Guest Post

Dane Cobain

Guest Post: Unexpected Things That My Editor Picked Up On by Dane Cobain

Hi, folks! My name’s Dane Cobain, and I’m the author of a supernatural thriller called No Rest for the Wicked and a book of poetry called Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home, as well as an upcoming literary fiction novel called Former.ly.

Today, I’m here to talk to you about the bane of every author’s life – the editing stage. Editing was famously compared to murdering your babies, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that – if you’re working with a good editor, it’s more like sending them to secondary school.

But it can get tough – sometimes you disagree with your editor, and have heated debates about comma placements and whether the word ‘internet’ should be capitalised. For the record, I don’t think it should be; Pam Harris, my editor, disagrees, but she let me get away with it because I was able to back it up. The BBC doesn’t capitalise it, and neither does the majority of the tech press.

So today, I thought it’d be interesting to take you behind the scenes and to talk about some of the unexpected things that Pam picked up on when she was working on Former.ly.

To begin with, I expected the main problem would be Anglicisation – I’m British and she’s American, and so we both have a slightly different approach to spelling and punctuation. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was for her to pick up on some of the accidental Briticisms that I scattered throughout my work – the word ‘answerphone’, for example, makes sense to British people, but Americans know it as ‘voicemail’. Voicemail also makes sense to the Brits, and so the tweak was made to make the manuscript as accessible as possible.

A good editor will also pick up on characters’ behaviour, and Pam was pretty good at making me reconsider whether my characters were doing things because that’s who they were and how they would’ve reacted, or whether they were doing things because I needed them to do them for the sake of the story line. Thanks to Pam, I also removed a bunch of unnecessary subplots that just muddied the waters and made it harder for readers to focus on what I wanted them to focus on.

And then there’s other stuff, like whether ‘no-one’ should include a hyphen or not. I usually hyphenate it, but Pam convinced me that it’s best practice not to, and she backed it up with a number of industry style guides. That’s one of the interesting things about the English language – in some places, it’s ambiguous, and it’s also constantly evolving. Style guides exist to make sure that people from all walks of life are able to publish consistently, which makes it even more important for you to adhere to them if you want your manuscript to be on par with the professionals.

All in all, an editor has their work cut out from them, and I’m glad that I’ve found someone like Pam – she writes books herself, and so she can look at my manuscripts as both a writer and an editor, and she has an incredible eye for detail.

Editing is important. As both a reader and a writer, I find it easy to tell whether a book has been professionally edited, and badly edited books usually score a low rating from me if I even manage to finish them at all. But done well, the editing process is like polishing and varnishing a wood floor – not the most fun while you’re doing it, but it makes a huge difference to the final product.

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Scott Kauffman

Guest Post: Hemingway’s Dilemma by Scott Kauffman

Wondering if it had improved any with age in the forty-five years since I garnered my gentleman’s “C” on a book report from an English teacher likely being generous, I again cracked open The Old Man and the Sea. While my first reading of a fish story about the one that got away bored me to tears, or maybe only to Bonanza that evening, my second left me unsettled for Old Man I see now is Hemingway’s brooding meditation on approaching death.

Like Santiago who catches the biggest fish of his life only to lose it to sharks and in that moment knows his best days as a fisherman are forever behind him, so too Hemingway saw his best days as a writer slipping fast as fish line through his fingers. Old Man proved to be his last novel, and he wrote little thereafter that did not require heavy editing. In its pages he foreshadows his own suicide ten years later on an Idaho mountaintop where, ever the showoff, he unloaded both shotgun barrels into the back of his mouth. A not surprising death for a man whose is father took his own life as did two siblings and at least one grandchild. A death foreshadowed even earlier in The Sun Also Rises, set almost 30 years to the day before his suicide, and later in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Hemingway leaves us with the question of how should one meet death?  Santiago’s answer is by struggling on come what may: A man, he insists over and over, can be destroyed but should never allow himself to be defeated. Old Santiago fought the good fight until he had nothing but a skeleton of a great fish left to defend and sailed home to die dreaming of the lions he once saw in his youth as they played on a beach in Africa.

So what to make of Hemingway in the end giving in to the despair of defeat? His failing in the fight he wanted most to make, feared his whole life he would not make, and in the end did not. Perhaps this final tragedy, of not going down with both fists swinging, is a fate awaiting us all unless we have lived without ideals, which, Hemingway says, would for us be the greater tragedy. Hemingway’s Dilemma tells us that life gives us a choice between two tragedies: Living a life absent of ideals or living one with ideals but in the end failing to live up to them.

Guest Post: The Best Place to Retire in India by Nilesh Rathod

Every five years, we have a circus played out for appointing someone as the President of India. A President who will live in the largest palace of the world to preside over nothing! Most of his time would be spent on touring places, providing lip service and cutting ribbons. Any assurance or promise he will ever offer will simply be a request to the elected government. Even the speeches he gives in the parliament or his addresses to the nation are not his own, they are written by the elected government. He just reads them! I do not intend to demean the office (or any of its honourable inhabitants) since it exists, but I really question this insistent waste of tax payers’ money to serve something largely useless.

What’s the history here? King George VI, the king of British India, was represented by his Governor General to govern India. There were constituent assemblies much like our current day parliament then too. But their purpose was to serve British interests and not Indian interests. Anyways, India got its independence on 15th August 1947 and under the leadership of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the constitution of India was re-drafted.

Largely adopted and adapted from the British administrative system. That administrative system had a King whereas, we fought over 200 years to get rid of one! Well! So we cannot have a King, but can certainly have his constitution. Now instead of cleaning up the whole muck and re-drafting the constitution, we simply replace the King as an administrative head of the government to what we now know as the President! While the King was tyrannical but the President (post) is useless. I won’t go into a full budget of such a position, but I am told the telephone bill of his palace alone is 60 lacs a year.

In reality all powers vested with the President are only customary. There are no real powers. He can veto a few laws for a while and pocket-veto (remain undecided and hold decisions) a few more, but can change nothing permanently. Whatever he accepts including ordinances require to be duly passed and accepted by the elected representatives of the people in specific time lines. And by the way he can propose nothing, it must come to him for consideration from the Government of the day!

Carrying over the then unlimited Veto powers of the British Monarchy under a alternate term of “President” and without any such powers was a thoughtless proposition. Was it done so as to quickly get a constitution in place without having to tamper with the tenants of British Administrative law or worst still think about newer or better ones? I don’t know really.

