Fantasy and Fiction is What Makes Us Human?


by Andy Peloquin

Humans are the only species to attach significant value on any form of art. Let’s be clear: animals can be taught to paint, draw, even write, but only humans go out of their way to create art.

So what if that innate sense of creativity plays a larger role in our humanity than we think? What if the desire to create art—stories, paintings, poems, sculptures, music, and more—is what makes us human?

I found something fascinating in an article on Psychology Today. The article talks about how a think tank believes exposing artificial intelligences to stories could make them more human. Essentially, exposing AIs to stories, they showcased human values and social norms. The AIs were then rewarded for mirroring the decisions and behavior of the protagonists of the stories.

Running through the simulations of human emotions (jealousy, the thrill of a new love, pain, sorrow, etc.) actually helps US to feel more empathy for others. Fiction puts us through that simulation by taking us on the emotional journeys of our characters. It increases interpersonal sensitivity, enhances empathic abilities, broadens perspective, reduces gender stereotyping, and reduces prejudice. If it can do all that for humans, imagine what it could do for artificial intelligences trying to learn what it means to “be human”.

But that’s not all fiction, fantasy, and stories can do for humans. Our past experiences—the good, bad, and ugly—are what have made us who we are. All the stories we can tell, the memories we can relive, and the positive and negative emotions we experience affect current and future behavior. Our view is colored by the unique combination of everything we have lived.

An AI is like a baby: no experience, no understanding, no relation to anything in the world around it. It has to be exposed to human experiences in order to gain understanding of what it means to be human. Stories—fiction and real-life–help to create all the above-mentioned feelings, basically helping to “build” the AI by giving them stories to shape their perceptions, beliefs, and understanding.

In Westworld, all of the “hosts” (robots) were given back-stories to make them seem more realistic. All humans have stories to tell, so that back story addition played a major role in bringing the theme park to life.

Humans want to tell, hear, and read stories—it’s what makes us who and what we are!

Faith During the Apocalypse


by Joshua C. Chadd

Okay, I’m going to jump right in since I am talking about one of those dangerous topics: Religion. Now, I do not want this to come off as me trying to push my beliefs on anyone, it is to provoke thought on a concept and belief and how that translates to writing. I’m going to give you a little background on me and then move on. I am a Christian, but before you cringe and close the window, hear me out. I am not one of those “fire and brimstone” kind of Christians, and in all honestly I don’t like organized religion as a whole. My faith is something that is personal and unique to me, it is a relationship with Jesus—that’s it! Now you know where I’m coming from, so I’ll move on to the meaty part of this.

I recently released my debut novel, Outbreak, and have the second one, Battleborn, coming out soon. The books are set during the zombie apocalypse. Are you starting to see my dilemma? If not, keep reading. The books follow two brothers as they set out to rescue their parents. As they’re on the road they inevitably face worse things than just zombies and people trying to kill them, for one reason or another. The brothers respond by killing them to survive. They are faced with more hard choices and walk the line between surviving and taking proactive measures to survive. There is a difference there. As the story continues they come face-to-face with some true horrors (especially in the second book).

Now, the problem I have is twofold. First, how do I portray an honest, gritty, real look at the apocalypse while still staying true to my own beliefs? And how do my characters show their faith when faced with the end of the world and the things they not only see, but have to do? Well, I don’t have a right answer to this, but I do have what I’ve found so far and what I think is true.

The first answer is to be honest with myself. I have the same opinion as Stephen King when it comes to writing, in that I am not really creating a story as much as I am uncovering something that is already there. In storytelling, I do my best to stay true to the story I uncover. I want to portray a realistic view of the apocalypse, so there is plenty of violence/gore and even cursing. Now, neither of these are “Christian” books, but they do have a faith-based undertone. But how can I write the violence and language and still make it known that I’m a Christian and so are the characters? Easy, have I ever cursed? Hell yeah! What would I do in a situation where I had to defend my family? Simple, I’d end the threat, one way or another. See, I am not worried about writing this stuff because I would be willing do to those things and I’d curse in those situations. By staying true to the story it might not be seen as “Christian”, but I can still tell it from a faith-based point of view, because real life is not full of rainbows and roses. Life is full of pain, heartbreak, violence, murder, cursing, and a whole lot of other things. So I write the world as I see it, real, flawed and, at times, evil. At least that is how I see it—so take it for what it is.

