Liz Strange

Author of fantasy, horror and mystery fiction

What's On Liz's Mind

view:  full / summary

The Guardian's Wyrd by Nerine Dorman

Posted on June 9, 2014 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Author and Editor extraordinaire! Musician! Egyptology enthusiast! This lady does it all. Come take a peek at the wonderfully talented Nerine Dorman's newest relase, The Guardian's Wyrd:

What people are saying:

I was not sure what to expect with Guardian’s Wyrd. Nerine Dorman is a wonderful author, but it isn’t always easy to go from stories meant for adults, to stories meant for a young adult audience. She accomplished it beautifully. Not only that, but she’s written a story that will appeal to anyone who enjoys Fantasy- regardless of age. – Sherry, Goodreads


The Guardian’s Wyrd is a lovely, sometimes harrowing, sometimes heartbreaking tale of coming of age. Nerine Dorman’s skillful portrayal of Jay will endear him to readers of all ages. Rowan will make readers want to shake him or hug him – sometimes both. – Amy Lee Burgess, author


The author has carefully crafted the character of Jay to be just the right balance of quirky, relatable, sympathetic, and Very Special Indeed. None of this is to say that The Guardian’s Wyrd is derivative – Dorman is far too skilled a writer for that. – Tracie McBride, author


It took me a while to get into The Guardian's Wyrd, not because it's badly written or anything of the sort, it's mostly because I rarely find young adult books that captures so much wonder with such ease. Nerine Dorman is a master wordsmith, a very underrated one in my opinion, and the way she's able to sweep the reader into her tales is astounding. – Monique Snyman, reviewer


About the book:

Sometimes having a fairytale prince as a best friend can be a real pain.


Jay didn't realise that sticking up for Rowan, the gangly new kid at school, would plunge him into the dangers and politics of the magical realm of Sunthyst. But if anyone is up for the challenge it's Jay September. With his trusty dog, Shadow, at his side, he braves the Watcher in the dark that guards the tunnels between the worlds, and undertakes a dangerous quest to rescue the prince.


It's a race against time - can he sneak Prince Rowan away from under King Lessian's nose and bring him safely back home - all before the prince's sixteenth birthday? Or is Rowan's mother, the exiled Queen Persia, secretly trying to hold onto her power by denying her son his birthright?


Jay is ready for anything, except, perhaps, the suffocating darkness of the tunnels. And that howling …


About the author:

An editor and multi-published author, Nerine Dorman currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa, with her visual artist husband. Some of the publishers for whom she has edited works include Dark Continents Publishing and eKhaya (an imprint of Random House Struik). Her fiction sales include works to Dark Continents Publishing, Wordsmack, Tor Books, Apex Publishing and Immanion Press. She has been involved in the media industry for more than a decade, with a background in magazine and newspaper publishing, commercial fiction, independent filmmaking, print production management and advertising. Her book reviews, as well as travel, entertainment and lifestyle editorial regularly appear in national newspapers and online. A few of her interests include music, travel, history, Egypt, art, photography, psychology, philosophy, magic and the natural world.


She is the editor of the Bloody Parchment anthologies, Volume One; Hidden Things, Lost Things and Other Stories; and The Root Cellar and Other Stories. In addition, she also organises the annual Bloody Parchment event in conjunction with the South African HorrorFest.


She is also a founding member and co-ordinator for the Adamastor Writers’ Guild; edits The Egyptian Society of South Africa’s quarterly newsletter, SHEMU; and from time to time assists on set with the award-winning BlackMilk Productions.


 Buy your copy today!



Follow Nerine on Twitter" target="_blank">(https// and sign up for her newsletter (http//



A visit from Kit Daven, author of The Forgotten Gemstone

Posted on February 2, 2014 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)




While Liz loves a good strong female lead in a story, and the most current guest posts are about that subject, I felt it necessary to go against the trend and write about the menacing presence in my debut novel…


What do you do when you love dark fantasy and the supernatural, but you’ve grown kind of tired of all the usual monster suspects—vampires, zombies, ghosts, demons? Whoah, wait a minute! Nope, can’t say I’ll ever grow tired of demons. But what’s a writer to do when they’ve never been baptised into an established religion; their knowledge of demons comes mostly from novels, television, and movies; has limited time to research actual references to this phenomenon in primary sources; and wants to make the antagonist of their first novel a demon?


