Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Speculative Fiction: Fantasy

What is fantasy? What makes it different from other kinds of speculative fiction?
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week, we compared fantasy, science fiction, horror, and paranormal. Today, Iet’s take a deeper look at fantasy.

That’s Impossible!

At its simplest, fantasy is fiction about impossible things. The impossible could be magic, mythical creatures, imaginary races, or whimsical worlds. Fantasy pushes the boundaries of speculative fiction more than any other genre, limited only by an author’s creativity.
Where does it come from?
As long as stories have existed, storytellers have embellished them as much as they thought they could get away with. Sometime around the fourteenth century, these embellishments began to be seen as an intentional and desirable element to add to stories. The popularity of such stories ebbed and flowed for the next few hundred years. In fact, the existence of the genre today is owed in part to fantastic elements ceasing to appear in mainstream stories. Instead of a little whimsy featured everywhere, most novels eliminated it, while the ones that didn’t—mainly fairy tales—doubled down on the fantastic.
In the nineteenth century, authors like George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, and William Morris created longer stories that looked much like the modern fantasy genre. They combined the deeper, fleshed-out characters of mainstream fiction with the mythical features normally relegated to the shorter fairy tales of previous centuries.
But it wasn’t until the mid-twenty century that the term fantasy began being used specifically to refer to these kinds of stories, around the time J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were publishing their high fantasy novels. As some of the first books to be labelled such, they are highly influential in modern fantasy. Despite a wide variety in the genre today, the subgenre of high fantasy is usually the first thing—or in some cases the only thing—those unfamiliar with fantasy think of.
Aren’t these stories for children?
Not all of them. In the modern age, more and more fantasy is being written for older audiences. It’s true that early fantasy writers often wrote for children. Remember how I said that mainstream stories had shifted toward realism? When fantasy began taking shape in its current form, like most new things, it was more easily accepted by younger audiences. Naturally, authors who wanted to be read wrote for this accepting audience. And as their books continued to be written for children, it reinforced the notion that the genre was for them.
However, as generations of children have grown up reading fantasy, the demand for works which appeal to them as they age has increased. Readers have realized that adulthood hasn’t destroyed their love of magic and whimsy; they just want to see it in more mature and complex settings. And many modern authors are more than happy to provide these stories.

Kinds of Fantasy

There are many, many, subgenres of fantasy, and they’re constantly being redefined. To simplify things, we’ll look at some of the different factors that can be used to classify a fantasy story.
  • Contemporary and most urban fantasy is set in the real modern world with added magical or mythical elements.
  • Historical fantasy is also set in the real world but in the past.
  • Second-world or alternate universe fantasy takes place in a fictional reality and may resemble the past, present, or future of our world in terms of culture or technology.
  • Portal or invasion fantasy features a crossover between real and fictionalized settings, either because a person from our world travels to a fictional one or vice versa. These stories can share many similarities with time travel fiction due to the common fish-out-of-water themes.
  • “Hard” fantasy has a rigid, almost scientific magic system. Who can perform magic, how they can use it, and the expected outcome conform to a set of rules.
  • “Soft” fantasy more typical of classic fantasy and fairy tales. Magic is mysterious, and may have a few rules or guideline, but ultimately, readers can expect the unexpected.
  • Non-magical fantasy has no magic and instead, uses a fictional setting, mythical creatures, or fantasy races.
  • Epic fantasy has large, sweeping stories and plots which affect large populations, possibly even whole worlds, at high stakes. High fantasy is also sometimes defined this way.
  • Sword and sorcery or heroic fantasy stories are smaller in scale than epics, often revolving around a single protagonist or party, but stakes are still high. These particular subgenres tend to be historical in a low-tech fictional setting.
  • Low fantasy and magical realism are typically small in scale with lower stakes. It’s not uncommon to see such a story take place with a single house or room.
  • Grimdark fantasy is gritty and violent,with a pessimistic view of its world.
  • Noblebright fantasy focuses on the heroic ideal for its main characters, with an optimistic worldview.
  • Romantic fantasy (romance), comic fantasy (humor), and dark fantasy (horror) all bring the thematic elements of their crossover genres with them and change the overall tone accordingly.


As you can see, fantasy is a fluid and varied genre with a long history. What are your favorite kinds of fantasy? Let us know on our Facebook page or leave a comment below!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Speculative Fiction: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and Paranormal

What they share and how they’re different.
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
A several weeks ago, we looked at what genres are and the definitions we at Authors 4 Authors Publishing use. This week, it’s an overview of speculative fiction.

Why Speculative Fiction?