The second question is much easier to answer. While the brothers, James and Connor, have their faith, it’s a constant struggle to believe, especially for Connor. They go back and forth, and finally James begins to just believe in spite of everything, and that belief is tested at every turn, while Connor sort of gives up on his faith and does what needs to be done. This question is much easier because I have struggled in my faith throughout a normal life, and while I have retained that belief it has been seriously hard at times. So I can imagine if the zombie apocalypse did happen, how hard it would be at times. After seeing or doing the things I’d have to do to survive, I’d ask: How can I still have my belief after this? How can God be real with all this going on? Well, it actually poses something that is really interesting to write about, while also being tough. I get to dive in and say well, I don’t know (even as the author), but I think it would be this way or that way. I found those responses to the character’s questions are founded in my own belief but I cannot say anything with certainty because I am not God. But I feel like, and I hope this is true, that my answers are at least somewhat close to reality. Either way, it’s fun to write because having characters that have faith during the apocalypse is really intense with their constant inner struggles.

My point in all this, and I hope I articulated it well, was not to try and convince you about my beliefs. My goal was to show you something that can be challenging as a writer: staying true to not only the story, but myself as well. Because these are not just random stories, they are all a part of me—a part of who I am, who I have been, and who I want to be. I hope that gives you some food for thought. As you dig into more stories try to look for those small things that show you a glimpse into the heart and soul of the author—you can tell a lot about an author from their stories. But that’s all for now, until next time!

From my desk to you,

Joshua C. Chadd

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Never a Dull Moment – A Writer’s Inspiration


by Craig Anderson

As a writer the first question people ask me (after the psychic trick of knowing if they have read any of my books) is where do I come up with my ideas. I wish there was a more magical answer to this question, that there was an ephemeral spirit that whispers stories into my ear on the full moon, but the reality is far more practical. Most of my story ideas come from some random mish mash of things I read or conversations I’ve had. They percolate in my brain, sometimes for hours, sometimes for months, and then out of the blue a germ of an idea takes hold and I can’t shake it until I’ve gotten it down on paper. I’ll give you a recent example.

I am fascinated by A.I. I read articles about it, watch youtube videos and keep abreast of what is happening in the field. I can’t help but feel this is going to be the single greatest game changer in our lifetimes. A.I. has the potential to completely reshape almost every aspect of our lives. It’s also fantastic for stories, both because of the massive potential but also because A.I. does not think like a human. This contrast between what we expect an A.I. to do and what it would actually do is an endless source of conflict, and therefore stories.

While reading a technology magazine I stumbled across an article on CRISPR gene editing. This is another field in it’s infancy with just as much potential to change us as a species. Unfortunately humans are just as likely to abuse this technology as we are to solve all our problems.

So you have two world changing technologies both coming into their own at similar times. What if you combined them? An A.I. that could edit genes. Sounds terrifying right? It still wasn’t enough for a story though. It needed something else, a hook to bring it all together. It sat there simmering in my brain, like a soup missing a key ingredient.

That ingredient came in a random conversation with a friend. Somehow we got talking about climate change and the impact on animal species, particularly pollinators such as bees. Unless we could find a way to save the bees the impact on food production would be catastrophic. It got me thinking, how would an A.I. solve this problem? What if the A.I. could build a better bee? 10 minutes after that conversation I had a story already forming. I wrote it pretty quickly, over the space of a few months. Just like that, The Colony was born.

For me, sci-fi is fun because it asks the question ‘what if’ and then attempts to answer it. There are no ‘wrong’ answers, but not all of my ideas are good ones. I have a harddrive full of half finished books that will never see the light of day. Either the idea isn’t interesting enough, or I don’t know enough about the topic to properly answer the question, or I write myself into a corner and can’t dig out. To me this is all part of the fun. They sit there patiently in the back of my mind, just waiting for that key piece of information to make them whole. Every time I read an article, or watch a video, or chat with a friend, that could be the trigger for my next story. If there’s one thing I can say for sure, it’s that being a writer is never dull!

