Sunday, April 28, 2019

You Can't Miss the Library: Making Fantasy Worlds Accessible


Stark land sweeps from the buildings clustered atop the hill. I’d liken farm fields and swales to skirts or aprons. This vista is too sharp for that. These are nature’s tassets, perhaps. Narrow stone paths and hard-packed trails wind between sod roofs. This is a place out of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. I remind myself the latter was indeed filmed here. I can see why: the landscape is one I’d gladly immerse myself in and call home. But it, like many places I’ve visited in the past year, has barriers.

Fantasy is known for austere, epic landscapes, twisting, narrow streets, dark alleys, remote cities. Even outside of the grimdark subgenre there’s an echo of mercilessness. In that, I suppose, fantasy is as real as the earth I’m limping over now.

I settle against a wall across from the broad stairs, knuckles white on the handle of my cane. Pain tunnels my brain to the strange duality of dissociation and immediacy.

“You can’t miss the library!” One of our group protests, seeing I intend to do just that. As if, in a building with no lift, it’s a choice.

You can’t miss the library. I think of the worlds I’ve painted with my words, across the landscape of my novels, all the startling magical beauty in the books that made me who I am as a writer. Except I couldn’t navigate those worlds anymore. Not with this body.


[Image description: A red-headed person in a sweater leans on an old wooden desk, looking to the left. One hand rests under their chin. They do not smile. A museum display of ] This photo was taken by the man who ultimately carried me up the stairs to see the library. My face is serene as I listen to Skaldic poetry. In reality, what isn't captured on camera, my body was screaming, my ears ringing from pain, and I barely heard a word.

What would Frodo have done in a wheelchair? Forget the whole “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you,” bit. That works for a cinematic volcano climax, but even our dear Samwise Gamgee would grow weary of carrying my sorry ass through the Dead Marshes. Hell, I’d grow weary of it. The idea that the only way I can get somewhere is by inconveniencing someone else is insidious. But not always wrong. 


So how do we make fantasy worlds--yes, even Mount Doom--that are known for their inaccessibility, well, accessible? 

Return to the root of fantasy, of the magical, the awe-inspiring. Many might argue this lowers the stakes. Well, you’re the author. Raise them. Do what you do and untangle that plot-knot. How you solve this depends on whether you’re writing an arc that revolves around their disability or a “casually” disabled character (someone whose condition isn’t directly related to any main plot arc). Even if their disability is part of the plot, that doesn't mean the entire world you’ve written should be completely devoid of accessibility--where is their sanctuary?

You can easily make your world more inclusive by switching up your architecture and tech, using magic, and adding different forms of communication. 

Have a character who can’t walk? Ramps and wheels are great! If Egypt built pyramids, surely your fantasy culture could create a city without a single set of stairs. Able folks aren’t inconvenienced by a ramp vs. stairs. A great example of this occurs in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Teo uses a wheelchair that is also fitted with glider wings so he can fly with others at the air temple.

In fantasy, magic serves both as an accessibility device or disability in its own way (one of my main characters, Keplan, involuntarily hears others’ thoughts which manifests similarly to unwanted thought syndrome in someone with unmanaged OCD). But if you have magic, you can guarantee that people will use it to solve problems--perhaps there are spells that reduce anxiety or help people sleep. Braces that also relieve pain for people who dislocate, like me. There are hundreds of herbal handbooks where you can research “magical” plants too!

Communication is a big one, whether your character is non-verbal due to neurodiversity or Deaf. Luckily, many cultures developed sign language independent of one another, even if it began solely as gestures. Think of the Adem in Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, who use gestures for mood and context for their spoken language. In my own work, I have a Deaf protagonist, Rih, who is raised in a culture where many of the nobility are hard of hearing or completely Deaf. There are still a fair amount of hurdles she has to overcome, but many people in the city know sign language or learn throughout the books.

All of these things are present in our own world--if you’re worried about realism--and have been for a long time. Putting aside the fact that a person’s worth has nothing to do with what they produce, some of our most brilliant minds are housed in bodies that don’t work typically. Just look at Hawking. 


You can’t miss the library. 

So how can your character defeat the genius orc sorcerous if they can’t get to the library to research spells? Sure you could toss them up on the shoulders of a strong, well-meaning companion, who trots up each step like it’s nothing, despite the added person-sized appendage on their back. It’d be an inconvenience to the piggy-backee. Like me, with a stranger’s wool sweater clenched in my hands, your character would have to laugh to keep from sobbing at the embarrassment.

