5 Reasons Realm Makers: 2015 Will Be the Best Conference Yet

Gluehbirne_1_dbWe have big dreams over here on the Realm Makers Advisory Board. When you get us together, the ideas are always flowing, and the challenge is often choosing between the best ideas and only biting off slightly more than we can chew.
We’ve come a long way since the last time we were at UMSL for the 2013 conference. We’re tracking to set a new record for attendance, we’ve upgraded the catering to eliminate the need for midday shuttles, and we’re prepared to offer you a whole new level of content than we have in any conference before this year’s.
If you’re wondering what we have brewing that’s new for 2015, here’s a run-down of the most significant changes we’ve made. Continue reading

Speculative Fiction and Genre Mashing (by Toi Thomas)

file000341456511I think we all here have a pretty good grasp on what we think speculative fiction is, but what about genre mashing?

Genre Mashing: Not a technical term, but quite simply defined as a collaboration of two or more genres. It differs from speculative fiction in that it’s not limited in which genres obtain the major influence of these works. An example of a genre mash might be a historical romance detective thriller.

Many have taken to think of science fiction, fantasy, and horror as being siblings of the speculative fiction household, which I think is quite nice. As far as I know, there is no such umbrella term for other closely related genres. So when other genres get together, I call it a genre mash, and when all those other genres get together with the spec-fic family, I call it a good time. Then there are the added ingredients of faith values and religious influences. I personally am excited about the growth of what some are calling speculative faith fiction, but I guess that’s all in how you look at it (a topic for another day).

Even though I think it’s a good time, there are some dangers to genre mashing.

As a writer, it can be pretty tricky developing a story that flows naturally when combining genres that differ greatly. You have to stretch the limits of your skills to give each genre it is due respect while allowing the story to shine and feel organic. Here’s a few tips:

  • One way to help with this would be to consider the reason for your particular genre mash. Are you putting these genres together just to be edgy or does it really all apply to story you want to tell?
  • You should research other stories and authors who’ve written stories with that particular genre mash to see what worked and what didn’t work. Get your beta readers involved, and experiment with different techniques.
  • It’s always good to know your audience. You don’t want to alienate fans of one genre in order to reach another. Do lots of homework and market research to figure out how best to present this genre mash to multiple audiences. Conduct polls and offer samples and ask for feedback.
  • Have fun with the whole process. If you’re not enjoying the process of developing your genre mash, odds are readers aren’t going to enjoy reading it.

Consider this: a work of paranormal fiction, but with heavy science fiction and a smidge of horror influences, might be right at home under the speculative fiction umbrella. However, if there is also a very strong love and romance theme that drives much of the story forward, it would definitely be a genre mash.

I’m currently working on my own speculative faith fiction series with influences from Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, The Holy Bible, Beauty and the Beast, Brave New World, and so much more. How could this not be a genre mash?

I’d love to know your thought on genre. Consider taking my poll: Does Genre Matter?

What are some of your favorite Speculative Fiction Stories?

Do you make the distinction of Speculative Faith Fiction or is it all the same to you?

 

Toi2Author Bio:

A self-proclaimed techie and foodie, Toi Thomas was born in Texas, but considers Virginia to be home. She enjoys reading, cooking, baking, painting, collecting vinyl records, and spending time with her family. Currently working as a special education teacher’s assistant while blogging and writing fulltime, Toi finds comfort and peace of mind in chocolate, green tea, and naps. For some reason, Toi admits has escaped her, she married a frat boy who has continued to be her best friend and love of her life. She and her husband are now tackling video production and Comicons to promote the release of her second novel, Eternal Curse: Battleground. Visit The ToiBox of Words to learn more about Toi and her writing.

Dare to Compare (by G.L. Francis)

This is not an eulogy, nor is it a book review. It’s ruminations on what makes one milieu, the characters, and their conflicts in it thrive while another falters.

This year on March 12th, a world-builder died. Sir Terry Pratchett, creator of the Discworld and author of 41 novels set in that milieu, plus short stories, graphic novel adaptations, film adaptations, and Discworld guidebooks. His books sold over 80 million copies and were translated into 37 languages (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discworld). He must have done something right.

