Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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Dialogue in SFF and Beyond (Part Two): Terms from Your History Notebook & Other Smart Reader Things

by Tracy Townsend

When last we left you, my stalwart heroes, heroines, and genderqueer unicorns, I was writing about the life-hacks used by some well-known sff authors in writing effective dialogue. You can use these tricks to help get words on the page (consider Caroline Yoachim’s bracket-and-move-on-hack) or to improve their tone, pace, character, and style (as Sarah Pinsker does in staging a scene with voice and action in mind). But when you’re a sff writer, thinking carefully about the specific function of dialogue in genre will go a long way toward helping you choose when to veer into conversation, when to focus on narration, and how to make both do their jobs better for your reader.

Our special guests and writer-sages for this post are Kelly McCullough, Barbara Barnett, and Brandon Crilly. While each of them approached the question of how dialogue functions in sff in their own way, it’s Kelly’s response that gives us our starting vocabulary. His experience as an author of novels for both adults and middle-grade readers over more than a decade of professional writing shows that he understands how to make dialogue work for a variety of audiences. He describes the two types of worldbuilding dialogue can do:

“SFF uses dialogue as both a primary and secondary tool for worldbuilding. … [T]hat’s the main way that I see dialogue being used in a way that is distinct from other genres. For primary worldbuilding we do a lot in terms of the specifics of dialect and word choice within the main language of the story which is similar to the way that say a detective noir piece might use dialogue, but also how we might include created non-human languages or other forms of non-human communication to convey setting and details about what is important in the story.”

Pause there a moment. Primary worldbuilding might have an itch of familiarity in your ear. It should. It’s a cousin of the “primary source,” perhaps a familiar term from your history education. Primary worldbuilding is the evidence of the sfnal world as lived by the people in it: not just the words they say, but how they say them, where, and with whom. It is the speech-action of characters in context. That context is further developed through a kind of domino effect. When one character of a certain social caste speaks, the reader develops expectations that others in the same station will follow similar linguistic patterns. Conlanging (that is, constructing language, in whole or in part) for sfnal worlds also represents in microcosm the critical features of a given society, species, or ecosystem.

Primary worldbuilding through dialogue is an example of what Samuel R. Delany calls “abeyance” in his essay “Some Presumptuous Approaches to Science Fiction”. Abeyance is that moment in sff when a writer supplies small, strategic details and withholds larger ones, thus inviting the reader to write into the blank space what else would make sense about this world. For example, if a character goes to pay for something in a shop and, approaching the wrist chip scanner, has to ask about using cash because their last banking app update crashed, and the owner tells them to take a hike, we’ve just learned through this world is no longer a cash-based economy. Thus, sf dialogue can teach readers how to read the text itself by a combination of what it puts in (to get you acclimated) and what it leaves out (to get you to extrapolate).

Of course, that primary worldbuilding through dialogue is only as good as an author’s attention to detail. Consider this point from Barbara Barnett, Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of The Apothecary’s Curse:

“In fantasy, especially historical fantasy (I would include steampunk here as well), make sure the diction matches the period. There’s nothing that takes a reader out of an otherwise gorgeous setting/story than nineteenth century characters that sound like modern (and vice versa).”

Clearly there’s a lot to recommend thoughtful use of primary worldbuilding through dialogue. But it’s the not the only way of doing business. Kelly’s further comments about secondary worldbuilding reveal other options. . . and where things can get a bit problematic.

“…I think of secondary use of dialogue in worldbuilding as a way to convey details about the world of the story within dialogue to maintain reader interest and to avoid obvious infodumps. Readers will put up with a pretty high density of detail if it’s embedded in dialogue that is witty or intense or that moves the story in ways beyond the information being conveyed.”

So a skillful writer can bypass telling us about how many kings ruled in a certain land or how many generations have lived on the generation ship by converting worldbuilding through narration into worldbuilding through dialogue.  That’s a form of secondary worldbuilding (again, borrowing the term from history class): reportage about the world from a voice that’s not truly of that world. Let characters talk to each other about what’s going on in their world and, with a minimum of context, your readers can recognize the abeyance for what it is and come away but entertained and enriched—secondary information from the mouths of primary sources, right?

Well, yes and no. (Remember, I said this can get a bit problematic.)

The Turkey City Lexicon doesn’t list “As You Know, Bob” dialogue as a writing sin for nothing. It’s one of the most tiresome habits authors can lapse into, and its appearance risks taking a reader out of the text. Chances are good that in the first draft, you’ll be stuck between the rock and hard place of AYKB dialogue and clunky exposition at least a few times. So what to do?

