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SPFBO 2018 Open Letter

An open letter to fantasy fans everywhere

We are the finalists of the 2018 Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, also known as SPFBO 2018. The contest has brought us together from across the globe and the far-flung corners of our favorite genre to celebrate speculative fiction and the possibilities of self-publishing.

We believe that independent publishing is a force for good in our industry. The direct connection between authors and their fans yields greater choice for readers, drives new business models for writers, and helps create new audiences for books. That’s especially true in fantasy, where new subgenres and tropes are rising up thanks to self-published authors and their fans. Independent authors are working alongside traditional publishers and authors to create a bigger, better, and more inclusive fantasy community.

If you’re looking for evidence of the quality and creativity available from independent authors, look no further than our fellow contestants in SPFBO 2018. Many of the judges this year have remarked on the great quality of books they’ve encountered, and the challenge of whittling down their entries to one finalist. Whether you want something epic or intimate, funny or frightening, grim or uplifting, there’s a fantasy book for you among this year’s SPFBO. We encourage you to find it.

To that end, we will take this time to draw attention to some fantastic books cut from this year’s competition. Over the next week, many of us will highlight some of the deserving fantasy novels of SPFBO 2018. It’s a chance to salute other indie authors who could have easily been signing this letter had the die been cast differently. Please consider giving them a shot, or any other entry that caught your eye. When the genre grows, we all win.

In closing, we’d like to thank the indomitable Mark Lawrence for founding this amazing competition and for his continued efforts to highlight independent fantasy authors. We’d also like to thank the contest organizers and judges for their hard work, thoughtful reviews, and consummate professionalism. And finally, we’d like to thank fantasy readers everywhere, without whom we could not pursue our shared passion. This wonderful community makes it all possible, and for that we are forever grateful.

Megan Crewe (www.megancrewe.com)
Angie Grigaliunas (https://www.angiesquill.com/)
Barbara Kloss (www.barbarakloss.com )
Patrick LeClerc (www.inkandbourbon.com)
Devin Madson (www.devinmadson.com)
Steven McKinnon ( www.stevenmckinnon.net )
J. Zachary Pike ( www.jzacharypike.com )
Craig Schaefer (http://craig-schaefer-v2.squarespace.com/)
Mike Shel (https://www.mikeshel.com/ )
Keith Ward (keithwardfiction.com)

When impatience gets ugly

Is it all right to be angry that the release date for the new Song of Ice and Fire book has been pushed back? Again.

I get it, I do. People have been reading and following and adoring this series for longer than some young adults have even been ALIVE. Then the TV series came along and it got even more popular and the knowledge that the TV show will end before the book series is like a slap in the face to some long time fans. But does that make it ok to rant and storm about the man being lazy or wasting too much time blogging?

Blogging? Seriously? Even a non-reader can surely appreciate that blogging and writing deep, complex fiction from multiple points of view are two very different things. A lot of authors use their blog like angsty teenagers use their diaries, it’s a relatively safe space in which they can talk about what interests them and just generally let off steam like a REAL PERSON. If you’re not an author you might not appreciate that we spend an awful lot of time ALONE, struggling with the angst of self-doubt (doesn’t matter how popular you are, it doesn’t go away) ALONE, grinding away at our stories like they are sculptures in marble. ALONE. Did I mention we do it alone? Anyone who has met me will attest that I talk A LOT once you get me going and that’s because I don’t get to do it very much. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, chat apps – these are our social outlet. You may as well complain about the words he wastes on his damn shopping list. I bet he writes plenty of emails, perhaps even personal letters, birthday cards, he probably fills in forms too because life isn’t getting lighter on red tape.

Another thing is that you need to stop thinking about writing as a jigsaw puzzle. A series, especially one this long, doesn’t get easier to write as things move toward the eventual climax. It gets harder. MUCH harder. When you’re writing a first book everything is possible, no characters or events are locked into place yet, you don’t even have to have a complete idea of where the story is going or what each of the character’s fate will be. Then the second book is a bit harder because now some things are locked into place, you’ve introduced characters and now have to ensure they remain interesting and make steps toward achieving, or not achieving, their goals, and you have to consider the ramifications of any new direction on the books coming later. In a lot of ways the second last book is the hardest of all because you have to build to a point just below the full climax, holding it all together and be sure, VERY SURE, that everything is laid and in place for the ending to come after else we’re shifting into pulling-it-out-of-your-arse territory.