As we’ve noted in previous posts about other genres, depending on context, any genre can have varying definitions. Speculative Fiction is no different. Some might define it narrowly as part of a spectrum of science fiction, but it can also be defined as a sort of super-genre or an umbrella under which several others can be classified. Though it might seem counterintuitive, we find the latter definition much more useful.
Because the genres that it encompasses are so fluid that they often have trouble staying in their boxes. Having a wider definition captures stories that would otherwise be difficult to contain in those genres.
To summarize, speculative fiction is any fiction that asks “what if” and makes up a world or scenario that, while plausible, isn’t possible in our world.
The Elements of Speculative Fiction
So what are these fluid genres? Over the next month, we’ll go over each of these one-by-one, but for the sake of understanding this article, here is a quick overview of all four:
  • Fantasy - While the genre has only been defined since the mid-20th century, fantasy elements have been in stories for as long as they’ve existed. Talking animals, magic, mythical creatures, and imaginary lands are staples of fantasy. Stories feature the impossible and often strive for a sense of wonder. If something does not and could not exist in the real world, it is likely to be fantasy.
  • Science Fiction (sci-fi) - Dating back to the 19th century, science fiction extrapolates scientific concepts and technology beyond their current scope. Space travel, time travel, cloning, genetic enhancement, and robots are staples. Stories feature the not-yet possible and often strive for a sense of wonder. If something does not exist in the real world, but maybe could someday, it is likely to be science fiction.
  • Horror - Like fantasy, elements of horror have existed as long as stories have, but the genre came into its own some time around the 18th century. At its simplest, a horror story seeks to scare the reader. Monsters, psychological fears, and the darkness of humanity are staples. Stories feature anything from the improbable to the impossible and strive for a sense of terror. If something is disturbing or insomnia-inducing, it is likely to be horror.
  • Paranormal - Again, paranormal and supernatural elements have existed throughout history. Ghosts, angels, some monsters, UFOs, and legendary creatures are staples. Stories feature the unexplained and improbable and strive for a sense of wonder or mystery. With the exception of deities, if something has never been proven to exist in the real world yet still has believers, it’s likely paranormal.

Common Ground and Blurred Boundaries

As you probably noticed, there is a lot of overlap between these genres. If you think hard enough, you might even able to name a story that qualifies as all four! Sometimes, especially with an ongoing series that may dip in and out of the genres at points, it can be easier to simply classify it as speculative fiction and move on. Also, when looking for new books, readers are often led to a general selection of speculative fiction because it’s not uncommon for fans of one of the genres to like the others as well.

Common Cross-Genres

All that said, some of the crossover between these fluid genres can defined in popular subgenres.
Science Fantasy
These stories combine magic with technology. Ever heard people debate whether the top two movie franchises in the world are science fiction or fantasy? Star Wars has laser swords and spaceships (sci-fi) as well as heroes that wear robes and wave their hands like wizards to do what is essentially magic (fantasy). The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example, has aliens and power armor (sci-fi) as well as sorcerers and illusions (fantasy). They have the improbable with the impossible and and overall sense of wonder. They’re science fantasy.
Time Travel
This is typically a sci-fi subgenre, but it’s worth noting that it often shows up in fantasy as well. Usually, the method of travel will indicate whether it’s sci-fi or fantasy. If it’s a machine, it’s probably sci-fi, and if it’s a spell, talisman, or ritual, it’s probably fantasy. But sometimes, the travel itself is not the point of the story, and so the method isn’t made clear. If there are no other indicators in the rest of the story, it might just be time travel speculative fiction.
Dark Fantasy
The child of fantasy and horror, this genre generally has all the trappings of fantasy but intends to disturb and frighten readers. A story with dragons and wizards but also terrifying spider demons? That would be dark fantasy.
Dystopian and Space Horror
Science fiction and horror can combine in a few different ways. Dystopian stories have settings in which the world or society has been ruined, usually via technology in the wrong hands. Space horror explores the more frightening possibilities of alien life or planets or even space travel itself. Both look at the advancements of sci-fi in the worst possible scenario.
Paranormal Horror
This is one of the most natural pairings. When people think of ghost stories, they tend to assume they’ll be scary. The divergence of the two genres is relatively recent, but they are different. A paranormal horror story is the classic ghost story, unknown and frightening.

One Weird Family

Like family members, fantasy, science fiction, horror, and paranormal are all different, but they all have something in common. Speculative fiction stories are all a little strange. It’s what makes them speculative. Their authors look at the world and fundamentally change it for their stories. It’s all a matter of what they change.

Next Time

Over the next few weeks, we’ll delve deeper into each of these genres. Look for next week’s post on fantasy. Have a favorite to read? Let us know on Facebook which of these genres you want to see more of!

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Interview with Author Katelyn Barbee

On May 31st, our friends in the Just-Us League published their fifth anthology A Bit of Magic: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings.

Renee Frey, COO Authors 4 Authors Publishing

A Bit of Magic
The oldest story can be made new again, changed and altered until it is reimagined and restored. 

Pride interferes with happily-ever-afters: a proud princess is tested and tests the prince in return; a young thief is caught red-handed and must make amends; and a vain queen struggles to save her stepdaughter.

Finding love is not a simple task: a hero searches for the ideal magical bride; an innocent librarian is charmed by a man with a menacing secret; a queen takes a spoiled prince as her sole deckhand; and a well-intentioned princess seeks to make things right with her father.

Change causes chaos, for better or worse: a scheming cat seeks to better the lot of his daydreaming master; a cursed pirate captain is given a second chance when he finds a young stowaway; a spoiled teenager suffers the consequences of turning her best friend into a toad; and a thief and a rebel hiding secrets meet at a ball.