The answer: You strip down the demon, reduce it to not much more than a vapour by ignoring the socio-historical and religious contexts in which they are referenced. It was a challenge to do this, but in the end it raised the question: What is a demon?


There’s no single answer that’s correct. However, the answer I chose to use helped develop an alternate world called Elish, where demons walk alongside humans. These demons are solid in form and highly representational of the very feeling that can make some people freeze and cower while others flee toward safety. These demons are forms of fear, taking on the shape of whatever it is that is feared. Not a new idea in fiction, but one I was able to twist to my delight.


A look at the most current psychology textbooks reveals an ever-evolving list of phobias. Name something and someone somewhere is afraid of it. There are common primal fears: the unknown, the dark, insects. Instead I found myself developing a protagonist born out of a specific time and place in history, one belonging to Elish instead of our world.


The time is during the early age and the place a veldt on the verge of becoming a desert, where cactuses grew like giants, their spines longer than swords, and the tallest were used to execute criminals and war prisoners by way of impalement. Humans hung up on spines, left to bleed out, die, and rot. This bit of history is enough to cause anyone to shudder (I hope), and lo, a demon is born into the world Elish, one made of green flesh and red spines, pulsing with life, determined to spread his brand of fear so that he can continue to exist.


A cactus demon.


Meet Istok, the primary antagonist in my debut fantasy novel, The Forgotten Gemstone, which isn’t as dark as I make it seem. In fact, it’s rather a bright and colourful book, as one reader described it. It's fantasy with a bit of Science Fantasy and a leaning toward Lovecraft instead of Tolkien.


And as is the trend here, the main protagonist is a woman. Ule is part of a race of trans-dimensional world builders. Although she can manipulate energy on a quantum level, her true power doesn’t come from having supernatural abilities. She also doesn’t fight like a warrior or have witty remarks. Her strength comes from her willingness to explore and rediscover those parts of herself that are permanent, so that she can stand on her own two feet and shine in a world where, and I quote from another demon in the story, a cat demon named Kaleel the Rex, “everyone makes sport of casting each other into the shadows.”


Seriously? How can anyone be afraid of cats?!



For more information on Kit Daven and The Forgotten Gemstone, please visit


Available in Print on CreateSpace:


Available in Print and for the Kindle on


Available for the Kobo on



Crafting a Strong Female Lead

Posted on December 16, 2013 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Crafting a Strong Female Lead

by D.C. Petterson


I try to have strong female characters in my stories. I find that to be a challenge, but probably not for the reasons people might think.


I've seen discussions about whether men can -- or even should -- write stories with female protagonists. I've read arguments that men and women think differently enough that it would be hard for a male writer to write a female point of view -- or conversely (though this is seldom argued) for women to write men. I don't think that's really true. It's all about putting oneself in someone else's place. That's something a writer has to do as a matter of course.


Writing a convincing villain, when you're not one yourself, or writing from the point of view of an alien, or a merchant from ancient Egypt, or a monarch from the forty-third century, or a dragon trainer from Eldoras -- surely none of these characters is more foreign than someone who is simply of the other gender. After all, men and women interact pretty regularly in our culture. Keeping one's eyes and ears open is a good way to learn about the people around you, even if they have different plumbing.


For me, the challenge isn't so much stepping into someone else's point of view -- I have to do that for every single character I write. It's more trying to avoid the stereotypes and taboos.


Modern fiction has begun to explore the image of strong women, particularly in genres such as fantasy, science fiction, and horror. That's a positive development, since these genres used to be dominated by male writers, male readers, male characters, and male stereotypes. Women often were relegated to roles as victims, supporting characters, rewards, or evil vixens. There were exceptions, certainly -- Asimov's Susan Calvin was an outstanding one. Ellen Ripley, from the Alien movies, was another. But as female protagonists became more popular in these genres, a few new stereotypes began to take the place of the previous ones.


One of the earliest was the Mary Sue, a character who is perfect and capable in every way. To some extent, she was a natural (over)reaction to the personality-free ornaments that posed as female characters in older genre fiction. There have since evolved a number of variations on this stereotype, including the idea of the author (usually a female) putting herself into whatever literary universe is being created or borrowed. As much as anything, the Mary Sue is a form of personal fantasy, describing the author's ideal of whatever is The Perfect Woman.