And as Neil Gaiman said very eloquently over here many years ago, (and John Anealio put brilliantly to music), George RR Martin is not your bitch. Buying the first book of a series is NOT a contract. In paying your money (or paying nothing and borrowing it from the library) you are getting nothing more and nothing less than the joy of reading THAT BOOK. It is natural to expect there will be more books in a series, that it will one day be complete and you will get your closure, but that first book is no guarantee, no contract, just a book.

No matter how much you want to see A Song of Ice and Fire finished, you do not want it finished more than George RR Martin wants it finished. He is not wasting time. He is not being lazy. He is diligently working away at what is surely an excruciatingly difficult project.



To Read List #1

I’m one of those people who always has a pile of books to read. It used to sit on my bedside table, but it was hard to sleep with them all there glaring at me for not reading all night. So I’ve moved it to a shelf in the sunroom. But it’s still there… glaring at me when I go past…

So I’ve decided to acknowledge their presence in the hope they might stop glaring at me.

Here they are: Books I’m planning to read in the next few months and if I don’t they’ll be cranky with me and smother might me in my sleep.


Currently reading

Eyre Affair This has to be the oddest book I’ve read for ages. It ended up on my reading pile because Chris and I decided to choose a book for each other to read this year, and this is the one he added to my pile.

Alternative history… mystery adventure… rambling plot full of clever literary references… really not sure what to make of it yet, but I’ll get back to you when I finish.




Amber Isle


The Amber Isle is a recent fantasy novella by Ashley Capes. I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Fairy Wren last year, and The City of Masks before that, so now I’m working through the rest of his catalogue. Beautiful writing and he releases so much material I am JEALOUS. Definitely worth reading his stuff, though obviously I can’t vouch for this one yet I’m sure it will stand up to the usual standard.



The Third Book on my pile… I mean shelf… 



Daughter of Smoke and Bone is something I’m reading because people keep telling me it’s awesome. Usually this is a reason why I don’t read things (no kidding, I’m weird, didn’t read Harry Potter until I was 18 because everyone kept telling me I had to because it was awesome – but that’s a whole other story). So maybe that’s why it’s been out for years and I’m only just getting around to it now. Anyhow, leant to me by my oldest and bestest of friends, so I had better hurry up and get it back to her…


Fourth but not least…

Under Heaven


I’m really looking forward to this one. Not that I’m not looking forward to all the others, but Guy Gavriel Kay holds a special place in my heart and upon our shelves. A favourite author of both Chris and I. I started River of Stars and was loving it until I realised I’d skipped ahead, and while you don’t have to read them in order, Under Heaven actually came first. Damn. Anyhow, so here I am, catching up properly – in the right order – like a good girl.




There are plenty more books on my shelf waiting to be read, but I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. I have kids. I write. I cook. I taxi to karate and ballet and hip hop…. I can’t wait until my kids can drive. Or at least don’t want me to watch every moment of their itsy bitsy ballet class.


Yes, you read that right – audiobooks! This year The Vengeance Trilogy will be brought to life by the magic of the spoken word.

I have listened to audiobooks for as long as I can remember, beginning with Wind in the Willows and Lego Fabuland before progressing to Terry Pratchett and Georgette Heyer as a teenager when audiobooks became the only way I could get to sleep. I’ve listened to them on long drives, when painting the house, when cleaning, in the shower – you get the picture. I love audiobooks. So to have my books available in the format is one of those dreams that has been kicking around for a long time, but now it is actually happening.

During the week Chris (my awesome partner in crime… and parenthood) and I set up a home sound studio. For the initial test this involved a shotgun mic set up in a pillow fort made out of our couch. Classy, huh? The final set up will be rather more professional, but the quality of the first test was really impressive given how funny it must have looked to passing kangaroos. (No one walks past our house.) From here the test material will go through post production, which looks something like this:


Audition pic


And then some. There’s a lot of technicality I don’t understand, things like audio compression and breath minimisation and blah blah blah my brain shut down, but for those who are interested Chris might well post more about it at some stage. Until then stay tuned for samples and updates about this exciting development.

