Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Rob J. Hayes

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy and romantic fantasy. This month, I’m taking a walk on the grittier, darker side of fantasy- grimdark!

I’m excited to talk a little bit with prolific author Rob J. Hayes.

Will you talk a little bit about yourself and your work?

Hi! My name is Rob. I’m a British fantasy and science fiction author. I’m self published. I’ve been in the game for about 9 years now and have released over 15 books so far, which continues to surprise me because I can never name them all without cheating and looking them up.

My debut trilogy, The Ties that Bind, is largely considered quite firmly in the Grimdark category. Which checks out given it largely focuses around witch hunters, one of who burns a family alive in the very first chapter.

And my The War Eternal series is kind of a weird mash-up between Grimdark and YA, with a protagonist who was pretty much conditioned to be a ruthless magic wielding soldier for an empire. She also starts the first book as a prisoner of war in an underground Pit where the inmates are running the show. It’s pretty grim.

The fourth book in The War Eternal series is soon to be released. What were some struggles with writing this series?

This series has been a massive struggle throughout. The main character, Eska, is an angry, vengeful young woman who is stubborn to a fault. She regularly makes bad choices, and especially in the first book she’s very much an impetuous teenager. She also suffers from depression and anxiety and has suicidal thoughts. To say she’s been tough at times is an understatement.

It’s also been a big struggle to fall back into her voice when beginning each book. She’s got such a big personality and a distinctive voice that getting it right, and also changing it slightly from book to book has been hard. I’ve never had quite so many false starts and big deletions of entire sections.

In fact, when I first wrote book 2, The Lessons Never Learned, it was an absolute mess. I was in a bad place in my own life, and a lot of the listlessness I was feeling bled out into Eska. It resulted in a book where a previously headstrong character full of agency, kinda milled around and let herself be dragged along by the plot for a whole book. It was crap. I knew it was crap and my early readers confirmed it. So I scrapped the whole thing and rewrote it. Ironically, I learned a lot of lessons from writing that book twice.

What were some victories?

Getting book 2 right the second time round for sure. I think one of the biggest victories for me is just creating something I am really very proud of. Eska is a very tough character, and a lot of the things I’ve put her through over the course of the series have been demanding. But I feel I’ve created a character who is, while maybe not the most likable, quite compelling and a bit of a force of nature. The fact that so many readers have said they resonated with her has really been a big victory in that sense. I hope I continue that sense of resonance in Sins of the Mother. Eska is a bit (a lot) older with even more hangups and issues, so finding the right voice for grumpy old woman Eska was both fun and another little victory.

There are many misconceptions and disagreements regarding the definition of grimdark. How would you define grimdark?

I think Grimdark is mostly about contrast. When the whole world is covered in shit, it makes the gems sparkle that much brighter. It’s about hope and love and loyalty, and how they are found in humanity even when the whole world says they shouldn’t be. It’s that contrast between the very worst and the very best that allows good Grimdark to shine a spotlight on relevant issues and the way people overcome them.

Lawrence’s Broken Empire is about how even the most evil of men can make sacrifices to save and protect others. Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption is about the loyalty of comrades even when they occasionally (often) hate each other. Abercrombie’s First Law is about bad people fighting their inner demons and doing the right thing even when there’s no hope of winning.

I know a lot of people will happily tell me I’m wrong, but I think Grimdark has got to the point where it means something different to everyone. It’s existed for too long without a set definition so everyone takes their own version of it, just like everyone takes their own messages from the books they read.

Why do you think there are so many misconceptions?

Mostly because of the popular ones. It’s all about blood and hyper violence and sexual assault. I think Grimdark often contains those things because one of the hallmarks of the genre is that the books don’t shy away from subjects that are often seen as controversial. They shine a light on them and usually in a way that doesn’t praise or fetishise them but reveals them for the horrific truths they are. When you look at Grimdark on the surface level it can certainly seem that those controversial topics are what the genre is about. But often if you think about why those things are being used the way they are instead of just how they are being used, it often leads to a whole different level of interpretation.

What draws you to writing darker, grittier books?

I like characters who feel real. I hate to use the word realism or realistic in discussions about Grimdark because I feel the words have been overused to the point where most people just roll their eyes at them. But I’m not talking about ‘realistic’ settings or actions. I like characters to feel like real people. And I personally find that a lot easier to do in darker settings. My characters swear, drink, fuck, fuck up. To me that’s more real. I guess I just feel that when you can utilize the full scope of humanity without watering down any of it, it gives you more options and variety.

Also, I grew up watching 80s films and some of that shit was DARK!

Do real-world events ever find their way into your books in some form?

Definitely, though usually in a more abstract form, I guess. During the early stages of the pandemic when we were all locked in our homes and it felt like the world was going to end by deadly disease, I wrote a novel called Guns of the Twelfth (currently unpublished). It’s a book where humanity is living on the edge, all but wiped out by hostile forest. People live in locked down cities where most never venture past the walls. And there are things living in the forest that ‘take’ people and turn them into monsters. I was a bit too close to it when writing it, but I look at Guns of the Twelfth now and it was definitely influenced by the pandemic.

Would you say that writing darker, grittier fantasy is uniquely situated to exploring difficult themes?

No. I think the majority of themes, difficult or not, can be explored regardless of setting. It can sometimes make it easier, and it often makes more sense to explore some difficult themes via darker settings, but we are limited only by our imaginations. People don’t often see X-men as a dark, gritty setting, but it has been used to explore segregation, genocide, assault, suicide, and so many more I can’t begin to name them all. And this is all in the 90’s era kids cartoon version of X-men. I’ve never even read the comics.

Which authors are on your must-read list?

Ahhh! So many. 

I always start with Robin Hobb because her Fitz books are some of the most influential to me as an author. 

Mark Lawrence because of the kernels of philosophy he includes and somehow manages to make sound so quotable. 

Fonda Lee has rocketed up on my list because her vision for the Greenbone saga is so unique, and, like Hobb, she is a master at making characters feel like real people. 

Chris Wooding because his writing style is that perfect blend of humour and action and emotion that just hits me.

Dyrk Ashton because he just breaks rules and somehow makes it work, and I still don’t know how he does it.

ML Wang because… well, just read Sword of Kaigen and tell me it’s not a modern day fantasy masterpiece. 

I could go on. I have a lot of must read authors. Which is probably why my tbr shelf is an entire bookcase these days.

Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you’d like to mention?

I have quite a few exciting things on the horizon. It’s a busy year for me. To start with Sins of the Mother (Book 4 of The War Eternal is coming May 3rd!). And book 5 (Death’s Beating Heart) is coming December of this year. There’s also hardback versions of all The War Eternal books. I’m also planning a special edition hardcover of Never Die along with some very fancy interior art by Felix Ortiz himself.