Large and small details bring the Discworld’s strangeness (this is a magical world even with its sciences and pseudo-sciences) to vivid and humorous life. There’s familiarity in the milieu as well as in the characters and their interaction with their world and each other. For all the ways Sir Terry parodied and punned and put ballet shoes on clichés so they pirouetted in the stories, there were observations and truths sprinkled throughout. His characters and their behaviors are recognizably human even when they’re not humans.

Yet, the stories could happen nowhere else, and the characters inextricably mesh with their world. Sir Terry isn’t the only author to accomplish this level of character/milieu interweaving, especially in a series. Anne McCaffrey (Pern), Stephen King (Dark Tower), and Frank Herbert (Dune) are among many who have done this, too.

But Sir Terry’s passing occurred not long after I’d read another book, Christian speculative fiction, (not naming author or title, but I’ll call it Book Askew) that struck me wrong though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was awry at first. Timing made me think about the differences between Book Askew and the many Discworld novels I’d read.

I cut my reading teeth in an era when there was no division between Christian and mainstream fiction. I’ve read widely in every genre even though speculative is my favorite. But I also read critically, so when a work―Christian or secular―can’t stand shoulder to shoulder with some of mainstream’s best, I try to figure out why.

Book Askew’s characters were not fully part of their own unique world. As thorough as their bios obviously were, they came across as late 20th/early 21st century WASPs cosplaying in a milieu where they should’ve been immersed. Their world, their culture, their history (including personal histories sprinkled in as facts they related to each other) seemed to have little effect on them. Dress them in the garb of another time or milieu and they would still be 20th/21st century WASPs. The author created them but didn’t allow them life within the context of their world, little more than vehicles for sometimes snappy (but more often sappy) dialog.

Compare this with any Discworld novel. The characters are not only immersed in the milieu but are also affected by everything in it. Each character, however major or minor, has been intimately shaped by the Discworld’s past and present, by its geography, and by its cultures.

Remember the adage that without conflict there is no story? In the Discworld, it’s in more than one main plot line and 2-3 subplots. Every major character struggles with internal, interpersonal, intercultural, interspecies, interreligious, and other conflicts, layer upon layer for a richly realized milieu. Main characters strive with at least a dozen conflicts in conjunction with or in opposition to another character’s conflict array.

This intricacy takes the Discworld stories beyond basic protagonist/antagonist encounters, the good and the bad clearly aligned against each other. When a character has as many conflicts about self, family, allies, and world as there are about enemies, the story and milieu develops a reality of its own and defies formula.

But it does something else as well.

Consider this. We realize we live next door to someone strikingly like Fred Colon or Nanny Og. Leonard of Quirm’s incarnation was one of our teachers in high school. We’ve survived eating Dibbler’s fare and probably bought a few of his questionable wares. We suspect a government official is really the Chair of Indefinite Studies. Vetinari could’ve been modeled after our employer (difficult but preferable to the Lord Snapcase boss we once had).We work with a Ponder Stibbons techno-nerd. A cousin could pass for Knobby Nobs in all but perhaps appearance, and we’re certain a sibling is the mental doppelgänger of Detritus.

The people we know haven’t changed because we’ve added a defining name or vocabulary for them in our own minds. Rather, we gained a fresh perspective and a little understanding. No matter how fantastic the Discworld is, even as it entertains, it also illuminates much about our own world―our real milieu―and our relationships with it and with each other. Perhaps even about ourselves.

And isn’t that what the best stories should do? 

Thank you for the Discworld, Sir Terry. RIP

DIGITAL CAMERAAuthor bio:

G.L. Francis is Midwest writer, consulting editor, artist, tinker, and jane-of-many-trades with way too many interests. Her short story collectionLeyfarers and Wayfarers and speculative poetry collection Under Every Moon showcases a variety of world-building aspects.

I don’t know whether you actually post links to works  but here’s both the tinyurl and the full Amazon link.

For Leyfarers and Wayfarers:

http://tinyurl.com/n8svgxs

http://www.amazon.com/Leyfarers-Wayfarers-G-L-Francis/dp/0692336834/

For Under Every Moon:

http://tinyurl.com/mn9xmkc

http://www.amazon.com/Under-Every-Moon-G-Francis/dp/0615870694/

As for a pic, I don’t really have a good one–this is most usable.