This also gets me to the subject of Rajya Sabha and its members. Why do we need a bicameral assembly? Why cannot the democratically elected Lok Sabha make the laws instead of a full additional layer of members in the Rajya Sabha who add nothing but delayed implementation of much needed laws. And not to forget while we already have a President to pay for, now we also need a vice president to preside over the Rajya Sabha!

Should I even talk about the Governors for each of the state and their palaces and entourage and the costs thereof? My opinions are strong, but show me some sense in this. To me this is the best retirement home one can have. Look at the list of its residents, and tell me if anyone did anything else after that. And while this has nothing to do with any of the residents in person, for some of the most respected sons of India held that office in the past and continue to hold it. It is merely talking about governance as a means to an end.

Owen Mullen

Guest Post: Rejection by Owen Mullen

I always have the same reaction to rejection. I take it personally. And since it seems to be the story of almost every writer I have ever heard of, becoming an author wasn’t perhaps the best decision.

Rejection – and we hear this all the time – is part of the publishing process. Accept it they say. Learn from it. Usually this advice comes from people it isn’t happening to. Don’t they realise just how devastating it can be. In Old Friends and New Enemies, Glasgow PI Charlie Cameron sums it up. Charlie says, ‘Big boys don’t cry. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to.’

Believe me I’ve wanted to plenty of times.

Creating anything requires courage and commitment, even before you get to the bit about talent, and of course it is an invitation for others to criticise; that’s understood. Learning to play the piano really badly can and probably will take years. When you are writing a book you pour yourself into the thing for months, trusting you are producing something worthwhile [‘cause who sets out to write a bad book?] until the day you type the final sentence. Then you send your child out into the world and wait to see who is prepared to give the waif a home. So often the answer is: very few. Some give the kid a good kicking and send him home in tears. Others treat him a lot worse than that.

I thought I was prepared for rejection. I was wrong. The first letter telling me that ‘after due consideration my book didn’t fit their list’ was like a punch in the gut. I got over it just in time for somebody else to kick me and my book into touch.

And so it began.

After a while I got used to it. [that’s a lie, I didn’t] What I won’t ever get used to is just how rude people can be. For example: I sent a manuscript to an agent who passed it on to a colleague without letting me know. Months went by. One day I got an email from the colleague, a woman, apologising for not getting in touch sooner and promising to start reading at once.

‘No problem,’ I replied. ‘You’re on it now. Hope you enjoy it.’

Six months later she wrote back. ‘A thousand times sorry. Started it last night.’

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘Speak soon.’

I waited. And waited. And waited.

And never heard from her again.

That’s one kind of rejection, another is what comes back from people who just didn’t like what you’ve done. Or people who want to write your book for you. Loads of them about. There will be others who love your stuff and pour lavish praise on you, and it’s tempting to want to think that must be the truth. Because it suits us, doesn’t it.

This is where it gets complicated; impossible though it may be to see it in the heat of the moment, sometimes the criticism will be justified. Only when we step back from the emotion of it can we identify the truth. When that happens, it presents an opportunity to improve that a writer should welcome. For me the objective isn’t to be right, it’s to be good.

Never forget, whether they think you are the cat’s meow, just so-so, or have produced the worst book of all time, it is only somebody’s opinion. And they’re entitled.

Perhaps Kipling had writers in mind when he wrote this:

‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same.’

Right on Rudyard!

My advice: get your thick skin on, keep an open mind and don’t stop writing.

Guest Post by Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross

Guest Post: Mother by Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our tour. Today we’re exploring the neighborhood in which our new thriller, Mother, takes place. Think about the street you grew up on. Much like every other neighborhood, it was probably complete with the mean old man who yelled at kids who dared step on his lawn, the neighbor who walked his dog and didn’t pick up the droppings, the nosy neighbor, the noisy neighbor, the neighbor who had the worst-looking lawn, and the one who had the best, the drama queen, the street organizer . . . and on and on. Now imagine what that same neighborhood would look like if you were able to get inside the houses and minds of your neighbors.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at this seemingly innocuous neighborhood and peel back some of its layers. As you’ll see, Morning Glory Circle, built in the early seventies, looks like any other cul-de-sac in the picturesque little town of Snapdragon, nestled in California’s Gold Country, but as we’ll soon find out, everyone has their secrets, every family has its shadows, and every home has dark rooms – rooms that no one else is allowed to enter. Follow us, and enjoy the tour …

The street, you see, is filled with houses representing Americana at its finest, from Colonials and Georgians to Cape Cods and Ranches, it’s all here on Morning Glory Circle. Lovely street, isn’t it? You should see it at Christmas when they all decorate – well almost all – with six-foot tall candy canes staked into every yard, along with twinkling lights and good cheer. About a third of the houses have animatronic Santas, too, and Priscilla Martin, who lives in that big white Federal-style home at the end of the sac, will make sure the yard and bake sales bring in enough money to add more next year. Let’s walk, shall we?

If you turn right, the first house you’ll see is that of Roddy and Bettyanne Crocker. It’s a single-story California bungalow, painted in a fresh green so pale that it’s nearly white. Isn’t it lovely? Bettyanne can induce flowers to bloom even in winter. The entire yard is a bouquet of greenery and with their two white cats sitting in their picture window, it looks like a greeting card all year long. As for Roddy, he’s a police officer with a no-nonsense approach to life, and a nearly superhuman sense of smell, which has served him well in his years as one of Snapdragon’s finest. It’s said that he can smell a fire five minutes before anyone even sees the smoke. Perhaps this is just neighborhood gossip, or maybe there’s some truth to it.

Roddy and Bettyanne met under unsavory circumstances many years ago when Roddy was called to handle a … shall we say, legal issue, that involved Bettyanne. It was love at first sight, and the two of them have lived, very happily, on Morning Glory Circle, ever since.

Next door to the Crockers live the Dunworth Sisters, Bertie and Nellie. Though their beige ranch home is attractive in a rather plain way, the Dunworths haven’t the income to do major landscaping, so the yard is rather barren with only a big flower pot filled with snapdragons for color. They’re nice ladies who keep to themselves, though Nellie can be seen at least once a day touring the cul-de-sac on her EZ Scooter. These ladies are not overly concerned with what the neighbors think and, for the most part, are on good terms with everyone except Priscilla Martin – Mother – who wishes they’d do something about that yard. They ignore her … as well as all the neighborhood speculation about what the sisters actually do for a living.

