Ever since I first learned how to read, speculative fiction has been my happy place.
How could it not be? From fantastical worlds to near-dystopian realities, speculative fiction has the ability to transport the reader to an exciting new setting where we can fall in love with incredible characters, human or magical or otherwise. And, while it's taken some time for speculative fiction to earn its due literary respect, we're finally here. In fact, these days everyone from startups to academia is touting the benefits of reading speculative fiction. Why? Well, as the author of a recent Medium article succinctly pointed out: science fiction and fantasy can inspire, motivate and warn us.
Speculative fiction encompasses works in which the setting is anything other than the "real" world. It may involve supernatural, futuristic, or other imaged elements. It might be science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror or supernatural (or paranormal) fiction. Basically, any story that is outside of the grounded-in-reality every day world and explores something "unusual" is a work of speculative fiction.
Harry Potter? Speculative fiction.
The Lord of the Rings? Speculative fiction.
World War Z? Speculative fiction.
Diversity is at the heart of speculative fiction, and the reason is two-fold. First, we're writing diverse characters (human and non-human alike). Secondly, we're writing diverse worlds, some much like our own but only slightly different, and some wholly unique. Luckily, there's a few ways literary orgs are supporting diverse writers writing these wonderfully new diverse worlds!
Since 2014, the Speculative Literature Foundation has annually offered two diversity-centered grants: Diverse Writers and Diverse Worlds, both intended to foster the creation of speculative fiction work rich in diversity.
Writers may apply for either or both grants. Please note: your project does not need to center on identity issues. SLF also do not expect or want work that simply attempts to check off all the boxes in a tokenistic way, but rather are looking for writing that offers deep characterization, complex cultural landscapes, and strong literary quality overall.
For example, an excellent novel is Nicola Griffith’s award-winning Slow River, which features queer women protagonists; another is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series, whose white male protagonist deals with a host of personal disability issues, while ethnic, gender, and other issues play out in the cultural background.
The 2019 grant period is open for applications now and this year I am honored to be a judge.
More information about the grant, as well as instructions to apply, can be found here.
From Storybrook to Riverdale, audiences gravitate to fantastical universes. These universes stoke our imaginations. They allow us to build relationships and to feel at home in a community we’d love to be a part of.
Havenwood Falls, a fantasy universe architected by a collective of award-winning and best-selling authors, is no different. Set in a box canyon in the picturesque western Colorado mountains, a couple hours’ drive from the nearest box store and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, forested acres, and streams and hot springs, Havenwood Falls is home to more supernatural creatures than one could shake a stick at—vampires, shifters, witches, fae, and even a unicorn or two. The town, which is protected by memory wards to keep away unwanted visitors and protect the privacy of its residents, is populated by both human and non-humans alike, a careful balance that is monitored by the town’s Court of the Sun and the Moon—a covert, governing body which consists of leaders of the Old Families of the town’s earliest settlers.
Created in 2017 by author Kristie Cook, the Havenwood Falls universe has grown to include an impressive 71 titles (compiled into 14 volumes) that span four distinct series—the titular line (Adult/NA), the Havenwood Falls High (YA), the Legends of Havenwood Falls (historical), and a darker, steamier line of paranormal romance, Sin & Silk—that guarantee a new favorite series for every reader. Each title is a standalone contribution to the universe, comprising endless stories with new and recurring characters that exist in the Havenwood Falls universe.
In this interview we sat down with Havenwood Falls creator, Kristie Cook, to learn more about the inspiration behind the world and where its characters might take us in the years to come.
When you did start HAVENWOOD FALLS, and who was on your initial team?
The idea of Havenwood Falls sparked several years ago, but it was just a fun thing in the back of my mind until early 2017, when I decided to see what I could do with it. A few of our authors—T.V. Hahn, Kallie Ross, Morgan Wylie, and Lila Felix—were part of my initial sounding board, as was a group of my readers. By the time we publicly announced it, we had several authors and our amazing cover designer, Regina Wamba, contracted.
Why did you decide to build a shared universe?
