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. 

Making Wonder: Metamorphosis

IMG_7369This tiny creature is an Atala butterfly. Once thought to be extinct, due to habitat loss and other human-induced causes, these shimmering bits of wonder have returned to South Florida through a collaborative effort and years of patience. We’d heard this success story, and my son and I wanted to be part of it. Atticus was, I think, mostly fascinated by the plants at first. Cycads, the slow-growing sole food source of the Atala caterpillar, coexisted with the dinosaurs. We were both enthused by the idea of a dinosaur garden. I set out to find plants. Atticus painstakingly chose prehistoric creatures from his collection.

A kindly stranger, met online, mailed to me a geneous number of coontie pups. These were the single-frond offspring of the many coontie in his Gainesville yard, and were meant for my son’s kindergarten class garden. We planted most of them there, but he sent so many that there were a few left over. We tucked those few into our little yard’s native landscaping. With care, three of the baby plants grew.  They do grow slowly, though. Very slowly. We settled in to wait. We bided our time, for a while, by staging elaborate dino dioramas. And learning about butterflies.

I’d travelled several towns over to a garden center that was rumored to have an Atala population. I THOUGHT I spotted one, but it was hard to be sure…they’re so small, and move so fast. And I’d never seen one before, so I couldn’t be sure.

About three years after planting the coontie, I saw the first Atala in the yard. The next year, there were two. The following year, none. A couple of years later, three or four. Gradually, especially after we replaced our ficus hedge with native plants, the butterflies became regular inhabitants. The plastic dinosaurs dotting the garden were eventually retired, and my son left the garden to his mother. But he enjoyed our annual watch over the metamorphosis: egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult.

This year, wow! This year saw a week when at least twenty butterflies PER DAY were emerging. We have, in my opinion, an established colony. It’s delightful to walk through the yard and see the Atala so close, so abundantly thriving. We’ve invited small children over to share the wonder, and it IS a wonder. Let me clarify the timeframe, though: it’s my son’s second year of college.

The butterflies aren’t the only ones who’ve gone through changes.

So it hits home. Creating a habitat for butterflies: how very like raising a child. How very like writing a book. Collaboration, with an intent toward a goal that’s not guaranteed,  and an outcome nobody can really predict. But in the end, wonder: a book. A new adult. A great cloud of shimmering butterflies.

You watch them, then you release them into the world with a wish and all the good energy you can muster. Then…you watch, and hope the world embraces them.

SHIMMER, sequel to ALBATROSS, is at the printer. Atticus is away at school, making theater magic. And South Florida has a great throng  of black and scarlet and dazzling blue butterflies. Keep your eyes open for all of them!

ALBATROSS in Print!

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This book is now available in print, as well as digital format. I’m old enough that this makes it seem somehow more real. It sits here on my hearth, soft and solid against the warm brick. An artifact of sorts, documentation of these days. A story of the near future, that is in some ways an attempt on the part of the authors to find their way through a troubled time.

This is the book we needed to write. We’ve have been told by a reader that it’s the story they needed to read. And so Bertie and I, and the good folks over at WordFire, are quietly launching Albatross into the world.

Wishing you all peace, a warm cup of tea, and a quiet spot for reading.

— Nancy Palmer

Parkland Florida, November 2017

SNOWSPELLED by Stephanie Burgis

I tore through the advanced read copy of SNOWSPELLED by Stephanie Burgis. A quick-reading adventure story set in a Regency-flavored “Angland,” this novella twists some tropes on their heads and sets off merrily in its own direction. Seriously, I laughed out loud a couple of times when the “expected” was NOT what happened. Very refreshing.

The political and magic systems are engaging, and there’s an intriguing romantic interest … again, trope-twisting.

There’s also non-romantic relationship development; this was delightful (and hearkens back to the Austen tradition, which I really appreciated). I was looking forward to doing a review in time for the book’s release back in September.

Then I was in a car accident, and muddled my brain. And basically forgot the book. So I had to re-read it, but my brain refused to focus on more than a paragraph at a time for several weeks.

Then I was in a hurricane.

So my reader response is posting REALLY LATE!

But I have to say, there are worse things to re-read in 98 degree Fahrenheit South Florida humidity than a book in which a group of people are snowed in at a house party. Magicians, politicians, and lots and lots of chill, both in atmosphere and human relations.. This is a quick-reading book, and I’m recommending it for fans of historically-influenced romantic fantasy as a great escape. Just the sort of thing to have on your reading list for those times when you need to mentally Do Something Else. SNOWSPELLED’s world is engaging and well-written. And while the reader may suss out the source of the conflict long before the characters, the process of their realization is engaging enough to keep the pages turning.

SNOWSPELLED was created as the first in a series, and while it is a stand-alone, it does read very much as though it’s establishing this world, these characters, for a longer adventure. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series; I want to see what protagonist Cassandra Harwood and her peers are up to next!