And now we’re in front of the home of the Deans – Earl and Earlene and their twin daughters, Daphene and Delphine. The neighbors refer to the girls as “The Shining Twins,” because they’re pale and odd, their hands nearly always clasped, and usually smeared with fudge. Earl and Earlene, who are nearly as odd as their whey-faced daughters, own The Fudge Depot downtown and are written up regularly in newspapers and magazines like Westways for their fabulous candy – never has fudge tasted so good. It’s no wonder their house is painted the same color. The Deans are a thorn in Priscilla Martin’s side because they are the only neighbors who won’t participate in any of the street’s events. Why, they won’t even donate any of their fabulous fudge for other neighbors to sell. Steadfast in their disregard for such events, they won’t even decorate the outside of their home for the holidays. Why, last Christmas, Prissy even had the giant candy cane driven into their lawn for them so they’d be uniform with all the other neighbors – but her efforts were rewarded with the sight of the candy cane in their garbage can on trash day. Some people. Now it’s planting time, but the Deans are content with their juniper bushes – they never plant a rosebush, let alone a snapdragon.

 

We’d better move on. Earlene’s watching us from the window. We don’t want to upset her …

Here is Stan and Aida Portendorfer’s big beautiful creamy yellow Colonial, two stories of good taste and more snapdragons than Prissy Martin approves of. Stan and Aida married young and are approaching their 50th anniversary. Their children are grown and live far away, but the Portendorfers are vital members of their little community. If you hang around long enough, you’re sure to bump into Stan, who takes daily walks with his and Aida’s miniature collie, Pookie-Bear.

Aida, a round, pink-cheeked woman, prefers to get her fresh air in a much different way. As evidenced by the pair of binoculars that hang from her neck at all times, Aida Portendorfer is the eyes and ears of Morning Glory Circle. There’s isn’t much that goes on that Aida doesn’t know about and, in fact, she is our go-to woman, keeping us informed of any changes and interesting tidbits that we might add into our tours. Aida is a very busy woman, indeed, and when she’s not helping Priscilla Martin with yard and bake sales, she can often be found next door, spending time with her friend, Phyllis.

Which leads us to the Stine’s mold-blue two-story. Aren’t all those white roses lovely against the home? Word on the street is that Phyllis had the house painted specifically to match the penicillin-blue eye shadow she favors. Clyde Stine met Phyllis Welling many years ago when she was a dancer at Whisky a Go Go. They fell in love, were quickly married, and have lived on the sac for many years. There’s a lot of talk on Morning Glory Circle about Clyde and his wife – specifically, concerning Phyllis’ true age, and Clyde’s rather unusual sense of fashion, but as devout members of the Church of the Holy Sacramental, most of the neighbors are content to allow the Stines their little half-truths and questionable eccentricities.

As a side note, we should mention that Phyllis Stine is older sister to authoress Constance Welling, who was brutally murdered in the highly-publicized Cliffhouse Lodge murders in Cliffside, California not long ago. You can read an account of her life – and grisly demise (as well as the other terrifying and unspeakable events that took place at the lodge) in the Thorne & Cross novel, The Cliffhouse Haunting.

And here we have what Prissy Martin refers to as “The Halloween House.” The Lowell family is comprised of Hank, who owns a motorcycle shop, his wife Crystal, their sons Harley and David, and their standard poodles, Ben and Jerry. As if the burnt-pumpkin color of the home isn’t enough of an eyesore as far as Prissy Martin is concerned, there are several motorcycles parked in the driveway – and sometimes on the lawn. And then there’s Crystal’s fire-engine red hair, which Priscilla feels is not at all appropriate. And speaking of Priscilla Martin …

Here we are at the halfway point. Let’s all pause and take a moment to admire Prissy’s big two-story home with its white wooden siding and neat black shutters. This home is called the “White House” by the neighbors because the house – and Prissy – seem to be in charge of the rest of the cul-de-sac. Notice that Prissy’s lawn is the only green one on the street this time of year – this is because it’s AstroTurf. Her flower beds are the talk of the neighborhood – she always wins the Snapdragon Festival competition on Morning Glory Circle – and indeed, the town-wide competition. Some say her flowers aren’t worthy of winning, but they always do, prompting some to wonder who she’s bribing.

Prissy’s BMW isn’t in the driveway, which means she’s probably out on one of her legendary grocery shopping trips, or perhaps she’s presiding over the Ladies Auxiliary at Holy Sacramental. Since she’s away, let’s go up the driveway and peek in her backyard. There’s the three-car garage, with the upstairs apartment. Her backyard is as neat as her front with AstroTurf lawn, a waterless bird bath and rose bushes between many storage sheds – white with black shutters to match the house. There’s a swing set in one far corner and a never-used hot tub in another.

Now, turn around and look at the second story! There’s her invalid husband, Frederick Martin, watching us from his balcony. Wave! You know, no one, not even Priscilla’s best friend, Babs, is allowed upstairs. Everyone wonders why, though Babs has her suspicions. As much as we’d love to introduce you to Prissy’s daughter and son-in-law, Claire and Jason Holbrook – who’ve recently moved into the upstairs apartment – we’d better get back to the sidewalk before Aida spies us through her ever-present binoculars and tells Priscilla we were snooping.

Let’s move on. Here is the lovely – if very pink – two-story traditional home of Milton and Candy Sachs. The cotton-candy-colored home is yet another thorn in Prissy Martin’s side, as is Candy Sachs herself. For reasons no one quite knows, Priscilla seems to have a vendetta against poor Candy. Some say it’s the woman’s stately beauty. It’s understandable that, at nearly six feet tall with a tumble of gorgeous blond locks and a heart-stopping figure, Ms. Sachs’ extraordinary beauty might have Prissy hot under the collar, seething with animosity and envy, but we’re inclined to think there’s a little more going on than petty jealousy. Though Milton and Candy are well-liked – as is their young son, Billy, who is responsible for all the shining, freshly-waxed cars you’ve seen in the driveways – everyone has their secrets. And if there’s anything Priscilla Martin excels at, it’s ferreting out those things we try to keep hidden.