Interview with Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Author of Japanese Historical Fantasy

Takiyasha-hime, the sorceress, is shown carrying a sword in one hand, a bell in the other, and a torch in her mouth; the toad, her familiar, is shown in the inset with her father, Taira no Masakado. Ukiyo-e woodblock print by Yōshū Chikanobu, 1884 (via Wikipedia)


Interview by K. Bird Lincoln

Both Laura VanArendonk Baugh and I (K. Bird Lincoln) write Japanese historical fantasy featuring kitsune, trickster fox spirits—we both happen to be Caucasian females. I was thrilled she agreed to answer some writing-the-other questions I often get myself.

1. So….why Japan? Why kitsune? What about them speaks to your myth loving heart?

LVB: It actually wasn’t kitsune specifically. I liked the idea of writing in a wholly different setting and approach from typical Western fantasy, and onmyoudou is a significantly different take than most Western-based magical systems in fiction. I liked the idea of a natural structure behind the magic, and the power and limitations that would bring. I’ve always had a thing for foxes—some of my earliest fiction was about foxes, kind of a vulpine Watership Down—and the popularity of kitsune meant western audiences might feel more confident about approaching the book, more so than if I started with a makura-gaeshi or a suzuri-no-tamashi.

Also, kitsune are really cool.

KBL: Yes, it’s true. Cool and beautiful while Western were-wolves are more terrifying. I love the cerebral aspect of the kitsune trickster—the riddles and such.

2. Is it harder to write male characters than Japanese characters in general?

LVB: Ooh, great question! And yes, all characters who aren’t me are different than me, to a greater or lesser degree. I don’t think we can ever say we can totally grasp another personality or that we cannot possibly grasp another personality. The first is hubris, the second is our job.

I work pretty hard on my male characters, as I often tend toward too chatty and emotive. But that’s why we call it fantasy, right?

KBL: I think this is why I tend to focus my writing on female characters—Japanese or North American.

3. Nisi Shawl writes in “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation” about  Diantha Day Sprouse’s categorizing those who borrow others’ cultural tropes as “Invaders,” “Tourists,” and “Guests.” Invaders arrive without warning, take whatever they want for use in whatever way they see fit. Tourists are expected. They’re generally a nuisance, but at least they pay their way. Tourists may be ignorant, but they can be intelligent as well, and are therefore educable. Guests are invited. Their relationships with their hosts can become long-term commitments and are often reciprocal.”

KBL: I hope I write the Tiger Lily series like a Guest: I have had a long relationship with Japan, and Japanese culture, and my life is now intricately bound to that country through family ties. But sometimes I think the characters in Tiger Lily are a bit stereotyped…or not Japanese enough. What do you feel about your role as cultural mediator of Japanese culture for North Americans for the Kitsune series?

LVB: This is something I’ve put a lot of thought into, especially in today’s politico-literary climate. But I draw hope from feedback I’ve received. I do presentations on Japanese folklore and mythology, specifically to educate people to better understand manga, anime, or films they pick up, and after one I received an email from a Japanese grad student visiting the US to complete some sociology work, who had wandered into my class. He complimented me on the presentation and said I’d given him some good ideas for cross-cultural education and communication, and that was a huge compliment.

A couple of months ago I was at a business conference. There a Japanese colleague turned to her Japanese friends and excitedly explained that I wrote books set in old Japan. What affirmation, knowing she could promote me to her friends! So I think my efforts toward interpretation rather than exploitation are holding steady.


Check out Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s Kitsune Tales Series starting with Kitsune-Tsuki.

Winner of the 2012 Luminis Prize!
“Once I started reading, I could not put it down. The story is thrilling and magical.”

“Twisty! Turny! Magical! Wonderful!”

“…I figured I knew exactly how it was going to end. I was completely wrong.”

How does one find a shapeshifter who may not even exist?

 


Check out K. Bird Lincoln’s Tiger Lily series starting with Tiger Lily.

“A beautifully-written genderbending tale of rebellious girls, shifting disguises, and forbidden magic, set against the vivid backdrop of ancient Japan.”

Lily isn’t supposed to hunt game in the Daimyo’s woods. She’s just the cook’s daughter. It isn’t her place to talk to nobility. And she definitely isn’t supposed to sing the forbidden old, Jindo religion songs. But Lily was born in the year of the Tiger, and can’t ever be like other village girls.

