Why Write: Women’s Fiction with Summer Heacock

Readers, give a warm welcome to the fabulous Summer Heacock! She’s here to chat with us about women’s fiction and stories intended for the ladies. She has a lot of wonderful things to say, so sit up and pay attention! Or at least, you know, lean closer to your monitor.

Hello, Summer, and welcome! For those of you who don’t know, Summer has a GIF-tastic and hilarious blog, so it’s super-cool to have her here at my humble blog-bode.

Why, thank you for having me! Please picture me curtsying right now.

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Erm. Well. I am a very strange little creature who Tweets spastically, blogs when the blogs beg to be written, and writes manuscripts so that my brain doesn’t explode. Story pressure is serious business.

What made you decide to write women’s fiction?

I write it because I read it. I know it best, I suppose. When stories come falling into my head, they tend to almost always be something along the WF lines. I have other stories I like to toy with, but WF is just sort of my sweet spot. My mind is just sort of engineered to write it easier than other genres. Or, something…

What types of stories does women’s fiction make possible?

Anything! Okay, that isn’t true. If aliens popped into your rom-com, that’d change it out of WF, so I suppose there are some constraints.

Honestly, I’m not sure what stories can and can’t be done. Is that bad? It’s probably bad that I can’t clarify…

I’d say if you write your story and you read it back and it feels like WF is the label for it, then that’s what it is. I try not to get too crazy about labels before I start writing, otherwise I’ll go mad trying to make it fit into what it “should” be.

Aside from the obvious, what audience do you think women’s fic attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

I think while WF is obviously geared toward the ladies, I genuinely believe it’s for anyone. We do have the slight disadvantage in the way that some people wouldn’t go see a Sandra Bullock film to avoid the “chick-flick” stereotype, but really, in the end, a good story is a good story. I’d hate to see someone miss out on a book they’d truly love just because of a genre label.

How does a gal-centric genre affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

While I really do try to not consider the end-game like that when I am writing out a story, I will fully admit that when I toy with the idea of an unhappy ending, or something out of the norm, I do pause for a minute and think, “Wait…Is this riot-worthy?”

But, I read WF, so when I’m writing, I try to think of what I’d like to read. The only way I’m letting anyone see something I’ve written is if I’m sure it’s something I’d want to read myself.

Why do you think people love to read women’s fiction? How do you think the genre affects its audience?

WF is great because it’s identifiable. It’s easy to see yourself in the shoes of the characters. Or see someone that you’d like to be and imagine yourself in their shoes. It’s a great genre to dive into to walk away with feels pouring out of you.

I know it’s not literarily correct anymore, but I am a huge fan of the chick-lit that is now housed under WF. I love chick-lit, man. Love it. You’re not going to turn pages and change your whole life, but damn it, there is no better way to spend a rainy Sunday or a day reading on the beach than with some romance, hilarity, and general merriment dancing across the book in your hand.

Sometimes, you just need to step inside something fluffy to keep the real world at bay, and chick-lit is a solid delivery for that.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

If I’m looking for something to take me out of my day for whatever reason, I will head for chick-lit or WF. It’s my happy place. If a book can make me swoon or make me laugh, I’m all over it. But I will read just about anything for any reason. I’m not the biggest sci-fi gal, but I’ve read some good ones over the last year that are bringing me around.

Where can readers track you down?

Blog: http://www.Fizzygrrl.com

Twitter – @Fizzygrrl

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/summerheacock

What’s in an Audience?

Well, I’ve been promising this post for over a month now, and here I am, writing it.

You may have noted that in every Why Write interview, I ask about audience: What audience does this genre attract? What impact does this genre have on that audience? How do you tailor your story for your audience?

Answers to the audience-tailoring question have ranged from, “I don’t, not at all,” to, “I think about what readers of X/Y age group can handle, and I try to work within those parameters.”

I’m gonna confess something here: I think about audience quite a bit. As much as I’d like to be an artistic slave to my characters, I know my role as deity of the work, and I think a lot about how my choices will affect the people who read my books.

Some of you may have heard me say that I’m not a fan of identity politics. I am a woman, for example, but that is not my defining trait. I don’t like to admit that I do, occasionally, vote my body-rights. I don’t want to choose authors to read or characters to like based on my gender/sexual/political identity. I hate it when I’m forced to choose my behavior based on some perceived biological or social role.