What else? I have a sci-fantasy progression novel releasing this year probably around the summer months. It’s called Titan Hoppers and early readers have said it’s like SpaceHulk (Warhammer 40k) meets Cradle. Which I consider a very favourable comparison.

About the Author:

Rob J. Hayes has been a student, a banker, a marine research assistant, a chef, and a keyboard monkey more times than he cares to count. But eventually his love of fantasy and reading drew him to the life of a writer. He’s the author of the Amazon Best Selling The Heresy Within, the SPFBO-winning piratical swashbuckler Where Loyalties Lie, and the critically acclaimed Never Die.

Where to purchase:

The Heresy Within

Where Loyalties Lie

Never Die

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Holly Tinsley

Image Credit: Beth Tabler

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy and romantic fantasy. This month, I’m taking a walk on the grittier, darker side of fantasy- grimdark! Today, I’m privileged to talk with Holly Tinsley, author of We Men of Ash and Shadow.

Thank you for joining me, Holly!

Will you talk a little about your work?

I’m a writer of grimdark, gas lamp low fantasy – so readers can expect plenty of shady, morally grey characters in my books. My first novel, We Men of Ash and Shadow, was released in 2020 and is now a SPFBO7 Finalist, something for which I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful. The follow-up, The Hand that Casts the Bone, is due out very soon, and the audiobook is currently in production, so I am very excited about that. Outside of grimdark, I write full time for a living and spend a lot of time blogging about popular culture and games. 

What were some of the obstacles to writing We Men of Ash and Shadow?

There were definitely aspects of the story and the characters that I wanted to make sure I got right. It felt crucial to understand who the characters were, as people, before I started thinking about their stories or their situations. When you write about trauma or pain, you have to be sure you are not using that as a vehicle to develop who the characters are. The character, in my opinion, has to come first. We Men of Ash and Shadow features people displaced by war, sex workers, a character suffering dementia, people who have been through trauma and grief. I reached out to some people and learnt what I could of their experiences in similar situations. Some of what I wrote comes from my experience of PTSD. I did a lot of learning and research. Obstacle is really the wrong word because that opportunity to hear other people’s perspectives was so meaningful, and it was a privilege to be allowed to hear and better understand their voices.

What were some victories?

I’ve probably answered this question with the last one! Every time someone identifies with a character or tells me I’ve done them justice, I feel like I’ve done what I wanted in terms of making sure they are as authentic as possible. I hadn’t set out to write a particular type of book, but I knew the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to explore the darker aspects of the world through the eyes of one person whose experiences have begun to wear on them and another in the early stages of setting their foundations in the world. I wanted to know where those two might find common ground and what their relationship might look like set against difficulty and struggle. I felt I achieved that with Vanguard and Carmen – so that was a victory for me.

We Men of Ash and Shadow has been described as “a Grimdark gas lamp novel”. Grimdark seems to be one of those subgenres that is surrounded by misconceptions. How would you explain or define it?

I think I’ve come to accept there isn’t one definition for what grimdark is. These days the crossover between grimdark, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and other subgenres has become blurred, so one person’s idea of what fits into each category is different from another. If I had to explain it to someone, the best I could come up with is that grimdark is like shining an ultraviolet light on human nature. It brings what is hidden to view and forces us to recognize the parts of our world that are often darker, dirtier, and less palatable. It doesn’t mean the rest of the picture is suddenly somehow nullified or that it becomes any less important.

Why do you think there are so many misconceptions regarding grimdark?

This is a difficult question to answer because grimdark tends to poke a finger at particular subjects, which for some, are akin to real and painful wounds. There is a difference between what people think grimdark is and what are, or what should be, the intentions behind it. I don’t find any value in writing solely for shock or gore. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value in writing about shocking things to be had. And therein, I think, is where a lot of the misconception lies. As writers, we tread a thin line between including particular subjects in a way that has a purpose and using them gratuitously. Writing about painful or darker themes doesn’t automatically make a book ‘torture porn’. But using those themes irresponsibly makes for poorer writing and a poorer perception of the genre. I don’t know any writer, grimdark or otherwise, whose intention is to damage – rather it is to evaluate and understand. Maybe that doesn’t explain why there are misconceptions so much as what they are. In truth, the why is far more complicated and not something I feel articulate or intelligent enough to define.

What draws you to grimdark as a writer?

I am, and always have been, fascinated by history, society, people, and psychology. Good grimdark allows for the raw and unapologetic examination and analysis of these subjects. Whether pure fiction or derived from actual events grimdark dissects and explores causation, effect and consequence. I’m not someone who looks to books for escapism, more catharsis, and for me, grimdark provides that. How we process emotion – grief, loneliness, anger, etc. is deeply personal. For me, I need to be able to lay those things out as raw and naked as I possibly can, so that I can stand back and look them in the eye because that has become my way of better understanding them. Grimdark allows me to do that through fiction. The funny thing is, I had no idea what grimdark was when I wrote the book. I just wrote the story I wanted to tell, so there was never any intention to specifically create something grimdark.

Do real world events ever affect your writing?

In a sense, yes, they do, but I think it’s vital to be careful to distinguish between how real-world events affect your writing and how they affect you as a person. I think it’s only natural that the world around us affects how we tell stories, both on a local and a global level. For me, the important thing is to allow time and distance from whatever is happening so that if I do want to use it in my writing, I’ve had the opportunity to understand and process those feelings. We all go through times when we are angry, sad, or frustrated with the world and how it is. If I were to allow my feelings to affect how I write as I felt them at the time, my writing would be reactive rather than reflective, and that isn’t what I want. I think there is a dangerous misconception that hard times breed better writers. What they do is give us new layers and perspectives, whether for good or bad. So later, as we become better able to carry those experiences, we can bring that understanding to our writing in a more valuable way.

Would you say that fantasy (and grimdark in particular) is particularly well situated to examining some of the harder things in life?

I think grimdark brings opportunity to explore the harder things in life, which both works against and in favour for the genre. There are certain expectations of the sorts of subjects grimdark addresses, whether or not they are well suited to a particular book depends on the strength of the writing and the justification for it. The ‘harder things in life’ covers a very broad spectrum – it goes beyond just throwing in a bunch of battle scenes or bloody violence. I think fantasy lends itself well to examining consequences and hard questions.

Who are some of your go-to authors?

Mark Lawrence is my go-to recommendation for anyone who wants to dive straight into grimdark. In my opinion, he’s the master of the genre, and I’ve found very few writers who can even come close to what he achieves with a single sentence. “I’ll tell you now. That silence almost beat me. It’s the silence that scares me. It’s the blank page on which I can write my own fears. The spirits of the dead have nothing on it. The dead one tried to show me hell, but it was a pale imitation of the horror I can paint on the darkness in a quiet moment.” – Prince of Thorns. The first time I read those words, they burnt themselves onto my brain, and I’ve yet to find anything to which I’ve had such an emotional reaction. 