Another all-too-overused female protagonist may have developed out of the Mary Sue, and that is the Brat. She is skilled, independent, and brilliant, and she knows it. Flippant, sarcastic, confident, sometimes sardonic or cynical, she is nobody's fool, nobody's partner, and nobody's significant other -- but everyone wants her. She won't settle down, because that would be settling. She doesn't need a man, because she doesn't need anything, though she might use one from time to time on a lark, or because she had nothing better to do that day. The story flows past her -- or she flows through it, solving every problem with a wisecrack and a smirk -- and she is the same at the end of the tale as she was at the start.


A third overused heroine is the Final Girl. She is a failed attempt to recapture the magic of Ellen Ripley, in the context of a teenage slasher movie. Through a combination of luck, wit, stubbornness, and unexpected courage, she manages to simply survive, when everyone around her (particularly the football star and the brainless prom queen) get eaten / cut up / turned to zombie jelly. She's like the winner of a deadly game of Musical Electric Chairs. She doesn't need saving, because there's no one left to save her, and she's the only one who figures out how to open the valve that holds the monster's gizzards in place. Before that, she was usually pretty pathetic, but survival makes her special.


Then we have Emily Emo, the pouty girl who hates her life, dresses in black, and would be depressed if she cheered up a little. She is the Brat's cynicism dipped in tar. She's usually in love with a broody vampire, to whom she is drawn like the proverbial emoth to a vampire. They take turns pushing each other away, and therein lies the story's tension.


There are a few other new stereotypes as well, but these are the main ones, and there are endless variations on them. The biggest challenge is that any female protagonist can be seen as fitting into one such category or another; a young woman who starts the story in a state of sadness could be seen as an Emo; one who is smart and capable is automatically a Mary Sue; anyone who manages to live through the dangers of a tale is a Final Girl; and one who is witty and sharp-tongued is a Brat. There's no escaping it, because anything that can be done has been done. What's a writer to do?


The secret isn't in what attributes a character has, but what she does with them, and how she came by them. A convincing and realistic and consistent backstory is essential. Whatever features a character has -- any character at all, but most particularly the protagonist -- must be explained by history. A writer doesn't always have to tell all that history, but the history must be known. Hints will be dropped, intentionally or not, and the droppage can go a long way toward excusing many otherwise stereotypical features.


The other half is to have the character grow and change throughout the story. If she is the same at the end as she was at the start, then nothing really happened. It isn't enough for the mystery to have been solved, or the Bad Guys vanquished. Something has to change inside the protagonist. Since all attributes are stereotypes in one way or another, the change of even a few of them will make a more complex character -- at the very least, a combination of the pre-existing stereotypes. This has the effect of making the resulting personality fit less well into any of the preconceptions.



This also means the Adventure becomes part of the backstory for a sequel. Sometimes it's better to try to publish the sequel rather than the original story, because the character has grown and become more interesting by virtue of having been through the first Adventure. Consider writing a first story to throw out, and to create a mass of details that can be referred to in passing as part of the second.


Something else I've found which I hope makes my characters unique is to give them something unusual in their background. This goes along with the idea of having a complex backstory, and a previous tale. The series I'm currently writing involves a female protagonists who is a wolf. One might call her a werewolf because she can change into human form. But she is, at heart, not human. She's not a woman who has taken on some canine characteristics of psychology and culture, but a wolf who is trying to live in human society.


This aspect of fish-out-of-water (or wolf-out-of-forest) nearly ensures an unusual combination of features, abilities, attitudes, and skills, not to mention viewpoints and reactions. She has a primal approach toward relationships, sexuality, morality, family, history, religion, her sense of self, and her role in the world. I've found a great technique for breaking out of stereotypes is to break out of stereotypes.


Perhaps this is cheating a bit, writing a female character who isn't a typical human female. But then, "typical people" tend to make for boring stories. Putting everyday people into extraordinary circumstances can certainly make for a good tale, but a better one is to deal with the aftermath, the extraordinary person who comes out the other side. For don't we all see ourselves as unique, and isn't uniqueness the essence of an interesting character?


BIO: D. C. Petterson writes software in a quintessentially midwestern American city. He plays keyboards and guitar, preferring a 12-string Takemine. At present, he’s got two dogs, two cats, two children, two grandchildren, two lizards, and one wife. His fiction tends toward fantasy and sci-fi, sometimes with a whimsically gritty emphasis. He’s also a political blogger, and knows far too much about esoteric religious niches. He has seen one total solar eclipse, no longer smokes cigars, and isn't good at writing a bio.