People in all positions do it, even when they’re not aware. White, middle-class men have a privilege I, as white, middle-class woman will never have—and even so, I have privileges a poor, black woman will never have. It goes on and and on down the chain, and, unfortunately, we can’t be blind to those differences. We all read with our own, unique biases, and most of those biases come from our place—our identity—in the society we currently inhabit.

It sucks, but it happens. Despite our best efforts, we don’t live in a post-sexist, post-racist, post-homophobic, post-anything world. All of those things still exist. They’re all rampant and appalling, and a lot of us aren’t even aware of what’s happening. We are occasionally blind to the needs of a political/social/racial/gender/sexual identity not our own.

That’s why I think about my audience. How, I wonder, will this piece of violence affect such-and-such reader in some place I’ve never been, who was hurt in a way I couldn’t imagine? What will this bad character’s appearance say to readers about my own racial blindness or lack thereof? Are there too many male villains in this novel about a female protagonist? Or are there too many male heroes in this novel? If a teenager reads this book, how will he feel about the homeless young man my protagonist takes under her wing? If someone reads it who has physical challenges I can’t understand, will she resent me for not including someone like her? Are the blank spaces in my cast of characters caused by blindness, ignorance, or indifference?

Those are big, hairy, important questions, and they come up every single day in my fiction writing. They make me uncomfortable sometimes, and they make my job more difficult, but I would rather suffer some replotting or fuzzy introspection than offend or mortify some innocent bystander down the road.

I’m not trying to say that my approach is better than those who hold story sacred, and don’t diverge from plot in favor of audience understanding—their way may be more honest, and quite possibly much easier, than my method of considering the ramifications of each fictional choice.

I’m also not saying I’m better than anyone who doesn’t spend so much time worrying about these issues. I’m sure I’ll step in it, probably unintentionally, at some point in my writing career. Perhaps this process comes more naturally to others.

But regardless of judgment values, I’d argue that we must consider our audience.*

Fiction does not exist in a bubble, even if we write it in one. Every reader will bring his or her own biases and sensitivities to your world, even if you haven’t accommodated those special needs. Once our fiction is out in the world, it belongs to the world: audience shapes a reading as much as the writer’s intent, whether you’re a fan of New Criticism or not.

What do you think, readers? If you’re a writer, how do you take audience sensitivities into account? As a reader, how does your own identity shape your reading? What do you think is the audience’s role in fiction?

 

*Please note: I’m not accusing any Why Write author of offending their readers or showing callousness. Everyone I interviewed was a thoughtful, caring writer who I’m sure adores the people who read their books.

Why Write: YA Fantasy with Trevor Green

Readers, today we welcome fantasy writer Trevor Green! Trevor’s a Twitter-buddy of mine, but this is his first time on the blog. He has some great things to say about audience age and content, so check it out!

Hello, Trevor, and welcome!
Thanks for having me!
Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
 
Hi, I’m Trevor Green, and I’m one of those idiots you’ve heard about who thinks they’ll actually sell a novel someday. That’s right, I’m a writer. Look up “naive” in the dictionary and you’ll see my photo there, smiling up at you from the page with a grin the size of Milwaukee. I don’t know when or how I developed the idea that I was somehow skilled enough to write a novel, but it can be argued that every writer has an ego as big as a dinosaur-sized peacock, so it’s not entirely outrageous. And yes, despite crushing self-doubt and bouts of depression that have my lips dragging on the ground as I shuffle around my apartment, I still feel like I have something worthwhile to say to the world. If that combination is confusing to you, you might not be a writer.
 
Luckily, I happen to live in Utah where a surprisingly amazing writing community exists, so I may have a shot after all.
 
As for my work, I’m currently querying two books simultaneously (get at me, agents), one a MG urban fantasy titled ONLY GINGERS CAN BE WITCHES, the other a YA fantasy called THE WITCKE IN THE RUINS. I love them both equally (even the ginger one), and hope you’ll all get a chance to read them one day. I’ve written/begun many other fantasies that have been shelved for the time being. As for what I’m currently working on, I’ve decided to take a whack at an Adult sci-fi tentatively titled THIRD MIND.
What made you decide to write YA fantasy?
 
