching. I still have a lot to learn, but I have a good base of industry knowledge that is growing every day and love answering questions about it.
Whether I’m talking about process or publishing, I find that I learn though explaining. Answering questions helps come to new realizations and see things I didn’t know I knew. It prompts me to fill in gaps in my knowledge, to look at things from different perspectives, and to synthesize in new ways.
How is your book doing? How many copies have you sold?
If you have a writer friend or relative you care about, just do not ask them these questions. It might be okay if the book is on the NYT or USA Today Best Seller List. In any other situation, it probably sucks.
First off all, the writer probably doesn’t really know how their books are doing, especially if they are not self-published. Amazon tells the “publisher” how many copies were sold, so if a writer isn’t self published, they have to wait for monthly, or in some cases, quarterly statements to see how many copies sold in a set period of time.
It’s frustrating enough not knowing how many copies I have sold. It’s worse when I constantly have people asking me about it.
Friends and family have been asking me about Power Surge’s sales since a few days after it came out in the begining of October. I can make some guesses based off of the Amazon sales rank. For example, if I looked on Amazon and saw Power Surge ranked around 100,000, I could assume I sold one book today on Amazon. However, I have no clue if someone buys a book from iBooks, from Barnes and Noble, from my local indie book store, or directly from the publisher’s website, until I get my royalty statements.
In the face to face world, I get pretty awkward pretty fast when people ask my what my book is about.
Online, if asked the same question, I can refer people to the blurb or take my time adapting a pre-made pitch for the question.
But ask me face to face? You get mubmled fragments about teenagers, Maine, and Demon Hunters, and my most awkward of all: “paranormal things.”
I’m pretty sure I’d sell more books if I got better at talking it up to the people at the dog park.
However, the most awkward questions of all are things like:
Are any of the characters based off of youself? What parts? Is anything in the book based off of something that really happened? The main character self-harms. Is that something you do?
Now, a more general question, like “what inspired you to write this?” is perfectly fine. However, when people start trying to use the book as a way to learn private things about my personal life, it gets very very awkward.
I know by calling the book “own voices” I am acknowledging that some the things that marginalize the narrator are also things I’ve experienced, but that doesn’t mean I want people walking up to me at a party and grilling me about which parts, especially if they are family. The last thing I want is people to think is that they can some how psychoanalyze me through my fiction.
If you want to talk to me about writing, I’m always happy to answer questions about writing itself, about the process and different ways to publish. I’m working on getting better at pitching Power Surge face to face. However, I prefer not to have to answer questions about sales I can’t really answer, and don’t want people using my fiction as an excuse to pry into my personal life.
2018 is just about over, and while it may not have been my most fruitful year for producing new work, it was a fantastic year for publishing. My first novel was published. My short fiction and poetry appeared in nineteen publications
Of all of these, my favorite is my novel, Power Surge. For short stories, I’m most proud of “Ink and Ash” in The Society of Misfit Stories.
For flash fiction, it’s a tie between “You Won’t Believe How This Creature Changed Their Lives!” in Vulture Bones and “Roots” in The Cascadia Subduction Zone.
“Butter is Not a Dress” in Hashtag Queer Anthology Series is the best poem I have ever written!
If you’re looking for pieces to nominate for awards, check those out! Below is a roundup all of my 2018 publications, including cover art when applicable, links, and a short blurb for each story.
A succubus tries to have a fun night out without killing anyone.
Jealous Queen E’s attempts on Snow Fox’s life are trending.
“The Blind Girl and the Troll” in Asymmetry.
A troll hungry troll decides to aid a refugee instead of eating her, and it alters the state of his existence.
Food shopping with anxiety is like weathering a storm.
There is more to this seemingly haunted house than meets the eye.
Two siblings find a magical creature.
Not your average dragon hunter
Politics and food don’t mix well.
“Butter is Not a Dress” in Hashtag Queer Anthology Series
A poem about gender identity and clothing.
“Roots” in The Cascadia Subduction Zone
Home isn’t always the house you live in.
A steampunk match-making AI.
Two speculative drabbles that explore how supernatural being perceive time.
“The Omen” in UnSung (Better Futures Press)
*There is no link to this one because shortly after publication, the publisher appeared to have folded.
“A Kitten for the Kelpiecorn” in Four Star Stories.*
A kelpiecorn adopts a kitten.
*The issue it appeared in is no longer available and has yet to appear on the sites archives page.
Being hunted by demons isn’t the worst part; it’s the lies.