My most recent novel: Lupa Bella



A previous novel, set in the same universe: A Melancholy Humour



My first novel, also with a quirky female lead: Still Life



My blog:


twitter handle: @dcpetterson












Redefining strong women in fiction.

Posted on October 13, 2013 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (0)

When Liz opened the door for me to post on her blog, I knew immediately what I wanted to talk about…


Redefining strong women in fiction.


As a card-carrying kick-ass female, I know a thing or two about strength and I’m naturally drawn to gutsy fictional female characters. My own series (Warpworld, co-written with Joshua Simpson), features a less-than-ladylike protagonist who drinks, fights, swears, and loathes “fluffery”. She’s a hoot to write and, according to our readers, just as much fun to read. But in our latest installment, Josh and I decided to test her strength in a new way, one in which no amount of swashbuckling would win the day. We wanted to redefine what it means for her to be strong.


There’s a lot of talk going on about female empowerment these days. In fiction, these conversations include characters and their creators, stories and storytellers. How are women in the business of writing being treated? How does the portrayal of fictional women colour the world view? Do we need to change and, if so, how?


In the real world, yes, we need to change.




That’s all I’m going to say on that because I want to focus on the not-so-real world.


Diversity is not simply a buzz word. Diversity is the human experience and the ways a human can be strong are as diverse as we are. Yet, when you hear the term “strong female character” what is the first image that comes into your mind? Is she carrying a sword? Is she muscular? Is she a soldier, a warrior, or a person in authority? Does she have a wicked spinning back-kick and a really big gun?


What most people think of when considering a strong fictional woman is some variation of an action hero—in the world of stories, our minds equate strength with physical force. By this standard, strong women have been woefully lacking in fiction until recently and it’s good to see the landscape changing. What is still missing, however, is a change in our definition of strength. Consider all the permutations of the quality, the many subtle, quiet ways a person can be strong, and you’ll soon realize that there have always been a plethora of powerful women in fiction. What makes these characters so difficult to identify at first glance is that they do not fit the stereotypical, masculine version of strong. Empathy, self-sacrifice, and kindness may be fine qualities but society has long considered them feminine and, therefore, weak(er).


Change, in fiction, needs to come from both writers and readers. From writers, we need more women to be the hero and not just a supporting role for the male lead. From readers, (and all writers are readers), we need a broader understanding of strength, and recognition that strength takes many forms.


And not all of those forms include a wicked spinning back-kick and a really big gun.



Kristene Perron is a former professional stunt performer for film and television (as Kristene Kenward) and self-described “fishing goddess”. Pathologically nomadic, she has lived in Japan, Costa Rica, the Cook Islands, and a very tiny key in the Bahamas, just to name a few. Her stories have appeared in Denizens of Darkness, Canadian Storyteller Magazine, The Barbaric Yawp and Hemispheres Magazine. In 2010 she won the Surrey International Writers’ Conference Storyteller Award.


Kristene has recently published her second novel, Wasteland Renegades, part of the five-book adventure science fiction series, Warpworld, written with her Texan co-author Joshua Simpson.


Warpworld website:

Kristene’s random cranial gumballs (aka her blog): The Coconut Chronicles

Kristene on Twitter: @KristenePerron






Why Mummies Need A Comeback

Posted on August 13, 2013 at 4:30 PM Comments comments (0)

It sometimes feels like horror monsters have been reduced to vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons and, at a push, ghosts. You just need to look at the classic Universal horrors of the 1930s, or the Hammer cycle of the late 1950s and early 1960s, to realise there any many more monsters to choose from. Personally, my favourite will always be the mummy. Look at Boris Karloff’s charismatic portrayal of Im-Ho-Tep in The Mummy (1932) (link is http/, in which the undead priest was a far more attractive romantic lead than the pathetic ‘hero’. Christopher Lee turned his Kharis into a formidable powerhouse in The Mummy of 1958. Even Arnold Loos’ mummy in The Mummy (1999) was an awesome prospect, simply because he wanted his old love back.