The light olive home belongs to contractor Duane Pruitt and his husband, Jerry Park. That’s Waldo barking and wagging his tale at us from behind the white wrought-iron fence.  Duane and Jerry have been together for just a few years – before that, no one suspected Duane wasn’t straight. No one cares, though Prissy’s prejudices show in more ways than one.

And here’s the home of the Collins family – Burke, Geneva-Marie, and their two sons, Chris and Barry. The Collins home has recently been remodeled and enlarged, much to Prissy’s horror. The two-story traditional is now a peach-colored Spanish hacienda, that’s been extended to take up most of the backyard and the second floor of the formerly single storied detached three-car garage. It very nearly dwarfs Prissy’s house and that’s probably more upsetting to Mrs. Martin than the fact that she thinks it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb on a street that is, otherwise, pure Americana.

Burke owns Collins’ Fine Furniture downtown and there are rumors he’s having money trouble because he has a taste for the drink – no one really knows for sure, but our sources say that Priscilla hopes the rumors are true. Mrs. Collins wants to run against Prissy for the presidency of the Ladies Auxiliary and this infuriates Prissy, who’s served as president without opposition for twenty years. According to our sources, that is. *glances pointedly at Aida Portendorfer’s home*

Anyway, next, there is Barbara and Carl Vandercooth’s pale gray Colonial home. Isn’t her yard beautiful? Babs loves to garden. She’s Priscilla Martin’s best friend – they go back to Babs’ elementary school days when teenaged Prissy used to babysit little Barbara. Babs is Aunt Babs to Prissy’s daughter, Claire. She took care of her, helped her with growing up, homework, Halloween costumes, and everything else, and she thinks of Claire as her own daughter.

It’s too bad Babs isn’t out here gardening, you’d love to meet her. She actually bears a striking resemblance to Betty White, back when she was in her early fifties, both physically and in some of the things she says. Babs’ sweet personality is why she’s been able to deal with Prissy’s demands all these years – but rumor has it she’s tiring of her position as lieutenant. She’s always been willing to pass out flyers and lists to the other neighbors telling them what Prissy wants them to supply for various bake sales and block parties, but it’s gotten very old. Now that Claire has returned to town, she’s remembering a lot of things about Prissy that she really didn’t care for – and we hear that Babs is not only happily losing her status as Prissy’s lapdog, but she’s becoming quite a force to be reckoned with.

The last house on the sac – the turquoise cottage – belongs to the editor and owner of the Snapdragon Daily, the town newspaper. His name is Lance Etheridge – Ace to his friends. His divorced daughter, Iris, has been happily living with him for the last five years. She teaches elementary school in town. Ace is good friends with Officer Roddy Crocker. As an avid writer, Ace Etheridge keeps to himself, but everyone knows there’s more to the, uh, story, as it were. The question on everyone’s mind, of course, is What is he really writing about during all those hours in front of his computer? We may never know the answer …

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our tour of Morning Glory Circle. We hope you’ve all learned enough about the residents to have an idea of what you’ll be stepping into when our novel, Mother, is released in April. Please exit the neighborhood single-file, and be sure to tell your family and friends about our tours. Finally, keep in mind that Morning Glory Circle is only the tip of the Mother iceberg – the real action takes place in the home of Priscilla Martin … behind closed doors, just the way she likes it.

Guest Post: Fantasies, Mary Sues, and Finding New Ways to Tell Old Stories by J M Frey

I love SF/F, but about a decade ago, back before my academic studies kept me from being the voracious reader I used to be (and back before YA became a thing – yes, I’m that old), I was finding that I was getting exhausted with it. It was the same thing over, and over, and over again.

I mean, I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but just look at all those white men. I can’t tell them apart from far away. It’s the same with video game protagonists lately. Two decades ago there was more diversity. Now it’s all vaguely tanned, scruffy brunette soldier guys.

So much in media – and especially in SF/F – we see female characters who are simply not complexly written. The character exists to be the pursued love interest a.k.a the princess in the tower, with very little deep-down characterization and motivation beyond Looking Pretty For The Hero. Or, they exist only for the sake of a plot point – if they come to harm, it’s to further the hero’s emotional journey or to spur him to action. If they step out of this mould, it’s because they’re crazy, or rebellious, or crazy villains (because only the crazy ones wouldn’t desire to please the hero, right?).

This is all my very long way of saying – as a woman reading the classic epic fantasy novels of my youth, it left a faintly bitter taste in my mouth whenever the heroes met a female character. These books told me, time and again, that I as a woman was only good for those things. And as a woman, I had no right to any further development, or complex desires.

It’s exhausting. It’s no fun being told you are worthless.

(As an aside – thank god and praise be to the wonderful and diverse YA writers who populate the shelves now. I wish I’d had you around when I was a teenager.)

As I was contemplating whether I really wanted to write a fantasy book in the classic tradition – or how I ever could –  the buzz for this new TV show started to fill the air: Game of Thrones. I’d never heard of George R.R. Martin, or read his books, prior to the series coming out. But it sounded right up my alley, so I watched.

It gave me a lot of ideas about how I’d like to build my fantasy world, and what sorts of characters to create to inhabit it, but mostly what it really sparked in me was a kind of low-level resentment. It wasn’t aimed at the show, but at the guy friend I was watching it with. We had an argument about intended audience, and I couldn’t get him to understand how much it sucks to not be the center, to not be the target or the intended. I mean, I literally couldn’t get him to understand that Game of Thrones, while not horrible, was not made for me, but for people like him: White. Male. Straight.

I was so angry I went off to my office and wrote a scene where a female character yells at the hero of a standard fantasy series just to get all the frustration out in the open. The next morning I reread it and thought: “I think there’s something in this. This frustration at always being on the edge. This awareness that you are present but forced to be silent.”

And I really liked the idea of a main character that was that self aware. Who could yell back at the book. I wrote my MA thesis on Mary Sue fan fiction, and why Mary Sues are important to fandom and are an important stage in the evolution of a writer.

Mary Sues are the first literary impulse of children who have grown out of elastic imaginative play on the jungle gym, shouting “I’m a Ninja Turtle and you’re a G.I. Joe, and I’m a special girl turtle because turtles can be girls too!”

At the risk of generalizing, I would even say that Mary Sues are the way we all enter fandom. We enter that world of play by imagining ourselves there. As children we do it by running around the yard with toy lightsabers and My Little Ponies.