But where’s the creativity in that? Give your world ramps, and wheels, and magic politics and anxiety-reducing spells, flaming words and universal signs for non-verbal people. Give them a reason to save this perfect, accessible world you’ve made them.

And then give them something brand new to fight. 


Thanks for reading! What great examples of accessibility in fantasy or sci-fi have you seen?


Tune in on the fourth Sunday of every month for more on disability in fantasy and sci-fi. Learn more.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Contradictions


Sight isn't a blessing unless you've lost it. Or unless you've forgotten how to see. Or unless you're seeing anew. Do you wake up each day and thank your body for its ability to see? 

When we say, "I once was blind, but now I see," we need the first condition to be true for the second to be miraculous. We need the darkness in order to welcome the light. And that linking word, "but," is so dreadfully important, yet we never notice it. Essential, but unremarkable. 



 Photo Nora Pace 2019

It's my belief in both creative nonfiction and in poetry that the most interesting things to explore are often found in contradictions and juxtapositions. This is where poems bloom and often where essays start. Why is it that life can be one way and also another? How can I feel ice in my fingers and toes but simultaneously know a warming in my heart? How can I believe both things to be true? 

I've been thinking a lot about faith these days, for a few reasons. I just sang several masses for Holy Week and Easter at a Catholic Church, which brought up memories and emotions about my childhood in the Church and my choice to leave it. Easter is also a season when I think about my mother, who died shortly before that holiday many years ago. And right now in my letters with a mentor, we have a running dialogue about prayer. Clearly, I have a complicated relationship with faith and religion, and that might be enough to write about for years! 

When I think about belief, I think in opposites. I don't find the opposite of religious faith to be distrust or emptiness, but rather, a turning inward. In some ways, my loss of traditional faith allowed me to find other things to believe in. This is possibly the antithesis of the blind man who is healed, who finds a new fact of his existence -- "now I see!"-- to be cause to believe in invisible power. I found the intuitive way that I saw the world to be contradictory to the existence of that same power. 

But on the other hand, the blind man believes he was blind, and it is only when that belief is shaken (by suddenly seeing), that he finds a new faith. When my faith was shaken (in part by the death of my mom), I had to look for new things to believe in: love, my own strength, truthfulness in emotion, grief, and the power of being in the present world. It was only because I knew that I once could not see these things that the new sight of them was so miraculous. 

Some of these thoughts might make it into my current essay project, which is about promises, my mother, belief, and growing up. I'm interested in the ways that one thing replaces another -- that whole thing about how when a door closes, a window opens. I'm also aware that not all of these contradictions can be resolved, and that it's okay to leave questions unanswered in my writing.  



With the beauty and difficulty of contradictions in mind, here are a couple of writing ideas for you to try. 

1. Make two lists: one of things you love, and one of things you hate. Line them up next to each other. Do you notice any commonalities or resonances across the lists? Do you love one thing because you hate its opposite? Write about what you find. 

2. Play a sentence structure game by doing "not this, but that." I find this is a great way to start a poem. Here's me trying it: 

not the window, but the breeze
not the late nights, but the way sleep settles more heavily after midnight 


not the ocean, but the tide 
not the cracks, but the edges 

not the neighborhood, but the home 
not the teaching of children in front of me, but the learning of the child within. 



I hope you find ways to explore the tough contradictions in your life and in your writing. Give yourself permission this month to be unsure, to notice things changing, and to ask questions. 

Thanks for reading! My posts appear here on the fourth Thursday of each month. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Book Review of Tainted Love by T. S. Hunter


SOME RELATIONSHIPS ARE JUST MURDER

It’s 1985, and Joe Stone is excited to be joining his old school friend, and lifelong crush, Chris, for a long weekend in London’s Soho—home to a vibrant, developing gay scene, and a million miles from the small town Joe and Chris grew up in.

But when Chris is brutally murdered, the police just write his death off as another rent boy, fallen foul of a bad hook up. Joe realizes that his best friend was killed deliberately, and joins forces with a former police detective, Russell Dixon—Chris’s flatmate—to find out why.