Realm Makers:2015 It’s GO Time

Horse_Race_Starting_Gate_(14304242538)Yes folks, the day has arrived. We’re ready for you all to register, tell friends to register, and squee to anyone who will listen that you registered. You’ll find the official page to go through the registration process

HERE.

If you haven’t visited our main site for conference information, please stop by www.realmmakers.com to get all the particulars on the conference. You’ll find session descriptions, faculty bios, and more on the site.

The burning question I know people are going to start to ask is: “What about housing and food? I don’t see that included on the registration form.”

The University of Missouri St Louis, our venue, handles conference housing on their own without us acting as a middle man. If you want to stay on the college campus during the conference, you’ll need to visit our housing page on the conference site and follow the instructions there. You’ll find a fillable PDF to complete in order to reserve rooms, request roommates, and elect the meals that the conference proper doesn’t provide.

The second question I know people will be asking is: “What about appointments to pitch my manuscript?” Yes, we’re offering them with our editors and agents in attendance, and that will be handled by our appointments coordinator over the coming weeks. After you register, keep an eye out for an email explaining how to sign up for appointments.

If you run across issues or concerns, please email us at info@faithandfantasyalliance.com, and we will address your need as soon as humanly possible. (This probably means about a three day turnaround on questions, so please be patient with us!)

I hope you’re as excited as we are about this year’s conference, because it’s going to be the best one ever.

Your mission, should you choose to accept…

As a final request, I have a mission for you. If you register or are planning on it, please share, tweet, and otherwise make a lot of noise on social media about it. Word of mouth is always going to be our best way to help new folks learn of the conference, so please consider being part of our informal social media militia to get people out for this year’s event.

See you in August!

Of Characters and Culture (by Katie Morford)

Nobody grows up in a vacuum.

We are each shaped by a dizzying, multi-layer construct of culture and sub-culture. Our culture often determines our occupation, our political leanings, our moral compass, our sense of humor and, to an extent, how our personality manifests. Culture could be defined as the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society.

The last one-and–a-half years I’ve spent living and working cross-culturally have made this truth quite clear: Culture shapes characters, not the other way around. I’m a history buff, as well as a fan of speculative fiction, so it’s with great perplexity that I have read the recent rash of novels that are supposedly set in a unique time or culture, yet the central characters react to circumstances from a modern American worldview.

Now, I’m no expert on culture. But I am a learner, and I’ve received a bit of a crash course over the last couple of years. So, hopefully I can shed some light on this complex topic with a few “Dos” and “Don’ts.”

 

Do your research.

Whether you’re looking through yearbooks for a contemporary or historical novel or stirring dust in a library that exists only in your fantastical imagination, find out political histories, ancient feuds, where the ethnic/racial/class lines are drawn, etc. Know what your characters had for breakfast that morning, and where the food came from. Aim to include details from each of the five senses.

For example, from my recent trip to the Middle East I remember the feel of blowing sand on my face, the sound of the 6 a.m. call to prayer, the taste of spicy biryani rice, and the sight of rolling, shifting dunes as far as the eye can see.

 

Don’t show off.

Resist the urge to include details just to show you did your research. Describing every article of clothing just isn’t necessary. It’s a novel not a sewing magazine. Sci-fi writers tend to go overboard on technogadgets. But while futuristic technology may be extraordinary to us, your character won’t really care, because it’s part of their culture. Therefore, they “turn out the light” rather than “gave a voice command to dim the halogenic mood lighting that came into vogue last year, 2034.” If you’re talking about the light fixture, it’d better emit rays of death about to incinerate your hero or heroine.

 

Do know your cultural standards.

It’s great to base your cultures off pre-existing or historical cultures (medieval fantasy is a prime example). But when mixing cultural influences, avoid conflicting value systems that will make your resulting character feel contrived.

For example, on the surface mixing Middle Eastern and Japanese cultures would seem to be a recipe for world-building disaster. However, the shame/honor and family-oriented value system of these cultures has much more in common than, say, the individualistic Americans and the rule-following Germans or Brits. Know the rules so you can break them well.