I like to read as many independent authors as I can. There’s a wealth of talent out there, and one I’m reading at the moment is PL Stuart. His second book, the follow-up to A Drowned Kingdom, is out soon, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get a preview copy. What I enjoy about PL’s work is the ambition in it. I don’t know any other current author with the capacity to imagine worlds on such a massive scale. There is so much detail, so much thought saturating every single page. You’re not just getting a book – you’re getting an epic.

Do you have anything upcoming that you’d like to talk about?

The second book in my series is coming out soon; I’ll be updating any information on my Twitter. As I mentioned earlier, the audiobook is currently in production. I’m really happy to be working with RJ Bayley again, who did the narration for We Men of Ash and Shadow. He did a fantastic job of bringing the first part of the story to life.  I’m hoping to collaborate on a horror project over the next twelve months as well, though that is very much in the earliest stages of planning at the moment.

About the Author:

HL Tinsley is the pen name of professional blogger and creative writer Holly Tinsley.

Based in the UK, she is a published author of Fantasy, Gothic Horror and Grimdark fiction as well as a regular contributor to gaming, TTRPG and pop culture websites and blogs. Her debut novel, We Men of Ash and Shadow, was published in 2020 and is an SPFBO7 finalist. The follow up, The Hand That Casts The Bone is due for release on April 21st 2022. 

To purchase We Men of Ash and Shadow: Amazon

Author Guest Post: Jason and Rose Bishop

Today I’m pleased to welcome Jason and Rose Bishop, authors of the Storm’s Rising series.

It is a story of a world torn apart and those who vow to see it healed again. It’s a story of love, scarred by centuries of tragedy and sorrow. It is a story of redemption – for our characters, for the races of Cyrradon, and for us.

THE BEGINNING

“Just throw your story up into outer space and see what happens!”

We were at the end of our wits. We were frustrated. We were feeling like we’d put so much work into our story, and we had so much more to tell…and no publishers could see the potential. How does anyone get through the minefield of query letters, endless rejections, and the carnival funhouse swarming with vanity publishers and scam artists, with scarcely a hint of a genuine soul among them. Add to it an unhealthy disdain for publishing independently, and there’s the opening chapter to our dream of becoming famous epic fantasy authors in a nutshell.

We’d been working on the story together for nearly two decades. Imagine it: a married couple, with typical married couple issues, trying to write different parts of a story alongside each other, then editing the other’s work. It was a situation ripe with opportunity for enriching and strengthening our love for one another…or quite possibly becoming something that drove us apart.

On that fateful Valentine’s Day in early 2020, though, Paul (the gentleman quoted above) spoke into our souls and redirected us from focusing on the past to being inspired about the future. I think we’re both glad it turned out the way it did. We took his advice, got over ourselves, and launched our first book into the indie heavens.

THE STORY

(With minimal spoilers) Our tale begins with a pair of elven sisters, Dia and Mea, who despite being twins are as different from one another as the meanings of their names. While on a hunt near the boundaries of the elven Ghreyewood, the sisters wander too close to the human-owned Yeoman’s Wood, and (tiny spoiler) Mea is captured. But she has unwisely brought with her a piece of their history, a tie to the legacy left for them by their mother: a brooch carrying a secret even Mea and Dia are not fully aware of.

In the nearby city of Granite Hedge, a young human thief named Lendil awakens in his flat in Gutterside when his drunkard father comes home, and Lendil recalls with disgust how far the family has fallen. His father was once a knight, a personal friend to the king, a hero about whom stories were told and songs sung. To see him like this, and his once noble mother now turned to late night carousing and whoring, is too much for him to take. A secret tragedy tore them apart years ago; a thing so painfully obvious but so long unspoken that it makes every moment pretending to be a family a lie. In one final tear-filled plea, Lendil comes closer than ever to getting an answer from his parents but fails and ends up leaving in search of his own answers and his own life.

The story begins to unfold when Lendil crosses paths with Dia in the company of two half-elf cousins later that morning. Unbeknownst to each other, they carry pieces to a puzzle none of them truly knew existed. And the answers impel them down a dark road into a world of deception, into struggles against powers they never thought to confront, toward destinies they couldn’t possibly have dreamed awaited them.”

Published in May 2020, our first novel in the Storm’s Rising series,The Call, tells the tale of Lendil, Dia, and the half-elves Antonio and Derek, seeking answers to the tragedies of their past, and discovering their paths to those answers lie alongside one another. 

It’s a coming-of-age story, a story of people dragged from simple lives to the front lines of a battle between evil kings and dark mages and the gods themselves. 

It’s a story about the breaking of the world and its restoration to the balance envisioned by Aralieth, its creator. 

It’s a story of redemption.

…And this is only the beginning.

THE SAGA

We are proud and thrilled to have published four full-length novels that follow our main characters through many trials and dangers, leading them to learn so much more about the events that brought them here, and what they must face before the end. Our story and world are richly layered with history and subculture, with very few things actually as they appear. There are mages and priests, dark fiends and ancient wyrms, underground societies and bloody cults, kings, politicians, merchant lords, covert agents and assassins. There are lands far and wide to be travelled, diverse cultures to be explored, mysteries and prophecy to be unraveled, vile horrors to be overcome, and battles to be fought.

We’re still not famous epic fantasy authors, but there’s more to it than that. My wife and I continue to write together. And though our interactions in that processes continue to evolve, we’re learning more about each ourselves and coming closer to understanding each other with each chapter. Maybe one day we’ll write a book about all the things this journey has taught us! As I said, it’s a story of redemption.

On a larger scale, we’re accomplishing our mission: we’re telling the story in our hearts, the story we would love to read, and we’re sharing that magic with others. One reader—one you—at a time.

🙚☸🙘


If you’ve read any of our works, please RATE and REVIEW them! It takes only a few moments to give a fair rating and say a few words about what touched you from our world. You’ll be blessing us more than you may know.! If you enjoyed our post, please share by forwarding, reposting, retweeting, liking, subscribing, and recommending to others! We couldn’t do this without you!

Happy Adventures!

Jason and Rose Bishop

Epic Fantasy Authors at Legends of Cyrradon

Visit our WEBSITE

Latest release: Storm’s Rising Book 4: Eye of the Witch

FREE audiobook preview of Storm’s Rising Book 1: The Call (click above)

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March of the Sequels- Interview with Rob Edwards

Today I am grateful to be talking about sequels with author Rob Edwards. His book, The Crossover Paradox, which is a sequel to The Ascension Machine, is available now. You can find my review here.

Thank you for joining me! Will you talk a little about your series and its upcoming sequel?

Thanks for having me back! Sure thing. The Justice Academy series follows teenage grifter Grey through his studies at the eponymous college for alien superheroes. It’s a scifi superhero adventure about found family, identity, truth and proper maintenance of your grapnel gun.