I love mummies for three reasons. Unlike vampires, who are the aristocracy of the horror world, or zombies who are sometimes coded as the working class, mummies are quite classless. They belong to another world, and another time, and their exoticism adds to their appeal. Furthermore, they don’t necessarily have to suffer the same limitations as other monsters. Aside from cats, Loos’ Imhotep fears nothing, and is all powerful. He isn’t restricted by time of day, or the time of the month. Finally, mummies actually exist. Granted, they’re not rampaging around a city near you, but it’s possible to visit a museum and see one for yourself. The mummy, even in its inert state, represents something more tangible than that of the vampire.


When it comes to choosing my horror monsters, I have to rely on that old cliché – “Mummy knows best!”



Icy Sedgwick is based in the North East of England, where she teaches design and is working on a PhD in horror cinema. She has had several stories included in anthologies, while her first book, a pulp Western named The Guns of Retribution (link is http/, was re-published in May 2013 by Beat to a Pulp. Her next novella, TheNecromancer’s Apprentice, features bloodthirsty mummies with destruction in mind. Find her mummy flash fictions on her blog here (link is http/


Twitter: http//

Facebook: https//

Blog: http//



2013 so far....

Posted on July 24, 2013 at 2:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Well, we've passed mid-year so seems about time for a general writing update. Lots of great things have happened, some in progress and others still on the horizon.


First off, Born of Blood and Retribution (Dark Kiss #3) is finally coming out in print. Thanks to the gang at Passion in Print.


Next I have two great projects coming out with Dark Continents Publishing. My short stroy Riel's Last Stand will be included in the upcoming Dark Harvest anthology. Even more exciting my militray sci-fi thriller novel Erased has been contracted for a 2014 release. I am very excited to be working with the lovely & very talented editor & author Nerine Dorman on both projects.


Also on the go, a new collaborative re-visioning of one my screenplays with a UK-based screenwriter. Details to follow.


For the David Lloyd Investigations fans- book 3 has been contracted and is slated to begin editing soon. Watch for this!



  • I have a table at Fan Expo Toronto this year. Please stop by and have a chat!
  • I am helping with Kingston's very first Slimebone Horror Film Festival. More information as its available.
  • New screenplay opportunities abound. Stay tuned.


Thanks so much to all my friend, family and fans for your enthusiasm and support. Couldn't do this without you :)




A few words from Sandra Wickham

Posted on June 24, 2013 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Health Ally

When Liz told me I could blog about whatever I wanted for this guest post, my little brain went into overdrive. After coaxing it down from swirling at top speed, I decided the most important thing I’m doing right now are my own Health Ally blog posts.


What’s a Health Ally, you ask? It’s a term I’ve made up and it all began when I’d had enough. I felt it was time to take a stand.


On April Fool’s day of 2013, Locus Magazine upset many people with their “WisCon Makes Burqas Mandatory for All Attendees” post. If you saw the post, which was taken down within an hour, then you know there were a multitude of reasons why it caused outrage. I felt the need to point out one more. It may have only been a small side joke, but it really, REALLY pissed me off. In reference to the mandatory burqas the article said, “the convention would have substantial quantities of Burqas for rental to congoers, from Small to 5XL sizes.”


Why include that line at all if it weren’t intended as another joke? A joke aimed at con goers and anyone else I might add, who would require a “5XL” size. Being overweight, underweight, or unhealthy is not a joke and yet it’s treated that way far too often.


I’m not only talking about this or other quips aimed at large sized people, I also mean when we make fun of ourselves. It happens all the time. We make jokes about eating too much, about not exercising, or about putting on a few pounds. I know, humour as a coping device, I get that, but it also gives us an excuse not to take a closer look and do something about it.  


But aren’t we’re supposed to make fun of being out of shape, unhealthy or overeating? That’s what everyone does, right? That way we can all go on ignoring the deeper issues and the pain those jokes may be causing people. What about the people hearing or reading those jokes that don’t think it’s funny, that take offense to those jibs and jabs.


I don’t think there is even a word for someone who stands up for health, so I stole the idea of being an Ally from the LGBT community and applied it to health. Every Thursday I write a Health Ally post. I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough to say, then the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch immediately gave me something to talk about with his, to paraphrase, our clothes are not for ugly or fat people statements.




Not every Health ally post I write is about pointing out health injustices; sometimes it’s just a tip for healthier living. I want to be someone who discourages crude, thoughtless belittling of health issues and encourages a higher level of health for everyone, no matter who you are, what you look like, weigh, or where you’re at in your life.