Tea and SomeEditsy

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After editing, maybe I’ll have time to polish my kettle.

Greetings from the Land of Eternal Edits! ALBATROSS has had its release date pushed back for Complicated Publisher Reasons. A by-product of this extra time means that Bertie and I get to do a FINAL (this-time-really-for-true) final edit.

Of course, this ms has been so thoroughly edited that there are ZERO changes to be made…right? HA! Of course there are changes to be made! There’s always something that slips past the writers, editors, and beta readers. (Rather like searching for fleas on my very floofy dog. And similarly uncomfortable.)

This calls for tea. (And maybe, since I’m still recovering from July’s auto accident, a standing desk.)

But it’s been a while since I sat with ALBATROSS. More recent work (and a big hunk of steel at mumbletymumble MPH) had rather nudged it from the forefront of my mind. And I confess: I’m rather enjoying my time with Dr. Rob MacAulay. And Thomas Heddiman. I’m looking forward to this book being in the world.

ALBATROSS now set to release in November, with SHIMMER to come out in December.

How His Worlds End

imageHard news tonight.  I found myself last Friday on the receiving end of an auto which was busily demonstrating Newtonian physics in action, with associated rattled brain and body. Reading is hard just now. Writing is harder. Accordingly, I’ve been largely absent from social media this past week. So I didn’t know. Until Bertie MacAvoy messaged me. Details have been following. And I’m wrestling with my accident-addled brain to make sense of it, to find words. Because words are what brought Michael Harper to my page, and are what our strange friendship was built from.

Writing is such a weird art form. It’s so solitary, crafting a story. But it’s such an intimately cooperative art, too, because the story never lives without a reader. The story is uniquely THEIRS, their understanding of it shaped by their own experiences and thoughts and ways of being. A writer envisions and shares a world and its people and places. But the reader is the one who actually LIVES in  that world, for a time, shaping the experience of the book by their own essence.

When someone passes, we lose their presence in this world. Also gone, though: their experiences in the fictional arts, the worlds they shaped in their own images. Nobody will ever again read my stories in the form that Michael Harper read them. Whatever his waking walking life was, Michael knew how to read and be present in a book. I so appreciate his bringing his energy to my stories. My head is splitting from the effort of writing this, but I know that of all things, words were what was between the two of us. So I can’t help but share a few in his memory.

Rest, in peace, and I wish you joy amid the stardust, Michael Harper.

 

 

Please Bear With Us

JudyBearwithTeaALBATROSS release date, I’ve learned, is actually going to be September of this year. While you’re waiting, I suggest checking out R. A. MacAvoy’s entertaining tales of her bear encounters, very kindly compiled and shared by Mike Glyer over at File 770! While reading some of these stories, I haven’t known whether to laugh or sit there slack-jawed . . . you should give them a try.

And while you’re over there, if you’re not familiar with File 770, you might as well have a look around. Good stuff to be found.

(Bertie and I have discussed collaborating on a coloring book based on these adventures, and I’ve been sketching. What do you think of the idea?)

 

Turning a Page

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I, like this fairy, read when I’m broken. It’s a good strategy for surviving.

Spring has run its course, rung its changes. Turned into Summer while I was busy looking elsewhere. I don’t know precisely when this little garden sculpture fractured, but I look at its face and find a kindred feeling, and so I keep the little fairy. Momento of a season of transitions.

Summer is starting kindlier. SHIMMER line edits have arrived! Awnna, our editor, has had her time with the pages, and now Bertie and I hold them close one last time before sending them out into the world. It’s hard to let them go, to stop re-visioning the story. But it’s time, and past time, and there are other stories clamoring. So today and tonight and tomorrow, I’m putting some final hours in. Then turning a metaphorical and literal page.

I had telephone call a couple of days ago. Someone I know had been telling another about ALBATROSS, and they’d gone looking for it, and been unable to find it. THANK YOU for the word of mouth, and sharing news of the story! I was very happy to tell them (and I’ll repeat it here, in case you missed it!) that ALBATROSS should be available in June from WordFire Press. And I’ll be posting a link when it’s available.

And now, with line edits in hand, I can confidently say that sequel SHIMMER will be available this Autumn. I’ll check in with you soon. For now, I’m off to lose myself in the story one final time.

In the Wee Hours

A character has been sitting with me in the wee hours. At this time, the hours hung between night and day, my daily preoccupations haven’t yet caught up. The barriers of “should do” aren’t up, and these presences can cross over and make themselves known. At least that’s what it feels like. Annie is showing me her story, and I’m trying to get out of the way and let the words come.

The world is waking. A bluejay is claiming my back yard. The warblers in the palm trees and hedges have their own claims to the space, and the water hanging in the air wraps us all and scoffs at our ideas of space and ownership. It’s difficult to avoid “the pathetic fallacy” when the place is so blatantly itself.