Fortunately for us, Brandon Crilly – author of short fiction published by Daily Science Fiction, Solarpunk Press, PULP Literature, and others, and a prolific sff reviewer for Black Gate magazine – recognizes the problem:

“I think one of the biggest risks with dialogue in SFF is using it too much to explain your world. Since there’s so much going on in, say, second-world fantasy, we need to find varied and interesting ways to make sure the reader understands the world they’re diving into. But doing so in dialogue makes it sound stilted and unnatural (the ‘as you know, Bob’ sort of mistake). And it can be subtle, too. Maybe two characters are walking through a pasture, hunting a demon, and start reminiscing about a time when they went cow-tipping at the academy in Verstok – and talk about what happened in direct, factual detail, as though they’re describing it to someone who doesn’t know the story (like the reader). That’s just as much of an issue, and an easy trap to fall into.”

Look carefully at the end of Brandon’s comment, because the answer to “but how do I fix this?” lies in the anecdote itself. If characters in a text start talking to each other “as though they’re describing it to someone who doesn’t know the story,” then the dialogue isn’t natural anymore. It’s too obviously in service of the reader. That’s your litmus test.

When I write, fixing that requires putting one fact front and center in my mind:

Readers are smarter than writers think. On the balance, the sort of person who reads sff reads with an understanding that the writing won’t all be on the wall and that some amount of trusting the world to reveal itself is needed. They might not know Delany’s term “abeyance,” but they’ve seen it in action and responded to it, drawing reasonable conclusions and filling in the world-space around the details they do have. This is a job a writer can make easier for their reader by knowing what they are trying to abey in any given dialogue.

Let’s take Brandon’s suggested dialogue between two demon-hunting pals reminiscing about cow-tipping and de-“As You Know, Bob” the scenario. First, we have to identify why the conversation is in the narrative at all. Likely contenders are to establish characters and their rapport, to contextualize the academy at Verstok (presumptive location of said cow-tipping), and to connect that bit of personal history to how these people turned into demon hunters. The conversation might do all of these things, to varying degrees, but it’s likely to focus mostly on just one purpose. If it’s building up our knowledge of how well these two work together and which one is the “responsible” one and which one is the troublemaker, then we don’t need to know the name of the groundskeeper who caught them, whether the cows were brown or black, or if the cow pasture was actually owned by an ornery local noble who contributes large funds to the Academy and used his influence to get the characters punished. It might be good to know if they were drunk, or if one of them slipped in cow dung just before jumping the fence to escape the angry, awakened cow—especially if these two clowns are going to have a rough time of it as demon-hunters, too. Indeed, the less that’s said between them about the event—the more they’re mortified by how much one of them stepping in demon scat reminds them of everything they’ve screwed up in the past, and the more that suggests to us they might just bungle things again—the better it is for a reader hungry to do their own mental storyboard.

And that may be the most important thing about writing strong dialogue in sff: using it as an invitation to imagine the rest of the story and its world. For some readers, it’s the heart of genre lit itself.