 

Don’t ignore cultural rules to suit your needs

Throwing out cultural norms for the sake of plot or your own agenda doesn’t work. Not only can readers smell that cheese a mile away, it also undermines the depth of your character. Common offenders are “strong” female heroines in medieval-based cultures who get their way by running around with a sword or saying whatever pops into their heads. I’m sure we can all think of many other examples. Gender roles and social constructs exist for a reason, and shouldn’t be ignored.

Characters should react and make decisions based on their beliefs, values, and worldviews, which the culture they live in affects dramatically.

 

Do be original.

Just because a character is consistent with their culture doesn’t mean they can’t be unique and intriguing. Use the prevailing culture to show how a character is different—or why they respond in a way that surprises the reader. Actions that may come off as chauvinistic in one culture will be interpreted as good manners in another. Use culture to reveal character.

 

Don’t forget to have fun.

Creating a new character in the context of their cultural background is complex and time-consuming but also incredibly rewarding when done well.

Your character will step fully formed from the pages of your manuscript and into your reader’s imagination. And your characters will stay there long after your reader has turned the last page.

Recommended reading list: For characters who behave consistent with their own culture(s), take a look at Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and the Walks the Fire series by Stephanie Whitson.

 

11139585_10153288682364529_1934188503_nAbout the Author:

Katie Morford is a media missionary living in England and traveling the world making documentaries for a Christian non-profit. She is also a founder and editor of Crosshair Press, a small indie publishing company dedicated to high-quality action fiction from a biblical worldview. In her spare time, she writes sci-fi and action-adventure novels and eats way too much Indian take-out.

You can check out here missions blog at www.storyforhisglory.com.

A Serial Short Story on Your Blog? (by Gillian Bronte Adams)

For kids, summer tends to mean watermelon seed spitting contests in the back yard, followed by cannonball challenges in the swimming pool. For adults, summer means high AC bills (in Texas, at least), beautiful sunsets, and a seat belt buckle hot enough to serve as a branding iron. Or a frying pan. (I’ve heard it both ways.)

For me, working at a youth camp as I do, summer is go, go, go time, which means both my writing and my blog tend to slacken off a bit from May to August. So last summer, as I was gearing up to dive into an awesome three and a half months of long days, short nights, and endless weeks, I decided I had to come up with something to keep my blog from becoming a ghost town in my absence.

My solution?

Run a serial story with a “choose your own adventure” flair where the readers get to vote on how to begin the next installment. Posting once a week meant it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge to keep up with, and if I missed a week or two here and there, it wasn’t the end of the world. It struck me as a unique way to keep the conversation going and keep people coming back when there wasn’t much else going on.

So I launched into a fantasy story set in a late 1600’s-early 1700’s like time period in which a young man–by the unfortunate name of Alexander Mitus Scott Beauford III–discovers that his legendary family curse is actually real and is forced to forsake his military dreams and follow the path of a mysterious woman named Destiny. Each installment follows the adventures of Alexander and Destiny (and a few new companions they meet along the way) and typically ends with a cliffhanger or intriguing statement of some sort, followed by three options for the beginning of the next scene.

Though I failed my rather ambitious “once a week” posting plan, running a serial story has been loads of fun. So I decided to share some of the things I learned along the way for any of you who might be interested in trying something similar.

Hold Your Story Loosely

When I started When Destiny Comes Calling, I took the faintest spark of an idea and ran with it. After establishing a few main plot points that we still may or may not hit, I didn’t try to plan out the rest of the story or guide it in a specific direction. I wanted it to have that feel of wild spontaneity that first drafts generally have, to help include the readers in the whole process.

As the author, you can occasionally steer the voting process through the options you present your readers. But all too often, I’ve discovered that the readers will choose an option I didn’t anticipate … and it makes the story that much more fun and exciting for me, as well as for them.

Don’t Discard Your Other Ideas

At the end of each installment, I try to present the readers with three very different beginnings to the next, each of which could swing the story in a wildly different direction. Coming up with three different plot points each time can be a bit tough. So (shhh!) I’ve learned to save my discarded ideas and bring them back in new ways later. The readers are none the wiser, and you make sure to use every ounce of the brilliance you dreamed up.

Waste not, want not, right?