For me, there wasn’t much of a decision involved. Because I started writing novels at the relatively young age of 23, the books I’d been reading in the previous several years informed everything I sat down to write. I grew up reading YA and MG, almost exclusively fantasy (throw in a ton of the Star Wars EU novels and you have a real geek on your hands), and right out of the gate, YA fantasy was my go-to genre.
As to why I continue to write YA fantasy, that bears a little examination. In my opinion, there are three stages of reading (obviously with exceptions, and out of order):
  1. Early Childhood – This is where a child first learns to read, begins to understand the concept of written stories, and string the meaning of one sentence to another–creating a complete thought. Most books are simple, exciting or funny, and don’t leave a lasting impression beyond nostalgia later in life.
  2. Adulthood – Reading for adults seems to exist mostly as a way to entertain and keep one’s mind sharp. Lots of books are complicated either in subject matter, sentence structure, or theme. I love a great many Adult books.
  3. Middle Grade and Young Adult – I list these two age groups together because they share a similar purpose. From the preteen years to late high school, kids really start to find a sense of “self.” Their developing brains are forging new, more advanced pathways, their bodies are changing, and the seeds of who they will eventually become are planted. This is the only stage of reading that I would say is crucial to get right. (And this where an exception pops up: early childhood is super important to laying out the framework for a kid’s reading skills and habits. Let’s just consider that a given.) With such fertile brain-soil in their skulls, reading should be the number one thing teen kids are encouraged to engage in. YA and MG books will introduce them to new ideas, call up questions of right and wrong, and help them understand the importance of working through difficulties and obtaining solutions. That isn’t to say YA and MG books should preach to their audience–seriously, heaven forbid–rather, these books have the opportunity to bring new thoughts to the table, allowing a kid to examine and make choices about their own life. As I said before, the books a kid reads from say, twelve to nineteen years-old can be one of the defining aspects of who they will become in their late twenties until their deathbed. As a writer, being a part of that is a very exciting prospect.
You know what, scratch all that; the real reason I write MG and YA fantasy is because I owe it to the universe. I was a pretty lonely kid in school: overweight, terrible hair parted down the middle, never allowed to watch the popular TV shows or movies. Books like Brian Jacques’s Redwall series, Lloyd Alexander’s The Prydain Chronicles, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings (Yeah, I’d say this counts as the perfect reading for a young adult) provided my only friends for years. I knew those characters better than anyone else in my life, and without them, who knows if I would be here today. So despite the analysis of age groups and brain development, the only reason I write YA and MG is to perhaps give some other lonely kid a reason to keep going, no matter how hard life gets. If I could ever do that, I would die happy.
What types of stories does the YA/fantasy combo make possible?
 
I think there are two kinds of fantasy (aside from the many genre classifications): fantasy that focuses on the setting and plot, and fantasy that focuses on character. Everything else fits under those two categories. YA and MG fiction definitely have the character aspect down pat. They own it. After all, that’s why they exists in the first place: to bring a person who never really existed to life, dump them in a bum situation, then follow them through it. The fantasy aspects of a YA or MG story are just the icing to the cake. Delicious icing, to be sure, but still only a garnish to enhance enjoyment. The test of a good YA or MG fantasy is how well it would hold up if stripped of its magic and worldbuilding. Will it still tell a great character piece? Can the characters’ motivations and decisions still win the day? Does the book still contain a message for its readers?
Honestly, these are all things that also make YA so extremely hard to do well. Ask any YA writer. And nothing gets my goat as quickly as a person (usually unfamiliar with the genre in question) insults YA/MG or its readers. Okay, there might not be as much sex or violence (though you’d be surprised) as Adult genres, but you can still find the whole of the human developmental experience in the pages of a good YA or MG. There’s meaning inside that many times doesn’t exist in Adult genres. YA and MG have the luxury of exploring specific aspects of the human experience, focusing on things that speak directly to select members of its readership. Troubled friendships, tragedy, young romance, parental strife, death: all these can be found in YA/MG. Important stuff.
Kate Forsyth has been quoted as saying:
 
“Fantasy fiction does not deny or diminish the existence of sorrow and pain, as so many people seem to think. The possibility of failure is absolutely necessary for the ‘piercing sense of joy’ one feels when victory is finally and with difficulty won. Like a candle-flame, fantasy casts a shadow at the same time that it illuminates. Yet it is the illumination that is important. Fairy-tales all offer the hope that a happy ending is possible and we need to believe this. Fantasy denies ultimate despair. It holds out the hope for a better world, and signposts the way”.
 