Boston Teen Author Festival 2018

by Jen Gheller

As sff fans, I’m sure most of you dear readers have been to at least one con before. Admittedly, I’ve never been to a comic-con, but I have been to the Boston Book Festival a few times. There’s always so much to see and do there, but priority was always going to whatever YA panels they had scheduled which, when compared to the other events, were few and far between. So imagine my delight when I discovered there was another book festival in Boston that was specifically catered to YA. Yes, such a thing exists! The Boston Teen Author Festival, held for its seventh year at the Cambridge Public Library, is taking place this year on September 22nd. They have an incredible lineup, including some of my personal favorite authors, Holly Black and Julie C. Dao. I’ve always had a great time there in the past, and this year’s festival is looking to be the best one yet! So get hyped, my fellow YA fans, because I’ve procured an interview with festival director and president Renee Combs.
How did the BTAF start?
Renee: The Boston Teen Author Festival began in 2012 at Emerson College to fill what we saw as a gap in the Boston book scene. This city is full of literary history, but there weren’t a ton of YA events going on at the time. If we wanted them that badly, surely others did as well! So we decided to bring the authors to us and thus BTAF was born.
YA tends to be snubbed by the literary world. What does YA mean to you, and why do you think it deserves its own festival?
Renee: I read YA growing up and continue to find my favorite books there. I think people can see a young narrator and expect the story to have less depth or maturity, but I’ve found it to be the opposite. Teens feel so strongly, something I think a lot of us lose as we age, and those coming-of-age stories can be some of the most poignant. They help people feel less alone, whether it’s a teen reading or an adult. The community has also evolved by leaps and bounds in just the last decade, and we hope that having a festival specifically for YA will help bring that community together to celebrate the books and people we’re all so passionate about.
What are you most looking forward to in the festival this year?
Renee: We’ve rebranded this year and changed up the schedule, so we’re really excited to see everyone’s reactions to the changes! We also have an amazingly diverse lineup so we hope readers get to meet some favorite authors and discover new ones along the way.
In what ways would you like to see the festival grow?
Renee: We’re really set on keeping the festival fairly small, especially compared to other events of this nature. We love the fact that readers can interact with authors throughout and that we have a very relaxed, welcoming approach to the day. That said, we’d love to make room for more teens to come from around MA and New England, and to get more involved in the community outside of this single day. It’s important to us to keep teens reading year round and to make sure they’re aware of the amazing titles being released outside of our attending authors.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about the BTAF?
Renee: We’re still looking for volunteers!  We’re always so appreciative of the enthusiasm our volunteers show and can’t wait to work with them again this year. Some of last year’s stand-out volunteers even joined the development team! Those interested can check out the roles and responsibilities on our website.

Issue 034 Author Interview: Sarah Pfleiderer and “Morph”

by Anna O’Brien

Buckle your seat belts, dear readers, as we head into another interview with an Issue 034 author. This time we had the privilege to chat with Sarah Pfleiderer about her short story “Morph.” You know how this works — go read her story now if you haven’t already and then feast your eyeballs on her thoughts below.

LSQ: It could be argued that Audra’s ambition to complete her studies jeopardized not only the Phytomorphs but also herself. What does this say about her character? Does this say something about the human race as a whole?
Sarah: I think curiosity is one of the most definable traits of the human race. We’ve gotten to where we are now because of the countless people pushing the realm of possibility and asking questions no one had ever thought to ask before. It’s fair to say Audra could represent that aspect of humanity; that ambitious drive for answers regardless of the possible consequences. As a person, Audra has allowed her work to consume her life, and the idea of having to give all that up because of a potential hiccup is inconceivable. But clearly her insistence to continue with the Phytomorphs brought about the end of her entire life’s work as well as the existence of the creatures she had grown to love.
LSQ: On the topic of Ziggy: do you have a clear idea of what the reader should conclude about him? If so, can you say, or do you prefer to leave it more ambiguous and let the reader decide for herself?
Sarah: I was originally inspired by Ray Bradbury’s “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” where a settlement of humans slowly transforms into Martians. I wanted “Morph” to provide an inverse: aliens turning into humans and forgetting their original identity in the process. The human scientists unknowingly contaminate the Phytomorphs during their time together, and in the end, Ziggy became a human with no recollection of who he once was. I’ll let the reader decide what Audra ultimately chooses to do about Ziggy, whether she leaves him on the IGNSS or takes him back with her to Earth.
LSQ: Are you a fan of other first contact stories? With such a story line, there’s some trepidation that the aliens will not be benevolent. What made you design the Phytomorphs as they are?
Sarah: There’s a lot of space for creativity in first contact stories and I’m always curious to see how other writers explore that idea. I wanted the Phytomorphs to be more connected to each other and their planet than humans are to make their transformation more impactful. I wanted to play with the idea of “what if, before we were infected with this ‘human virus,’ we used to be more in tune with our home and each other? What if the reason we’re so obsessed with finding ‘the meaning of life’ is because we used to know, but became infected and forgot?” Depicting the Phytomorphs as a more peaceful species also brings attention to our own disconnect.
LSQ: What do you think our first contact will be like? Is what you think different than what you hope?
Sarah: It would be nice to believe that humans’ first contact with an intelligent alien life form would be peaceable. But considering the violence with which we treat members of our own species, I suspect that might not be the case.
LSQ: What was the most enjoyable part about writing this story?
Sarah: I had the most fun writing the reveal at the end. I always enjoy writing the more disturbing scenes; I like finding that sweet spot of horrifying detail without it becoming overpowering. My original concept hinged on the grisly scene of a once docile and interconnected species becoming self-centered and violent. So it was satisfying to finally have all the build-up pay off and get the reader to the place I felt most excited about.
LSQ: Do you have any new writing projects in the works? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
Sarah: I’ve been working on polishing a magical realism piece about ancient spirits living in the Great Lakes. I like experimenting with tropes used in fantasy and faerie stories, particularly the idea of contracts with immortal beings and the trickery used to ensnare unsuspecting humans.