Then as fannish youths, we make up elaborate stories – sometimes only in our own heads – about what we would do if we were friends with (or romantic interests to) the heroes we adore. I know as a teenager I so desperately wanted to be a Sailor Scout that I carried around a glass jewel that I had fallen off a chandelier in the hopes that it would turn out to be a Power Crystal if I just wished hard enough.

Later, if this sort of fannishness leads us to fanfiction and we choose to write, then we develop those imagination games into our first tentative written words. So it makes sense that the first literary impulse should be to include ourselves – or rather, an idealized version of ourselves, because we all would prefer to be our idealized selves – into the worlds that we love. It absolutely makes sense that overwhelmingly new fanfiction author’s first works are Mary Sue fic.

It is only later that, as writers, we develop the skills and ability to tell stories about characters who are not ourselves. We learn by writing other people’s well-rounded original fictional characters. Then still later, if the fanfiction author decides to move to profic (and many don’t, preferring to keep writing a beloved hobby), then we use those skills we honed to create our own well-rounded original fictional characters.

And I think this is a lot of why Mary Sues are derided; they remind readers of our own first, embarrassing, coltish forays into story-telling.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction to want to distance yourself from something mortifying that you did by mocking it.

But I think we need to stop coming down so hard on Mary Sues. They are important.  You don’t yell at a child for failing to colour within the lines. We shouldn’t yell at writers about Mary Sues.

Meta Sues – Mary Sues written with a conscious and deliberate hand, by an author aware of all that a Mary Sue is and utilizing the powers of the trope to bend the narrative of their tale in interesting ways – are fascinating.

Like taking Selfies, consciously writing Meta Mary Sues is an intensely, defiantly feminist act.

It is a way of saying I am here, and I am worth celebrating. And as aware, mature writers consciously choosing to write Mary Sues, we are forcing space for ourselves and people like us in media texts and literary traditions that otherwise marginalize or silence voices like ours. We are deliberately making space for ourselves and people like us.

And it occurred to me then that this was the perfect way to marry that academic discourse with my love of fantasy. So I created Lucy Piper, a Meta Sue.

This is not, of course, the only way to write a feminist novel. It is simply the way I chose to write one, and why. And so dismissing Pip as simply a Mary Sue in the pejorative sense is missing the point.

I laboured to create a strongly written female character (as opposed to a strong violent female character), with motivations and desires that yeah, sometimes are at odds with themselves, like they are in real life. She’s not violent, she can’t fight back.

Yes, she is harmed for the sake of the plot. Yes, she is, in fact, rescued.  If you’re going to write a novel about those tropes, you must first enact them. The book features sexual assault, yes, but not for titillation. It exists to be confronted, starkly, and discussed. If I had left it out, I feel like it  would have been a glaring error, because it would have been an obvious avoidance of the typical fate of female characters in fantasy. Worse, it would have been cowardly.

Pip is a highly intelligent woman, too. I gave another character my childhood nervous stutter, but I gave Pip my current speech patterns. She, like my friends and I, speaks in essays and academic discourse. This is how PhD candidates communicate. And anyone who says that Pip’s rants and outbursts are contrived and awkward clearly hasn’t spent any time in a university grad lounge during happy hour. 😉

Pip’s strength comes from embracing the tropes that fantasy literature imposes on her simply because she is a woman, and using them to her own advantage and power. Pip is a strong female character because of her wit, her intellect, and from that very thing that makes all female fantasy readers powerful – her fannishness. There is power in being a fangirl, and there is a complexity there to, in loving the problematic.

Also, Pip is not white. I wanted to write a story that not only was different than what was normally told, but points out why diversity in the types of characters included is important. That not only contains this diversity, but also discusses it. I wanted to write a book that makes the readers intensely aware that it is a book. And yet still be entertaining. I hope I’ve succeeded.

And that brings us to Forsyth.

Like the rest of my oeuvre, I made a point of choosing the least likely narrator I could for the story.  I love to tell stories from a perspective that is just on the rim of the action. History is written by the victors, they say, which has always made me wonder how the losers would tell it. Or the victor’s personal assistant or dog-walker. How is the same tale told when it’s being related by someone who isn’t in the center of it? Someone who isn’t the hero?

For me, for the personal choices I made, and for the way that I wanted to approach a feminist fantasy novel (not the only way, but the way that I prefer to approach it) it had to be first person from the POV of this outsider, because then we had access to his personal thoughts on the action.

Forsyth is a Mary Sue, too. And that is feminist as well.

Forsyth is a genuinely good man who’s just never had a break. He is whip-smart, but he’s been overshadowed by his hero big brother his whole life. He is physically normal, and he feels, intensely, the pressure to be an alpha-hero man’s man. He is, in essence, the geek everyman.

Compared to his fantasy-hero-brother he could even be derided for being “girly”, though that might be a narrow, patriarchical view of a male character whose power lies in realms outside of violence and upholding toxic masculinity ideas of what it means to be “a man”. I personally believe that it’s misogynistic to declare that a man is not allowed to enjoy things that have been coded as traditionally feminine, like reading and dancing.

Even when, especially when, Pip falls into the trap of deriding traditionally female pursuits as girlie herself. Pip is not written to be the perfect feminist (for there is, unfortunately, no such thing, no matter how hard I may try), and she has to spend part of the book learning what that means, even as she teaches it to Forsyth.

Forsyth finds his own power through being a geek. He doesn’t transform into a muscle-bound sword-waving hero. Instead he finds his own heroism in his own strengths, in his own way. He doesn’t transform so much as finally begins to fill his own skin. He is the fact-gathering, body-conscious, socially anxious nerdboy that we all know and love, and that is the source of his heroism and power.

His other strength is in how he doesn’t see the women around him as lesser, especially the women of colour.

And of course, it was also important to me to fashion Forsyth as being human. Characters are allowed to have sexual thoughts and attractions – Forsyth muses often on how desirable he finds Pip. Human beings desire. That’s normal. We look at each other and think, yeah, I’d like to jump that. Yum. Sex, and sexual desire, is allowed.

But his strength of character comes from how he handles those desires. He doesn’t force them on Pip. He doesn’t feel entitled to have her just because he wants her. He doesn’t moan about friendzones. He asks.