I’ve always envisioned it as a trilogy. The Ascension Machine is about Grey, alone, learning to work with others. Book two, The Crossover Paradox, is about unlikely team-ups. Book three… is yet to be written, but there’s a progression we’re following, for sure.

Bad things happen to and around Grey, but at its heart the series is (I hope), fun, light-hearted and exciting.

Do you find that most readers will continue to read the series?

Time will tell! This is my first foray into a sequel novel. I know a lot of people have been excited for book two to arrive, and I hope that converts into sales. If I had to guess… I think it’s inevitable you lose a percentage of readers for subsequent books in the series. The aim is to keep the retention level up.

I think received wisdom is that the arrival of book two will have a positive impact on sales of the first book in the series, at least.

Why do you think that is?

I think book buying habits have changed over the last few years. A writer friend of mine made a good point to me a while back, she said the number of people who stumble across book two of a series first has dropped dramatically. 

There are still people who find interesting books by browsing their local bookstore’s shelves, of course, and might gamble on a sequel that catches their eye. But so many book sales come from on-line stores now, particularly for independent books. Love it or hate it, buying books on-line makes it super easy to find the first book in a series. Even if you do stumble across book two of a series first, book one is usually only a click away. 

Book two raises the profile of the series as a whole, but most people will want to start from the start.

Is it easier to fully develop characters that you have already written in previous books?

Yes and no. On one level, sitting down to write book two, I already had a pretty clear idea who my characters are, what their voices sound like to me, what they want from life. I’m starting from a very different place than at the start of The Ascension Machine, but that’s true for my characters too. Grey’s found family is, well, found. There would be no point telling that story again. For The Crossover Paradox the question became what next? For Grey the problem is no longer not having a place to belong, and has become the consequences of having people around that rely upon him. It’s new ground for him, and it’s what keeps it interesting for me. Grey is still growing, still changing, and there are new discoveries (and a backslide or two) for him to deal with in the sequel.

How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into relationships that have already been established in the first book?

The main problem I had is that my cast was already so big! Adding a new set of characters into the mix was quite a daunting task. Still, the principle that each book of the series is set during a new year at the Justice Academy let me think back to the start of my second year at university (a long time ago, into the last millennium!). We were a close-knit group of friends in my first year, but as new students arrived, some of those relationships shifted, different priorities emerged, some brought us closer together, some took us further apart. It’s just life, and that’s what I wanted to capture in The Crossover Paradox.

Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world that you have already created in book one?

Well, I get to cheat a little. The galaxy in my series has thousands of populated worlds, so if I’m having problems with some established worldbuilding, I can just shift the action to another world. No, but so far, it’s not been a problem for me. The main beats of the trilogy have been in my head since before I wrote the first word of The Ascension Machine, and as long as I’m sticking to that path, I’m happy to adapt and work around. There are certain places, people and organizations that I mentioned in book one because I knew I’d need them in later books, so it’s fun to start paying them off in The Crossover Paradox. And to plant a few more things for book three of course.

Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book one that is very inconvenient to deal with in subsequent books?

Not really. I did have a couple of moments of the opposite, where I realised I’d already written something in the first book that I could totally steal and use in the second.

Not quite what you were asking but there were a few things in book two that did give me pause for another reason.

For example, the main tower of the Justice Academy. When I came to describe some scenes in book two, I found my notes were not as detailed as I’d hoped. I had to scour book one again to find any references to its entry hall to make sure I didn’t contradict anything. And then I found myself starting a spreadsheet to note what was on various floors so I could keep details straight in this book and the next. 

I do love a good spreadsheet.

Have you noticed your craft improving from book one through subsequent books in a series? If so, how?

Gosh. I’m not sure that’s for me to judge. You tell me! 

I will say I felt I was writing more confidently this time. I’d proved I could start and finish a whole novel already, so doing it again was less daunting. I’d like to think I’d learned some lessons too. One bad habit my developmental editor had to drum out of me in book one, was not to undercut my own stakes. I’d like to think that people didn’t see much of that in the finished product of The Ascension Machine because my editors helped me with it. And won’t see it in The Crossover Paradox because I’ve learned my lesson. Certainly, my editors and beta readers didn’t highlight it as a problem this time around.

Do you plan out the entire series at once?  Or do you plan one book at a time?

I thank you for the suggestion that I plan things! Actually, in this case, I did have at least a concept in my head for the whole trilogy before I started. I think calling it a plan would be overstating it somewhat, but I knew my direction of travel at least. I also know that Grey is a con artist and habitual liar and that the books are told first person, so, there’s that.

I’m actually somewhat intimidated by writing book three because it needs to pay off things I’ve been dropping hints about since the very first line of book one. There are a couple of moments that don’t make sense in the first two books until you get later revelations. Most people won’t spot them, but they make me happy knowing they are there. And that much planning of this series was completely necessary. There are probably other parts which don’t make sense because they just don’t make sense, of course. But if we all pretend that’s me playing mind games, that would be nice.

Still, outside of the metaplot, I do tend to just bumble around seeing what happens in the book I’m currently writing.

Do your characters ever surprise you, causing you to change previously planned-out details or plotlines?

Not often. Twice in the first book, once in the second. In The Ascension Machine, I had one character surprise me by existing. Lucy, also known as Sky Diamond, was not in my original concept of the series, but she turned up during the editorial process of The Ascension Machine, and now she’s a really important part of the story. The revelation that one of my cast was a librarian before coming to the Academy – which written like that doesn’t feel like much of a revelation, but really helped me understand the character better – surprised me. In The Crossover Paradox, there is a moment near the end of the book that surprised me. I won’t say what, for obvious reasons. I will say I’m not talking about the very end of the book, that’s been part of the story since day one.

Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing to get the completed story?

Oh, the trauma I had about this! I went back and forth on this question so many times. Also, how much of a recap of book one is needed in book two for people who haven’t read the first one in a hot minute? How much do I need to describe what a Welatak looks like again?

Where I’ve come down is that the book is readable as a standalone, you do get a complete story in there, but some aspects will have more weight if you’re coming from book one.

I’ve tried to keep the story in each book as a separate thing. Book one is a story about a long con. It’s a heist, with all that brings with it. Book two is a murder mystery, or at least happily wears the trappings of one. Book three is… not written yet.

Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?

Let’s say I’ll be scouring other March of the Sequels interviews for suggestions. Do all the things you did for book one, though hopefully you have some contacts you can speak with this time around.

I guess, remind people that book one exists (that’s The Ascension Machine, available now!) on the run-up to book two’s release. And then remind people that book two is coming. (It’s called The Crossover Paradox).

March of the Sequels: Interview with Ricardo Victoria

March is a month-long celebration of great sequels, organized by the great blog, Sue’s Musings. Today I’m happy to be able to talk with Ricardo Victoria, author of The Tempest Blades series. Both book one titled The Withered King and its sequel, The Cursed Titans, are available now.

Thank you for joining me!