Stop Using Pinterest (no, not really – just stop letting it suck your precious time away)

by A. Francis Raymond

I did it again. I let Pinterest steal more than a half hour of my precious time away. It started out innocently enough. I opened the app – I’m not sure exactly why. Nothing else special was happening at the moment, or I was bored, or I was procrastinating from something I should have been doing. I figured I would scroll down a little, see the fronts of a few interesting pins, save them for later, and be on my way. Nope. A half hour later I found recipes that I might try, crafts I’ll probably never do, and of course things added to my writing board that I might not ever fully read.

As of this moment, that writing board consists of 368 pins. I haven’t spent the time to organize them into sections yet (a relatively new feature on Pinterest), but these pins cover everything from basic how-to start your novel, what to do at the beginning, middle, and end, and to how to create the best characters ever to writing exercises and lists from other famous writers with their tips, to words to use in place of other words. (The only thing noticeably absent from my own collection are writing prompts. Coming up with new ideas is not something I struggle with. Coming up with ways to preserve my precious writing time is.)

Since I started pinning, my collection of writing books hasn’t seen an increase. I guess I figure that if I need to get some inspiration or want to know “10 ways to hit your reader in the gut” or what “character intros will make readers fall in love” it’s all right there accessible from my smartphone.

As handy a resource this is, those other boards call to me… instead of writing, maybe I should be figuring out a new exciting meal plan for my family for the next week (the total number of pins I’ve saved spread out between several food-related boards total over 2,700). Or, it’s the time of the year where weekends are perfect for gardening. I should stop throwing away my banana peels because apparently I can learn to make excellent plant fertilizer with them.

You see my problem? I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with this app. Even looking at it as research for this blog post just caused another lost 20 minutes. But I’m back. With my own strategy:

I vow to not spend more than 20 minutes a week* randomly browsing through Pinterest. (*Note: I might need to start this week with 60 minutes and work my way down to 20.) If I really am stuck with my writing project and need to grab an idea for a character flaw, for instance, I am allowed to open the app, and go directly to my target. Once done, I shall close the app.

If only I could close the app and get back that time, which my strategy should allow, I will finally be able to improve my “writing in 10 minutes a day!” Ask me in a month how that’s going…

Why “Black Panther” is More Feminist than “Wonder Woman”

by Christina “DZA” Marie

Feminist superhero movies were, until very recently, like unicorns: they didn’t exist. The vast majority of women who have a significant amount of screen time in superhero movies are restricted to love interests whose lives revolve around the hero. What few female heroes do show up usually meet the same fate and/or die (see: Black Widow, Scarlet Witch).

So I, like most other girl geeks, was thrilled when Wonder Woman came out last year. And the film did not disappoint. I didn’t cry, but it was a close call. We’ve had plenty of kickass female action heroes in the spotlight—Ellen Ripley is the hallowed queen of the sci-fi alien genre—but until 2017 we had never had a blockbuster movie that centered on a female superhero. It was such a relief, even though I knew we probably wouldn’t see another feminist superhero movie for at least five years, and it probably wouldn’t be as good as WW.

And then Black Panther came and blew it out of the water.

I know, I know. How can Black Panther be a more feminist superhero movie than Wonder Woman? As the name would suggest, the whole story centers around a guy: T’Challa, the Black Panther. Not to mention the fact that Wonder Woman stars and is written and directed by other women, compared to Black Panther, which was created primarily by men.

Hear me out.

Putting on our feminist goggles (not that we ever really take them off), we see that both movies are on equal footing in many areas. Both have entire groups of women who are accomplished fighters rather than putting all military prowess into one person. Both refuse to sexualize those women in any way. Both feature reclusive societies who choose to ignore the suffering of the world around them and refuse to get involved. Both protagonists have dead fathers and secret evil relatives. Both protagonists also lose an aunt or uncle to a bloody death. Et cetera.

There are two major differences between the two movies that make Black Panther more feminist than Wonder Woman.

The first is the variety of women. Wonder Woman presents only one kind of powerful woman: the warrior. We see her in a lot of action movies. She’s the one who is on the front lines with the boys, who fights better than all of them, who knows her way around a gun, or sword, or laser, or even all three if they’re available.

This kind of woman is great. Diana wouldn’t be Diana if she wasn’t a warrior. That’s kind of her thing. But that’s also the only kind of “strong woman” that DC presents.