Apply that to the YA and MG age groups, and I definitely think we have our answer as to why it’s so important to have our kids read these sorts of stories.
Aside from the obvious, what audience do you think YA attracts? Lots of adults love to read YA — what do you think the reasoning is there? How does the audience alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
 
I’m gonna quote Stephen Donaldson here in response to the question regarding why adults read YA fantasy:
 
“One of the oldest and most enduring forms of literature in all languages is fantasy. We need metaphors of magic and monsters to understand the human condition. It’s only in modern times that we have suddenly decided this narrative language isn’t serious, that it’s for children; grown-ups don’t believe these things… We’ve reached the point in our sophistication of our self-perceptions when it no longer seems possible to make epic statements about the meaning of life. You get laughed at for doing it, and epics ceased to be written. But in order for us to have this type of heroism, beauty, glory, magic and power we have to get away from real life.” 
 
Spot on. I absolutely love this quote and I throw it around at every opportunity. The question is not so much a matter of age or genre, rather the sorts of stories we feel ourselves needing. Who cares how old the protagonist is when we really need to heal a little with some sweet romance? Or if we’re dealing with a difficult home life, why not read about a kid who obtains personal triumph despite parents who treat him/her badly? There’s a book for every problem, and we can all benefit. When it comes down to it, YA and MG books simply provide a better choice of learning experiences for anyone, of any age.
 
As for my own writing, I don’t pay attention to audience beyond initial parameters before I start (gotta be smart to sell books). I write from my heart, I write what I feel is important. If a teen picks it up–or a ninety year-old man–it doesn’t matter. It should be relevant no matter what, and it can be.
How does the YA age affect the stakes for your characters and your audience? How about fantasy?
 
The teen/young adult years have some defining moments within them that you won’t find elsewhere: the first true friends, struggles to gain independence, the first kiss, the first breakup, etc. What other age group can you examine the effects and problems surrounding such pivotal moments in a person’s life? Most people would say that their young adult years defined who they are in the present. Why can’t YA books continue to define what they read long into adulthood?
As to how fantasy affects the stakes of a given book, I personally believe its simply a matter of upping the contrast. When a photographer takes a photo, they’ve hopefully framed it correctly and paid attention to the lighting. But when the photo turns out gray and washed out regardless, a trip to Photoshop or Lightroom can fix that by adjusting the contrast, levels, and midtones, bringing out the highlights and making the image pop. The same goes for books. Fantasy elements can highlight and contrast the best and worst parts of a story, drawing the mind to the right conclusions, or hiding what shouldn’t be revealed. To repeat Donaldson above: “…in order for us to have this type of heroism, beauty, glory, magic and power we have to get away from real life.”
How do you think fantasy affects its audience?
 
It makes them better people. Period.
For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
 
You may have guessed by now: I love fantasy. The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, and the Redwall Series by the late Brain Jacques. I can’t even begin to list the many other writers and books within fantasy that have influenced me–I owe so much to them. I also enjoy sci-fi (I should, I’m writing one now!) and some darker stuff, the kind Chuck Wendig writes.
For a more in depth examination of why I love fantasy, you can find an essay I wrote in college here. http://tinyurl.com/ce3m2vr
How can readers reach you?
My blog can be found at beyonddragonsandwizards.blogspot.com, where I post a lot of drivel and the occasional short story. Be sure to check out some author interviews I’ve done myself!
I’m quite active on Twitter: @TrevorJGreen
You can also like my writing page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/trevorgreenwriter
Thanks for stopping by! 
It’s been fun, thanks for having me!

Why Write: New Adult with Kelley York

Readers, today we welcome Kelley York, a versatile writer who has written dark novels in both contemporary and paranormal settings. She’s here today to talk about New Adult fiction, which has caused quite a stir in publishing lately. So let’s all say hello and learn a little bit about what the NA classification means to one author.

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I’m from Sacramento, California and I write mostly LGBT young adult and new adult fiction. Generally of a darker variety. 😉 I have three published novels to date, and my fourth one—MADE OF STARS—will be available from Entangled Publishing in October.

First of all, could you tell us what “New Adult” means to you? It’s such a hot topic lately — what do you think of it as a new classification?
HUSHED falls into the NA category, but it came out in a time when NA wasn’t widely accepted as being a “thing.” Now, NA is really taking off, filling (what I think is) a gap in the market. As a primarily NA writer, it’s a very exciting time for me.