Two brave ocean explorers make an unexpected discovery.
One magician tries to subvert the pharma-guild’s control on the medical. potions industry
Aliens invade in the final days of the Trump administration.
November 12, 2018:
When the government outlaws the use of wands in magic, two siblings find themselves on opposite sides of the law.
November 30, 2018:
Werewolves play an important role in the National Park Service’s future.
I received a free copy of this from the author in exchange for a fair, honest review.
If you are looking for a quick, fun read, then I highly recommend reading Seven Things Not to Do When Everyone’s Trying to Kill You.
Bryant Adams is a goofy narrator who likes to break the fourth wall. In Book 1 (How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freaking Days) he gets a magic smart phone, finds out he is a wizard and and wrecks awkwardly funny teenage havoc in New York City. Now, in book 2, ( Seven Things Not to Do When Everyone’s Trying to Kill You) he has learned a thing or two about magic and had plenty of time to recover from his first ordeal. Of course, that quiet can’t last forever.
Someone, or several someones, are out to get Bryant. He has to figure out who is trying to kill them while dealing with parents who have united for the first time in a long time because they both want to keep him away from magic. Except his enemies will come for him grounded or not.
Saying anything more specific than this about the plot might become a spoiler. With the book moving so fast, I didn’t really notice the plot building. There were plenty of battles, but it all blended together and then all of a sudden it was the final battle, which seemed to easy. This was fun to read, but it was also a bit anticlimactic.
Everything else about the book was great. The voice is sweet and goofy. The dynamic between the characters was energetic. I love how light-hearted this is even with life or death stakes. I read a lot of angsty, drama ridden stories (and maybe write them to). This was a nice break from those.
The characters may not change a whole lot throughout the book, and it may not have an in-depth exploration of any serious social issues, but I’m okay with. Not all books need to be deep, dark, and philosophical.
There is something optimistic and innocent about Bryant Adams. If you want a cheerful, laugh out loud romp of a read with plenty of magical battles and a teeny tiny little bit of kissing, read this.
It doesn’t come out until April 16th 2019, so you’re probably going to have to a wait a little to read it. So if you haven’t read the first book in the series, How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freaking Days
I received a free copy of this through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The Razor is both the title of the book and the setting. It’s a small strip of habitable land on an otherwise inhabitable planet: one side is firestorms and radiation, the other is ice and cold that will kill you as quick as the fire. It’s also a hard labor prison planet where criminals were inmates mine for an a material that is used to power most technology in the galaxy. The entire story is set in the Razor, but throughout the story, I gathered the galaxy was a lot like the one firefly happened in: colonized and terraformed by humans, lacking in extraterrestrial life.
The plot was loaded with puzzles and survival. An “innocent” man framed for murder and condemned to a life sentence, a former guard imprisoned for a murder he did commit (the victim deserved it), a badass female pirate, a female doctor, and an enhanced human all word together to survive and achieve their own goals.
All the characters had colorful personalities, clear wants, and plenty of growth throughout the book, they also fit too neatly into little boxes. For example, Key, the badass lady pirate who tough on the outside, soft on the inside, could’ve been Zoë from Firefly or Fiona from Burn Notice. Each character seemed to fit a mold or trope that had been done before. Still, it was fun to watch their stories intertwine as they all fought to survive, changing and falling in love in the process.
While I mostly enjoyed the elements in the foreground of this book, there were little things in the background that bothered me. Just about all the guards seemed like they were white men. Unless I misread, the diversity was all among the prisoners. Like it probably does in most cultures, rape culture ran rampant among both prisoners and corrupt guards. There was no LGBTQ+ rep at all. I expected a lot of this since it was a prison planet for the galaxy’s “worst” criminals, but with future science fiction, if it isn’t outright dystopia, I prefer a little more optimism. Not more of the same.
At least with dystopias, the problematic content has a purpose. It may be worse than present day, but it has a clear link to something contemporary, and it screaming “Look at this problem! Fix it before it gets out of control.” That was not what this book was doing. It was more like “here is exactly what most people expect from a prison full of killers, thieves, smugglers and sex-offenders. It isn’t any different in the future than it is now, except maybe a little worse because there is not getting out and they’re pretty much slaves.”
The end was satisfying, even though parts of it got a little cliche. It set up for a sequel, which I will read. Despite of my complaints, I got attached to these characters and want to read more about them.