What about the girl who doesn’t like fighting, but likes creating? Or the girl who tries to use diplomacy first rather than her fists? Or the mother who can’t necessarily fight but will still protect her children by any means necessary? They’re not represented by Wonder Woman.

They are, however, represented by Black Panther. They’ve got the warrior(s): Okoye and the Dora Milaje. They also have more.

Shuri serves her country with her inventions, spending all of her time in the lab designing and creating world-changing technology that not only protects her brother, but also saves Agent Ross.

Nakia is a spy who wants to save the world, and she does it by talking first, fighting second. The meeting with M’Baku would have gone a very different direction if she hadn’t been there.

And Queen Ramonda is the one who heals her son’s grievous wounds.

Wonder Woman presents one way to be a powerful woman. Black Panther presents several.

The other reason Black Panther is more feminist than Wonder Woman is because it showcases the power of women of color.

One of the biggest complaints of Wonder Woman is that, while the focus should obviously be on Diana Prince, there are no women of color with any lines or impact on the story. We see them on the Amazons’ island, but they never say anything. They even had a perfectly good opportunity to cast a WOC in the form of Etta Candy (the assistant who helps Diana get modern clothes and makes the cute joke about the glasses). But they didn’t take it, instead choosing another white actress.

“But Chris!” you may cry, “Black Panther is just as bad! It has only black women in it! No white, Asian, or Latina girls at all. How is that more inclusive or feminist than Wonder Woman’s mostly-white cast?”

To which I would answer: open a history book. The American feminist movement, awesome as it is, is not perfect. Like most things in this country, it has a long history of racism. Women of color have been excluded from clubs, protests, events, history books, and, more recently, movies. Wonder Woman is guilty of that, too.

We say the movie helped all women by being as successful as it was, but it didn’t. It only helped white women. (Specifically, thin, white, straight, cis women, but that’s an article for another time. [Yes, I know Diana’s bi in the comics. But we didn’t see that in the film. Again: argument for another time.])

Black Panther is a sharp reminder to white feminists that if you want gender equity, you have to include the women out there who may not fit your initial description of powerful women. That means the woman who chooses to stay home while the men fight, the woman who prefers to create weapons rather than use them, and, of course, the women of color.


Weekly Wrap-Up: Week of July 23, 2018

by Jen Gheller

Did you enjoy the Buck Moon and lunar eclipse last night? Such a treat! If you missed it, or any of our posts this week, have no fear! We have a recap just for you, dear readers:

Review: Moxie; Amelia Westlake

by Alexa Wilson Kelly

These days, girl power is ruling the market for children’s literature—and given the current sociopolitical climate, it’s not hard to see why. Between the legacy of the Women’s March (which has itself been the subject of a picture book) and the ongoing discomfort and uncertainty that comes with being a woman in Trump’s America, it’s become more imperative than ever that girls grow up strong and self-assured. For many, equipping young girls with tales of heroic women—like the explosively popular Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls—has itself become an act of resistance. And it’s not a uniquely American phenomenon: since I moved to Australia in 2016, I’ve seen copies of Rebel Girls creep into every household, obsessively given as gifts for birthdays and Christmas. In the children’s section of Dymocks, Australia’s major chain bookstore, Rebel Girls and its dozens of spin-offs and imitations have swelled to dominate their very own multi-shelf section.

The young adult reading level has seen a smaller influx of resistance-themed books, with titles like A Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance and How I Resist, the latter an anthology that boasts contributions from big YA authors like Libba Bray, Sabaa Tahir, and Malinda Lo. But my focus has always been on fiction, and lately, I’ve noticed the trend reflected there as well: a rising genre I like to call “Teen Girls Get Fed Up and Form Vigilante Girl Gangs to Knock Out Sexism at the Local Level.”


The first of these novels came with Amy Poehler’s seal of approval (she also acquired film rights!) and an unapologetically livid black-and-pink cover, splashed with a call to arms for girls to rise up and fight back. Moxie, Jennifer Mathieu’s explosive fourth novel, draws inspiration heavily from the Riot Grrl movement, with its tone of sheer, unapologetic female anger pervasive throughout. However, it’s counterbalanced by the practicalities of being a teenager in high school: our heroine, Viv Carter, is miles away from fighting back against anything at the start of the novel. She’s your typical girl next door protagonist: she has a cool mom, kindly grandparents, and a best friend she’s known since kindergarten. Boys confuse her, and she’s counting down the days till college. But she’s also trapped in a hotbed of casual sexism that runs rampant at her high school, at best ignored and at worst abetted by teachers and staff. The novel does its subject matter a great service by making it clear that Viv’s high school is not “unusually” bad in this respect—only that Viv, who has grown up with the legacy of her mother’s former Riot Grrl days, is perhaps uniquely positioned to be bothered by it.