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Genre Blending, Mashing, or Bending


by Alan Tucker

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke

We love them! Those stories that don’t fit neatly into one particular box or label. The exploding popularity of comic books in literature, movies, and television shows is a prime example of this. Superhero stories are most often a generous mixture of science fiction and fantasy. Characters like Iron Man and Batman excite our imaginations because they feel ever so close to real possibilities — the science and mystical elements are just beyond our reach, which makes them so tantilizing.

But comic books don’t have a corner on the market for twisting the conventions of genre. One of my favorite genre-mashing authors is Jack L. Chalker. Best known for his Well Worlds series, he also penned over forty other novels and short stories, and nearly all blur the boundaries of what people considered “science fiction” and “fantasy.” My personal favorite is his Soul Rider series, which starts out reading like a classic fantasy story, with swords and sorcery, but morphs into science fiction as we learn more about the world and the “magic” encountered there.

soulriderseries

The lines also become fuzzy once science fiction becomes science fact. Things like satellites, space travel, microwave ovens, and cell phones were once the domain of fantastic stories. Now, they are common and even ever-present in our world. Science fiction staples like artificial intelligence, human cloning, and virtual reality are within our grasp or just a few years away. Even faster-than-light travel, once shunned by hard core science fiction devotees as “fantasy” has recently been revisited as something that may not violate natural law as we currently understand it.

All this begs the question: What is science and what is fantasy?

As Arthur Clarke stated in the quote at the top of this post, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Bring someone from the middle ages into our present day world and they would undoubtedly claim we live in a magical place. Are phenomenon deemed “paranormal” by today’s science just waiting for someone to crack the code to bring them into the mainstream? Our current notions of time and space may seem set in stone, but there are scientists and mathematicians who work every day to poke holes in the current theories of reality. Much of the observable behavior of the universe is still awaiting explanation.

In this light, what if we take a look back at the stories told from medieval times, or those of the Greeks, Romans, or Egyptians. Are there kernels of truth to be found in our ancient myths and fables that could only be explained at the time by magic? What about concepts like Heaven and Hell? So many religions contain references to similar places, it seems folly to dismiss them out of hand. Could they exist as parallel universes? Maybe angels and demons are extra-dimensional beings who do occasionally pierce the veil between worlds and pay us a visit to inspire the tales we see in our religious and fictional texts.

What are your most cherished genre-bending stories? What lines do you like seeing blurred to the point of non-recognition? Let me know in the comment section!

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Given Powers, Are We Heroes? Or Are We Villains?

by Jeremy Flagg


The question I’m most often asked is, “What super power do you want the most?” I’m a geek, I’ve thought about this every day since I started reading comics. I want to be able to teleport. No traffic, no lines, no travel, just being where you want to exist. The question I ask in return, “If you had super powers, would you be a hero, or a villain?”

In science fiction, one of my favorite themes to explore both as a reader and writer is, good versus evil. I find the most alluring aspect of this struggle to be when a character struggles with the responsibility of his own power. If I woke up tomorrow with incredible power, I’d be the villain. I hope through reflection and struggle I would rise above it, but truth be told, I’m not quite sure I’m capable of winning that battle.

I write superhero stories and much of my inspiration comes from the early 90’s comics. The most notable character for me has always been Erik Lehnsherr, more commonly known as Magneto. His intentions have always been good; protect his species at all cost, even if it means committing unthinkable acts. His power is awe-inspiring, but the allure is his inner demons battling. We see ourselves in his struggle. What would we do to save those we love? He’s been put in a morally compromising position and for decades now, we’ve watched him walk back and forth over the line. We’re sold on his conflict because there is a reflection of truth behind it and we’re left asking ourselves if we’d do the same.

In Max Landis’ Chronicle this struggle between hero and villain both internal and external takes center stage. Gaining telekinetic powers, Andrew, Matt and Steve find themselves pondering the morality of being more than human. Bullied, Andrew finds himself using his powers for self-gain, and we sympathize with his rise to villainy, again, because we are left asking ourselves, “Could that be me?” Even Steve, the movie’s protagonist spends points in the story debating how he should proceed with this gift. Ultimately, Steve finds himself opposing Andrew not because it’s the morally right thing to do, but because he’s the only one capable. This ambiguity allows us as the audience to continue self-reflecting.