Thank you for having me again on your blog. I even brought my own coffee mug this time.

Smart! Coffee is the stuff of life. Will you talk a little about your series, particularly the sequel?

Ah! The most difficult question you can ask a writer. Quoting myself, in general Tempest Blades is a series of stories where the characters have to learn to deal and work through their personal struggles on par of them going into adventures that put them in the position of saving the world –a world where magic and science coexist-. 

Each book has several POV, but each one has a main POV, which is centered on one of my main 3 characters: Fionn, Gaby and Alex, are blessed or cursed –depending on whom you ask- with the Gift, which grants them special superhuman abilities. The first book centered about Fionn learning to accept his past, learning to move on and recognizing that he was getting a 2nd chance at life, while saving the world and mentoring a new generation of heroes. The second focus around the consequences for all characters after the events of the first book, and in particular the struggles with depression that Alex undergoes and that were exacerbated by the past events. So while he tries to save a city from a villainous monster, he pushes himself beyond what’s healthy and there are consequences of that. The way things happen on the book set in motion larger events for the next two. Apologies for being a bit vague, but I’m trying to keep this spoiler free.

Do you find that it is difficult for readers to continue a series? Why do you think that is?

Kinda, there are several factors at play that can make a reader stop following a saga. Finances are one, not everybody can afford to keep buying books from a really long series (although Public Libraries are a godsend in that case. Sidenote: support your local Library if you have one). Other is interest, the longer a series grow, if the readers feel there is no real sense of progression, that things are stalling, padded, then they are more likely to drop it. 

And then there is the elephant in the room: authors that take so long between books –if they ever release the next one- that readers feel like they will never see the end of a story, especially when the author is a well-known pantser. I mean, I’m not going to attack a fellow author for taking so long between books, because that can happen for multiple reasons (although I find that less defensible if they are full-time authors, as those who has a day job have to juggle a lot of things in order to write and yet they manage to do it). And we all are well acquainted with Gaiman’s comment of “Martin is not your bitch”, regarding readers’ entitlement. Regardless, I don’t blame readers from dropping incomplete series that don’t seem to make progress for the next release. My beta reader for example, refuses to buy any new book by certain famous author, because he hasn’t finished his main series and the last book came out almost a decade ago. I can understand that feeling. It’s like never being able to watch Avenger Endgame and get closure for the Infinity saga because Marvel decides to produce another X-Men movie without finishing the saga first.

Finally, is the daunting task of tackling a large series from the start, moreover when the books are doorstoppers. It’s kinda like asking an anime fan to watch One Piece from the start, with 1000+ episodes to go. And One Piece has no filler episode, all are relevant to the plot!

Is it easier to fully develop characters that you have already written in previous books?

Oh yes. The sequel allows you to build upon the previously shown aspects, dwell more on what makes them tick. Especially since the first book of a series is often an introductory book to a large plot so we get at times a cursory glimpse at who the character is. Sequels allow you to explore that, to even change the main POV to see how things are perceived by them.

How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into relationships that have already been established in the first book?

It’s like introducing a new friend to your old friend group, or like adding a new player to your ongoing-for-years D&D campaign.  It’s far from impossible, but the new character has to adjust to the already establishes dynamic –unless it is introduced to disrupt said dynamic- there are inside jokes, shorthands, shared experiences to which the new character has to be introduced. But since the reader is in a way already part of that already established group, you need to be careful with not repeating much information that has been already given.

That makes perfect sense! Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world that you have already created in book one?

It depends, if you are like me, someone who enjoys worldbuidling but has the memory of a shrimp for most things, yes it can be hard to keep track of your own continuity and timeline. There are times when I wish Tempest Blades had its own fan wikia, it would make my life easier. No, really, I need one. Please!

Leaving that aside, sequels are a godsend for worldbuilders because they allow you to showcase more of your fictional world, to come up with more and more interesting details, or simply rescue stuff you had to cut from the previous one due space and flow.

Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book one that is very inconvenient to deal with in subsequent books?

Have I? I’m staring at a couple of them as we speak, cursing at myself from the past. I’m planning to solve them through unreliable narrators and self-deprecating jokes. Thankfully my editor and my beta reader are really helpful with those things and have advised me on how to use them to enhance the original plot.

Have you noticed your craft improving from book one through subsequent books in a series? If so, how?

Yes. As I get to better know my characters and my world, I can focus more on the finer details of the plot. Also, I feel like I write with more fluidity and with better grasp of the subtleties of the language, which in my case I hope is more noticeable given than I’m writing in my second language.

Do you plan out the entire series at once?  Or do you plan one book at a time?

A bit of both. Tempest Blades is my first series so I can’t about entire series in plural. For this one I had a long arc –just the general ideas, not a full plan with details- but decided to take one bit that could work as a single book write it, and see if it got published and if it worked. Once my publisher got onboard with the idea of a series, I took the next bit of that general idea and wrote the second book, with the idea that if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t leave many open threads. Then the discussion for a third book came and by then I realized that a) I don’t want to spend my whole life dedicated to a single series in particular and b) I want to finish this one in a reasonable time so this time I did planned most of the final two books ahead, so once I finish writing the 3rd, I take a brief break and start writing 4th right away. This time I even did a chapter break for each one of those two.

Side note, originally I was going to finish the series in 3 books, totaling 5. But I decided to merge two of them as I didn’t feel I had enough ideas for 5 long books, or that the story could be expanded that much.

Do your characters ever surprise you, causing you to change previously planned-out details or plotlines?

Yeah, in big ways *stares at Sid*. But that’s part of the fun of this. I even discovered things I have never ever considered about the lives of 2 of my characters previous to the books that actually make sense on how they act around each other, and more about the personal life of a third one. And then there is Sid that has this knack to find ways to interject himself in the plot that is not his.

 Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing to get the completed story?

My approach with this series at least is to emulate the MCU model: each book is a standalone, but at the same time is part of a larger plot, with the final book probably being the only one that can’t be a standalone but still can be read if you have the basic grasp of what’s going on.

Originally, I wanted to make something like Sir Terry Pratchett did with Discworld, but I’m nowhere as good as a writer as he was.

Do parts of your books ever reflect what is going on either in your life or in the world at the time of writing?

Some bits, yes. When it comes to real world events, yes there is some inspiration drawn from there. But when it comes to stuff from my life, they come from previous experiences or my long term dealings with some issues, such as depression.

The way you tackled mental illness is one of the things I really enjoyed about The Cursed Titans.

Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?

To be honest, not really, I’m learning this on the way. I guess draw on the aspects that readers liked of the first one to amp the next one.

About the author:

Ricardo Victoria is a Mexican writer with a Ph.D. in Design –with an emphasis in sustainability- from Loughborough University, and a love of fiction, board games, comic books, and action figures. He lives in Toluca, Mexico with his wife and pets, working works as a full-time lecturer and researcher at the local university. He writes mainly science fantasy.

His first novel, Tempest Blades: The Withered King, was released in August 2019 by Shadow Dragon Press, an imprint of Artemesia Publishing. The sequel, Tempest Blades: Cursed Titans was released in July  2021. He is currently working on the third book of the saga. He has a number of stories published by Inklings Press, and other indie outlets, and has collaborated with the horror podcast The Wicked Library.

His short story Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, jointly written with Brent A. Harris, was nominated for a Sidewise Award for short-form alternative history. He co-authored a chapter (No elf is an island. Understanding worldbuilding through system thinking) for the book “Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, currently nominated for the BSFA.

You can find out more at his website, http://ricardovictoriau.com, or follow him on Twitter, @Winged_Leo

Purchase Links:

Amazon: The Tempest Blades

Publisher’s Site: The Tempest Blades

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring L. Krauch

This month I am doing a Fantasy Focus on Romantic Fantasy. This is a subgenre that I have had a great time learning more about. Today I am privileged to have L. Krauch, author of the The 13th Zodiac series, talk about her experience with romantic fantasy.

While I classify The 13th Zodiac as “Final” Fantasy in aesthetic, it also has elements of romantic fantasy. The core of the story revolves around the two main characters, Jase and Liya, finding one another. 

It begins with happenstance (or is it?). Jase Raion is set on a mission by his father, the King of Chall, to track down someone he was certain was dead. Low and behold, he finds her. Well, she runs into him and drops his apple in the process. What follows it is a whirlwind of longing touches, a distant prince who had been burned in the past, and a plot to not only end her life but all life on Gaea. I would say that The 13th Zodiac is Star-crossed lovers with a dash of One True Pairing. 

When I set out to write The 13th Zodiac I didn’t do so planning to write a love story. It was just one part of a much larger story. Twenty years ago it was a comic book that mostly consisted of cute anime boys that my friends thought were hot. (Jase being the hottest, of course). But twenty years and one pandemic later, I sat down and wrote my first novel. 

The love story within wasn’t the first thing on my mind. Yes, I wanted to get them together, but I wanted it to feel real and not just because they were meant to be. The hardest part I found with writing it was trying to keep it real. That the love between them grew in a natural way, and I wasn’t just throwing them together for a “Hey I just met you, let’s totally do it” type feel. 

Jase is distant and scorned by an ex-girlfriend and he tries to keep his feelings hidden from even himself. While Liya does fall for the first guy she met that wasn’t her adoptive brothers. There are, of course, roadblocks in the way of them being together. Jiroo (one of Liya’s adoptive brothers) sees her as his, even though she would never see him the same. This causes a rift and puts into motion a series of events where the reader is actually happy someone is kidnapped. 

Our lives tell stories just like we tell in our books. I drew from real-life inspiration for my romance and the obstacles within. Which also included some of the more negative sides to it (infatuation). 

Romance can also be anything, from love between two people, the love between siblings (or in my case love from a sibling that is misdirected), love of family, and love of self. (Or even love of something dear to you) There isn’t one right way to write it. And it doesn’t always end in happily ever after. You do what feels right, and natural to you. Someone will connect with it on a level you never expected. 

I certainly didn’t expect to write romantic fantasy, but after all was said and done I discovered I had. I always planned to get my characters together. I am glad I wrote it the way I did and wouldn’t try to change it. 

About the Author:

The 13th Zodiac is an Epic Fantasy, slow-burn romance with a hint of Anime. Originally, L. Krauch wrote it as a comic book in high school. Back then, it was merely pages drawn on computer paper to bring smiles to her audience of thirteen. The problem was, it had no plot. Now, twenty years, and three kids later, she sat down, gave that plotless comic a plot, and turned it into a sprawling multi-pov fantasy novel. 

Her day job is sticking things to newborns, and by sticking things to newborns, she means hearing screens. 

In her free time, she hangs out with her black cat, Luna, and keeps three small humans from killing each other. She and her husband have been happily married for twelve years and originally met in an MMO. To maintain her sanity, she now writes. And she may or may not have a thing for apples. 

To Purchase: The 13th Zodiac

Final Fantasy with actual romance

A Crown Prince running from his past, and a girl who can barely remember her own, are thrown together to combat the evils of the King of Chall. 

Time is not on their side. And Fate has other plans.

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Dan Fitzgerald

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

Each month this year, I’ll have a week where I focus on a different subgenre of fantasy. Last month’s Fantasy Focus was comedic fantasy. This month I’m shining a spotlight on romantic fantasy, a subgenre that I don’t know much about. Thankfully, Dan Fitzgerald, author of the Weirdwater Confluence, is here to help!

Effing the Ineffable: Intimate Discourse in Romantic Fiction

Every so often, the discourse surrounding sex scenes in books gets my blood boiling. I’m not talking about folks who say they don’t like to read them, or that they skim them or skip them. That’s absolutely fine and wonderful. There are many excellent reasons why readers may prefer not to read explicit material, and no one needs to explain why it’s not their jam. People can like what they like.

I’m talking about something else: the idea that sex scenes are “empty titillation.” That they add no value to a book. That they “must advance the plot or characterization” or they should be cut. I would agree that sex scenes must show us something about the characters, but there’s this assumption that they generally don’t, which grates my cheese to the point that I’m writing this mini essay. In fantasy particularly, where readers often embrace all manner of horrific violence, why do scenes of intimate sharing cause such strong negative reactions? We seldom question the narrative value of graphic fight scenes or pulse-pounding chases, but sex scenes are somehow seen as extraneous?

Books tell stories and reveal character in a variety of ways, using different forms of discourse. We have narration, where we see descriptions of the world, often filtered through one or more character’s perceptions. What the writer decides to show and how they choose to show it communicates something important. Dialogue between characters shows us something entirely different, pure verbal communication, but often with little peeks at what’s behind their words, shown directly through revealing their thoughts, or indirectly through their gestures and actions as they speak. Gestures and actions can do a lot of narrative work even in the absence of dialogue; body language is just as expressive as spoken language. And body language in a public setting can be very different from what happens when two (or more) characters come together in an intimate setting, which is what has brought me to the keyboard today.

No one disputes that interior monologue or narrative voice play an important role in building character and story. The narrative value of dialogue speaks for itself, pun intended. And who doesn’t love the way the smallest gesture shows us a world of nuance that a thousand words of interior monologue could not capture? These forms of discourse are relatively easy to grasp, though they may be challenging to write effectively. But intimate physical discourse is seldom seen as such. We have this idea that what happens in the bedroom, or the couch, or on a pile of straw in an abandoned dragon’s lair, is somehow less of a means of communication than the others. Or perhaps we see it as communication but have been trained not to study it too closely, for fear of feeling voyeuristic or vulgar.