Prejudice toward someone based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or how much they weigh is unacceptable in any setting. This is me, taking a stand against weightism. Won’t you join me?










Post about the A & F CEO:


A few words about Historical Fiction from Matt Hughes

Posted on April 9, 2013 at 8:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I am very excited to be hosting a guest blog from the talented and multi-award nominated Matt Hughes:



In an email exchange with Liz the other day, she let drop the news that she was a reader of historical fiction.


Me, too, I said.


Why don’t you come over and blog about it? she said.


So here we go.


In my working-poor childhood, we didn’t have many books around, and a lot of my time was spent in rented farm houses in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, out where the bookmobile did not run. So although I could read from the age of four, it was pretty well all comic books until I was old enough to go high school in town, where they had a decent school library.


I would read books that my elder siblings brought home from school: science fiction, in my brother’s case; and in my sister’s a historical novel called Cue For Treason, by Geoffrey Trease, which was part of the Grade Nine English curriculum in 1950s Ontario. It was about a couple of English teenagers who become apprenticed to Shakespeare and foil a plot to assassinate Elizabeth I.


I gobbled it up, and then when I finally got to high school, I started to read similar books—of which, I was delighted to find, there were quite a few. I vacuumed up juvenile historical and science fiction novels by Trease (also Henry Treece and Alfred Duggan) until I’d read out the school’s library and then the young folks’ section of the public library in Burnaby, BC, to where we’d fled after my father was unable to pay what he owed to some loan sharks.


By the time I was fifteen, I was working my way through the adult stacks and finding plenty more grist to mill. At sixteen, I started to write one of my own, based on a snippet of historical fact I’d come across: after conquering the known world and establishing his imperial capital at Babylon, Alexander the Great ordered one of his Greeks to captain a Phoenician ship and sail it west beyond the Pillars of Hercules, then south and keep on going until he circumnavigated Africa and arrived at the top of the Red Sea. The ship apparently went, but whether it ever came back again is unknown. Shortly after he ordered the expedition, Alexander died of malaria, and his empire was divided up by his feuding generals.


I only wrote one chapter. My home life was too chaotic to allow for a precocious literary career. The work did come in handy, though. In Grade Twelve at Burnaby South high school, I arrived back in English class after one of my frequent absences to find that we’d been assigned to write the first chapter of a novel. I had my Alexandrian adventure in my notebook, so I turned it in.


The teacher, the brilliant Ruth Eldredge, formerly a colonel in the US Army, gave me a ten out of ten. That was significant because she’d told us at the beginning of the year that the highest mark she would give out would be a nine. Nothing we wrote, she said, would be good enough to merit a ten.


I can pretty well date the time when I decided I would be a writer to that afternoon.


I kept on reading historical fiction throughout my teens and twenties. By the time I hit my thirties, the genre was being submerged under the spreading morass of historical romance—bodice-rippers, they were called. Fewer and fewer authors were writing real historicals; they’d largely gone the way of the western.


There were still some good authors writing great books. Chief among them I would place Cecelia Holland, who is still writing today, although she has had to slide slightly sideways into historicals with a touch of fantasy. Still, I will argue that she is the finest author of historical fiction writing in English today. If you haven’t read her, and you like histfic, you have a treat in store—in fact, treat after treat, since she has been turning out exceptional historical novels since the mid-1960s.


And now that we have the long tail to choose from, I can recommend a few other great practitioners of the art without consigning you to haunt the dusty back reaches of second-hand book stores. Here are some names with which to conjure the past:


Robert Graves, an English poet who wrote historicals for the money, and didn’t think very highly of them. But his I, Claudius and Claudius the God are brilliant, and he produced several more, all of them far better than he thought they were.


Zoe Oldenbourg, a Frenchwoman who made herself a self-taught expert on the Crusades, and whose Cities of the Flesh is the best account I’ve ever read of the brutal stamping-out of the Cathar heresy.


Henry Treece, best known for his juvenile historicals, but whose brilliant retellings of Greek myths—Jason, Electra, King Oedipus—are definitely for adults.


Lionel Sprague de Camp, well known as a fantasy author, but who romped through some wonderful historical adventures such as An Elephant for Aristotle and The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate. It was de Camp who inspired me to write the voyage around Africa.


Mika Waltari, a Finn, whose best known work is The Egyptian, about the strange religious revolution staged by the Pharaoh Akhenaten, but who also wrote several others, including The Etruscan.