I mean…. audiobooks! Squeeeeeeee! *Excited*







#GamerGate, John Grisham and WTF?!

I’m a fantasy author, so I spend my fair share of time hooked onto the internet – both for work and as the source of the majority of my writerly and fangirly socialising time. It’s a truly amazing and inspiring place, encouraging, amusing and fun, as well as an endless source of knowledge and research about how far blood spurts from a decapitated head. And then stuff like this happens…

GamerGate. It’s not mandatory that fantasy authors are also gamers, but in this case it’s true. I’ve been a gamer since I could stretch my fingers to the keys as a kid – Commander Keen, Monkey Island, many an afternoon networking Duke 3D and Doom 2 with my brother and my dad. Pharaoh, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and Need for Speed as a teenager, on into Final Fantasy, MMOs, Assassin’s Creed, Portal, and anything produced by Bioware. I’m a gamer. I’m a woman. Do I think women face harassment from the gaming community? You bet we do. Do I think female developers have a rough time, especially if they try to speak out in favour of equality and positive representation for women in media? Hell yes. It takes a lot of courage to speak up and stick your neck out as a woman, BUT … and there is always a but … that isn’t really what the #GamerGate fiasco is about anymore, as little as it’s about ethics in journalism.



Humans are naturally tribal, it’s the way we work and the reason why racism exists – as in what we look like is the easiest way to differentiate “them and us”. The same thing applies to sexuality, gender and any other situation that polarises people. It is part of our social conditioning that we pick sides in a divorce, make rude comments about the supporters of certain sports teams that aren’t our own, and stringently defend our choice of political ideology (you know, all the things that shouldn’t be brought up at a dinner party if you want everyone to get along). Because they are team choices, picking sides, them and us – “If you’re not with us, you’re against us”. And often there is no rational discussion, just a response of anger that someone dares to challenge your belief or choice. We don’t like to be wrong, and in fact we are fast fostering a society where the very WORST thing we can ever be, is wrong. Being wrong or making a mistake immediately gets you crucified.

John Grisham is the latest example of this. Here is a well-known and well-respected author and lawyer with a history of campaigning for changes to the US criminal justice system. In the interview that blew up over the internet he was talking about over-criminalisation – the fact that there are a lot of people in jail, in the US especially, who really don’t deserve to be there and that other options should be put in place to deal with petty crime. He also touched on the racial bias of drug charges. All in all he was making very relevant points about important subjects that need to be discussed. He then told a story about a friend who ended up in prison for three years on charges related to viewing child pornography and, especially when taken out of context, all the following quotes became damnable. But he was still making a good point worthy of being heard, he just chose his words poorly and we as a society piled on and hacked him to pieces without mercy, without taking a moment to consider the intention behind the statements. Because:

1) “Famous author supports child pornography” makes better news and generates more clicks than “Famous author campaigns for change to the US justice system”


2) It feeds our “OMG he’s wrong, throw rocks at him” tribalism.

And that brings me back to #GamerGate. I skimmed through a tonne of bile on twitter yesterday with this hashtag, but it wasn’t one sided. Yes the rape and death threats and the misogyny is fairly one sided, but the anti-GG peeps are as stringent and venomous in defence of their team as the pro-GG peeps. And most of the people, individuals and news reporters alike, haven’t bothered to research the primary material and find out what is really going on, they are just picking a side and starting to sling mud pies. Exactly like what happened to John Grisham. Deliberate editing and selective reporting of the issue meant that the hardly anyone has actually read the quote in context let along the whole interview.

I was all ready to get furious about these issues – and I am angry that female gamers and game developers have to put up with ridiculous amounts of hatred from the online community – but more than anything I am just sad that this is fast becoming ‘normal’ behaviour. It is no great surprise when our beliefs are constantly reinforced by our social groups. We tend to befriend those with similar views and end friendships over disagreements. This is especially true of social media where we ‘like’ things we agree with, ‘unfriend’ people who post things we don’t like, and skim the rest. It’s making us selectively tolerant and sapping our empathy, because even the pro-GamerGaters are real people with real feelings and real problems, and responding to their internet-spilled bile with anger isn’t right either. Nor is it likely to work. Anger makes people defensive and closes their minds. There are always going to be those whose minds you cannot change no matter what you do or say, but if you don’t respond with respect and patience, what are your chances of getting respect and patience in return?