He is, I suppose, like any good Mary Sue (Marty Stu?) the idealized version of a geek everyman. And not so unrealistic for all that – I know Forsyth Turns IRL. They exist. But he is, in many ways, also my perfect fantasy book boyfriend. I will admit to have maybe making him a little too romantic. 😀

The Accidental Turn Series was not created to attack the works of Tolkien, Jordan, Brooks, or Martin, but rather to converse with them. These great classic fantasy books, they gave us what it means to write modern western fantasy, and what it means to be a fantasy writer. With each generation, it’s the artist’s responsibility to enter into a dialogue with what came before. That’s how you get expressionism and cubism out of the work of the romantics. This is my reply to what came before me. This is the next phrase in the dialogue. The next evolution of the genre. Ambitious? Probably. But you might as well shoot for the moon, right?

I hope the book will really resonate with readers like me, readers who love fantasy books but are frustrated at never seeing themselves in the books (or, if they are, as villains, exotic “others”, or savages). I mean, it’s no wonder the weird kids always fall in love with monsters, and bad guys, and mutant characters – it’s the only place we see ourselves.

My two main heroes – Pip and the narrator character Forsyth – start the book damaged by the demands of what their respective gender roles force on them in the world of Fantasy. They are the Mary Sues, the stand in for the readers. But by the end, they find power in that very Mary Suishness that they inhabit. They find the power in doing their best to be feminist, being outside of the norm, and being fans.

 

J.M. Frey is a voice actor, SF/F author, cosplayer, and fanthropologist. The Untold Tale, book one of the Accidental Turn series, is now available from all major online and IRL retailers.

www.jmfrey.net | @scifrey

George Eccles

Guest Post: State-Sponsored Terrorism in Russia by G W Eccles

Russia has always been a violent country, and terrorism has been a recurrent theme throughout its history. Repeated governments have used terror as a means of control, whether it was the Okhrana before the Russian Revolution, the Cheka, NKVD or KGB in Soviet times, or the FSB since the fall of the Soviet Union. The worst exponent was, of course, Stalin whose purges  of government officials, military officers, intellectuals and peasants led to over one million deaths.

And the problem still persists. In 1999 a campaign of apartment bombings took place in Moscow and several other cities. Putin blamed them on Chechen terrorists whose Islamic International Brigade had just invaded Dagestan on Russia’s southern border, resulting in a major Russian offensive against Chechnya, the horrors of which were to fill our television screens for some time. In 2002 some fifty Chechen separatists stormed a Moscow theatre – half of them women, all wearing suicide belts. Russian special forces eventually subdued the terrorists by pumping in a chemical sleeping agent, many of the hostages were also killed when they inhaled it. Then in 2004, no one will forget the horrors of the Beslan school massacre. Chechen rebels took over 1,000 people – the majority children – hostage in a small town in North Ossetia, rigging up the school with explosives. After three days of attempted negotiations, Russian forces stormed the school, but many of the children lost their lives in the ensuing gun battle. More recently, terrorists planted a bomb at Domodedovo, Moscow’s busiest airport, which indiscriminately killed or maimed over 200 people.

On the face of it, a recurring theme has been that the terrorists stemmed from Russia’s soft underbelly, where the regions have either separatist ambitions or festerold antagonisms from the injustices done to their peoples by the Russians during the Soviet era  – regions like Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Ossetia. In Russia, though, things are often not what they seem. A barrage of international and Russian journalists have accused the FSB (Russian Security Service) of stage-managing many of the terrorist incidents in order to justify planned Russian acts of repression. Just as Hitler simulated acts of aggression by Polish troops to justify the Nazi invasion of Poland, many people believe, for example, that the apartment bombings in 1999 were in fact perpetrated by the FSB in order to legitimise the subsequent invasion of Chechnya and the assumption of power by Putin, its former head. Does this sound far-fetched? Well, if you think so, take into account the fact that, at the time of the apartment bombings, an unexploded bomb was found and defused in Ryazan which turned out to have been planted by three FSB agents!

And this is far from the only example of the FSB’s hand being behind acts of terrorism: many Russian commentators have accused the FSB of being involved in the bomb explosions in the marketplace in the southern Russian city of  Astrakhan in 2001, at the bus stops in Voronezh (a city more or less on the Don river) in 2004 and on the Moscow-Grozny train in 2005. There is also strong evidence that the FSB organised the kidnapping of numerous journalists and international NGO workers during the Chechnya conflicts, pretending to be Chechen terrorists, in order to build up international support for the Russian invasion.

In Corruption of Power, it is against this background that Nadia, a terrorist who first appeared in The Oligarch, thrives. She lives with her younger lover in a small village outside Tashkent, but operates throughout the former Soviet Union. She is effectively a gun for hire – she has no agenda of her own. She kills to order, without commitment to a cause and without asking questions, and it is this that makes her so disturbing.

About G W Eccles

George Eccles, writing as G W Eccles, graduated from the London School of Economics with a law degree and subsequently became a partner in one of the major international financial advisory firms.

In 1994, George left London to move to Russia and Central Asia during the tumultuous period that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. His work involved extensive travel throughout Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – often to places with restricted access to foreigners. During his time there, he advised a number of real-life oligarchs how best to take advantage of the opportunities that became available as regulation crumbled and government became increasingly corrupt. Against this background, while his novels are fiction, many of the anecdotes and scenes are inspired by actual events.

His first thriller: The Oligarch, was awarded a Silver Medal both at the Global E-book Awards 2013 and at the Independent Publishers Book Awards 2013, as well as being selected as IPPY Book of the Day.

George is married and now lives with his wife in a hilltop village not far from Cannes in the South of France.

Website: http://www.gweccles.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gweccles

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/george.eccles.52

 

Corruption of Power on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Corruption-Power-G-W-Eccles-ebook/dp/B018XXLKAE

Guest Post by Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross

Guest Post by Tamara Thorne & Alistair Cross

We love Gothics. Tamara teethed on Dark Shadows, rushing home every day to watch vampire Barnabas, witchy Angelique, and ghostly Quentin. Alistair devoured Rebecca and Turn of the Screw at a young age. The tales we both grew up loving are centered on an innocent young woman (be it governess, servant, or bride) caught up in the dark mysteries and romances of a spooky old mansion.