With the Outlaw and the Upstart King, Rod Duncan veered away from steampunk style plot and setting. The feudal, political coup plot that seemed like it belonged in a fantasy novel, only it had no magic. It was a great story in a very well-developed land with a fascinating political system. It just wasn’t what I expected when I started reading.
The story more or less picked up where the previous book, The Queen of All Crows, left off, but Outlaw and the Upstart King hardly felt like part of the series. There were tie-ins, but a reader could also pick up that book and read it as a stand-alone, or without having read any of the other books in the series and still appreciate. They only things they might not get were the importance of the “big reveal” of Elizabeth’s identity, fleeting references to other characters, and vague hints at how this connected to plots to bring down the Gaslit Empire. These things were subtle enough that they wouldn’t ruin the story for a new reader, but they reminded those of us who have read the whole story that this book was indeed part of it.
The Outlaw and the Upstart King followed two characters, Elias and of course, the heroine of the series, Elizabeth Barnabus. The first part of the book was from Elias’ point-of-view, though there was a character who came in and out of the picture that I suspected was Elizabeth. At the end of Part 1, I learned I was right. Elizabeth was indeed that character. Up to this point, I’d been frustrated that I hadn’t seen anything from Elizabeth’s point of view. And while it was interesting to see the next chapter recap what had happened so far from her point of view, it was a technique I think works a little better in movies than books.
Elias is a fascinating character for sure. He has clear motives and through a balance of flashbacks, action, and internal thought, the reader knows why he has those motives and how they formed. I loved how he wasn’t a “good guy” but I still wanted him to succeed, to grow, and learn to see himself how others saw him. Watching him intellectually spar with Elizabeth was also entertaining.
However, I wanted a little more from some of the other characters. Julia was mentioned, but kept passive and out of sight for the whole book. She didn’t really do anything other than be one of Elizabeth’s motivations until the the climax had passed and she was assisting in the resolution. Tinker was there more, blending in mostly, but he didn’t do anything of importance. In previous books, he used his ability to move around unnoticed to help with whatever Elizabeth plans in some significant way. This time, he didn’t, at least not in any way I noticed.
In the end, it was clear how this did connect to some of the larger, political movements that were happening between the Gas-Lit empire and the nations outside it, however, that felt much further in the background than in previous books. The benefit of it was that it did allow more of a focus on character development and the more immediate action.
One thing I’ve always loved about this series is how it explores gender and gender roles. Back in England, within the Gas-Lit empire, society certainly was male dominated. However, it was social norms, laws, and a sense propriety that suppressed woman. Elizabeth grew up in a circus, outside the some many social and cultural norms, so she was less influenced by them and more independent than other woman around her. Her resistance to the role women were forced into and a need to live independently drove Elizabeth to use skills she developed in her father’s show to create a second-male identity: a brother she pretended to live with.
Watching Elizabeth slip back and forth between man and woman was what originally helped me connect with her. I always read her as genderfluid even though as the books went on, her male identity was used less and less.
In this book, it was non-existent.
In the culture this story happened in, women were oppressed as much as London, though in different ways. In the Outlaw and the Upstart King , a single woman owned and ran an inn/tavern and promiscuity seemed more acceptable. However, here, perhaps more than in any other place Elizabeth has been, women were objects subject to the whims of physically stronger men.
Elizabeth was dependent on and/or under the control of men throughout the book, forever playing the part of a woman, and really feeling like a side character in her own book. This was Elias’ story, not Elizabeths.
If I was a new reader with no attachment to Elizabeth, I would give this book five stars because it was beautifully written and clearly well researched. The plot was well executed. The world richly developed.
However, I’m used to seeing Elizabeth in control and in charge not matter how bad the situation got, and it killed me to see her with so little agency, only able to influence the outcome of events in subtle, typically female ways.
December’s Question is:
December 5 question – What are five objects we’d find in your writing space?
My writing space changes with the season. April through September, I wrote on my screened-in-porch, or, on really nice days, the picnic table by the lake.
When heat becomes necessary, I move to the kitchen table. No matter which space I’m using, my laptop is always there because it’s what I write on. For the sake of this list, I’ll focus on things unique to the space.
Winter Space (aka a mess)
- Salt Shaker
- Dog Bowl
- Cat’s Brush
Summer Space (aka heaven)
- Beach Towel
- Chuck-it toys
No matter where I am writing, Goose the Cat aka The Meowditor-In-Cheif, is near-by. He likes to the delete words. Nothing is allowed to be fluffier than him.