Spending a Year with Ray Bradbury

by Milo James Fowler

Ray Bradbury wasn’t always Ray Bradbury—not the Ray Bradbury we know and love who blessed us with Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Death Is a Lonely Business, just to name a few.

Once upon a time, Bradbury was just a struggling young writer in love with the craft. He wrote a short story every week, polished it as fast as he could, and submitted it to a magazine. Rejection letters flooded in, mainly due to his prolific submissions: the more you write, the more responses you get. There were also acceptance letters along the way, and they inspired him to keep doing what he loved: telling stories as only he could.

In the fall of 2009, I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Bradbury speak at a local library. Witnessing this great literary figure in the flesh was a surreal experience. I had to keep reminding myself that this was really happening, that I was really there. He spoke about being a “lover of life,” and that, for him, his writing was always a labor of love. I didn’t get a chance to shake his hand or tell him how much I appreciated him; he probably got enough of that already. There was standing room only, and an allotted fifty fans ahead of me were having him sign copies of We’ll Always Have Paris. I’ll always cherish this memory.

I’ve been writing novels since I was twelve years old, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Crafting tales from my imagination, polishing them up, sharing them with friends and family and, eventually, complete strangers—there’s nothing quite like it. In the summer of 2009, I started submitting my work for publication, and in January of 2010, my first short story was published. In the months that followed, I had a few other stories accepted by various publications, and I also collected quite the growing pile of rejection letters along the way. All par for the course.

One of my friends congratulated me after a particular story was published, joking, “You must be writing a story every week!”

Remembering Bradbury’s early years, I replied, “Not yet, but maybe someday!”

Someday turned out to be 2011, when I committed to writing and submitting 52 short stories in 52 weeks—drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and sending them out to publications. My goal was both quantity and quality, and somehow I was going to make it happen despite working full-time as an English teacher.

Writing 1,000-word flash fiction helped create a buffer for my longer works. If I wrote a couple flash-sized tales early in the month and submitted them ahead of schedule, I could then spend the rest of the month on a story that was 5,000 words or more. Once I got into the rhythm of writing, editing, and submitting, I found that my ability to write on demand improved. There wasn’t time for staring at a blank screen and doubting myself. I had to write, and the more I did, the more fluid my process became. Was every story awesome? Nope. With every rejection letter that came in, I tweaked each tale until it was just the way I wanted it and got it back out on the submission circuit. There was no time to obsess over every story; I had more writing to do.

Ray Bradbury’s point was that if you wrote 52 short stories, they couldn’t all be bad. There had to be a few that shone brighter than diamonds in the rough. I found that to be the case as half a dozen of my stories that year were accepted by top-tier SFWA-qualifying publications. But were all 52 of my stories published? It took about three years, but yes indeed, I managed to sell all of them to editors around the world.

The journey of a writer is exhilarating, frustrating, maddening, and life-giving, and I’ve signed up for all of the above. I’m determined to ride out the lows knowing there will be highs just as extreme waiting for me in the future. With everything I write, I’m a step closer to becoming the writer I want to be.

Every writer starts somewhere. My journey began in 6th grade with a manual typewriter and some pretty crazy ideas. I waited twenty years before I started submitting my work for publication. Now I’m making up for lost time.

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for inspiring me.


Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. Over the past 5 years, his short fiction has appeared in more than 100 publications. Find his novels, novellas, and short story collections wherever books are sold. http://www.milojamesfowler.com/

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Helping Heroes, One Pet at a Time

by Carol Van Natta

One of the pleasures of world building a science fiction universe is the change to imagine how medical science has improved. Considering how much has happened in the last century (antibiotics, organ transplant, cancer treatments based on genetics), it’s fun—even therapeutic—to invent further improvements that seem miraculous by today’s standards.

For example, as far as we’ve come today in making injuries sustained in war survivable, we aren’t as far along in helping military personnel deal with the aftermath. Most modern societies assume its constituents are autonomous and able-bodied, and don’t quite know what to do about things like post-traumatic stress, mobility impairment, or loss of a limb. In my space opera series, I can assume much better repair and long-term treatment options, including cloned parts, cybernetics, and rapid-healing protocols.