The Gothic has attracted readers for centuries and with good reason. Gothics generally include a naive heroine, a sprawling mystery-laden house with closed off rooms or wings, a handsome brooding master of the manor to warm the cheeks – and the panties – of the heroine, and several mysterious servants who may or may not be the heroine’s ally. And there is always someone who obviously has it out for the sweet young woman – generally the head housekeeper. What’s not to love?

In our younger years, both of us scoured libraries and used bookstores for Gothics written in the 1970s and 80s, strumming through anything with a cover featuring a spooky mansion or castle, and a windswept girl fleeing in the night. Both of us were after Gothics with a supernatural flair. The bigger the flair, the more we loved – and still love – it.

“Write what you love,” they say, and our novel, The Ghosts of Ravencrest, is pure Gothic. It follows governess Belinda Moorland as she settles into Ravencrest Manor’s routine. From the moment she arrives, the self-styled “house administrator,” Mrs. Heller, has it in for her, but the elegant butler, Grant Phister, is warm and friendly even though he is obviously keeping secrets of his own. On her very first night, a handsome ghost tries to seduce her. As the story moves along, Belinda encounters more and more mysteries and the reader even gets to visit Ravencrest in 1788 to find out why some of the ghosts in contemporary times are so tormented.

But The Ghosts of Ravencrest is modern. While it has plenty of romance, horror, and sex that sizzles, it still retains the feel of the old-time Gothic mysteries. So far, we’ve met witches, a trio of evil nuns, and a disfigured harlequin, as well as a slew of other spectres including the White Violet – a beautiful actress who went mad in the 1930s – and Amelia Manning, aka, The Bride of Ravencrest, who – after the death of her beloved husband – proclaimed herself the manor’s eternal companion.

We learn about the history of Ravencrest, how it served as a madhouse and hospice during in the Civil War era and housed an orphanage in the east wing around the time of the great witch hunts in the early years of the nineteenth century. Many were burned, but the real witch escaped to live on to torment the inhabitants of Ravencrest another day…

The Ghosts of Ravencrest is the first book in The Ravencrest Saga. We will begin releasing episodes of the second novel-in-progress, The Witches of Ravencrest, later this fall. You will meet more supernatural beings, not just ghosts and witches, but creatures of every ilk. Perhaps we’ll uncover what Old Peckerhead, the scarecrow, has up his tattered sleeve. Or what makes Riley, the groundskeeper, have such a voracious appetite. Or maybe we’ll delve into the story behind the gliding, gibbering nuns, Sisters Faith, Hope, and Charity. The sky’s the limit, but certainly, we will see more of Belinda’s special talents, and her budding romance with Eric Manning. And of course, some Ravencrest mysteries will be resolved even as new ones surface.  But that’s only the beginning. At Ravencrest, it’s wise to dig into the earth before something digs its way out and finds you first.

Guest Post: The Making of “Gold Watch” by C Raymond Taylor

The making of “Gold Watch” has been quite a process in its creation and rather interesting in how it all came to pass. Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?

The year was 2002 and my wife and I were preparing to go out one weekend and take in a movie. After reviewing the entire list of movies available in our area, we did not find a single one that suited us. My wife asked me “Why do almost all of the movies suck?” My reply was “Probably because the books they are based on all suck.” She said “You ought to write a book.” I responded “Maybe I will.” And thus the seed which would eventually germinate and grow into the novel “Gold Watch” had been planted.

I had always been keenly interested in reading, and had read hundreds and hundreds of novels (both fiction and nonfiction) along with scores of history books, autobiographies, Readers Digests and of course many, many newspapers and magazines from cover to cover. But actually writing something for others to read had honestly been something I hadn’t given a thought to. After further examination of the idea of actually writing a novel, my initial thought was, no way! I’m a salesman, I’ve always been a salesman, and I will always be just a salesman. But my competitive juices got the better of me. Perhaps I should give it a try. But tossing all caution to the wind as they say, I decided to begin writing a novel and see where it led.

In order to write a novel, I deduced that one should have an idea of what to write about (Brilliant deduction, don’t you think!) Since I (and thousands of others) had recently been let go from a very stable and long held position with a major corporation due to the dictates of a new C.E.O., I was somewhat predisposed in the selection of a villain. With a C.E.O. having by chosen as “the bad guy” it was a matter of choice as to where his domain should lie. Since my wife had been a nurse for many years, I tended to gravitate into the medical arena direction, and eventually came up with an idea that got the novel off to a credible beginning and one which offered me some interesting paths to proceed upon.

Shortly after I began the novel, I found myself looking forward to getting back to the keyboard and relishing the challenge of continuously moving forward with seemingly interesting ideas and characters.

Well after almost 4 years (I told you I was a slow typist didn’t I!”) I felt that “Gold Watch” was now complete. Now all I had to do was get it published. That’s right. ALL I HAD TO DO WAS GET IT PUBLISHED!!!!!!!!!!   Well I spent the better part of two years sending off one-page synopses of “Gold Watch” with info about the author. This resulted in dozens of rejection letters and not a single sentence of encouragement.

The sensible side of my brain was screaming GIVE IT UP DUMMY! IT AIN”T GONNA HAPPEN! However the less sensible but more emotion-oriented side was being influenced by outside forces which even the sensible side couldn’t totally ignore. At the same time that publishers and agents were being approached, I was also attempting to determine if “Gold Watch” truly did have any merit. I felt that perhaps I must be too close to the novel and perhaps was being too kind to myself to be an effective critic. Thus I decided to find avid readers among my sales customer base and see if they would agree to give “Gold Watch” a fair, critical and honest evaluation. It was at this time that, as they say, “A funny thing happened on my way to the ranch.”  A few days after making the determination to approach my customers for critiques of the novel, I came across a lady named Lil engrossed in a novel at work. She went onto say that she used to be the person at a local library who selected which books the library should buy and stock on their shelves. She said that she would agree to evaluate my novel and give me a fair and honest critique. I told her to please be as harsh as possible in her evaluation because if “Gold Watch” was unworthy, she would be doing me a huge favor by telling me so and not letting me waste my time or risk embarrassment by pushing a poorly written story.

Three weeks later Lil and I reconvened. She then stated that if she was still the librarian, she would insist that they buy five or six dozen copies of “Gold Watch” and put it at the front of the library on the “Must Read ” shelf. At first I was incredulous, then I had a thought. I said that I appreciated her attempt to make me feel good, but that I really truly needed her HONEST evaluation, and not to try to spare my feelings. She looked me square in the eye and slowly said “That IS my honest evaluation!”

