Foz Meadows Sees Your Tropes and Uses Them for Silage

IMG_6889I was reading this book during the aftermath of a horrific mass murder in our local high school. This quote is really sticking with me: Apathy breeds more evils than defeat. So, you know, keep fighting. I kind of want it on a t-shirt. Thanks, Foz, for helping me get through this rough time. 

Spoiler warning: I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reader responses. I can’t really do that here; this book is too complex and so you’re fairly warned.

I present for your consideration An Accident of Stars, Book I of the Manifold Worlds, the ambitious portal fantasy by Foz Meadows. (Note 1) I say ambitious because it’s almost as though Foz sat down with a LIST OF PORTAL FANTASY TROPES, and went down the list intentionally reversing or dismantling each one. (My Foz quotes here are not actual quotes. It’s my imagination of her process, every time I’d see her turning some other expectation on its head.) Here’s a few:

  • Protagonist from “real” world is a Chosen One in the new world. Special gifts or powers. I can imagine Foz: “Ohellnoez. Normal girl.”
  • Protagonist is an orphan. Foz: “Nope. Nice family. Supportive. Conveniently offstage, but everybody’s alive and caring.”
  • Protagonist has Special Problems. Foz: “Nope. Sexual harassment at school, all the girls face it, and some (implied) have it worse.”
  • Adults Don’t Understand/Won’t/Can’t Intervene…well, okay, that trope sticks around but it feels like it’s making a point that Yes This Is What The Real World Is Like for Teens; especially resonant with the #metoo movement.
  • We follow the Protagonist through their journey to the other world, experience the world with them, then follow them home. Foz: “Y’know, let’s have another viewpoint right away, before we even get through the portal. And then, a bunch more. But we’ll actually let the main character change and grow, instead of just being a boring narrator placeholding for the reader.”
  • Guys have a bunch of adventures. Foz: Let’s have most of the major characters be females. Even the nominal villain, let’s have the real interesting one be his wife. Let’s see her more often, too. And…the warriors are women. And the religious leaders. And the guys are kind of sidelined, and it’s really not fair, let’s make that really visible! (To be fair, the male characters are also interesting, and the older one has some nuance. The younger one is less developed. But there’s only so much you can do in the space of one novel.)


(I can practically smell the burning rage coming from some folks who are still jammed up into the idea of ButFictionHasToLookTheWayIExpectItTo.)

It goes on and on. Instead of a love triangle or epic hetero romance, there are complex relationships: friendships, polyamory, parent/child, complex families, siblings, subject/ruler, worshiper/priestess, etc. We see trans representation, aromantic representation, genderqueer, bi…a whole rainbow of gender and sexual orientation. BUT unlike a number of fantasy novels I’ve read recently, these relationships aren’t painted in graphic detail. This keeps things more YA friendly (and, honestly, a number of my older friends have told me they’re a bit overwhelmed with the volume of sex in some recent fantasy novels, so I’m happy to point them here.)

I really admire the way Foz tackles Big Social Issues around gender, race, identity, religion, sexuality head on. Representation is so vital! And Foz dives in head first, into the deep end. Let’s be very clear: this is a book I don’t think I’d have had the nerve to tackle writing. At least, not without having seen Foz do it first. And maybe not even then, because parts of it are so honest. There’s a vulnerability in that, and some writers just aren’t comfortable opening themselves that way. I am blown away by this author’s determination to Not Shy Away From Hard Subjects.

Sometimes it feels as there may be too many issues being grappled with here to fit easily within the structure of one story. As a result, we get more exposition chunks than we might otherwise; that can pull the reader out of the story flow. The framework is solid: newcomer has to learn the new ways. But there’s so much complexity, so much to fit within that framework, that it feels a little forced sometimes. This wouldn’t keep me from recommending the book, though…(cue moment of personal reflection)… Sometimes exposition feels weighty because we’re being exposed to something outside our usual understanding. For example, I’ve never been in a polyamorous relationship; this may have made the explanations for the complex marriage customs seem longer to me than they actually were. (Note 2) (If my TBR pile weren’t so big, I’d re-read, with my self-evaluation glasses on.)