Even so, there’s nothing like the healing power of pets. They love us, they entertain us, and they help us engage in the world outside of our own heads. Even when naughty kittens climb the curtains or bumbling puppies knock over the water dish again, we’re just as likely to laugh as to scowl. When (not if) we make it to the stars, I guarantee we’ll take our pets with us. That’s the theme of the science fiction romance anthology, Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2. Twelve authors wrote stories that all involve pets, from alien lifeforms, to conventional and exotic Earth animals (cats, dogs, emus(!)…), to genetically modified, designer creatures of history, myth, and legend (how about a dire wolf as a guard dog?). I probably got carried away with the number of pets in my story in the anthology, “Pet Trade,” but I couldn’t pick just one. In all the stories, the pets act just as they do now, as companions, as catalysts, as troublemakers, and sometimes as quiet saviors.

In that spirit, the authors are donating 10% of the first month’s profits to Hero Dogs, a U.S. charity that provides hand-raised and specially trained service dogs to disabled veterans, to improve their quality of life and give them independence. The dogs are provided free of charge, and Hero Dogs works with both the veteran and the service dog for life. It’s an amazing charity, and we all love the idea of helping heroes, one dog at a time.

Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 features twelve stories by today’s best-selling and award-winning authors, and is available at all major retailers.


Carol Van Natta writes science fiction and fantasy, and is the author of the award-winning Central Galactic Concordance space opera series that starts with Overload Flux. She shares her Fort Collins, Colorado home with a resident mad scientist and various cats, and they all want to explore the galaxy.

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5 Reasons Why Readers Like Urban Fantasy

by Antara Mann

Urban fantasy has always enjoyed a significant readership, but in the last decade and a half its popularity has significantly risen. No doubt, TV shows like Shadowhunters, Teen Wolf, Supernatural, Lost Girl and the oldie but goody Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, have increased the popularity of the genre. Yet, there are certain reasons why people enjoy exactly UF and such shows and prefer them over, say, high fantasy.

1. Urban Fantasy feels very realistic

The urban setting makes the reader associate themselves with the magical world building and the different types of creatures that populate it — magic and the supernatural feel almost real. After I read an UF book, I feel the supernatural much closer than before reading the book. In comparison, high fantasy is usually set up in some distinct ancient kingdom with different governmental structure than ours, usually ruled by different noble houses, royals or warring noble families. While it is very compelling and builds a very interesting and unique world, as a reader I am aware it doesn’t relate with our current political and social order or reality.

Readers like to relate themselves to the setting and characters, and contemporary fantasy delivers that.

2. Urban fantasy’s trademark is a kick-ass hero/heroine who fights off an evil antagonist

No matter if it’s the Dresden Files, The Iron Druid Chronicles, Kate Daniel’s series or Annie Bellet’s Twenty-Sided Sorceress, the main hero is strong, powerful, is on the good guys’ side; sometimes they are snarky and flawed, but have redeemable qualities. In high fantasy, there are often a few main characters with different antagonists and the focus is not on a primal MC. The advanced technology and urban setting help too in the overall bad-ass attitude of the main character. Skyscrapers, jet planes and tech-savvy protagonists are way cooler than castles, horses and say, a protagonist writing on parchment.

3. Urban fantasy borrows from other genres and is a crossover

Fantasy, horror, romance, mystery, crime and suspense, paranormal romance — you name it — urban fantasy accommodates them all under its umbrella. UF is a multitude of other genres thus it makes the overall story more complex, multilayered and diverse. While a lot of readers enjoy a good portion of super power battles and action and adventure, quite a few enjoy the mystery and detective storyline, and yet more readers enjoy some paranormal romance. Urban fantasy has it all offering a wide range for diverse tastes. There is also a spiritual element since most magical creatures and magic have a root in mythology and folk tales. UF like any fantasy draws inspiration from legends and myths.

4. Urban fantasy reconciles old myths with new ones and legendary magical creatures with new

In short, IMHO, it has one of the richest magical folklore worlds varying from dragons and dragon shifters to elves and gnomes, to demons, angels and gods. Not to mention the Seelie and Unseelie courts.

Last but not least:

5. Magic, the occult and alternative religions like Wicca have been on the rise since mid 90s.

A quick fact: After the release and success of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, Wicca has grown as a religion and added nearly a half million practitioners. Occult and magical shops have also become very trendy and the general populace has started to believe in the existence of supernatural powers and magic. Since knowledge and personal experience in the occult and metaphysical world is hard to gain and generally hidden to ordinary humans, people have begun to devour books that present a possible fantasy to what they wonder might be on the other side beyond the visible, mundane world with its laws of physics. It is also a return to the child who lives in each of us. Remember when you were a little kid afraid of vampires? Well, in my case I was afraid of Baba Yaga 🙂

No matter what type of fantasy you like, I am sure UF literature offers a good deal of fun and entertainment even to hardcore fans of Wheel of Time or Malazan Book of the Fallen. So, what are you waiting for? Go and grab your own UF novel now!

I Write Because I Must

by Joshua C. Chadd

Why do I write?

This is such a simple question but I don’t think it’ll be a simple answer, so bear with me. I guess, to best explain it I’ll have to go back in time.

A long, long time ago in a frontier far, far away, a little boy grew up in the wilds of Alaska, raised by wolves. Okay, the wolf part isn’t true, but I did grow up at a lodge in the bush of Alaska where I spent my spring/summer/falls with my family. Out there we had no running water, electricity, internet, video games or TV. As you can imagine, growing up with my brother, we had grand adventures outside, because it was the only way to entertain ourselves. I mean when the whole wilderness is your playground, the possibilities are endless! We went on imaginary adventures day after day and sometimes we wouldn’t even come out of character for days on end.

Fast forward to middle school, we were now living in Colorado and introduced to the world of internet and video games. This was a blessing and a curse, because I was familiarized with high fantasy, where before I knew little. Needless to say, I was hooked. Now, instead of playing our “imaginary games” outside, (which we still did at times and I still do today) I began to write. The art of creating with words hooked me, but . . . my English class killed that quickly. Now, I’m not saying all English classes are like this, but mine sucked. Throughout middle school, my urge to write kind of died until I began taking online classes my junior and senior year. My imagination flourished! I began to write more, but then soon stopped again. At that time, I had an addiction to video games that almost caused me to fail school.

After graduating, (yes, I did graduated and quit playing video games . . . mostly) I didn’t write for years as life got in the way. Then I started dating the woman who’d become my wife, and in a moment of vulnerability, I read her my unfinished, VERY unpolished story. She loved it! This was huge and I got another two pages written! Hey, that was a lot at the time, quit laughing. Then it died again as we pursued marriage and finally got married a year later. But that wasn’t the end, oh no, that was just the beginning!

I can still remember our first Christmas. I had no idea what my wife had gotten me, but I hadn’t been allowed into the spare bedroom of our apartment for a few days and I couldn’t imagine why. She opened the door on that Christmas morning and I couldn’t believe my eyes. In the room, against one of the walls, sat a nice wooden desk with odd knick-knacks on it, but the best part was a little book labeled, Joshua’s Book of Writing Inspiration. As I said, my marriage was the beginning of my journey as an author because my wife saw in me this immense desire to write that I had been repressing! She was the catalyst that began me down this road and one of the main things that keeps me going now!

I know, I know, I got away from the question, but I told you this wasn’t going to be a simple answer. As I wrote this, however, I realized it is a simple answer. I write because I must. I don’t have a choice. If I didn’t write, all the worlds and characters contained inside my head would find their own way to break out—and that wouldn’t be pretty. See, writing is not just something I do, it is a part of who I am!

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Surviving “The Grind”


by Andy Peloquin

I’m not a hardcore gamer, but I tend to get lost in the occasional Xbox, PC, or mobile game. My current addiction (as a superhero fan) is a game called “Injustice: Gods Among Us”. Basically, it’s superheroes fighting each other in the style of Tekken, Street Fighter, or Mortal Combat.

With any of this type of game, there is often a good deal of “grinding“—repetition of tedious, often simple tasks for the purpose of “leveling up” or gaining experience/growing more powerful in the game. It may not be the most enjoyable part of the game, but it’s necessary in order to advance in the other aspects. A bit of repetition and tedium contributes to the overall enjoyment of the experience.

That ability to grind has served me well in my creation of stories.

Ask any writer how much “fun” writing is, and the answer will be quite mixed. You’ll get some authors who say that writing is all fun and games because you’re creating something new. Others will tell you that it’s an exhausting, intense, detail-demanding task. Most authors will tell you it’s a combination of the two.

When it comes to writing a book, you don’t just sit down and spill perfectly arranged, magically awesome words onto a page and publish it. You start out by preparing the ground (outlining, a task most “plotters” need before they start writing the book), then you sit down and begin the writing process. But a 120,000-word novel isn’t born overnight. It’s usually created in spurts of 500, 1000, or 2000 words at a sitting.