Gore Vidal, of whose work I most enjoyed Creation, the tale of a fifth-century BC Persian envoy whose wanderings bring him into contact with Zarathustra, the Buddha, Socrates, Lao Tsu, and Confucius.


Dorothy Dunnett, especially her seven-volume saga of Niccolo, a Flemish/Scottish bastard who rises to become a merchant prince of fifteenth-century Europe.


In more recent times, Bernard Cornwell and, of course, Patrick O’Brian, whom everybody knows these days. Cornwell’s are well told adventure tales, and more power to him; O’Brian’s works are so good, they’re simply astonishing.


I sometimes think I should go back and revisit that trip around Africa. But it takes a lot of research, and I find it’s so much easier being a science fantasy writer: I can just make stuff up.


You can find out more about Matt and his work here: Website

Strange Bedfellows

Posted on March 16, 2013 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Strange Bedfellows

I’ve always been fascinated by both science and politics. My first degree is in Chemistry and my second in Political Science. I work as a policy advisor – currently at the Senate of Canada – and read physics for fun. Add to those obsessions, nearly half a century of reading science fiction and nearly half that writing all sorts of fiction, it was inevitable that when I became a publisher, I’d have to bring them all together in one place.


“Strange Bedfellows,” an anthology of political science fiction where ideology is a character, has on my mind when I met with my publisher, Virginia O’Dine of Bundoran Press, last November. I went to breakfast to pitch an anthology and wound up buying a publishing company. Strange Bedfellows was immediately added to my publishing plans.


If this anthology was going to be a signature piece, I wanted it to be the best anthology I could make it. Paying professional rates (5 cents/ word instead of 1.5 cents) was one way to accomplish that. Higher rates means both more submissions and it means writers who no longer submit to non-pro markets might submit to mine. I’ll also be accepting submissions from anywhere in the world (as long as they’re in English) even if it means Strange Bedfellows doesn’t count as Canadian content for arts council grant purposes.


The difference between paying pro and non-pro rates on 80,000 words is significant -- $2800, on top of the thousands I’d already be spending on publication. The only way I could afford it was by fund raising. Hence the Indiegogo project.


We are now in the last few days of the campaign and, at the time of writing, achingly close. If you can help please throw in a few bucks. Even if we’ve already made the goal by the time you get there, remember, all additional funds go to buying more stories or raising the rate of pay to writers.


Hayden Trenholm

Arinn Dembo talks about her Damsel in Distress

Posted on March 10, 2013 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (1)

Damsel in Distress: Tamiko Hoshinara and the Pit

As a game developer and a story teller, I have to walk every day through the minefield of tropes and clichés that make up the medium and the genres in which I work. I write horror, science fiction and fantasy, and my most popular universe is a space opera setting. If tropes really were mines, I’d be riding a pogo stick through No-Man’s Land in the middle of World War I.


My general strategy as a writer is to deal with all Tropes fearlessly. The past is a playground. My team loves genre fiction and games, but we can only offer respect, never reverence. Sometimes tropes are made to be subverted, or inverted, or outright kicked in the nads. I’ve twisted a great many of them over the years.

Cold emotionless reptile race? Nope! Passionate and expressive reptile race who love chocolate, poetry and jokes. Insect race with spooky hive mind? Nope! Dedicated and thoughtful individuals who value nothing above family ties.


Needless to say I’ve had a lot of fun with the background fiction and the meta-story of the universe as a whole. But due to the restrictions of game mechanics, there were some tropes I never really had the chance to work with. Take, for example, the Damsel in Distress.


Last year, my team and I started working on our first truly nostalgic game. Sword of the Stars: The Pit is an old school adventure. The art style is an homage to the classic 8-bit adventures that we all played as kids. The mechanics of the game are a spin-off from games like Rogue and hearken back to ancient computer dungeon-hacks of yesteryear.


As a player, you identify with a colorful little sprite who dives into a dungeon and spends the game battling monsters, collecting loot, crafting new items, and dying, dying, dying, in a variety of horrible and hilarious ways. Your objective in games like this is to work your way toward the bottom of the Pit toward the always-distant, nearly-impossible-to-reach goal…in this case, you’re searching for a nigh-mystical Cure for a terrible plague which rages on the planet’s surface (a plague which was unleashed by the evil bio-scientists in this very same Pit).