Back to the book. I like the magic systems, with their built-in flaws that keep things interesting. The world is complex, with some well-developed scenes that made me feel that I was really seeing the place the characters were experiencing. The plot is intricate and as tightly interwoven as the braids that are a recurring image in the novel. The characters are diverse, multi-dimensional, well thought out with their own motivations and goals.

Between themes, characters, worldbuilding, and plot … I wonder if An Accident of Stars might have been better served by being TWO books. Each of these areas left me wanting a bit more development. I wanted to see more of the characters, more of their worlds, have a bit more space to breathe around the social questions. But I understand that pacing is important, so I’m going to trust that Foz and her editors made these choices for reasons. (And leaving them wanting more is not generally seen as a bad thing.)

I’ll definitely be picking up Book Two. This was a really solid, ambitious work for a first novel. Congratulations to Foz for a trope-bashing extravaganza! And, hey Foz? You know…keep fighting.

(Note 3)


(Note 1) Foz and her husband came to my attention recently due to egregious and unfounded attacks by some hacks with more time than skill, in writing OR online detective work. I pulled this book to the top of my TBR pile as a gesture of solidarity. Because it’s not a good idea to let the malicious voices be the dominant ones in a conversation just because they’re loud and annoying.

(Note 2) It’s a good thing to read books that represent people who don’t look, act, love, believe just as you do. It strengthens our understanding, increases our ability to identify with other humans. It makes us better people. And if it makes us uncomfortable? Well, sometimes we need to be uncomfortable.

(Note 3) I read an early print version of this book. I understand that later versions have had the formatting errors corrected. 

Tea and a Tale on a Tuesday


Max is skeptical of my experiments with water-soluble crayons over Pentel Pocket Brush pen in my sketchbook. But sometimes you just gotta scribble.

Maybe this will have to become a thing. Sometimes I’m so project-driven (today it’s a cosplay thing, and then working on the sequel to Albatross) that I don’t give myself time to sit down and just lose myself in a good book. Committing to posting something I’m reading on a Tuesday could be just the nudge I need to make sure I’m not neglecting this bit of self-care. Committing to a related sketch makes sure I’m playing in my sketchbook, too.

I attended a seminar last night on publishing for LGBTQ+ and allies. It was informative and I met some cool writers and their friends. It’s revitalizing to have “authorial energy” being shared in person. Online connections are important and so special, but I really miss that in-person connection. Note to self: look for a writing group locally. It was also a refreshing break from some of the bigotry and hate I’ve been seeing online: folks working together, sharing their craft, without judging. Diversity and inclusiveness in action.

Today’s reading: I recently finished cult favorite Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Not your typical fantasy novel … definitely more swords than sorcery. Flavors of Dumas for a modern sensibility. Kushner joined with partner Delia Sherman to return to the world of Riverside with  The Fall of the Kings . I’m not too far into the novel, but it seems there is at least a discussion of magic. Most of the characters don’t believe it’s real (yet), but I-the-reader withold judgement. As with the earlier novels in the series, there’s elevated language, a complex plot that one suspects is about to become more complicated, and intriguing characters in a well-painted habitat. I will probably stay up long after my tea is gone tonight, caught in this world, happy for the chance to revisit some of the characters I so enjoyed in the previous books. And Kushner’s matter-of-fact inclusiveness is a pure delight in the previous books, so I’m hoping to find more of that in this collaborative work.

Need more Riverside? Kushner is spearheading a new set of serial stories also set in Riverside’s world, a prequel to Swordspoint. Does the name “Tremontaine” mean anything to you? If not, go read Swordspoint. Otherwise, you can find out more at Ellen Kushner’s website.

I hope your Tuesday finds you with a warm mug and a good book.

Tuesday: Tea and a Tale


Studio Assistant Judy Bear is a fan of chai, too.

It’s Tuesday and the hours have been dotted with spitting rainstorms, and I’ve spent the day organizing files and little pieces of the flotsam and jetsam that wash up in the course of living. Not my favorite task, but I’ve done it! As my reward and escape, I’m bundling up with a cat, a blanket, a book, and a lovely serving of chai tea. The tea was delivered with courtesy by my newly-driving-solo teen son, and it was both memorable and delicious.