Spiraling debt, illicit sex, blackmail, spurned lovers and hard-nosed gangsters all play their part, but who among the celebrities, fashionistas, drag queens, ex-lovers and so-called friends is Chris’s killer?

A noirish whodunit set in 1980s London, with all the big hair, electro-pop, shoulder pads, police discrimination, and lethal killers that the era had to offer.

TAINTED LOVE IS THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SOHO NOIR SERIES OF COZY CRIME NOVELLAS.


Goodreads   Amazon



*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review*

There is so much I enjoyed about this book! One, it makes for a fast read, not just because it's a novella, but the pace is fast and the story is constantly moving. This fast pace helped me connect with Joe, who was new to Chris' world and friends. Joe knows Chris from their past, and it shows once they meet up again. Both have changed a lot, and when Joe begins to try to find the truth to Chris death, he learns more about his friend than he expected. 

Another aspect that sets this book apart for me is the setting. I love that it's written in the '80s and during such a rocky time in history. Even though I've never been to London it didn't matter, the visuals and descriptions were enough for me to imagine it in my mind. 

Anyone who enjoys mystery, LBGTQ stories, or just a fun quick read should give Tainted Love a try! 



Claiming to be only half-Welsh, T.S. Hunter lived in South Wales for much of his latter teens, moving to London as soon as confidence and finances allowed. He never looked back.

He has variously been a teacher, a cocktail waiter, a podium dancer and a removal man, but his passion for writing has been the only constant.

He's a confident and engaging speaker and guest, who is as passionate about writing and storytelling as he is about promoting mainstream LGBT fiction.


He now lives with his husband in the country and is active on social media as @TSHunter5.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Spotlight: Indie Book Box Unopening

We here at The Aspiring Author Blog have always loved and supported Indie authors with reviews, interviews, and guest posts. When we heard about a new subscription box dedicated solely to Indie authors we just had to get in on it! 


The box itself is pretty compact, and opening it was easy. This month, we just got the one book subscription (with extras). There is also an option to get one book plus extras, and then the big box with three books and extras! 








As you open the box you will find many paper goodies. A bookmark (always useful!), a letter with words from the authors of all three books of the month, and promo cards (which can also be used as bookmarks). 








Next comes the big stuff! We got a book, Fir Lodge by Sean McMahon and a button that reads," Read, rebel, and expand your mind."











Overall this was a great first experience with Indie Book Box! Often the books we get to review are digital copies, so receiving a physical copy of an Indie book is really exciting! Plus who doesn't love a cute book button?

If you are already supporting Indie authors by reading and reviewing their work, this is just another great way to not only treat yourself but to continue to support them. 

Now you can even select the genre of books you want to receive!

We've added Fir Lodge to our review list, so expect to see a review in the coming months. 

Want to check out Indie Book Box for yourself? Go here. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Dadaism Writing Prompts via Invaluable.com

One of the more fun and whimsical art movements to have ever lived was that of Dadaism. Many don’t associate Dadaism with literature, but it did, in fact, have literary roots, and many of the most prolific poets and authors have utilized Dada’s eccentric characteristics in their writings. The movement itself had a very loose definition, and artists simply worked to abandon what they believed were “artistic norms.” This meant, doing things however they wanted, from eccentric costumes worn during performance art to humorous
 writing with scrambled syntax and scattered words.


Invaluable created a fun infographic that details some of the core characteristics of dadaism and writing prompts that you can do alongside them to channel some of Dada’s most influential writers. Use it as an exercise in creative writing, or consult the visual if you’re looking to write a more humorous, less structured piece. 


From invaluable.com




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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Book Review of The Boyfriend Bid by Jodie Andrefski


Sarah Campbell’s never bid in her high school's charity auction to win a date with one of the school's hottest guys. And she’s certainly not going to start now––when she’s still hurting over a bad breakup. The absolute last thing she’d ever do is bid on Mr. Ego himself, Chance DuPont.

Chance just wanted to help out a worthy cause, not get roped into not one but six dates with someone who seemingly can’t stand him. But when Sarah’s friends bid on him on her behalf, that’s exactly where he ends up. Now a local blog is covering the story by following them on all their dates, too? 

Seems like everyone loves a good love story––except the two living it.

Goodreads   


*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review*

One of the first things that stood out to me when I started reading this book was how the chapters changed the point of view/character. One chapter would be from Sarah's perspective and the next was from Chance's. I loved this approach as often times in romance stories you only learn/see the romance from one side of the partnership. 