The direct story content of this game is very light. There are three playable characters, two male and one female, and each of them had to have a compelling reason to dive into this nightmare and continue to fight to reach the bottom of this horrible labyrinth. They would be fighting for the Cure, of course—the chance to heal humankind and save the world. But when you reached the end of the game, achieved victory and discovered the Cure, what form should it take?


This was an issue that was debated by the team for quite a while. There were all sorts of possibilities. We all agreed that the Cure would be in a medical stasis pod, frozen in a timeless state. But it seemed a little lame to open the pod and just have a test tube or a beaker pop out—even if it might glow a bit.

I was the one who insisted that we should go old school all the way. We should invoke one of the classic tropes of our industry, a symbol which was present in so many of the games that we were paying homage to, in The Pit: the Cure should be a Damsel in Distress.

And so I created Tamiko Hoshinara.



In many respects, Tamiko is a classic DiD. She has a personal relationship to two out of the three playable characters in the game: the Marine (Travis Hudson) was her fiancée, and the Scout (Toshiko Hoshinara) is her twin sister. The third playable character, the Engineer, has no personal relationship with her at all prior to entering the facility, but he is actually the one who is most likely to get to know Tamiko well in the course of the game. He has the best technical skills, and is most likely to be able to hack into all of the alien computer terminals he encounters, and find the messages Tamiko left behind.


If anyone human can hack these consoles, I hope they find this message. My name is Tamiko Hoshinara. I was seized from the Planet Albuda IV by some sort of strange robot that emitted a sickening gas.


True to her role as a Damsel, Tamiko is most definitely trapped. She was captured on the surface, dragged down into this underground research facility, and she’s been used like all of the other living things you see as a test subject for awful experiments. The reason that she remains alive is that she’s been made immune to the Plague…and as most bio-scientists know, a living body makes a great storage receptacle for antigens and immunity to a disease.


That being said, the fact that Tamiko has been victimized does not mean that she follows the standard victim script and waits patiently for rescue. The messages she has left in the data banks of the facility are the result of her attempted escape. And she has some good advice for you, if you’re willing to take it. Instead of crying “Save me, hero!” she says:


If you find this message, please GET OUT of this facility while you can! I have no idea where I am now, but I can feel the weight of stone above me. It has to be at least a kilometer from the surface.


Like Tamiko, however, the player cannot back out of the Pit—the hatches to floors above seal above you over time. The only way is forward, and the only escape is victory. The situation is bleak, and often appears hopeless (don’t forget the dying, dying dying). But the messages Tamiko leaves behind also reflect her courage and her determination to figure out what’s going on, whatever the risk.


I've been trying to look inside the stasis chambers, to see the things that are sleeping inside. Some of the capture dates seem to go back hundreds, even thousands of years.


Tamiko is not a completely helpless or useless human being. You can tell she definitely spent at least a few days playing “Die Hard” in this hell-hole.


I managed to destroy one of the bigger robots and pulled out its Cybernetic Brain. It's an amazingly powerful processor. I wish I had an Engineer with me...I'm sure we could rig it to do something useful.


Eventually, of course, things went wrong. But Tamiko didn’t go down without a fight:


You can only meddle with the door locks twice before you trigger an alarm. I found this out the hard way. Bleeding now, and I'm out of ammunition for this weapon. I don't think I can hold out much longer.


Damsel in distress or not, Tamiko eventually realizes that she’s become immune to the Plague and she is a good enough scientist to understand the implications.


They want to keep me here, locked up in a stasis chamber forever. I can't let them do that. If I can break out of this Pit, I could save thousands of lives on Albuda IV alone. Maybe billions, if the Plague somehow spread beyond the system.


Winning the game, regardless of which character you choose, is about saving the Damsel. But even Tamiko would agree that her life as an individual is irrelevant, in the greater scheme of things. The player has to save Tamiko, not just because “Hey, she’s cute”, but because she is a wellspring of life for every human being who has been exposed to this disease. And whether you free her as her twin sister, her future husband, or as a friendly stranger, Tamiko is the alternative to death—not just for the player but for all humankind.


She’s not just a Damsel in Distress, in other words. She’s a symbol of universal salvation.


Stick that trope in your pipe and smoke it.




Arinn Dembo:

Dedicated Game Website:

Buy the Game at Gamer’s Gate:

TV TROPES Page for the Sword of the Stars universe:

The Game on Steam: