Category Archives: Finding Inspiration

An Author’s influence

by Aiki Flinthart

I doubt anyone would argue that the pen is mighty, indeed. Ok, it has to be pretty pointy to actually, physically draw blood, but even the bluntest nib, if wielded well, can pierce a metaphorical heart. So how much responsibility can – or should – authors take for the direction of society and the thoughts of the people who read our books?

It’s true that authors spend a vast amount of time and emotional energy worrying about whether readers will like the book. But, instead of manically treasuring reviews that bolster our own self-belief, we should be worrying about how our words affect what readers think about THEMSELVES.

As a child, books opened worlds of possibility to me. They banished naivete, revealed people’s motivations, explored the evils of power and the joys of love. I grew up in a small, regional area of North Queensland, Australia. My brother and I didn’t have a lot of companions nearby, so books were vital windows to a larger world; several worlds.

They broadened our understanding of what we could do, where we could go. One of my teenage dreams was to be the first geologist on Mars. (Then I discovered how horribly motion sick I get and the loss of that dream was a bitter disappointment. I had seen myself in space through Heinlen, Asimove and countless other author’s eyes.)

It didn’t even matter that most of the protagonists I read were male and I was a girl. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be an astronaut, or a extra-terrestrial geologist, or the pilot of a fighter space-ship. Magic was a little harder to envisage myself doing, but it didn’t stop me hoping that, one day, I’d suddenly develop telepathic abilities. I still hope that, if I’m honest.

Science Fiction & Fantasy tends towards the Hero’s Quest style of story – with epic battles between Good and Evil. Star Wars the original movie was a classic example. A child growing up on a diet of SFF is being exposed to awareness of how to be a Good Person, over and over. Every time the flawed hero makes the right choice at the end and defeats Evil, the neural pathways around those ideas is strengthened. The reader feels satisfied that Good has triumphed.

They take that satisfaction and that awareness into their own lives and apply it – sometimes only in small ways – to their own goals and obstacles. Maybe they just query the overcharge on a bill instead of avoiding conflict. Or maybe they rally friends to stand up to a despotic government.

The point is, the idea to stand up for what’s right; the idea of what’s right in the first place…that comes not only from parents and society, but from what we read and watch.

None of this is new information, I realise. But as this world rushes on its headlong pace towards apparent self-destruction, it occurs to me that authors have an obligation to influence peoples’ thoughts.


We need more hopeful, solution-focussed SFF stories. We’ve been subsisting on dystopian and broken-world fiction for a long time and we’re starting to live it: environmental destruction; rampant consumerism; emotional isolation. While there is some resistance to stupidity-in-power, the vast majority of people are still mired in apathy. Still thinking that ‘they’ will fix things.

“They” won’t. The millions of readers have to.

The world runs on ideas. Ideas come from brains exposed to thought-provoking moral quandaries. Science Fiction and Fantasy is utterly brilliant at exploring those fictional dilemmas and coming up with fictional solutions.

The kids now need solutions. They need authors who can open minds and hearts to possibilities. They need hope. They need ideas.

It’s our job to use our crazy imaginations to show them worlds that are better than this one, so they can become the engineers and scientists who make those ideas real.

Then it’s the readers’ jobs to get off their asses and live the heroic fantasies they’ve been reading all their lives.

Aiki Flinthart writes YA Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her latest book is Shadows Wake – YA urban fantasy.

She has been shortlisted in the Writers of the Future competition and the Australian Aurealis Speculative Fiction awards.

She can be found here:

Follow her on twitter: @aikiflinthart

Instagram: AikiFlinthart


5 Kick Ass Women Warriors in Japanese History Who Fought in Battles

by K. Bird Lincoln

Part of what drew me to women warriors in Japan is that Japan has had very rigid, traditionally defined gender characteristics and roles for long periods in its history. Yet when I first encountered Onnagatta actors (boys/men who play women characters in the 1600’s) and Okama entertainers (transvestite or transsexual TV stars) I was surprised by how Japanese society accepted a chosen gender as long as the person abided by those rigid stereotypes.

The men are treated as women. The very rigidness of how to dress, how to speak, how to act actually seemed like a framework that allowed the men to be women in society’s eyes.

I was fascinated to see if the opposite held true. Could women also be accepted in a man’s gender role? Historically, there have been many women in Japanese history who picked up a sword, but that didn’t necessarily make them men. And to this day, the famous Takarazuka actresses who play male roles retain a sense of their femaleness.

But in creating my main characters in Tiger Lily, I wanted to delve into the lives of women, who born according to the twelve-year cycle zodiac calendar in the Tiger year, express their gender in unconventional ways. Here are some of the most famous historical women warriors in Japanese History that inspired me.

Empress Jingu

As the wife of an emperor sometime around 160-260 AD, Jingu has some historical legitimacy, although her exploits as regent after her husband died are somewhat in the legendary category. Apparently after taking power around 200 A.D, she invaded the Korean kingdom of Silla, starting a long-standing troublesome relationship between historical Korea and Japan. She’s depicted as a warrior and shamaness, using both sword and her ocean-controlling divine jewels to invade Korea. Jingu’s legend is intricately tied up with Japanese Nationalism, so it’s hard to tell what’s legend and what’s propaganda, but along with Himiko, who we’re not touching upon here, she’s one of the foremothers of women warriors in Japan.

Hangaku Gozen and Tomoe Gozen

These two women warriors (onna-musha or onna bugeisha) lived around the same time period but weren’t related. Tomoe is the more famous of the two, and noted in the famous 12th Century chronicle of battles called the Heike Monogatari. She is depicted artistically as wearing battle armor, was famed for her horsemanship and archery, and considered extremely brave. She went into battle for her master/lover Minamoto Yoshinaka with a sword, not just the traditional female bladed pole naginata.

She is also described as being beautiful, so despite her leading battles and wearing armor, she still was seen as primarily female. There is controversy over how her life ended. Some say she was forcibly married to another warrior, some that she was beheaded, and another that she died a nun. Tomoe has been immortalized in anime, videogames, movies, and books, including a historical science-fiction-fantasy trilogy written by Jessica Salmonson, titled The Tomoe Gozen Saga.

Hangaku Gozen rode into battle with naginata and bow with her nephew during the Kennin Uprising against the main military government in Kamakura. She led 3000 against a force of 10,000 warriors. Hangaku is said to have been ‘fearless as a man and beautiful as a flower’, so despite her male leadership role, history cast her into a female role. Her ending quite firmly teaches her a lesson about females daring to get mixed up with political battles: married off to an enemy warrior after she is wounded and taken prisoner by the Kamakura military government.

Nakano Takeko

Here we have our first entirely historical woman warrior who fought on the losing side of the Boshin War. Although not officially allowed to join the fight, Nakano teamed up with 20 other women, including her mother and sister, and formed a counter-attack to break the siege on her castle. She killed 5 enemy soldiers before taking a fatal bullet to the chest. But here’s where she doubled down on her kick-assery: fearful the enemy would take her head as a trophy and she might risk disgracing her family even in death, she asked her sister to cut off her head and bury it.

Rui Sasaki

Rui was a sword instructor in the mid-17th century. Although a known female, she would walk around town in men’s clothing and her hair in an unfeminine style on her way to her martial arts school. She would occasionally tangle with sword-wielding hoodlums. This got around, and apparently wasn’t considered the appropriate behavior for the daughter of a samurai. This meant certain authorities made it their business to find a husband to keep her in line.

So there you have 5 really kick-ass women warriors in Japanese history. None of them were able to shed their femaleness completely even when going into battle—and several of them experienced the subjugation of a husband figure to firmly put them back into their less powerful, female place. But their legacy of strength and honorable resolve is one I hope informs my characters who also have to find ways to battle despite not quite fitting into the rigid lines of what females should be—whether shamaness or warrior.

K. Bird Lincoln is an ESL professional and writer living on the windswept Minnesota Prairie with family and a huge addiction to frou-frou coffee. Also dark chocolate– without which, the world is a howling void. Originally from Cleveland, she has spent more years living on the edges of the Pacific Ocean than in the Midwest. Her speculative short stories are published in various online & paper publications such as Strange Horizons. Her first novel, Tiger Lily, a medieval Japanese fantasy, is available from Amazon. Her debut Urban Fantasy, Dream Eater, was published in April 2017 by World Weaver Press. She also writes tasty speculative and YA fiction reviews on Goodreads, ponders breast cancer, chocolate, and fantasy on her What I Should Have Said blog and hangs out on Facebook.

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.



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!


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!

How Location Creates Stories (Venice)

by A.L. Knorr

The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice (1730)
by Canaletto

I moved to Italy (by accident, but that’s a story for another time) in June of 2015, and since then, one of the things people at home are most curious about is what it’s like to live and work there. When I first arrived, I had stars in my eyes, just like anyone who steps into the Italian life for a short time. The Italy in the imagination of someone who has never been there is an Italy of fantastic works of art, thousand-year-old churches, fine cheese and wine, and villas built into cliff faces over teal seas. That is all true. Whatever your taste, Italy can meet expectations. But after a time you begin to notice other, not so obvious, traits of the culture which could easily feed the appetite of an author looking to create conflict and tie in elements of the supernatural and fantastical. Italy is rife with conflict, danger, corruption, not to mention a rich history of unexplained and paranormal events. Rich ground for a storyteller.

Specifically, it was living in Venice for 8 months that yanked the rip-cord on my creativity and led to a work called Born of Fire. The story is a fantasy about a young woman who goes through an intense and dangerous elemental transformation. I had the idea for the story for a while, but the setting for it didn’t materialize until I spent time walking the canals and islands of Venezia. At first, I rejected the idea of setting it in Venice, after all, it is a city built on water, how could I possibly tie it into the element of fire? But as I toured the Palace of the Doge, visited underground prison cells, the bridge of sighs, and walked the uneven marble floors of the basilica and saw the true cost of building on top of a lagoon, I learned that Venice had a torrential relationship with fire and many boroughs had been completely destroyed by it. I was surprised by this, the city appears not only to be surrounded by water but to be made of stone, which doesn’t burn easily.

In actuality, the stone faces of the beautiful architecture in Venice are a facade. Underneath is brick, which is lighter and keeps the building from sinking but is also much more flammable. There were so many deadly fires that by the mid-sixteenth century, the Venetian government moved all of the glass-blowers along with their dangerous ovens north to the island of Murano. I suddenly had a relationship between fire and Venice. A setting for Born of Fire had been found and with the selection of a setting, so much of the story just fell together. I hope that, in addition to enjoying a fantasy story about a girl who finds herself in desperate need to take control of the fire raging inside her, readers who have never visited Venice will also feel like they’ve been transported to one of the most unique cities in the world.

You can check out A.L. Knorr’s books here.