Partly, because I thought it would be fun to have a place to play with my author friends. Writing is such a solitary activity, sometimes even lonely. I noticed more and more authors looking for co-writing and other collaborative opportunities, so I was inspired to take that little idea I’d had for years and run with it. But more importantly, I wanted to create something readers would love—an escape from their realities—brought to them by various authors they know and love as well as those new to them. I hoped they’d not only look forward to their next trip to Havenwood Falls, but at the same time, they’d discover authors they might have never known otherwise and find even more books to read and enjoy.
How do you select contributing authors, and how has this changed over the lifetime of the project?
In the beginning, I reached out to authors I knew well socially and professionally—writers who I knew were committed to producing quality, well-crafted stories and understood the business side, but also who I thought would be all-in on the creation and collaboration aspects. This is not a typical writing project, and collaboration and teamwork is key to making it all work. Most of our authors I’d worked with on other projects and knew they’d be an asset. From there, our contracted authors made recommendations of other writers they knew. Now, we have a huge waiting list of authors wanting to participate, and I often hear authors say that writing for Havenwood Falls is on their bucket list. That floors me!
What are the struggles of building a shared universe with so many contributing authors?
One of our biggest challenges is keeping track of the world elements—characters, places, rules, etc.—because we all use each other’s elements, so we have to ensure we maintain consistency. We keep a “world bible” that’s massive and can be overwhelming. Keeping that updated with the most recent information from new stories is a constant job, but necessary so we don’t have conflicting details. Thank the story gods for our proofreader who helps me keep track of everything! Readers often say they wish they could live in Havenwood Falls. Well, Liz Ferry, our proofer, and I often feel like we do! We’ve read every story (I read each one at least three times!) and constantly have our heads in the world, but that allows us to stay on top of those details.
Strong organization is the only way to manage a project like this with nearly 50 authors. As long as we stay organized and closely monitor timelines, we’re good. But if we get off track at all, things can easily spiral out of control. So that’s a constant struggle, but fortunately, I’m pretty organized and very deadline-oriented.
What do you think HAVENWOOD FALLS’ strongest points/weakest are?
Our strongest points are our amazingly talented authors. I’m blown away with each story I read—they’re just so. Stinkin’. Good. I mean, I knew they were talented when I signed them on, but they just go above and beyond with these books. I fall in love with the characters and feel like they’re my neighbors. Our reviews are spectacular, so if they’re any indication, readers agree with how good these books are.
Our level of collaboration is another strong point. Each story has characters and places from other authors’ stories, making it feel like a real small town where you see familiar faces on the street and in the coffee shop. The way we all work together ensures readers get an experience that’s unique to Havenwood Falls.
I think our weak points are (or at least were originally) strong points—the length of the stories and the quick releases. Most of these books are novellas, easily read on a Friday evening or weekend afternoon. So yes, they can be read quickly—however, we have a new release almost every week, so you don’t have to wait long for the next one. This does mean we have a lot of books in the universe, but the good news there is that you don’t have to read them all if you don’t want to. It’s all designed so you can read those that grab your interest the most. We’re pretty sure, though, that you’ll want to read them all once you get started. Don’t be overwhelmed—just pick a book and start—but if you want an order, they’re numbered by series.
What do you want readers to take away from HAVENWOOD FALLS?
Havenwood Falls is like a TV show, where each episode is about a different set of characters, but they’re all intertwined in each other’s lives because they all live in the same town. Because of this, we say it’s like Supernatural meets Gilmore Girls. I want readers to wish they lived in Havenwood Falls—to feel like they’re friends with the characters, like they’re sitting in Coffee Haven or Napoli’s with them. So much so that they look forward to each release because they feel like they’re going home.
If you could be any HAVENWOOD FALLS character, who would it be?