The way characters act and communicate in public can be very different from what they do in intimate spaces, or it can be quite similar. In either case, it shows us something important that hints at larger truths about them. Do they make the first move? Do they show confidence? Hesitation? Do they struggle with their inhibitions, or do they cut loose once free of prying eyes? Do they seek their own pleasure first, or that of their partners? Do they tease, dominate, submit, withhold, give in? Every moment of a good intimate scene reveals something about a character and their relation to others.

It is true that many of the things described above can be shown to some extent in non-intimate scenes, but there is something unique about what happens when two (or more) people exist in a space that is uniquely theirs. How fast and how fully can they strip away the expectations and roles society casts them into? Do they find freedom in this private universe to be someone they can’t be in the confines of the world at large? The way they move together, the way they express, with their bodies, the conflicting tensions and desires swirling inside them, all of it is discourse. It is communication beyond words of things that cannot be expressed verbally.

Sex scenes are a way of effing the ineffable.

It’s fine if you don’t like to read or write them. It’s fine if you hate them. Just don’t say they add no value to a story.

About the author:

Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low fantasy) and the Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories), both from Shadow Spark Publishing.

He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.

Links Buy my books in any format: Dan Fitzgerald — Shadow Spark Publishing
Twitter: Dan Fitzgerald (@DanFitzWrites) / Twitter (writing and bookish stuff—this is my home)
Instagram: Dan Fitzgerald (@danfitzwrites) • Instagram photos and videos (nature photography and bookish posts—this is my playground)
Website: Dan Fitzgerald (danfitzwrites.com) (Find out more about my books, plus there’s a blog)

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Emmaline Strange

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

This month’s Fantasy Focus is on the romantic fantasy, a subgenre that seamlessly combines magic, wonder, and romance. Today I’m happy to have Emmaline Strange, author of Crown of Aster, talk about her journey into writing romantic fantasy.

My journey toward fantasy romance was a weird one. It began, like many weird journeys have of late, in the dark days of 2020. Without going into the whole thing, because we all know how that year went, let’s just say it was rough. 

I was home, out of work, scared in that vague “is the world going to end or am I just going to get used to it” sort of way, and scared in the much more acute way that came from several family members being hospitalized, and me suddenly in charge of everyone’s finances. Trust, anyone with me in charge of their finances—also terrified. 

With not a lot to fill my days except a crushing sense of dread, a friend in a similar position suggested we make a writing challenge for ourselves. Both of us had advanced degrees in creative writing, and had spent a while doing precisely bupkiss with them. So we came up with a list of prompts, and pushed each other to write at least one thousand words per day, and fill one of the prompts.
When I first began to write Crown of Aster—then known as The Aster Queen’s Court—I’d envisioned a set of loosely interconnected erotic shorts, each with a dreamy, faerie-tale like quality, with different couplings (or throuplings or…group…lings) in each segment. However, the first short I began with a guileless young human man stumbling upon the drunken bacchanal that passed for the fae court, I became hopelessly, irretrievably, ensnared.

Just like my character Nathaniel when he set eyes his faun prince. These two characters came together and gripped me in a way that I truthfully had never felt. The words flew, and soon the focus shifted from the Aster Queen to her son, Adair, and his love for a sweet and innocent human he encountered in his forest. Exploring their love story let writing become again a place of joy for me, one of the only ones in a very dreary time.

As the story began to take shape, and Adair and Nathaniel’s love story at its heart, I began to wonder what this final piece would really look like. So, I tried to guide these two boys into something resembling a plot. I Saved the Cat! , I Romanced the Beat, and found myself stuck. 

I had about seventy thousand words of love, of sex, and yes, of magic. Seventy thousand words of two people coming from vastly different worlds and finding each other—and now that they had each other they wouldn’t let go. Based on my knowledge of the romance genre (very limited, at that time), I knew I had to give them some kind of Dark Night of the Soul ™, but Adair and Nathaniel really and truly would not budge from each other’s side. 

I tried dozens of ways to break them up, and every attempt, every argument, every scene, every misunderstanding fell horribly flat. None of it felt believable—not for them. A few times I tried to make them discuss the challenges facing their relationship and they ended up taking each other’s clothes off and doing other things instead. 

I truly don’t know how that kept happening!

So, I went back to the proverbial drawing board. What else could go wrong? What could test their love, put their relationship under serious, gut-wrenching strain and allow their Happy Ever After to feel earned, in the end.

I also went back to my roots. Like many of us, I cut my teeth on fanfiction. A lot of queer love stories took shape in the fan fiction world with some truly gorgeous prose (don’t hate). I don’t want to speak for others of course, but in my own exploration, I’ve found a lot of fantastic stories told that way because those beloved characters weren’t allowed that HEA in canon (See TV tropes “bury your gays,” for examples). They were killed off, broken up, vilified, or the actors baited us with their natural chemistry and the creators fanned the flames without actually committing to getting them together, only to slam dunk one of the lovers right into super hell right after his big confession in the show’s final season (Yes, Supernatural, I’m looking at you).

So a lot of heartsick fans took to online communities to write and read the stories these characters never got, for one reason or another. The stories had a lot of the “Plot” action of the original canon, but opened windows we did not originally get a chance to peer into. That really resonated with me, and when I started branching out and reading more original romance by queer authors, I found that they didn’t always follow the genre rules. In fact, more often than not, they didn’t follow the rules at all. 

That’s when things really began to click with me. There was a whole scary world in that fae forest full of tragedies that would test them, full of other characters with their own agendas, magic and danger and grief and loss. A whole entire fantasy plot sprung up around this simple tale of two lovers from different walks of life, and how they bridged that gap to save their shared world.

If my characters didn’t want to follow the rules, why should I force them to? I didn’t want to follow the rules either! I’d sought some advice from more experienced authors, who said I needed to pick romance, or pick fantasy. Crown of Aster had too much romance for fantasy fans, and too much fantasy for romance fans. 

Honestly before becoming so stuck like that, I’d literally never heard of the genre Fantasy Romance (or romantic fantasy) before.

There’s a lot of reasons I could go into for why self-publishing made sense for me, but I think that’s one of the biggest ones.

Like Adair when he found a sweet, neurotic human wandering through his forest and thought “Huh. That’s a whole-ass husband!” I simply did not want to let go, to surrender, I didn’t want to go with the bland expectations of the genre (or, what I understood at the time to be expectations of the genre. I have learned a lot since then. And by that I mean, found some amazing authors telling some truly beautiful and unique love stories). 

In the end, I was truly just as stubborn as the characters I had been cursing for months. I kept all the sex, all the mushy gushy stuff, and the sweet kisses on forest hilltops. But I kept the sorceress nursing a four-hundred-year grudge, the undead shade, and the grizzly injuries too. Trying to wrangle characters can sometimes feel like herding cats, and I think sometimes, it takes a stubborn cat to get that job done.