Follow these characters on their journeys as eleven magical tales are turned on their heads and seen from new perspectives.

Today, I'm here with Katelyn, author of "The Thief and the Spy," a Cinderella retelling included in the anthology. 
Katelyn, thanks for joining us! What inspired your retelling?
I wanted to challenge myself. Cinderella has been done so many times, how could I make it my own while still leaving it recognizable? Which is how it turned into a story with spies and thieves. Freedom became a central them. My Prince Charming (Theo) has a great deal of freedom and wants to help others to obtain it. My Cinderella (Asha) has none, nor does she think it is possible for herself or others. 

Did you use any famous fairy tale symbols? How did any metaphors, similes, or symbols in the original inspire your retelling? 
Cinderella is of course famous for the glass slipper, so I put a fun twist on that. Instead of losing a shoe, Asha loses one of her magical wooden hands. I also incorporated her dresses getting progressively finer each night and my Theo never finding out Asha’s name throughout the ball. He has to earn that. Also, I mixed one of the stepsisters with the fairy godmother/mother’s spirit character, resulting in Dove, whose name is a nod to the birds that help Cinderella throughout different versions of the tale. 

A4A fans, you can read my recent blog post on fairy tale symbolism here.

So Katelyn, what was the hardest part of writing your story?
The ending! Specifically, making sure the ending satisfied the expectations I’d set up for myself. Cinderella is one of the most well known fairy tales, perhaps even the most well known because it’s so universal, so creating an ending that respected the different versions while also giving the readers something fresh and interesting was a challenge. I think I probably went through four or five complete rewrites before I got it right!

What short stories have you participated thus far in the JL anthologies, and how did this experience differ from your previous JLA stories?
I have a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin (set in the same universe as my Cinderella retelling) in our first volume, From the Stories of Old, and I also participated in volume three, Whispers in the Shadows, our horror anthology.

This one being my third short and second retelling, it was a bit easier to know where to start when writing. My first short story, The Miller’s Daughter, was often trial and error. For that one, I set out with a vague idea of what I wanted and so it went through several significant changes with each round of critiques. This time around, while I did have to do a significant amount of rewriting, the story itself changed less overall. It was more a process of refining what I already had written.

OOH, interesting! Are you building a cosmere, like Brandon Sanderson and some other fantasy writers? And can we expect a full-length novel in this shared setting?
Yes, actually. Both of my JLA fairy tale shorts take place in the same world as my first novel (currently titled Brisingamen), only in different time periods and locations. There are Easter eggs for both through the novel and other books in the series. Brisingamen picks up about 30 years after the events of The Thief and the Spy. It follows the children of some of the rebellion heroes from Asha’s and Theo’s generation. 

What made you choose the fairy tale you did? 
Cinderella has always been one of my favorites, though not necessarily for the romance aspect most modern versions include. I think I like the idea of the universe righting the life of someone who perseveres and remains kind to others despite her own unfortunate circumstances. 

Cinderella is definitely a fun story to adapt and play with!

Did you stick closely to the fairy tale you rewrote? 
Er...sort of? I do follow most of the plot beats, especially as the story goes on, but I have several significant divergences as well. My Prince Charming character, Theo, for example, isn’t terribly interested in finding a bride, but rather recruiting for the rebellion he’s a member of. I might’ve also taken the “charming” aspect of his character a bit literally and given him the ability to magically persuade the minds of others…

And my then there’s my Cinderella, Asha, a thief with magical wooden hands. She’s only going to the ball because her mother wants her to dig up exploitable secrets on the wealthy. To Asha, the ball is just another job until she (quite literally) runs into Theo and he starts pursuing her.

Do you prefer a happy ending, and did that affect how you wrote your story?
I do love happy endings as long as they’re earned. That actually was rather tricky to get right for my story. I didn’t want to turn Asha into a damsel in distress and have Theo to rescue her from a life of servitude. Modern readers expect more of their heroines than that. But I also didn’t want to turn Theo into a prize for Asha to “win” in the end, so they end up saving each other instead. 

How long have you been writing?
Since high school. Growing up, I would tell stories (orally) or draw out scenes or character depicting what I couldn’t find the (written) words to express. It took some time for my writing skills to catch up to my imagination. 

Other than Brisingamen, what projects are you working on now?
Currently, the big one is my YA fantasy series. Book one (Brisingamen) is complete and I’m about to dive into editing it again for what will be my third draft. I’ll hopefully have that one ready to query by the end of this year or the beginning of the next one. I’ve also written about a third of it’s sequel. Books three, four, and five have all been outlined to various degrees as well.

I also have several short stories in the works for JL future anthologies. You can expect to see more from me in #5, #6 and beyond!

Thank you so much for your time, Katelyn! And readers, don’t forget to purchase your copy of A Bit of Magic, available in ebook or paperback on Amazon.

Katelyn Barbee is a Phoenix college student by day and a writer by night. When not working on her fantasy series, you can find her at the cinema catching the latest flicks or enjoying a nature walk when the weather is nice.
You can connect with Katelyn on Twitter or on Facebook.

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