While my writing gravitates toward the dark aspects of this debate, it can also be viewed with humor and sarcasm. In Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will be Invincible, he tells the story through two points of view, Dr. Impossible, the dry wit super genius and former cop-turned-cyborg, Fatale, newest addition to the New Champions. Grossman makes it a point to have Dr. Impossible reflect on how he became a villain and as we see the story unfold, we find a super genius falling short at every turn. Even knowing there is a strong chance his newest machinations will result in failure, he continues simply because, “It’s what you do.” Meanwhile, Fatale finds herself fixated on Lily, another teammate and the former girlfriend of Dr. Impossible. She wonders what would make her turn her back on a boyfriend, choose right over wrong, and even exploring if wrong is subjective. The entire time these dialogues are being delivered, Grossman interjects sarcasm, dry wit, and moments of humanity in these godlike titans.

The question continues to provoke a great deal of writing. Characters in my Children of Nostradamus series have been given powers through a cosmic fluke and each of them comes to the table with vastly different motivations. They unite to stop the antagonist, some for revenge, others out of a sense of right, others because they have no idea what they’re doing. I believe we’ve all wondered what super power we’d want given the chance, but I continue asking, would you be a hero, or would you be the villain?


Jeremy Flagg is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes.

 To follow Jeremy’s escapades join his newsletter: www.remyflagg.com/news

How Writing a Review is the Best Way to Support an Author

by A.L. Knorr

A surprising portion of an author’s time is spent trying to garner positive reviews for their stories. Leaving a review requires an effort that many readers don’t see value in. It takes time, their review will just get buried and no one will ever read it. So why bother?

What most readers don’t realize is that leaving a verified (the book has been purchased) review has a larger impact than they could even imagine. Aside from helping other readers decide if the book sounds like something they’ll enjoy or not, sharing your thoughts about the story helps the author become a better writer. You have an opinion that is unique to you, and author’s need to see the world through readers eyes to grow.

Readers are far more likely to purchase a book that has lots of positive reviews, and of course, less likely to purchase those who have poor reviews. By writing your review, you are either encouraging or forewarning other readers. Who doesn’t appreciate guidance on whether their money will be well spent or not? Search engine algorithms also take into account the number, frequency, and rating given by reviewers. Every positive review is an air bubble that helps the book rise and become more visible. You also help to protect authors from trolls, not the kind with green hair, the kind whose sole desire seems to be to spread negativity on the internet. Every author will be hit by a troll at some point in their career, lots of positive reviews help buffer the occasional random negative attack.

So how do you best rate a book? Making your own personal criteria for what a 1 star looks like vs a 5 star is helpful. Here’s an example of some rating criteria:

⭐️  A lot of mistakes, maybe it wasn’t ready for market. Didn’t make sense, or I fell into a plot hole while reading and couldn’t get out.

⭐️⭐️   I think there was a story in there somewhere.

⭐️⭐️⭐️   Finished and mostly enjoyed. Would even consider reading more by this author.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️   Good story! Looking forward to more by this author!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️  Couldn’t put it down and I’m sad that it’s over! Still thinking about this story!

Next time you read a book, please consider writing a review. Even 1 or 2 sentences is enough. The author will thank you, and other readers will thank you!

The Science in Sci-Fi: How Important Is It?

by D.M. Pruden


How important is actual science in Science Fiction? Does anyone care if an author gets the physics right in their space battle scenes? Do any more than a handful of geeks even notice when the science is off? Does it even matter?

These are all questions that occupied me when I first ventured into the world of authorship. I am a scientist by profession, having spent the better part of 36 years as a geophysicist. To say science is an interest of mine is like saying basketball is of interest to Koby Bryant. This puts me into a camp that may be different from the rest of society, or more specific to this article, the science fiction reader community. It certainly colours my perspective on the kind of sci-fi I like to read and write.

Some would (perhaps rightly) argue that sticking too close to the real world detracts from the purpose of a good story; to transport the reader into another realm. There are certainly some very popular books that have “broken” the laws of physics in favour of a good tale. Andy Weir, the author of the wildly successful novel, The Martian, admits to taking some liberties with the real effects of windstorms on Mars. He and his editors, rightly, opted for dramatic storytelling and a bending of exact science to facilitate a good story. Does this devalue in any way the novel? I don’t believe so. The Martian, for the most part, gets the science right in the parts that matter and tells an amazing story. It is, by far, one of my favourite modern science fiction novels.