Yet Viv, by her own admission, is an unlikely candidate to actually do something about it. Already at a power disadvantage as a student, she holds no particular social clout, and considers herself too ordinary to be worth anyone’s attention. But when she finds a box of her mother’s old Riot Grrl things, including a series of feminist zines, she suddenly finds herself with an idea she cannot bear to dismiss. What follows is the creation of Moxie—a zine with a brutal, unapologetic tone that calls out the sexist policies of the school administration, starting with the unfair dress code. Viv herself is a one-woman printing press, creating and making copies of the zine before distributing them in the girls’ bathrooms. It’s thrilling and empowering to watch Viv grow in confidence as Moxie, initially a point of confusion and even discomfort for the other students at her high school, takes off and grows into a movement much bigger than just Viv herself.

The brilliance of Viv as a heroine (and of Moxie as a whole) is that nothing about her is extraordinary. At no point does she become a leader in this movement. Throughout the course of the novel, we see her grow in confidence, but not in power: other girls, inspired and emboldened by the zines, begin to hold events and protests under the name Moxie, but Viv attends these as an observer, never revealing her involvement in Moxie whatsoever. When the truth does eventually come out, it’s less of a revelation as it is an opening for other girls to add their voices, with the bold claim that yes, Viv is Moxie, but they are Moxie, too. The message of the novel is also what it demands of each and every one of its readers: all it takes to enact change is an ordinary person with a bit of extraordinary courage.

If Moxie is an angry rock and roller (best read to the music of Joan Jett), Erin Gough‘s Amelia Westlake is her more buttoned-up—but no less furious—little sister. Our heroines, an odd couple of fussy perfectionist Harriet Price and grungy troublemaker Will Everheart, are students at an ultra-elite private school, Rosemead Grammar. As with Moxie’s public American high school, Rosemead Grammar, with its state-of-the-art facilities and student body of future innovators, has a dark underbelly of sexism, elitism, and general disregard for its students: teachers play favorites with grades, money is funneled into grandiose, unnecessary projects, and the gym teacher leers at his teenage charges in the pool. While the students feel the effects of this corruption, they also feel the power and prestige associated with the Rosemead name, and their own powerlessness in the face of it.

Enter Will and Harriet—and Amelia Westlake. As students, Will and Harriet exist at complete opposite sides of the spectrum: Will is a scholarship student and known troublemaker, known for her distaste of authority. Rosemead is designed to put people like her down, and she knows it; yet rising against it gets her into trouble time and time again. Harriet, meanwhile, comes from a place of wealth and privelege: a model student who benefits greatly from Rosemead’s system, and would rather ignore its “minor” problems than make any waves. But when their worlds collide, Harriet finds herself finally unable to look away from Rosemead’s problems, and agrees to help Will with a prank: a series of political cartoons, drawn by Will and written by Harriet, published in the school newspaper by a student named Amelia Westlake—a student who does not exist.

Will and Harriet’s school responds initially to Amelia Westlake in much the same way as Viv’s classmates respond at first to Moxie. There is interest, and even agreement, but it fizzles out quickly. But by this point, something has begun that is not so easy to let die completely, and as Will and Harriet escalate with pranks that directly target the school—each using their particular skill sets and advantages—Amelia Westlake takes on mythic proportions, escalating into a movement. The message here, so similar to that of Moxie, seems to be that anyone can change the world: rich, poor, priveleged or not, everyone has something to bring to the table. All that’s required is a bit of courage—and, if you’re lucky, someone by your side who completes you.

Girl power is by now an old concept, but political contemporary YA is relatively new. It’s exciting to see the genre overtaken by female anger, female power, and ultimately, female triumph; and in this day and age, a reminder of the power of ordinary people is never misplaced. And as much as I hope that the anxiety of the current political regime is short-lived, I also hope that literary girl power is staying for a long, long time.

Author Interview: D.L. Carter

by Wendy Van Camp

Author D. L. Carter has been called crazy, restless optimist, pessimist, lazy, a crank with delusional invisible friends who have the greatest, dangerous ideas. She is also an excellent science fiction and fantasy author. Please welcome “D” to No Wasted Ink.