Co.lab 2013 (Throwback Thursday #3)

Around this time last year I was struggling to write words, a pretty foreign concept when I usually struggle to stem them. This was a blank page mocking me with its over-bright pixels, white, empty. I couldn’t even scroll to lessen the amount of white at the bottom of the page – a habit I fall into whenever I’m feeling threatened by my own work. What I did have was a picture of a painting, a painting done by an amazing local artist to which it was my job to attach words for the purpose of an exhibition.




This long unusual piece of art was challenging me, as the whole idea was challenging me to decide what sort of writer I was. Fantasy author, for sure, but was there more to me than that? Now as I was hunting around for old work for the purpose of a throwback thursday, thinking I might find some interesting way in which my writing has matured, I came across the piece I eventually wrote in a flurry of spewed emotion. So read on for a taste of something a bit different. I’m still not 100% sure I like it, but the artist liked it very much and the exhibition was a success, so that’s a win. For me it’s a win to put myself out of my comfort zone in the first place!



In Air I Drown

He breaks me. Every word another cut. Every snarl another bruise upon the flesh of life. I used to think that life was a journey, a path from one garden to the next, from the daisies of childhood into the prickly thorns and passions of the adolescent rose garden. Adulthood a sunny moor. Old age, a misty vista scented with lavender like the soap in my grandmother’s bathroom.

When did I change? When did that journey become a trial, a struggle to walk another step? Now with every gasping breath I drown in air.

He turns away. He always does. Tears fall from the crinkled corners of his eyes, but they are not tears for me.

I think of the gardens. Daisies, wild and yellow, scattered through the soft grass, dancing and bobbing their little heads so happily. Perhaps it was a dream. Perhaps the grass was scratchy and the sky grey, the echo of a scream on the breeze that wafted cigarette smoke past my nose, acrid and stale. Perceptions.

“That’s a big word,” he would jeer. “Did you learn that at your fancy school?”

Yes, I think now, as I stare at the scratchy beard piercing his pale skin. I did.

That was in the rose garden. A strange place full of odd pitfalls it was, where one day a rose would bloom, its red petals plump and fragrant, only for it to wither at a touch and turn to thorns. That was when the questions changed. I stopped asking why the grass was green and started asking what was wrong with me. I don’t look like the girl on the cover of the magazine. She has blonde hair and long legs, hairless, spotless, smooth, her glossy grin seeming to mock me with her superiority. If that is what a girl is supposed to look like, am I a Martian? Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. It’s a load of bullshit, but sometimes I wonder. Mars was the god of war.

He is yelling through the tears. Spit flies from his lips, that pale skin reddened and blotchy. I don’t hear the words, not the words he is saying. They are always the same ones. Should not. Will not. It is all my fault. His face is so red. Does a demon live beneath that skin?

“Do you think you’re better than me?”

He says those words a lot. My sunny moor is filled with weeds. Blackened bracken rises from the ground like twisting hands, grasping, desperate. It catches at my legs. I fall. I bruise. Every part of me aches, but the pain in limb is nothing to the pain in my heart. He has blocked out the sun. Seething, fists gripped into tight punches, I might never see the misty vista scented with lavender.

My grandmother had smiled.

I don’t.

“Yeah? You think you’re better than me?”

Yes. The thought slips out. Even in my head it’s dangerous and my eyes dart to those crushing fists. Yes.

“Just ‘cos of your rich family and your fancy house?”

No. You taught me to be worthless. But I don’t want to die. I want to see the sun again.

He is clutching his hair as though I am driving him mad. Perhaps he is mad. In the morning he will be different. The words will change. There will be love amid the blame, his fingers capable of a gentle touch as they ghost across darkening bruises and broken skin.

“Don’t leave,” he will beg. But I’ve listened to that voice too many times. I don’t want to drown gasping my daily breath. I want to see the sun again. “Stay.”

No. I will not let you break me.