Some would argue that I am an advocate for the school of ‘Hard Science Fiction’ and perhaps I am; or not. What I have witnessed within some of the sci-fi writer forums online is that many who brand themselves as hard science fiction authors are not so much caught up with the science in their stories as with the technology. Some of them will wax on about the proper configuration of a particular ion drive design, citing why it will work, and someone else’s idea is not viable. While writers like this are certainly well researched and far more knowledgeable about these topics than I, I can’t help but wonder if they are missing the point.

There is a difference between science and technology. Science is an activity; an act of exploring the world around us to uncover how it works. It has birthed Newton’s laws, Maxwell’s equations and Einstein’s relativity. Nowhere does it speak to smart watches, brain implants, FTL drives or star gates. Those fancies are all manifestations of science being applied to invent technology, and this is really the stuff that gets drawn up into science fiction for many readers and writers alike. The actual laws of physics are very few. The permutations on their practical applications are manifold.

One has only to observe the explosion of modern technology to realize this. We are in an age of technology, not an age of science. Most recent scientific research is under pressure to produce practical, economically exploitable results. Pure scientific research is rare and diminishing. It still happens, but not nearly at the explosive pace of its exploitation.

It is precisely this explosion of technology that is currently taken for the science in sci-fi. Our technology is advancing at a phenomenal pace. New inventions, only fantasy a decade ago, now adorn our wrists and homes. To explain our contemporary lifestyle to a person living in the 1950’s would have been to describe a science fiction world beyond their ability to conceive. Imagine how difficult it is for a modern writer to stay ahead of this rampaging techno-tsunami and write a sci-fi story. It is a daunting task. Every day, inventions that I believed to be far in the future are being turned out by companies. What is a writer to do?

In my opinion, first and foremost in any writing, including, or maybe especially in science fiction, the story is everything. More specifically, a good story about someone to whom the reader can relate is the most important part of writing. Too many times I have picked up what promises to be a good read, only to discover the author has spent far too much time developing their fictional world, replete with all of its amazing technology, and forgotten to tell a story about the people in it. I believe that, while paramount to good science fiction, world building is like the skeleton of the story. It is meant to be something upon which the entire plot is built and should sit in the background, only referred to when necessary. There are times when the setting can become a major character in a novel (books like Dune, The Martian and Lord of the Rings are but three examples), but in no case does the author shove his research at us proudly and say, “look at what I built”. The setting is woven into the intricate pattern of the story and thus becomes an integral part of it. It becomes a tale of how the character reacts and relates to others within such a world.

Whether a novel is set in deep space or inside a virtual reality game world, the stories of science fiction are best when they are well-told fiction. The setting happens to be what it is, and that is okay with me, and probably for most readers as well. It is why sub-genres like steampunk work.

As for me, I’ll continue to calculate orbital velocities and gravitational constants in my stories, just to keep the characters honest within their world. But after that, telling their story within that world is my primary goal. Yes, the science matters to me. The fiction just happens to matter more.


Doug Pruden writes under the name D.M. Pruden and is the author of two books, so far: The Ares Weapon and Mother of Mars. A retired Canadian geophysicist, he lives in Calgary, Alberta. When not writing science fiction, he enjoys spending time with his granddaughters, working on his golf handicap in the summer and his squash game in the winter. You can get to know him better at his website: www.prudenauthor.com

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Character Building: Inside the Mind of a Burglar

by Andy Peloquin


As a dark fantasy author, there are two things I enjoy writing about most:

  1. The underside of society. This includes assassins, thieves, killers, brutes, thugs, mercenaries, and all the other seedy elements of a fantasy world.

  2. The dark side of human nature. I love delving into the psyche of my characters (antagonist and protagonists alike) to better understand the darker elements that make them tick.

In my latest series, I follow the adventures of a girl sold to the Thieves’ Guild of her city. She is raised as a thief—not just any thief, though. A burglar.

Burglars are a unique sort of thief. Pickpockets will steal while out in public. Muggers will threaten violence. But burglars tend to be much more artistic than other thieves. They look at architecture (buildings) and find ways to use the design elements to penetrate highly secure areas.