First-time authors and new writers don’t understand how monotonous and tedious the writing process can be. It’s a daily “grind” to stay in your seat, push past the difficult or slow sections in the novel, or try to figure out some important element that we just can’t seem to get right. And that’s just in the creation process—wait until you get to the fifth draft of the novel, the beta reader feedback, and the final proofreading and editing. By the time I send the book off to be published, I’ve “grinded” for months at it.

But it’s that dedication to repeating the same task over and over that makes any work of art great. Anyone can put a story onto a piece of paper; to make it an amazing story, it takes working and reworking, grinding away until you find the real story you want to tell beneath all the layers of plot, subplot, twists, and reveals.

To be a writer takes a lot of stick-to-it-iveness and the ability to repeat those same tedious tasks day in and out. 500 to 1000 words a day becomes 15,000 to 30,000 words in a month, or 365,000 words in a year. That’s three full-length novels in a year—a pretty good turnout for most authors!

By repeating the same tasks day in and out for years and years, you become a master of your craft. Whether you’re a blacksmith, a car salesman, an accountant, or an author, the ability to “grind” is what makes you great!

Short Story: Clever Girl by Craig Anderson

CLEVER GIRL

by Craig Anderson

Welcome to Mind Chip madam, how may I assist you today?

Sarah glanced around nervously, Is this the place where you sell the brain chips?

The salesman nodded enthusiastically, If you mean the IQ boosting, wireless cognitive enhancement devices then yes, youve come to the right place. Are you looking for something in particular?

A small girl peeked out from behind Sarahs legs, her yellow pigtails tied off with bright pink bows. Sarah gestured to her, “Im looking for something for my daughter. I want to give her the best start in life.

The salesman bent down and held out his hand, Nice to meet you young lady, Im Ben. Whats your name?

When she didnt answer the salesman tried again, Ravi de vous rencontrer jeune femme, je suis Ben.

The young girl stared at him dumbfounded. Sarah leaned over her daughter, “Its ok sweetie, you can say hello.

The little girl clung tightly to her mothers leg as she whispered, “Im Charlotte.”

And how old are you Charlotte?

After a moment to calculate Charlotte proudly announced Five and three quarters.

Ben stood back up, Well its nice to meet you Charlotte. So you want to be smart huh? You could do it the old fashioned way, work hard at school, read lots of books, spend your evenings learning new things. That doesnt sound much fun does it?

Charlotte shook her head, making her pigtails swish around. Ben made a raspberry sound, Thats what I think about that. How about instead of all that, you have one quick, painless operation and youll have access to everything you could ever possibly need to know in the blink of an eye? How does that sound?

Charlotte looked up at Sarah, confusion all over her face. Sarah said, That sounds wonderful. Can you tell me a little more about my options?

Ben placed his hand on Sarahs shoulder, Why yes of course I can, come right this way.He whisked them into the corner of the showroom that was glass and chrome. In a case were tiny black chips slightly larger than a grain of rice. Charlotte immediately rubbed her hands all over the case, leaving smudges everywhere. Sarah did her best to wipe them off but Ben laughed, “Dont worry about that. I see your daughter has excellent taste. Thats the 2025 model, fresh off the production line. State of the art design, 40% smaller which means it only needs a simple injection rather than a more invasive surgery. It has a 30% faster wireless connection which means the requested information is downloaded as fast as you can think it, and this model has real time language conversion into over 200 hundred languages. Låter det inte som en praktisk funktion?

Charlotte drooled. She said, Can I hold it?

Ben glanced at the security guard standing discretely in the corner and nodded. The guard produced a key and opened the case. Ben plucked out a chip. He placed it carefully in Charlottes hand, “Youre holding your future in the palm of your hand. With this chip you can be anything you want to be. The possibilities are endless.

Charlotte wiped her nose with the back of her other hand and promptly dropped the chip on the ground. Bens eyes grew wide and he quickly scooped it off the floor saying, Be careful, thats worth lots of money! Perhaps I will pop it back in the case where its safe, what do you think?

Charlotte shrugged.

Sarah leaned in closer to Ben, Exactly how much is one of these to buy?

This model is a bargain at only $250k madam.

She audibly gasped. It took her a moment to regain her composure, Is there a payment plan?

Bens smile softened at the corners, “Im afraid demand for the newest model is always so high that we dont offer any kind of plan, it is full payment upfront. We do haveother options available. Would you like to see some of our discounted models?