Sarah and Chance are both great leading characters and I felt drawn to them both quickly. More Chance than Sarah actually. This story brought me back to high school and all the stress and pressure that comes with it. Overall, this story starts off fast and gets into the drama fairly quickly. 

If you love watching chick-flicks and reading YA romance than you will wholeheartedly enjoy this book! 


I've been passionate about reading since I was a little girl, which lead to a love of writing. I write YA--especially if it involves at least some kissing.

I have my B.S. in Secondary Education-English from Penn State University and am also pursuing my M.S. in Mental Health Counseling.


I live and write in New Bern, North Carolina.

Website    Twitter   Facebook 


Friday, April 5, 2019

Are Writers Astronauts of the Mind?


Writers spend lots of time in their heads with thoughts, ideas, nuggets of dialog, and images of scenes all swirling around causing us to seem a little crazy. This is our normal. This is our life. 


Going Deep as a Writer 

I'm not sure where I first heard the term, astronaut of the mind, but I absolutely love it. As a fan and writer of sci-fi, it could not fit how I feel any better. When your stories dwell in the realms of the future, dimensions, space travel, etc...it's like you're just along for the ride as your mind explores all the wonders these thoughts create. 

I'm sure this is true for any writer, not just those that write sci-fi. In my opinion though, if you want a story to be way out there (my favorite type) and on the edge of what the human collective consciousness has created so far, you have to be willing to go deep. 

When you dive inside your mind, seeking the deep crevices, and letting the new information you learn integrate and change your viewpoint, you know you're an astronaut of the mind. Letting a thought or idea run wild to see how far it will go is amazing. Then take a step back mentally and see everything this thought/idea could connect with and you will be left stunned. 

Once you embrace going deep inside yourself, deep inside the big questions of life and opening your mind to all answers, you are on the path to really learn how things connect and seeing and implementing the details and new ideas that create edgy stories. 

Do you feel you are an astronaut of the mind?


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Cover Reveal for You, Me, & Letting Go by Katie Kaleski


Welcome to the Cover Reveal for
YOU, ME, & LETTING GO by Katie Kaleski
presented by Swoon Romance!
Be on the lookout for this upcoming title, and be sure to enter the giveaway at the end of the post!
What do you think of the cover?

Van Sato’s got labels. Tourettes, ADHD, SPD - words that have defined his existence since the time he was old enough to know what they meant. Now, Van wants to prove he’s more than an acronym, a syndrome, a problem kid. He takes a summer job as a day camp counselor to prove he’s capable of independence and moving on to the next phase in his life. Maybe, he might even make a friend while there. Someone who’s got just as many or even more labels than him. Someone who understands what it’s like.

Tabby Dubanowksi wants to forget about everything, the hospitalization, the judgment, the whispers behind her back. As a camp counselor, she will be admired, looked up to, and able to help people who don’t know anything about her old life. Tabby wants a fresh start and a chance to re-ignite her passion for film-making, if only for one summer.

After running away from their pasts, Van and Tabby collide in a storm cloud of attraction laced with self-doubt, insecurity, shame, and blame. Now, with Van feeling like he might have to quit his job, and Tabby struggling to quell the urge to cut, they will struggle to find themselves in a world designed to keep them apart.
YOU, ME, & LETTING GO by Katie Kaleski
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Publisher: Swoon Romance

Available for Pre-order:
Amazon


Katie Kaleski has started down many career paths and held many jobs—indie craft store clerk, pizza maker, photo developer, shoe salesperson and cashier, dental assistant in the army, daycare teacher, student teacher—but her favorite one by far is being a writer.

She’s originally from Chicago, so she says things like pop, gym shoes, and front room. Her favorite food
group is sugar, and she loves writing young adult novels.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Author Interview with Sarah Joy Green-Hart



Sarah Joy Green-Hart grew up in a restauranteur family in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, waiting tables in between reading, writing, acting, petting cows, and dancing with flocks of cats.


After earning an A.A. in Theology and cultivating an adequate taste for the artistic, the eclectic, and the odd, Sarah’s family—with a proper advanced warning—released the Sarah-Kraken on a gentleman with an affectionate interest in said Kraken.