D. L. Carter (Dee Leana, call me ‘D’) was decanted from her incubation pod in the outback of Australia many decades ago. This terrifying event was closely followed by shrieks of “There, there it goes. Hit it with a brick!”

These valiant attempts to correct the existence of D.L. were, unfortunately, unsuccessful, and she now resides in New Jersey, in a box with her toys, two human beings, and a variable number of cats.

From the preceding you can assume that I don’t take bios, or many things, seriously. I am a professionally silly person and weirdo. The late great Sir Terry Prachett, in his Witches series, described some people as lying sideways across the tracks on which the human race was run and that describes me down to the ground.

When and why did you begin writing?

When – very, very young. Mother reports that she would read me a story and when it was over I would demand to know “what happens next?” When she explained that the book was over I would tell her the further adventures of those characters. Later, preschool, I would walk around the back garden talking to myself, telling stories. I think this means I have always been writing.

The why? Mostly because I do want to know what happened next, what happened before and why the heck the chicken crossed the road?

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Um. Always. One of my English teachers praised my dialogue back in 8th grade (I don’t know what that translates to in US years) and I have always had a little notebook (paper in pre-computer years) in my bag to continue the adventures of whoever had my attention at the time. My published career started in Star Trek fan fic and I regarded myself as a successful writer when I started getting letters from people who had read my short stories in various fanzines. If I could make people think and feel then obviously my writing was working.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

The second book in the “Changing Magic” series. In the first book I looked at the issues that would arise in a society dependent upon magic when the magic users had a fertility problem. In the second book I look at what happens when the magic goes away because of a severe failure of the weather spells.

What inspired you to write this book?

Having personally lived through a flood where all the usual facilities disappeared – power, clean water, flush toilets, the person who refilled the sweets machine – I could empathize with the suffering of magic users and those dependent upon them.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I’m in it for the laughs.

I am a great admirer of the late great amazing George Carlin and Terry Prachett. From George I learned that you need to use more words to create humor. You have to build a cadence, a rhythm, an avalanche of words to render your audience breathless with admiration and laughter. I have not achieved their brilliance, but it is a personal ambition to be funny.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

In a conversation with my publisher. I gave her the first in this series which had the interesting but unsellable title of “The Use and Complexity of Sex Magic”. It was intended to be a stand-alone book but publisher (Corvallis Press) requested (demanded) a trilogy. I said since I was introducing new forms of magic into this fictional world I would call the series “Changing Magic” and the first became The Use, the second The Complications. The third will be The Consequences.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Message? Um. OK.

There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved by a suitable application of high explosives.

Wait! No.

Suitable application of Reasonable Intelligent Heroines.

When reading novels I get really short-tempered when the heroines are twits. I can’t stand it. I do believe in the historical record that tells us that women are self-rescuing princesses. We don’t have to wait for a prince or a soldier or whatever to come solve the problems. In my house, I am the one with the power tools and the screwdriver set. I assemble the furniture. I got the mortgage. Why do we let our fiction tell us that we have to be passive?

The old Germanic fairy tales include the Princess with the Iron Shoes where a woman wears out the soles of seven pairs of iron shoes trying to find her lost husband.

Message – let’s go out and save the universe.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Flood, yes. Sex Magic, no.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

Issac Asimov – wrote about everything and anything, proving that you don’t have to stick to one genre. There are some publishers and agents who say you have to build up a readership that you cannot confuse. Choose one area and stay with it and only with great trepidation do you challenge the readers to go with you into another area. Myself, I like to jump around – a lot.

Agatha Christie – writer and pharmacist. The medical profession is no deterrent to a successful writing career.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

I have mentors. Dr. Charles Pellegrino (DUST, Her Name: Titanic, Flying to Valhalla) is an old friend. From him, I learned how to research and how to stubbornly ignore negative reviews. He does non-fiction and fiction so he encouraged me to play in as many different genres that made me happy.

Leigh Michaels – (The Birthday Scandal) I met through Gotham Writers’ group – classes you can take online. I took a couple of classes with her, and one of the greatest days of my life was the end of a set of classes when she asked to see the rest of the book that I had presented. I said I couldn’t afford her editing fee. She said, “No, I actually wanted to know what happened next. I want to read the book for my own pleasure.” Oh, wow! I had caught a reader’s attention! And that reader was a published author. ::Blush::

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

Cover illustrator works for Corvallis. All I said was that I wanted a building that looked like it was drowning.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

OK. My brother-in-law who is a professional movie critic (votes on the academy awards, etc., and has a blog with one million hits) directed my attention to 9 Indispensable Ingredients That Are Always Present in Every Hit Film, written by Tom Laughlin, the writer of the famous Billy Jack movie series.