Sarah nodded and Ben ushered them across to the opposite corner of the showroom. The lighting wasnt as bright over here and the display case was scratched and scuffed. He reached in and pulled out a chip the size of a beer mat, This is our 2021 model. Its a little larger, so shed lose more of her organic brain, but we can typically save most of the memories. This model doesnt have the wireless, so you only get whats on the chip. Thats an awful lot of data, but she wouldnt gain access to the latest breakthroughs or world events. Obviously that becomes more of an issue over time. The chip itself is also slower, which causes a slight access delay, but its nothing her pretty little smile couldnt cover up.He reached down to pinch her cheek, but Charlotte scampered back behind her Mothers legs. Sarah said, How much is this one?

Its only $80k and we do offer a payment plan if your credit is approved with a very generous 11.9% interest rate.

Sarahs smile collapsed, I didnt realize these were so expensive. Is there anything else?

Ben reached behind the counter. He retrieved a chip the size of a large coin and said, This is our sponsorship edition 2023 model. This ones refurbished. I can let you have it for the bargain price of $10k.

What do you mean refurbished? Someone else used it?

Ben looked everywhere except at Sarah, Yes, but only briefly. The little boy only used it for a week or so before his parents brought it back. Its been thoroughly sanitized.

Why did they return it?

There was a lengthy pause before Ben said, The sponsorship edition comes with some additional stipulations…”

Such as?

Well, these models are cheaper because companies sponsor them.

Sarah nodded, That doesnt sound so bad.

Right! It just means that the communication is two way.

Two way?

Yeah, so little Charlotte would still get access to the data that she needs, but the companies can see what data shes asking for, what soda shes drinking, her favourite toys, simple things like that. Its all completely anonymous.

Sarah took a step backwards, nudging Charlotte along behind her, “Youre telling me they could read her mind?

Dont think of it as her mind, to them its just an anonymous user. Of course there are also the occasional adverts…”

Adverts!”

Yes, its harmless really, for example if you asked Charlotte where she might like to go for lunch, she may receive some suggested locations from our sponsors. Shes still free to make her own choice, this isnt brain control.

Sarahs voice became considerably louder, Free to make her own choice? Shes five! Youre telling me you want me to put a chip in my daughters head thats been in another childs brain, transmits her thoughts to shady corporations and can suggest to her where to eat and what to buy? Do you think Im some kind of monster!

Ben held up his hands, “Id argue the benefits outweigh the down side. Shell still be miles ahead of where she would be with no chip. If you cant afford a newer model this is your best option.

Sarah huffed, No thank you, well just wait a couple of years for the price to come down.

Ben sucked air in through his teeth, Yeah, about that, youre pretty much at the upper limit of when these chips will take. Were not allowed to install in any kid over six, there have been complications when trying to install the chips in older kids.

Complications? Like what.

Brain death. If I was you Id go with whatever you can afford right now, while you still have a choice. Pretty soon every kid is going to have one of these. What kind of life is that going to be for your daughter? She will be a second class citizen, totally unemployable in all but the most menial jobs.

Sarah stared at the big blue eyes of her gorgeous daughter and said, “Ill need to talk it through with my husband. Maybe we can sell the car.

Thats a very noble sacrifice for you daughters future. Ill be here when youre ready to make a decision. Heres my card if you have any questions.

Well thank you for your time, youve been very helpful.Sarah ushered her daughter out the door.

After a few moments Bens manager walked over, Potential sale?

He shook his head, No, they were time wasters. One day shes going to look back on today and realize it was the moment she should have done whatever it took for her daughter. Its a shame really.

Sarah and Charlotte left the mall and got into the car. The moment the door shut Charlotte jumped around excitedly, I did it Mommy, just like you taught me. Look!She brandished the small black chip that she had so meticulously palmed.

Sarah smiled, “Clever girl!”

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The Tools of the Hawk Trade

by Andy Peloquin

I’ve always been fascinated by the art of picking pockets, lockpicking, and thievery. On more times than I’m willing to admit, I’ve wanted to try lifting someone’s wallet to see if I could. I’ve actually studied how to pick locks (though who among us hasn’t?).

This interest is definitely one of the reasons that my latest novel—Child of the Night Guild—explores the skills and tools needed to survive as a thief.

My main character, Ilanna, belongs to House Hawk, which are third-story thieves (also known as cat burglars). However, she also spends time learning to pick pockets on the streets of the fictional city where she lives. Through her training, she acquires a number of tools that make it possible for her to steal—both from homes and people on the street.