What made you decide to write new adult fiction?
There wasn’t a conscious effort to write NA, it’s just what many of my stories have called for. With HUSHED, it was important for Archer to live alone, given the type of life he leads. He couldn’t have his mother lording over him. In SUICIDE WATCH, Vincent’s entire journey begins when he’s thrust out into the ‘real world’ with absolutely no knowledge of how it works.

What types of stories does new adult make possible?
We get protagonists who’ve likely already been through the teenage romance, been in love a few times, done all the high school drama, etc. Our “YA” years in high school do so much to shape us. New adult reflects the result of all that, while simultaneously thrusting the characters into the new situations that adult life presents.

What audience do you think new adult attracts? Is it like YA, attracting readers outside its age group? How does the audience alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
NA is going to attract an older audience than YA, which means as authors we can get away with more in terms of content. Language, sex, darker situations. While young adult can and does deal with these things, they do have to be handled with some tact because at least a portion of our audience are going to be young teenagers. NA lifts a good deal of those restrictions.

How does new adult affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?
In terms of contemporary/real world stories, I think the stakes are definitely upped. Our characters are being placed in charge of their own lives. They’re essentially children being thrust into an adult world and, sadly, many of them aren’t prepared for it. School doesn’t teach kids how to find a career, balance a checkbook, pay our bills, find a home, or how vastly different interactions are outside of school.

Why do you think people love to read new adult? How do you think the age-setting affects its audience?
They always say kids read up. Middle-graders read about young teens. Younger teens tend to read about upper teens. So…then, where does that leave older teens in the 17/18 range? If they read up, they’re going to be tossed right into adult books. There’s a whole section of life that gets skipped over. Growing up, I stopped reading in my teen years because the YA books available at the time began to feel too young for me, and I wasn’t interested in jumping into “adult” books yet. There was a distinct lack of books that seemed to be just for me.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
I’m a sucker for anything emotional and dark. I was big into paranormal for awhile, but these days I primarily read contemporary. Anything John Green, Hannah Moskowitz, or Sean Olin makes me happy. I love dark stories, or emotional stories that really make me feel as well as think. I’m big on character development. I’m also a complete sucker for books like Mira Grant’s FEED series, or Carrie Ryan’s THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH.

Where can readers track you down?
Website/Blog
Twitter
Facebook
GoodReads

Kelley, thanks for stopping by!
Thank you for having me!

Why Write: Dystopian Fiction with S.K. Falls

Hey gang! Today we’re going to talk to S. K. Falls, another of my writer-pals and a truly versatile and talented lady. I asked her to talk specifically about dystopian fiction, since that’s a genre you don’t see ’round these parts (meaning: my blog) all that often. 

Hello, Sandhya! For those who don’t know, Sandhya is one of my fellow Spellbound Scribes and another member of #teamawesome! Welcome to the blog!

Thank you, Kristin! I’m so excited to be here. 😀 Always happy to assist a fellow Scribe and #teamawesome solider…er, member.

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I’m the author formerly known as Adriana Ryan, so I wrote World of Shell and Bone, a science fiction dystopian. 🙂 I’ve also written bits of romance and urban fantasy.

 What made you decide to write dystopian fiction?

The idea struck me and didn’t let go. I absolutely loved the concept of a futuristic North and South America where females supposedly were given all the power. Of course, that’s not quite how it works out…

 What types of stories does a dystopian setting make possible?

Stories that are ultimately about hope, I think. You have this horribly dreary world with (usually) militaristic regimes, and then all it takes is one person or a small group of people to completely change that.

 What audience do you think dystopian attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

I think dystopian fiction attracts people from all walks of life. With YA titles like the Hunger Games, we’ve attracted youth and those young at heart (wink) and with adult titles like The Road or The Handmaid’s Tale, we’ve attracted those who like literary fiction.

How does dystopian affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

Characters have to be plunged into horrible situations before the audience can feel truly bad for them, I think. At least, that’s true for me as a reader of dystopian fiction. I don’t want to see something bad happen that could happen in my life today. I want the story to take me beyond, so that I can really sit back and say, “Wow. That sucks. I’m so glad my life isn’t that bad.” It also sets the stage up for the characters to do truly amazing things as the story progresses, to change the courses of their lives.

Why do you think people love to read dystopian fiction? What effect does it have on its audience?