I’d have to say one of my own characters, Addie Beaumont. My first main character, Michaela, owns the inn, and in the beginning, I thought she’d be at the center of things—involved with both the town and locals as well as any newcomers. But her BFF Addie, a badass witch who works for the governing body (the Court of the Sun and the Moon), inadvertently took that role instead. She shows up in nearly every book in the present-day timeline, usually helping the other characters solve a problem. She especially likes helping young women empower themselves—many are new to their abilities and often fear them. Addie encourages them to overcome those fears and embrace who they’re supposed to be. I love that about her! She’s also powerful in her own right, and she’ll do anything to protect her town and the people. She’s no-nonsense, no BS, yet she’s vulnerable in her own ways. She’s become an iconic character in the world, and I look forward to writing more about her.
What do you see for the future of HAVENWOOD FALLS?
I’d started this project saying that it will keep going as long as we have writers to write the books and readers to read them. But I’ve always envisioned it going beyond the books. There are so many ways to bring this world to the people—it’s prime for various forms of media. I’d love to even have a HAVENWOOD FALLSCon, a weekend of living in Havenwood Falls with other fans and the creators. Right now, though, we’re not even two years into building the brand, so we’re still growing the audience. Once we hit certain milestones, we’ll be exploring how to expand this amazing universe.
Havenwood Falls shared world is a collaborative project with multiple series, dozens of authors, and countless stories. Learn more at http://havenwoodfalls.com/.
Coming March 19th
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Sisters Rachel, Angie, and Jo may have survived their first encounter with a curse, but hundreds more are lurking within their aunt’s antique shop. There’s just one problem: Peter, the apprentice, has no idea how to start teaching two untrained rune-casters and keep them safe at the same time. Naet It isn’t fair to Jo that she has no magic, but her sisters both do. She feels useless and left out. Worse yet, she knows that she’s a liability. She would leave but something in the shop is calling to her, reaching out … and she won’t leave until she finds it. Ail Every night, Angie’s dreams are haunted by a man who claims he was cursed, and she’s the only one who can save him. When she starts to get sick, Peter and her sisters are sure the cause is her mysterious dreams. How can they convince her that the person she’s determined to help could be the one killing her? Eles Rachel never expected to get a magic power and a boyfriend when she inherited the antique shop. Better yet, she’s actually good at curse-breaking. It seems as though she’s found exactly what she was meant to do. But, when a curse strikes two people she cares about, Rachel is faced with the harsh truth that she might only be able to save one.
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Elizabeth Kirke wanted to be an author before she even knew what an author was. She used to say that she wanted to be an artist, but that was only because she was too young to write and had to tell stories with pictures instead. She hasn't stopped writing since she learned how. It wasn't long before she dreamed of becoming an author and couldn't be happier now that that dream is a reality. If she isn't writing...well, let's be honest; if she isn't writing she's probably on Facebook thinking that she should start writing. But, if she isn't writing or on Facebook, she's probably doing something involving books, baking, gardening, or yarn. In an ideal world, she'd be reading and knitting while something from the garden is in the oven. Then again, in an ideal world, she'd have a flock of ducks and a couple of goats. Like most slightly-nosy, avid readers, Elizabeth can't resist trying to catch a peek at books she sees people reading when out in public to see if she can figure out what it is. While doing just that one day, she realized that it would probably be the coolest-thing-ever if she caught a complete stranger reading one of her books. That's her new dream.
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Mary Shelley was a leading lady of horror before she ever penned Frankenstein. The daughter of a pioneer of feminist thought, Shelley was raised under the influence of both her father’s radical political ideas and her mother’s feminist thinking. When challenged by Lord Byron to write a “ghost story”—a task deemed inconceivable for women at the time—Shelley wrote Frankensteinand basically girl bossed the f*** out of the lot of them (though she would be forced to initially publish her work anonymously before paving the way for women in literature in the centuries to follow).
Last year marked the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Long considered a cornerstone in gothic literature and women’s horror fiction, Frankenstein is not only a personal favorite but also a potent feminist text—and one that pulls no punches as it explores the power relationship between men and women, both literally and figuratively. While on the surface a dark story of a mad scientist, Frankenstein is in fact a much deeper story, as through male narration Shelley depicts how her female characters—from Elizabeth, the soft-spoken love interest of Victor, to the strong-willed Safie, to the near creation of the Monster’s female companion—are thought of and treated by the male characters. While her feminism is plain to see (read), Shelley’s critique is not limited to the power relationship between men and women, but a larger allegory to the imbalance between the toxic masculinity of mankind and the feminine spirit of nature. Thus, the real story inside Frankenstein isn’t the dear doctor and his monster. Instead, another battle rages between the lines that was just as relevant two centuries ago as it is today—that between science and its relentless goal to subjugate nature.