An article on Science Daily caught my attention as I was researching the character (Ilanna). It talked about a study done to understand the motivations and techniques of burglars. The researchers evaluated both male and female burglars to understand their mindsets, attitudes, and approaches. They found some truly fascinating things:

  • Factors considered – Before burglarizing a house, the burglars would evaluate proximity to people, police, traffic, and business. They would also evaluate escape routes (or the lack thereof), apparent security, surveillance, and the likelihood of being discovered.

  • Alarms matter – Up to 83% of the burglars looked for a security system before deciding whether or not to burglarize the home. 60% would choose another target if they discovered an alarm present. This was particularly true among the careful, planning type of burglars, rather than the “spur of the moment” burglars (the ones who tend to smash and grab).

  • Residential vs. commercial – Roughly 50% of burglars entered homes, while only 31% entered commercial residences.

  • Why? – Drugs were the most common motivation –51% of respondents. Money drove 37% of burglars. Oddly enough, only one burglar ever broke into homes to steal firearms.

  • Planned or not – 41% of burglars committed the crime on the spur of the moment, while only 12% planned all their burglaries in advance.

  • Male vs. female – Male burglars tend to be more deliberate and plan in advance, while female burglars tend to be more impulsive. Women entered homes in the late afternoon, while men entered in the evenings. Women were more likely to be dissuaded from their burglary by an alarm system than men.

I found this study a fascinating way to understand my burglar character. By understanding the mindset of a burglar, I was able to write a character that was realistic in her motivations, approach to the crime, and her decisions of whether or not to burgle homes.


To check out Andy’s books, click here.

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Sci-Fi & Fantasy Heroines: Why They’re Amazing, and Why We Need Them

by Alesha Escobar


A hero is someone we can look up to and aspire to be like. And, it’s a bonus when that hero shares something in common with us (culture, moral strengths, flaws, or gender). Growing up in the ‘80s, I remember rushing home from school with my older sister so that we could plop down in front of the TV to watch the latest episode of Wonder Woman, which starred Lynda Carter.

We loved watching a strong woman rush into danger to subdue criminals and save others. We also enjoyed that she did so while embracing and celebrating her femininity. As I grew up, I’ve realized that “strong heroine” can mean more than one thing, because there are many ways to display strength. Sure, it’s fun to watch Black Widow or Agent Carter high-kick a thug in the head without breaking a sweat, but what I also love about them is that their sharpest weapons are their brains.

This isn’t to say I can’t (or won’t) be inspired by a male protagonist–and there are quite a few in the sci-fi/fantasy genre that I think are amazing! However, now that I’m a parent and watch how my daughter perks up just a little more when she sees someone who looks like her appear on screen to save the day, or in a comic book to set off on an adventure, it hits home how the stories we tell, and the characters we use to tell them, can have an impact on our audience.

So why do we need heroines? Because their stories matter, just like real life heroines who’ve made history.

Have you heard about the woman who killed a Nazi with her bare hands? Her name was Nancy Wake, and she had one of the highest bounties on her head during WWII as she fought alongside the Resistance in Nazi-occupied France.

Nancy Wake (c. 1945)

Or, think of Harriet Tubman, the famous American abolitionist who bravely spoke out against slavery and personally led men and women to freedom despite many perils.

So if there are heroic women throughout history, I say let us also have them in our books and stories. International Women’s Day is March 8 of every year (and some territories have designated the entire month as Women’s History Month). This is a great time to remember and discover some of the earth-shattering accomplishments different women have made to the world.

If you’re a bookworm like me, and enjoy escaping into fantasy worlds, dare I say that we’d also like to see female protagonists with the same heart, intellect, bravery and determination of the real life women who’ve earned their place alongside our heroes.



AUTHOR BIO

Alesha Escobar writes and blogs to support her chocolate habit. She loves reading everything from Tolkien, to the Dresden Files and Hellblazer comics. Alesha is the author of the bestselling Gray Tower Trilogy fantasy series, of which the first book is now being adapted to screenplay. Her latest novel, House of Diviners, will be released in the Daughters of Destiny Boxed Set (March 15).

To keep up with Alesha’s latest shenanigans and grab free books, please visit: http://bit.ly/FMMReads

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