I think, like I said above, that people like to see how bad things could really get. It helps us to peek over that fence to the other side in a safe, contained manner. We can escape to a dark place, but we know we can always come back. And when a character triumphs in such a hard situation, it helps us feel like we can triumph in all our hard situations, too.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

This changes all the time. Currently I’m loving memoirs and biographies because it’s a great place to learn more about my favorite subject—psychology.

How can readers reach you?

Website: http://www.skfalls.com

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/skfallssc

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorskfalls

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks so much, Kristin! 🙂

Why Write: Sci-Fi With N. E. White

Today we welcome N. E. White, one of my very first blogging-writer friends! She writes fabulous sci-fi and fantasy, and even won that kooky contest Emmie Mears and I ran over Halloween. Today she’s hear to talk about why she writes sci-fi, so let’s give a big, warm welcome to Nila! *pause for applause*

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I’m a five foot tall, married, chubby runner/cyclist/kayaker/former fire ecologist/current geographic information specialist that also likes to write. Oh, and I have a fourteen-year-old dog that still thinks he’s two.

I write mostly in the fantasy/science fiction genre, though I’ve been known to play around with magical realism and I’ve even attempted a few literary pieces. After shelving a novel series, my concentration has been on short stories. Currently, I’m working collaboratively on a novella with Joe Bailey about an ageless serial killer on a mining space ship.

What made you decide to write sci-fi?

Science fiction allows a writer to explore questions of social distress in terms of technology that we create for ourselves. In essence, as we rely more heavily on complicated technology to live, we set our own traps and maybe even our ultimate demise. Setting my characters in these situations makes for good drama and, working in the context of a future that we’ve built, allows me to put a mirror up to our desires. Sometimes what we see makes us question the world around us and our own participation in that world. I hope what I write makes people question why certain systems are the way they are or what it truly means to move over to a new technology.

What types of stories does sci-fi make possible?

Stories with awesome space ships! And cool technology! (That’s for sure! Sci-fi scares me because I’m afraid to make up nonsensical pseudoscience.) 

Seriously, though, for me, it is about the how technology changes us. I mean, look at how it has changed the way we, meaning you and me, live today. We are virtually connected to millions of people around the world. Yet, that connection is only secured in rich, stable regions of the world and it is a superficial connect at best. And what about the rest of humanity that doesn’t have the luxury of instant information at their fingertips? What dichotomous states are we seeding and what will that look like in the future?

Then there’s just the way people interact with technology today. So many young people rely on their devices for directions to their destination, or find the best used bookstore in town, even who your next sexual partner might be. We also use it to research items on the fly. But just how reliable or accurate is that information? And just who is feeding us that information? What filters are being used to give us an answer?

One of the issues Joe and I are exploring in our novella is how a young detective uses a virtual data room that stores centuries worth of information about the space ship they live on. The database is accessed through a three-dimensional, holographic interface. However, the algorithms used to retrieve the data “fills in the blanks” for either missing data or makes guesses at what information the detective might need, thus subtly influencing how an investigation might go, or not go. We see this today with Google search algorithms. Google essentially gives us what we want to see, not everything we should.

What audience do you think sci-fi attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

Wow, that’s a good question. I know I’m attracted to science fiction and my background is a mix of environmental activism and computer modeling. Most of the writers I hang out with over on SFFWorld.com have IT and/or science backgrounds. So, I guess, folks like me.

When I first started to write science fiction, one thing I realized early on is that most science fiction readers are really smart. A lot smarter than me. I thought, if I want to continue writing science fiction, my characters would have to get a lot smarter! The stories I try to tell pit smart characters against terribly hard choices.

How does sci-fi affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

It offers choice.

In other genres, especially some that follow the traditional fantasy tropes, many of the characters have limited options on how they can act, and what influences their behavior can be limiting. But in science fiction settings, I find the opposite is true. The possibilities are limitless and that gives the character (and the reader) a glut of choices. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but it is one that makes you think.

For instance, I’m working on a short story titled G.O.D.S., for government overt detection system. I know, that’s not a very imaginative acronym, but real-life government acronyms are often very bland so my lack of creativity works for this piece! Anyway, it’s about a society where strict oversight is managed by an artificial intelligence. It tracks everyone’s habits and behaviors, and weeds out unsavory individuals. On many accounts, life is great. Those in the center, who live by the rules, enjoy a level of freedom that we currently enjoy but with the added benefit of feeling completely safe. No rape. No bullying. No murder. No domestic violence. It is all taken care of by the G.O.D.S. In order to maintain this system, all citizens are required to give up the most intimate details of their lives. And most willingly do that – much as we do now with social media like Facebook and Twitter. However, doing so means that your behavior is monitored and corrections can be administered. The final decision to make those corrections (either through corporal or capital punishment) comes from a human, of course. We can’t have AIs going around hurting or killing people, right? The AIs rely on human supervisors to review data when someone is in need of a correction.