The battle begins in the first paragraphs. After being rescued by the charitable hands of a northern-bound sea vessel, Victor Frankenstein, mad scientist, declares, “I pursued nature to her hiding places,” where he was richly (and rather vainly) rewarded “…from the midst of [this] darkness, a sudden light broke in upon me – a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius…that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.” It is clear that Victor, an ambitious and excelled student of science, considers himself to have been deserved of such an “awesome power.” Upon learning nature’s secret, Frankenstein toils endlessly to demonstrate his newfound power in spite of the natural progression of life and death, proclaiming, “my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature.”
In the creation scene of Frankenstein, the intricacies of the creature’s birth are carefully avoided, conceding only that Victor himself “infuse[d] a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at [my] feet.” His scientific tools collected, Victor wields the power known only to him through the study of science (and careful dominance of nature) and brings to life the being he had formed: a man in his own image. But, though he had carefully selected each portion of his creature’s form, Frankenstein is displeased, even repulsed, by his own work upon seeing it alive. “Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart”, confesses Victor after the birth of his Monster, after which he rushes from his laboratory, leaving his creature to survive and fend for itself, not unlike a snake, who abandons its young to the unknowns of the wild. In his single act of betrayal, Victor humanizes the creature in a creation story as vapid and callous as that of Genesis itself.
In the film adaptations of Frankenstein, extensive creative liberties are taken to illustrate the scene of Victor Frankenstein’s triumphant childbirth. In the 1931 classic, on the stormy eve that is to be the birth night of the Monster, Victor—along with his incompetent and creepy assistant Fritz—usher visitors into the laboratory, which doubles as a very untraditional delivery room, to witness the birth of his creation. Lightning flashes as Victor (recast as Henry), his white lab coat billowing in the tumultuous wind, harnesses the power of the storm (an angry outburst of a vengeful nature) and funnels the power of raw electricity into the corpse of the creature, endowing it with life. The delivery room audience watches in unbridled horror and amazement as Victor shrieks to no one and everyone: “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Similarly, in Kenneth Branaugh’s 1994 adaptation, a sweaty and heavy-breathing Victor pants his way through the assemblage of the scientific devices hooked to the creature’s metal placenta and watches in an open-mouthed, eyes glazed over daze as electric eels swim through the creature’s tubes of umbilical cord. Then, tearing the newborn creature from his metal womb, Victor attempts to wrestle the giant babe to standing in a sloppy, wet, clicking slime grossly reminiscent of embryonic fluid. The monster a failure, Victor looks on helplessly as the culmination of all his efforts hangs dangling from chains above the dirtied delivery room floor in a morbid demonstration of failed childbirth. “What have I done”, Victor whines.
The argument presented as to Frankenstein’s battle of science versus nature (and masculinity versus femininity) is beautifully surmised in critiques such as Anne K. Mellor’s Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein. “When Victor Frankenstein identifies nature as female,” Mellor writes, “he participates in a gendered construction of the universe whose ramifications are everywhere apparent in Frankenstein.” Mellor goes beyond the symbolism of the creation scene of the novel and discusses the various female characters in the book and their sexist functions: “Inside the home, women are either kept as a kind of pet, or they work as housewives, child care providers, or nurses, or servants.” In a thoughtful analogy, Mellor examines the consequences of the division from feminism and the role of women in science as depicted by Shelley, and correlates this emotional vacancy in Victor as the reason he is unable to love or care for his creation and is such an unfit ‘father.’ In her conclusion, Mellor surmises: “At every level, Victor Frankenstein is engaged upon a rape of nature, a violent penetration and usurpation of the female’s “hiding places”, of the womb.”
Another thought-provoking critique is Mary Poovey’s My Hideous Progeny: The Lady and the Monster: “The monster is the victim of both the symbolic and the literal. And, as such, it is doubly like a woman in patriarchal society – forced to be a symbol of (and vehicle for) someone else’s desire, yet exposed (and exiled) as the deadly essence of passion itself”, writes Poovey. Later, Poovey further concludes that upon discovering the truths of his origin, from that time on the “monster’s attempts to deny its nature are as futile as they are desperate.”
The ongoing battle of male versus female rages covertly within the lines of Shelley’s watchful prose. Victor’s intense abhorrence of his disastrous creation, and the creature’s bittersweet revenge against his own maker, acutely portray the consequences of usurping the circular progression of nature, serving as a timeless reminder of the careful balance of ethics and responsibility inherent in discovery. Perhaps most horrifying in Shelley’s classic isn’t the monster itself, but the horror and despair wrought by the hands of a naïve and careless “man of genius” which acts as a beacon to remind humanity of our place in the natural world. Through the sadness and misery gleaned from the book’s unfortunate characters we are reminded that a step forward is not always progress and that nature will always exact her revenge. It’s a great lesson, beget at a great price—and it’s one we should be thinking about in today’s contentious climate where we continue to use science and technology to force the beautiful, natural world and its beings—particularly women—into subservience.
Courtesy of The Tome and Tankard Inn.
The Isle of Gold is a pirate fantasy based in real history, so I felt it fitting to make a cocktail based on a genuine historical recipe. Bumbo was a popular cocktail designed to improve the taste of rum rations. Originally this was made up of rum, water, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Scurvy was typically a bigger problem for the Navy, who would spend many months at a time at sea and with a larger crew than a pirate ship – a pirate’s diet contained more fresh fruit and vegetables than you might expect, so citrus wasn’t necessary in Bumbo. However, for my purposes (and to make my cocktail delicious) I have adapted the recipe to include lime juice and coconut rum, keeping to the spirit of the drink but making it a little tastier. Therefore, this is the Riptide‘s own version.
You will need:
Take your cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Add rum, malibu, lime juice, nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar. Shake vigorously and strain into your tumbler. Spear your slice of lime and pineapple chunk on a cocktail stick and add as garnish.
Enjoy! And when the Charybdis makes the room spin, tell it in no uncertain terms that you will not be taken by the sea.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Kristin of Oh!FortheloveofBooks and answer some of her burning questions about The Isle of Gold--from Merrin's sexuality to my favorite member of the Riptide's crew. Check out a sneak peek of Q&A below, and don't miss out on her exclusive giveaway to win an ARC of the book for yourself!
Is Seven Jane your author name? And if so where did you come up with it?
It is! Seven Jane was actually the name I’d picked out for my daughter, if I’d had one. I never had a daughter, so I decided to keep the name for myself.
A reader (Uhm myself) happened to notice it seemed Merrin might be BiSexual, do you consider this true?
I think Merrin would say that love transcends boundaries of gender, race, time, or realm, and I would agree with her! We still have a lot to learn about her relationship with Claudette, but I would certainly consider the two women to be deeply in love, regardless of whether that is friendship, sisterhood, or romance. I think it’s all three.
Where did you get the inspiration for The Isle Of Gold?
It was inspired by a dream, and by my deep and relentless love of the ocean and pirate folklore. Actually, the catalyst for the story was a dream in which I was trapped on a small island (not much larger than a boulder) in the middle of the ocean, and the only way for me to escape the rock was to tether myself to someone else in the dream—someone much like Winters—as we had to depend on each other to survive. I woke up feeling both unable to live without this person, and doomed to be trapped with him, which opened up my imagination to the story that eventually became Winters and Evangeline’s, Davy and the sea goddess’, and even, as we are just beginning to see, Merrin and Tom Birch’s.
If you were a character in your book, who would you be?
Probably Erik Winters. I, too, am prone to fits of terrible grouchiness, rarely brush my already-unruly hair, and am fiercely loyal to those I love.
How do you think your characters would react if they met you and knew you wrote their story?