Sarah now homeschools four wee wolf cubs by day and howls at the bookish moon in her laptop by night with Earl Grey (and a few of his friends) at her side.

Website   Twitter   Facebook

How did you come up with the idea for Tree of Life?


About twelve years ago I dreamt about a girl who was forced to live in the forest. When she dared to step out of the forest for the first time in her life, she saw an injured boy and assisted him by taking him to his own family. His family used her naïveté to lure her into the military base they lived on and force her into a polygamous marriage. The dream was so wild and vivid, I had to do something with it!


Which character was your favorite to write and why?


David. He was the first character to "come alive" for me, and I feel as though we've become good friends. I enjoyed writing him because he thinks a lot like me, and also because he's one of my more sensual characters. He's all about close observation, how things feel, etc. That makes fun writing for me.


There is a lot of world-building. Was it difficult to image such a world with such strict political and religious rules?


While I've never been in a situation quite like the world in Tree of Life, I have been in a similar spot. In my situation, the consequences of disobedience or rebellion against abusive, controlling, manipulative authority, speaking in the name of God, wasn't physical, it was mental and emotional. Otherwise, the world I made in my book was based largely and loosely on my own experiences, so, no, sadly, it wasn't very hard to imagine. Fortunately, I'm out of that situation now. Just so you know. ;)


Do you consider yourself a pantser or a planner type of writer?


I'm a pantser, I think. However, I've begun doing a lot more mental planning than I used to. It seems necessary in order to carry a story through three books!


Do you plan to write a sequel to Tree of Life?


Yes! Tree of Life is the first of a trilogy. I'm working on its sequel, Root of BItterness, now. :) So, if it seems like it left us in a cliff hanger, well . . . it did. But I'll take care of that for readers soon. ;)


What advice do you have for aspiring authors writing their first novels?


Take care of your body. Don't abuse your art by abusing yourself. It's important. I took a while to learn that, but it's so important. Sleep, hydrate, nourish yourself.

I'd also say that you should never be afraid to get outside opinions. They will help you to grow and learn. You can say no to those opinions, but you might find an awful lot to say YES to. Don't write in isolation if you can help it. :)

Monday, April 1, 2019

Book Review of Tree of Life by Sarah Joy Green


"Your god is sick!"

A religio-political civil war destroyed democracy, and the fanatical usurpers closed the nation's borders and instituted a theocratic oligarchy.

Two centuries later, a quiet rebellion brews.

Born hidden in the shadow of the forest, an herbalist is abducted and swallowed by a toxic society that values her only for the pleasure she can provide.

Two brothers, raised in a privileged military family, struggle to turn a blind eye to the violence and injustice perpetrated by the powerful leaders they serve and are destined to become.

The survivor of a government massacre, a young man lives as a fugitive. A supernatural experience leads him into the arms of conspiracy theorists aiming for a religious coup.

Life's twisted road of suffering brings them together. Cultures clash, enemies become friends, faith and unbelief are challenged, and a body of leaders with the power to kill and withhold the afterlife leads the way to the light of an angry deity no one truly knows . . . but everyone hopes is on their side.



*We were given a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review*

This book was one of those that is hard to put down. I stayed up late into the night several times reading this book.

Tree of Life is a fast-moving book, with each chapter giving you clues and information on what is going on in this world. Hesper especially is a wonderful character to follow as we learn about the world outside the forest. Cole and David give us insight into the world outside the forest, both wanting to do what's right but struggling to figure that out within the confines of their government and religion. 

This is really a story of seeking truth and how to act once you find it. I really enjoyed that Hesper and Cole had different views and perspectives yet still were in love and respected each other. 

This book reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, though there is plenty of differences. If you enjoyed The Handmaid's Tale you will certainly enjoy Tree of Life! 

Goodreads   Amazon 




Sarah Joy Green-Hart grew up in a restauranteur family in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, waiting tables in between reading, writing, acting, petting cows, and dancing with flocks of cats.

After earning an A.A. in Theology and cultivating an adequate taste for the artistic, the eclectic, and the odd, Sarah’s family—with a proper advanced warning—released the Sarah-Kraken on a gentleman with an affectionate interest in said Kraken.


Sarah now homeschools four wee wolf cubs by day and howls at the bookish moon in her laptop by night with Earl Grey (and a few of his friends) at her side.

Website   Twitter   Facebook