The next day I thought to myself that while Lil’s critique had been great, she was just one person. More critiques were needed in order to assess if “Gold Watch” had any true value. That day I again came across an avid reader named Val who also agreed to give the book a read. Val was a weekly customer and when I returned to her store the following week, she approached me with a decidedly upset look on her face. I asked her if there was something wrong? She replied “You!” I said “Me?” She then said “Yes you! Thanks for ruining my weekend!” I asked how I had ruined her weekend? Now she broke into a big toothy smile and said “I couldn’t put your book down! I read the entire thing in two days. I just loved it!”

In the ensuing years I allowed approximately fifty to sixty people to read the manuscript of “Gold Watch” while I still harbored hopes of someday actually seeing it become an actual novel selling in a book format. A lady’s exact quote was “On one page you made me cry. On the next page you made me so joyously happy! Thank you for letting me buy a copy of your “Gold Watch” manuscript.” The only problem was that it was still just a manuscript and not a book. I did not have the time, the expertise, or the money to see “Gold Watch” all the way to becoming an actual book. And then I met George Roush.

At the beginning of 2014 I had begun to check out possible website developers to see if I could have a website built to let the world know about “Gold Watch.” George was a local website developer keen to build me a website, format the novel far better than I had done, and be my liaison between myself and Lulu in order to self-publish the novel.

C Raymond Taylor is the author of the debut novel Gold Watch, available now on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Gold-Watch-C-Raymond-Taylor/dp/1312727527. More information about the book and C Ray can be found on his website: http://goldwatchnovel.com/

 

About C Raymond Taylor

C Raymond Taylor lives in Northeast Ohio. He is married with three adult children and unabashedly admits that his family is far and away the most important thing in his life. His career has been almost exclusively in the sales arena where he has worked for a handful of both major corporations and small businesses over the years. C Ray has always been an avid reader with a broad base of interests, and a somewhat unusual, imaginative, and inventive way of looking at life.

Guest Post: Social Science Fiction By Robert Eggleton

Rarity from the Hollow integrates serious social issues into its narrative. An off-world and an Earth setting are used for scenes. The Earth setting is a microcosm of the universe called a hollow and is located in West Virginia, U.S. A hollow is a relatively flatter crevice on the planet’s surface with hills on both sides, and which is often fed by a river or creek. Typically, hollow residents experience relative isolation from centers of culture and adopt values based upon local tradition. In comparison, the 2014 science fiction film, Appuchi Gramam, used a rustic village as a setting.

The characters in Rarity from the Hollow express strong beliefs about right and wrong from a sub-cultural perspective, as do I by the inclusion of social commentary in the story. Today, whether or not consumers will buy stories that are more than simple escapism is a question being asked by writers, publishers, and filmmakers. Young adult and romance stories dominate fiction. The success of the upcoming film, Paani, a dark science fiction drama, may, in part, answer that question for Hindi speakers.

Historically, speculative fiction has fueled social activism, debate, and the adoption of evolving or devolving social policy depending on one’s values. In 380 B.C., Plato envisioned a utopian society in The Republic and that story represented the beginning of a long string of speculations: ecology, economics, politics, religion, technology, feminism….

The impact of speculative fiction on my personal world view began in the 1960s when Ellison, Aldiss, Herbert and others wrote about the stuff that many American teens at the time were reflecting upon – social and political issues at a tumultuous time. Protests against increasing militarism during the Vietnam War were fueled by the writings of Ellison and Vonnegut. Speculative fiction back then was more than escapism, as evidenced by Ursula Le Guinn, who is commonly attributed with coining the term, “social science fiction,” winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970.

More recently, again focused on America because that’s the only place that I’ve ever lived, and I’ve only seen a little piece of it, please consider the social / political / economic issues related to same sex marriage. Did the GLBTQ titles increasingly being released, and the popularity of television shows such as Modern Family, influence the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that same-sex marriage was a Constitutional right? Of course, I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do believe that speculations sparked by artists in every venue have at least a subliminal impact on each of us, an impact that transcends our own prejudices, traditions and belief systems.

Rarity from the Hollow is speculative fiction written in colloquial voice that satirically and comically addresses the (1) need to improve systems for the prevention of child abuse, not only in America, but world-wide; (2) duty to internationally recognize that war trauma can cause PTSD for which veterans, out of respect for their service and irrespective of which side of the battle, deserve mental health treatment; (3) moral obligation to research the medicinal use of marijuana for the treatment of mental health problems as an alternative to pharmaceuticals produced by big drug companies; (4) advantages of creating economic options for workers living in impoverished communities to enable self-sufficiency.

Think about peanut butter and Rarity from the Hollow will make more common sense. At the 2013 International Skoll Forum, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, born in Bangladesh but he travelled extensively in India, reportedly said something like, “We have science fiction and science follows….” Muhammad Yunus heads a company that loans money to entrepreneurs who live in impoverished areas and who would not otherwise qualify for financial assistance.

Again consider the concept that speculative fiction can fuel social activism and apply it to the big problem of malnutrition in the world. Dr. Mark Manary of America headed a scientific breakthrough in the processing of peanut butter that is having a significant impact on the social problem of child malnutrition. It’s called a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) and is made in Malawi, Sierra Leone, and Ghana. The lives of thousands of African children have already been saved by RUTF.

Reading Rarity from the Hollow is like eating peanut butter. The story is a little sticky with issues and tissues at times, but it nourishes, and tastes good.

 

About Robert Eggleton:

Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state of the U.S. for over forty years. He is best known for his investigative reports about children’s programs, most of which were published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997, and which also included publication of models of serving disadvantaged and homeless children in the community instead of in large institutions, research into foster care drift involving children bouncing from one home to the next — never finding a permanent loving family, and statistical reports on the occurrence and correlates of child abuse and delinquency. Today, he is a recently retired psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia,U.S., where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome physical and sexual abuse, and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel and its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines: Wingspan Quarterly, Beyond Centauri, and Atomjack Science Fiction. Author proceeds have been donated to a child abuse prevention program operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. http://www.childhswv.org/ Robert continues to write fiction with new adventures based on a protagonist that is a composite character of children he met when delivering group therapy services. The overall theme of his stories remains victimization to empowerment.