The crux of this story is that not everyone is happy with this so-called utopia. They feel stifled and controlled. A rebellion is organized. They infiltrate the ranks of the G.O.D.S supervisors, intent on planting a virus that will destroy the G.O.D.S. database. But our main character, a woman, who has been in the G.O.D.S. training for some time is given a correction case to review – one of a repeated sex offender.

Remember, most people in this society do not know what it feels like to fear people who are close to you. There are no pedophile uncles preying on their nieces and nephews, nor priest or teachers taking advantage of their students. So she is introduced to a world of depravity that is only heard of in stories passed down from aging relatives. The things this one sex offender has done to innocent children shock this rebel, and she has a choice to make: Dole out this man’s punishment (in this case, capital punishment after a series of behavior modifications that did not work) or destroy the system that was used to catch him before he could molest more children. Which would you choose?

Those are the kind of choices science fiction allows me to explore.

Why do you think people love to read sci-fi? How do you think the genre affects its audience?

I think people read science fiction for the same reasons they read other genres – a good story. Of course, in this case, it is a good story with high-tech suits, robots, space ships and aliens.

I can’t say how the genre affects its audience, but I can tell you how it affects me. It makes me question my basic assumptions of what I think is right and wrong, and just what is morality when looked at in terms of the universe. Does an asteroid have a moral code? Would other sentient species? And if they did, what would it look like compared to the myriad versions we have here on earth?

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

That’s a hard one. Geez. I can’t say. I love both science fiction and fantasy, but I suppose as long as it is a good story, the setting really doesn’t matter. As long as the world-building is done well, and it is written carefully, I’ll enjoy whatever you put in front of me.

How can readers find you?

Come read my rant about writing at http://nilaewhite.wordpress.com. If you like apocalyptic tales, check out the free anthology I put together with the writers over at SFFWorld.com: The End – Visions of Apocalypse (it has a sci-fi bent).

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for having me. I’ve enjoyed it.

Why Write: Arthurian Fiction with Nicole Evelina

Readers, today we have one of my writing buddies, Nicole Evelina, here to talk about Arthurtian fiction! This is a genre dear to my heart, because I went through a very long period of Arthurian-obsession, and I’ll admit—that obsession persists today. Nicole has some great things to say about historical fiction and fantasy, mythological settings, and strong women in history. Check it out!

Hello, Nicole! You’re one of my #teamawesome buddies, but this is your first time here at the blog, so welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Thanks, Kristin. I’m a historical fiction writer. I’m currently writing an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view. I’m also planning a book about Tristan and Isolde, who are part of the Arthurian legend.

You write Arthurian novels! That delights me — my ten-year-old self desperately wanted to write Arthurian fantasy. What made you decide to write tales of Camelot?

It sounds like you and I had a lot in common growing up. Guinevere was one of my childhood heroes. I always liked her more than Arthur or Merlin. As I grew and read more and more, I realized that Guinevere really isn’t portrayed well in these stories. She’s pretty much known for being a faithless wife who is sometimes kidnapped, and often fought over. When I read The Mists of Avalon in college, I really disliked Marion Zimmer Bradley’s portrayal of Guinevere (I loved the book overall). (I had the same reaction to The Mists of Avalon. Her Guinever? BLECH!) So I started thinking, what is her story? We only hear about her while she’s with Arthur, but surely she had to have done something before and after him. In many ways, I’m doing for Guinevere what MZB did for Morgaine/Morgan in Mists.

What types of stories does the Arthurian setting make possible?

Oh, there are so many possibilities. We don’t know for sure if King Arthur existed, and if so, when or exactly where. Some stories are set in the Middle Ages, but I’ve chosen to go with current theory on Arthur’s life and set mine in the late Celtic era, roughly 480-530 AD. That’s the tumultuous time after the Romans left Britain, but before the Saxons gained power. It enables me, as a writer, to tell the stories of many different peoples: the native Britons, the Romanized Britons, Saxons, Irish, Picts, lowlanders (known as the people of the Gododdin), the Bretons, Christians and Druids. Plus, there are all the stories that traditionally go with Arthurian legend: the great battles, Camelot, Merlin, The Grail Quest, the Knights of the Round Table, the isle of Avalon, just to name a few. I could honestly write in Arthurian legend for the rest of my life and never run out of material.