I think their reactions would be as varied as their personalities, but I definitely think I’d stick by Tom Birch in the event they all confronted me, and count on his diplomacy, just in case.
Is book two in the works?
I can officially say that yes, it is! I am so excited! I’ll be sharing more very soon on my website, so be sure to subscribe for updates at http://www.sevenjane.com/!
What will you be doing on October 9th 2018?
Hiding from social media, and drinking rum—really.
What advice would you give to others out there writing books and hoping to be published?
No matter what you do, keep writing. Surround yourself with other writers, and readers your trust. Lift each other up, and succeed as a community of artists.
Check out more on Kristin's blog here.
I’ve always been a fan of pirate stories and ocean folklore, and I wanted THE ISLE OF GOLD to both fit in with classic tales, like Treasure Island, and stand apart from them—and to not get lost in the sensationalism of Hollywood pirate dramas that retell mythology on their own terms. In writing a historical fantasy of the pirate era the main thing I wanted the story to do was avoid tropes of peg legs, talking parrots, and buried treasure while making use of real mythology and actual ocean phenomenon while abiding by rigorously researched historical truths on the people who sailed, the ships they sailed on, and the lives they lived at sea. In addition to these, this story served as an opportunity to touch on some of today’s most pressing societal issues of diversity and inclusion, from women’s rights, to racism, to romance and love outside of the heternormative.
In terms of the natural world, two uncommon real phenomena that were mentioned in the story were frost flowers and the green flash of light on the ocean (no, Hollywood didn’t make that up for Pirates of the Caribbean!). Frost flowers are delicate ice structures that “bloom” on the surface of the polar oceans in the dead of winter. Likewise, green flashes are most often seen at sunset, last only a second or two, and are essentially a result of light refraction and visual trickery as the sun suddenly and briefly changes colors. Here’s a cool article on the green flashes, which, because they are so unusual, have provided much fodder for paranormal speculation by sailors over the years!
Legends of the mystical island Bracile and the red-sailed ghost ship Caleuche are just as steeped in ocean folklore as the cursed goddess turned sea monster Charybdis and sirens…especially the not so beautiful kind. I wanted to bring in one iconic pirate name, and while I drew from several real pirates in building Winters and Merrin’s characters, Davy Jones came directly from legend—(both as a real man and an idiom for the bottom of this sea). Jökulsárlón, and its neighboring Diamond Beach in Iceland became the perfect setting for a real-world embodiment of Bracile.
The ships, their rigging, and their weaponry was all brought from historical research on 17th century sailing culture. As I began to research these in earnest, a few interesting facts rose to the top, particularly in the lack of diversity on these vessels. While we tend to think of pirates as ragtag crews of every nation and color, it wasn’t necessarily true. In fact, even white men pirates still practiced the normal racism and biases of the time, often trading and profiting from the slave trade themselves. It was rare to see a person of color in a position of power onboard a pirate vessel, much less one who was beloved and respected. For this role, Jomo was introduced. Likewise, with the exception of a very few and very famous female pirates (Anne Bonney, Mary Read, etc.) women were not allowed to sail. In fact, in the pirate code written by Bartholomew Roberts, women were not only forbidden to sail, but to bring one aboard was punishable by death. This alone gave Merrin an incentive to keep her identity and sex a secret from the men on the ship. Lastly, a profession as a whore was just as taboo as sexual empowerment by women of the time (or empowerment of any kind, really) and this norm was challenged by Claudette, Mrs. Emery, and even Evangeline herself. There are subtle hints throughout the story to a more romantic than platonic love between Merrin and Claudette, too, proving the currents of love run according to their own desire, regardless of race or gender—and this also affected the budding romance between Merrin and Tom Birch, was remained understated as falling in love was never Merrin’s goal when she set out to sea.
Writing The Isle of Gold was as fantastic an adventure as the story itself. Part history, part mythology, and part imagination, this story drew as much from real sea phenomenon as it did from some of the oldest sea legends on record, told by a strong protagonist who acts as a lens of crystallization for deeper diversity issues that linger just below the surface of a fantastical pirate adventure.
This blog was posted as a guest blog on Misadventures of a Reader.