The book was found courtesy of a suggestion on Goodread’s Vaginal Book Club forum (yes, it’s a thing). I’m reading Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Shoutout to that great Thomas Canty cover I remember from years ago still showing up on the digital version. I spotted a comment in an online discussion (I don’t remember the site, just my indignant harrumph in response) that claimed that this style is dated and should be replaced, but I find the Belle Epoch-influenced delicacy of Canty’s covers delightful. I remember that Alponse Mucha fell out of fashion, too, but tastes swing around, and I fully expect the future to justify my admiration for Canty’s distinct style. (Ask to see my Canty card collection; I’ve got the whole set!)

Bertie MacAvoy was commenting on the gender of a writer’s narrative voice on facebook earlier today, so I returned to the book with an ear out for the authorial voice. Perhaps I’m tired, or just too engrossed in the story to pay proper attention, but I’m hearing this narrative voice in the neutral “in my head” narrator, rather than a specific male or female timbre. I point to this as a sign of a most competent writer; when the narrator manages to disappear in the story, something’s going very right.

Summary in brief: it’s a good book, and worked well with the tea, and the cat, and the rain.

There’s plenty of fighting (did the “swordspoint” in the title tip you off?) with the fencing scenes written with interest, and brevity, both of which are important in a good battle. Engaging portrayal of a city, from the slums  to the halls of the wealthy, with sharp clear descriptions that catch and hold the mind without overwhelming. Some lovely descriptions, evocative, throughout, but not in a way that would bog down the story. The unnamed City is built up into a living, breathing place over the course of the book.

There’s political intrigue, romance, theater, and a bit of fashion. Primarily, though, this book is driven by its characters.

Deft characterization, built up through interactions and conversations between individuals as much as descriptions and direct actions, so very well balanced that way. Some homoerotic scenes, applied with discretion and most of the action implied rather than graphically described. Refreshingly casual approach to non-binary preferences.

Interesting use of power dynamics here, with sex acts, or sexual violence, threaded through as reward and threat, and the difference in the manifesting of power in this way by men versus women, against men and against women. (There’s probably a solid research paper in here, but it won’t be written by me. At least not without an additional vat of tea.)

I quite liked the two main characters, and would enjoy reading more of their adventures and interactions. A third major character in whom quite a bit of time is invested is removed from the action rather sooner than I might have expected, and I wonder if he’s going to appear in a follow-up novel. Even if this early departure wasn’t intentional as a teaser, though, he IS cited near the end; I can accept this as closing the circle, even if I’d have liked a bit more of him.

I’d love to tell you more except the tea has stopped working and I’m likely to fall asleep at the computer, which would be pleasant for none of us, but most especially the cat. So I’ll tell you goodnight, and happy reading!

Pulse Orlando


Years ago, friends and I would go dancing in Orlando’s gay clubs. A joyous man would weave through the swaying crowd, blessing us with sunflowers. Magic.


How beautiful those nights were, caught up in the lights and the music and the laughter, the friendship and the dancing. I remembered those bright Orlando evenings, even as the news filtered through of an act of hate against people who were celebrating life. The attack on the community at Pulse was a very public action, and I would like to say it was surprising. Sadly, it was not. This past year has seen a host of legislation initiated which discriminates and sets a percentage of our population aside as “other.” The attack at an Orlando club was very public and visible. Some of the many other attacks have been less public, less easily seen … and while they are less overtly bloody, they are still harmful to the core concepts of our civilization.

How does one counter such hate, the visible and the insidious? As individuals, our acts of support may seem small, but cumulatively, they are powerful. It’s time us to be more public in our statements of affirmation and love. R. A. MacAvoy, Bertie to her friends, agrees with me. So in addition to the celebration of difference that we try to live daily, and include in our writing, we have decided to make a public commitment. We, all of us standing on the side of love, need to be visible in our support, so hate will know it has no place among us.

Bertie and I are pledging the entirety of our author royalties from our e-book, Albatross, for the next 30 days, to the Orlando organizations providing support to the Pulse victims, survivors, and their families. Additionally, Bertie is donating a portion of her proceeds from sales of her previously published works.

We can’t say that the dollar amount of a donation will make a difference. But this attack has wounded us all. We want those most injured, and the larger world, to know that we believe that the power of love is stronger than the power of hate. We believe in the lights, and the music, and the dancing, and the joy, and a world where differences can be embraced. #StandWithOrlando