Stumbling into this strange little niche genre was how I found my way back to writing. It’s how I found my way into the indie author community, how I re discovered my love of reading—I devoured over one hundred books in 2021, compared with less than five in each recent year leading up to it. 

Where I hadn’t created work in years, I suddenly found myself with more ideas than I knew what to do with.

So, Adair, Nathaniel and I got there in the end, finding our own way through fantasy, through romance, to an HEA that worked for all of us.


Check out Crown of Aster, available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08W8MH38Y

About the author:

Emmaline Strange is the author of Crown of Aster, A Walrus & A Gentleman, and the upcoming Mighty Quill. She loves to write and read about smooching. She lives in Boston with her husband, dog, and cat, all of whom she loves to smooch. When not smooching, she can usually be found doting on her plants, baking, or watching far too much television. Ms. Strange is a lover of all things nerdy, from Dungeons & Dragons to Lord of the Rings, to the MCU. She enjoys iced coffee, long walks on the beach, complaining about her feet after long walks on the beach, and long sits on the couch to recover from long walks on the beach. For updates on upcoming projects, come say hello on Twitter (@EmmalineStrange) where she’s always talking about writin’, readin’, and… well, not so much ‘rithmetic.

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Fiona West

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

Last month, I did a weeklong feature that focused on comedic fantasy. This month’s focus is on romantic fantasy. Today, I am lucky to have Fiona West, author of the Rocky Royal Romance books, share a guest post, talking about romance in fantasy.

Drawing Lines: Reflections on Romance, Fantasy, and Where they Meet

Fantasy is in my blood; I cut my teeth on My Father’s Dragon when I was just learning to read, and spent many nights listening to my mother read books like A Wrinkle in Time before bed. I read Dealing with Dragons so often, I wore out my copy. Looking back, that series was a nice primer on romance…sword-loving princess who bucks tradition and makes cherries jubilee meets disorganized, magic-wielding king: clearly, a match made in fantasy. My love for steamy romance came much later. It should be no surprise: romance has always been a type of contemporary fantasy to my mind. Sure, there are fewer ogres (though I’ve written a few ex’s who’d count), but there’s a similar respect for magic and a fairy-tale ending. The magic just can’t be contained in a gold ring or an ancient sword; it’s the chemical, physical kind in the held gaze of someone you really, really like. And you’ll never convince me that’s not magic in its own right.

But when it comes to categories, it can truly be confusing. Where’s the line between fantasy romance, romantic fantasy, and fantasy that just has a love story subplot? Here’s the quickest way to tell: If you can pull out the romance and not affect the plot? That’s romantic fantasy. It gives us the relationship as a side quest, so to speak. If, on the other hand, our whole emotional and plot arc is wrapped up in the happily ever after? That’s fantasy romance. If it doesn’t have an HEA, it’s not a romance. Plenty of love stories (cough Nicholas Sparks cough) do not qualify as romance, and those who have dared to suggest that they do have suffered the public flagellation they deserve. Likewise, romance tips into erotica when the sex is the plot. More on that in a moment. 

And of these options, I admit to loving fantasy romance the most, only because I want to know that whatever these two go through, they’re ending up together. It gives the mind a safe place to unpack some of the most troubling topics, trauma of all shapes and kinds. For all the flack the romance genre gets, it is uniquely suited to hold the most difficult circumstances because we know that this ship is sailing safely into the harbor at the end, and that allows the reader to ride out any storm the author can throw at them with hope. And truly, hope is the gift that the best romances aim to give more than any other.

For example, in my first fantasy romance, Chasing Down Her Highness, the female main character has a chronic illness that prompted her to give up her right to the throne and choose instead to live on the streets of a foreign country. As you might suspect from the title, her fiance does not accept this sudden abdication without question. In my own chronic illness circles, I heard people talk about how illness had broken their relationships, and I wanted to show a world where two very different people–one well and one ill–could still find happiness together. Not everyone can appreciate this strange mishmash of reality and fantasy, but I find a specific joy in pulling back the mundane and allowing love and relationships to flourish in a world that has different limits. It makes me more aware of my own, more grateful for my own set of problems. Yet at the same time, it activates my creativity: What would love look like if I had magic gifts to bestow? If I were a princess? If dragons stood between me and my beloved?

And of course, the most controversial part of any fantasy that contains romance or a love story is the sex scenes. I heard Elena Johnson, the undisputed queen of sweet (no-sex) romance, say recently that the most important part of her books is often a large gift given at just the right time, in the moment of the heroine’s greatest need, because it shows that he knows her. And I would argue that this is also why sex scenes can add to a book in a unique way: when two characters give their bodies to each other, it pulls back the curtain on an inner life that we often don’t see any other way. Their scars, their insecurities, and their questions all to the surface where there’s (literally) nowhere to hide. Are there other kinds of gifts to give? Sure. But this gift, this sharing of souls, often means more, because it is a way of knowing unlike any other.

When we cross boundaries, intentionally or unintentionally, it changes us. It changes our relationships. Ultimately, that’s what fantasy romance offers us: a chance to see characters grow together into who they’re meant to be and stand in their fullest selves together…preferably over the severed head of their enemies. 

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

This year, I want to talk about some of the many types of fantasy you can find. In January, the focus was on comedic fantasy, but it seems only appropriate that February is the domain of romantic fantasy.

This is a subgenre that I don’t know all that much about (okay, I know pretty much nothing about it), so I took to Twitter and asked for the names of great authors of romantic fantasy. The list below has some great suggestions if you’re looking for some romance in your fantasy.

Here are the links to the guest posts in case you’ve missed any:

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Fiona West

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Emmaline Strange

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Dan Fitzgerald

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Rebecca Crunden

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Carissa Broadbent

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring L. Kruach

Did I miss your favorite romantic fantasy author? Let me know in the comments!

*Shana Abe- The Smoke Thief

*Jennifer L. Armentrout- From Blood and Ash

*Angela Boord- Fortune’s Fool

*K.F. Breene-A Ruin of Roses

*Carissa Broadbent- Daughter of No Worlds

*Rebecca Crunden- These Violent Nights

*Jacqueline Carey- Kushiel’s Dart

*Dan Fitzgerald- The Isle of a Thousand Worlds

*Emma Hamm-Heart of the Fae

*Elizabeth Haydon- Rhapsody: Child of Blood

*Elise Kova- A Deal with the Elf King

*L. Krauch- The 13th Zodiac series

*Sarah J. Maas- A Court of Thorns and Roses

*Hollee Mands- The Mackinnon’s Bride

*Lisette Marshall- The Princess & The Spy series

*Krystle Matar- Legacy of the Brightwash

*Caroline Peckham-The Awakening

*Katee Robert- Desperate Measures

*Emmaline Strange-Crown of Aster

*Laura Thalassa- Pestilence

*Susanne Valenti- Afflicted

*Fiona West- Chasing Down Her Royal Highness

*C.L. Wilson- Lord of the Fading Lands