Tell Your Readers Up Front That This Is Rough Draft Material

One of my biggest worries when I published that first post was that my readers were going to expect all the spit and polish of a published book, which simply wasn’t possible with my schedule. Rather than agonize over every word like I normally do, I decided to tell my readers up front that this was first draft material that had never seen a red pen and was written tongue in cheek purely for their enjoyment and mine.

Change up the Voting Process Now and Then

Coming up with three very different options each time can be a bit of a drain on the imagination, so every now and then I like to change up the voting process. Some other ideas I’ve used have been presenting the readers with several new character or setting options and asking them to vote or allowing them to come up with and vote on suggestions for the next dialogue exchange. Changing things up both keeps me from falling into a rut and is fun for the readers.

Keep the Installments Short

As with anything online, shorter tends to be better. Readers tend to gloss over long sections of text. So keeping your installments shorter allows you to stretch the storyline over a longer period of time and also ensures that your readers are more likely to read all the way to the end. Unfortunately, brevity is not my strong suit …

Something Needs to Happen in Each Installment

Have you ever watched one of those TV shows where nothing ever seems to happen? The characters hit road block after road block that keep them from achieving their main goal and never seem to get anywhere? Don’t fall into the same trap with your serial short story. Something noteworthy should happen in each installment to keep your readers clamoring for the next.

These are just a few of the things I’ve learned along the way. Have you ever run (or considered running) a serial story on your blog? If so, I would love to hear what you have learned as well!

 

Gillian Bronte AdamsAuthor Bio: GILLIAN BRONTE ADAMS is a sword-wielding, horse-riding, coffee-loving speculative fiction author from the great state of Texas. During the day, she manages the equestrian program at a youth camp. But at night, she kicks off her boots and spurs, pulls out her trusty laptop, and transforms into a novelist. She is the author of Orphan’s Song, book one of the Songkeeper Chronicles, and Out of Darkness Rising. Visit Gillian online at her blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.

 

The Fan Girl Voice (by Meg Ebba)

FlamesThe beginning of Isaiah 64 is a prayer of longing, the kind of eloquent pleading found in the Psalms or the Song of Solomon.  It’s the kind of epic language that we spec-fic lovers understand:

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” Isaiah 64:1-2, ESV

I’ll straight up cry through all the Christmas carols, but I don’t usually tear up in the middle of Isaiah for no reason.  However, when these verses were read aloud at church a couple weeks ago, they sounded comforting and exciting.  These are my kind of words! The passage goes on to describe how when the Lord did awesome things they did not look for, the mountains quaked at His presence.  He made the Israelites melt in the hand of their iniquities.

I tried to explain to a friend how I would rather melt in the hand of my iniquities than “feel a little backslidden,” and how the God I love is the kind who made Israel fade like a leaf and then orchestrated a heavenly plan to restore them and then grafted us into that salvation, and wasn’t it amazing …

Basically, I rambled. And because this was a patient friend, a nice friend, a friend who is used to me getting a little more emotional than New Englanders usually get about a random bit of scripture spoken aloud at church, she let me exult until I was all out of words.  And then she smiled and said,  “That was your fangirl voice.”

Oops.

Apparently, I use the same voice to preach the deep, abiding wonderfulness of Isaiah 64 as I do describing the new trailer for the season finale of “Arrow.”  But I can’t help it! I don’t want to help it.  I mean, maybe it would be better to try and modulate my passions, but I’m pushing forty and I have accepted my lack of chill.

The language that describes God, His purposes and His ways is rich, evocative, and should not only fill us with awe but leave us almost breathless as we try to praise Him. The best part about being a fan of any kind is that when we find bits like Isaiah 64 that thrill us to our dry, weary bones, we can stand up among the people and say, “Yes! This is my God!”  And yes, we’ll be loud about it because what if the person sitting next to us is completely lost?  What if he or she can’t begin to imagine fire kindling a brushpile on a cold, trembling night?  I’m not saying it’s us versus them, I’m saying how fortunate we are to have each other. In verse 9, there is another plea.  This time it is less eloquent, but more heartfelt:

Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, we are all your people.

See? It’s okay. Blessed are the specfans. For behold, we are all His people.

 

MegEbbaAuthor Bio:

Megan Ebba was a staffworker with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and a librarian before becoming a writer. In 2014, she won the ACFW’s Genesis contest in the speculative fiction category. Megan lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.