Lockpicks Every burglar needs a set of lockpicks to help them get through exterior and interior door locks, as well as locked cases and shelves. Medieval-era lockpicks were far less durable than modern lockpicks. There are dozens of different types of rakes, picks, and tension tools, each designed for a different type of lock as well as a style of lock-picking.

Leather gloves – The leather gloves used by the thieves aren’t the delicate sort used by Victorian-era women, nor the heavy-duty gloves used by modern construction workers. They were a cross of sorts—the flexibility and versatility of thin leather, but with thicker material used for the palms so thieves could slide down ropes without burning their hands.

Soft-soled boots – When slipping through the bedroom of a sleeping nobleman or walking down a guarded hallway, a thief CANNOT have boot soles that make noise. Soft-soled boots (which are closer to moccasins than proper boots) allow them to move in near-absolute silence. They’re durable and watertight (medieval cities had terrible drainage and sewage disposal systems), but they allow the same flexibility as rock climbing shoes.

Hooded cloak – Contrary to popular opinion, assassins and thieves didn’t wear black to hide in the darkness. Black is a shade darker than “night”, so a person in a black cloak will stand out. Instead, dark or mottled grey was the color of choice. A hood was used to conceal the thief’s features, and to cover the eyes (which reflect light).

Super-light rope – Modern cat burglars use an assortment of climbing equipment and gear to break into homes, but nothing beats good old-fashioned rope. The rope used by House Hawk was alchemically created to be extra-light but as strong as a very thick rope.

Finger-knifeThe finger-knife was worn by pickpockets and used to slice the drawstrings of a purse. In medieval times, pockets were uncommon, and leather purses (moneybags) were attached to the belt by the drawstrings. The finger-knife is an easily concealed weapon that comes in handy when performing the “bump” (bumping against a mark and using the body contact to steal their belongings) or “snatch” (stealing without making contact).

Dagger – Every thief needs a dagger for protection. Plus, in medieval times, daggers were the all-purpose tools used for eating and working. Everyone owned belt daggers—many crude, but all functional.

To read more about Ilanna and her fellow thieves, check out Child of the Night Guild.

James E. Wisher’s Top 10 Fantasy Series

by James E. Wisher

10. The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind: I suspect this will be the most polarizing choice of this post so I thought I’d start with it. I enjoyed this series both for its take on magic and the main character’s personality. The action scenes were well done as was the character development. Whatever you may think about the author, the story was engaging and well written.

9. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling: This series had to be included for its sheer impact on pop culture. Very few people will fail to get a Harry Potter reference. The story gets deeper and better with every book.

8. Night Angel by Brent Weeks: I absolutely loved this series. The Night Angel stories are the sort of books I aim to write myself. Fast paced, lots of action, engaging characters. I read the omnibus edition, which is close to 1000 pages, in three days. I think that says it all right there.

7. The Black Company by Glen Cook: I’m not sure if Military Fantasy is a genre, but if it is the Black Company books are the best examples of it you’ll find. The most important aspect of the books is the interplay between the members of the company. After a while you start to believe these are real people. I can’t think of a better compliment.

6. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan: This series is one of the few that I thought might have benefited from being shorter. The first few books are amazing, some of the best written fantasy you’ll find, but as the series progresses the pace slows down and it becomes repetitive. Brandon Sanderson did a fantastic job finishing the series after Jordan died.

5. A Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin: I love this series. The only reason it isn’t higher is because of the pace at which Martin puts out his books. Waiting years between releases is torture and that’s a fine compliment to his writing. Now hurry up and finish the damn series. I need to know what happens.

4. Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson: The first book of this series introduces one of my all time favorite characters, fantasy or otherwise, Whiskeyjack. The world weary soldier determined to do right by his men grabbed me from the moment I met him and held through the whole series.

3. The Dark Elf Series by R. A. Salvator: Ask any fantasy fan to name a dark elf and the first one you’ll hear, 9 times out of 10, is Drizzt. His conflict and desire to overcome the evil nature of his race creates a compelling story across over twenty books. I’ve read them all and while I prefer the earlier stories, they’re all great.

2. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien: The story that basically created the epic fantasy genre as we know it today. No list of fantasy novels could fail to mention it. It’s simply the most important story in the genre.

1. The Shannara Series by Terry Brooks: This is the series that made me want to be a writer. The Sword of Shannara is the first fantasy novel I ever read back in ninth grade. It made me fall in love with stories and want to write my own. For that reason it’s number one on my list.

Thanks for reading.

If you’d like to learn more about me and my books you can visit http://www.jamesewisher.com

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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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