Some of these stories are so familiar to many people — how does that influence your writing?

It’s an interesting situation to be in. There’s a certain amount of expectation on the part of the reader when they go into a story with which they’re already somewhat familiar. So, to an extent, I’m constrained by tradition. But I’m also free in many ways, simply because the story has been told so many different ways over the years. I feel a duty to stay true to the basics of the story, while free to put my own spin on it, just as those who came before me did. I love the idea of taking something familiar and turning it on its head in way that reflects my unique perspective, as well as the sensibilities of modern readers.

What audience do you think Arthurian novels attract? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

It really depends on the focus of the story. Usually stories focused on Arthur, Merlin, the knights and the battles attract a male audience, whereas those focused on the chivalry and courtly love themes attract women. I’m writing a story about an Arthurian woman – the Arthurian woman – so I expect to attract a mostly female audience. Because of this I’m careful to have strong, intelligent women in my books. I want Guinevere, Morgan, Elaine, Isolde, and the other women of Camelot to be role models that women of all ages can look up to (even if some of the characters are less than virtuous). Throughout history, they’ve often been portrayed as weak and docile, but if they truly lived in the Celtic time period I’ve set my books in, they would have been fierce women. So I try to make sure I’m true to that cultural aspect, while still staying true to the core of who they’ve always been.

How does the mythological setting affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

Mythology opens up a wealth of possibilities in these stories. There are a variety of traditions to draw upon when telling the story, and it frees me to add an element of fantasy to my novels. I made a choice early on that I would portray Merlin as the Archdruid of Britain, rather than the traditional idea of a wizard.

The same goes for Morgan. She, like many of my female characters, is a priestess of Avalon. But you won’t find Merlin hurling lightning bolts or fireballs at anyone (much as he might wish to), or see Morgan putting spells on people. I’ve chosen to portray a type of magic that is much more subtle and was very much a part of Celtic life. This means manipulation of natural energy and connection to the elements and their power. Some characters have Second Sight, while others are gifted storytellers. These are all abilities you see throughout early Welsh and Irish literature, the exact stories that today we call myth, but which the people of the time would have grown up hearing – just as I grew up hearing about Arthur and Guinevere.

Why do you think people love to read Arthurian stories? How do you think these stories affect their audience?

Everyone needs a hero and Arthur has filled that role for centuries. He’s the “once and future king,” the unifying savior of a people who is promised to come again. When times get tough, we turn to stories such as these to escape reality, to live in someone else’s world for a while. We read them to feel hope.

Camelot is a powerful symbol of the peace and unity we all seek. It’s the perfect kingdom, the utopia we all strive to create in our own lives. But what’s interesting is that even within its own story, it doesn’t last. It’s never quite as perfect as it could or should be, because it is the creation of human beings with weaknesses that ultimately cause its destruction. I think that as much as we yearn to create its perfection, we also identify with its downfall because we see the same thing played out in our own lives. We try to be good, but often, we fail. Yet, that’s never the end of things. Camlann may have killed the king, but he’s not really dead. Even as Arthur lies sleeping, waiting to be awakened when the time is right, Camelot and Arthurian legend show us that we’re never at an immutable end either; we can always try again.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

On my gosh. I read all kinds of stories, from historical fiction to urban fantasy and paranormal romance. I even enjoy light murder mysteries. I guess if I had to pick one, it would be tied between historical fiction and fantasy (including all of its subgenres like historical fantasy, urban, dystopian). I love reading historical fiction for the same reason I love writing it: you get the chance to tell or read the story of someone who otherwise may have been lost in the pages of history. I read fantasy because I love stories involving magic. I’ve always wanted supernatural powers and when I’m reading a fantasy book, I get them, even if only for a short time. I also have thing for elves and faeries, but that’s a story for another day.

How can readers get in touch with you?

My blog is http://nicoleevelina.com. I share new tidbits of Arthurian and Celtic history or musings on being a writer once a week. I’m on Twitter at least once a day at @nicoleevelina. I’m also on FB, Pinterest, Push Pages and Goodreads as Nicole Evelina. You’re welcome to look me up and follow/friend me.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.