Book blurb: After the most exhaustive research and analysis of box office grosses of films through the 1990’s, Tom Laughlin has discovered 9 indispensable ingredients that must be present in every film, book, TV show or play in order for it to be a commercial success. These ingredients are ALWAYS present in the hits, and ALWAYS absent in the failures.

After reading this book I have made a point to go through my book plots and make sure I have these ingredients. There has to be a legitimate villain, a believable Hero and Heroine. A ticking clock, a sword of Damocles, etc., etc. I believe this book has helped me make well-rounded worlds and adventures.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Write your book.
Finish book.
Submit book for publication and move on to next book.
Don’t stop.
Refine your craft.
Having a pile of books in your computer doesn’t help. You have to put it out there.

DL Carter
New Jersey, USA


Complications of Changing Magic


What Does Science Fiction Look Like?

by Elora Powell

When you hear the words “science fiction”, you may get a very particular image in your head, whether it be the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a strange, alien planet, or the vast, starry void of space. Science fiction has very strong visual and aesthetic elements, many of which have influenced real-life design and architecture. There is the futurism inspired by Jules Verne at the turn of the century; the sleek, space-age stylings of the mid-century; the neon colors and dingy corners of cyberpunk.

But what does science fiction really look like? How can you say if a visual piece of art or design is speculative or not? Does it need to be in space? Does it have to be in the future? Does it have to conform to a preexisting science fiction or futurist aesthetic? That seems rather limiting. The problem with trying to define speculative fiction as a particular set of visuals or aesthetics is that speculative fiction is too broad a category.

Personally, my favorite type of speculative stories and imagery usually stem from the ordinary. Whether it by science fiction, fantasy, or horror, I love pictures and plots that begin with something familiar. It could be a place, like a coffee shop, or a library, or a music store, or an era, like the 1960s. Then, slowly but subtly, the speculative trope is introduced, and an alternate world is created.

But there is a complete opposite realm of speculative literature and design, (created by people vastly more creative than me), which imagines the unimaginable. Some science fiction, fantasy, and horror creators have the ability to dive into the depths of otherness and strangeness. Their aliens are far more than green-painted humanoids. They are truly alien. Their fantasy worlds are not mere allegories for our political climate. Their monsters are monstrous because they show how much we really don’t understand about the world.

Both are good. Both are speculative. Both can provide culturally meaningful images and narratives that shape the minds and ideas of fans. And the same goes for all the shades and nuances that fall somewhere between these two camps.

So, what does speculative fiction look like? I suppose the most specific thing that we can say is that it looks like otherness. It may be an otherness that at first glance seems normal, but causes an unease that demands a second glance. It may be an otherness that is awe-inspiring, and all-consuming. But it is that otherness that lies at the very heart of speculative fiction. It causes us to look up from ourselves, and our routines, and imagine what else might be out there.

Artemis, Huntress and Protector

by Suz Thackston

Artemis turned me into a rabbit once. It was a moonlit summer night, humid and sweet with honeysuckle and multiflora rose, lit with lazy runes written by fireflies across the dark treeline.

I was sitting in the orchard thinking about Artemis, as it was one of her festival days. Contemplating the dichotomy of a goddess who rules over childbirth and protects the young, and who also brings swift and inexorable death with her arrows that never miss.

And bam. There I was in the damp grass, my nose twitching madly, my long ears swiveling, eyes wide with shock.

“What the hell?” I yelled. What came out was a sort of shrill squeak.

“Shhh,” she whispered into my tall ear. “Listen. Look around you. You’re not the top predator in this place any more.”

I moved my ears and was astounded at what I could hear. The dogs across the lane, whose snuffles made my heart wham against my ribcage, sounded terrifyingly near. Yet when I paid attention I realized that they were actually close to their house, all inside the fence for once. I could hear the mindless rush of the river, half a mile away. There were millions of tiny forest murmurs and cries between here and there.

My own old dog was out with me, but thankfully lying on the pool deck, whuffing asthmatically. It would have been too ironic to get hunted down by my own dog, like poor Aktaeon, who inadvertently saw the goddess naked in her bathing pool and was turned into a deer and then torn apart by his own hunting pack.

Not that Tramp would kill me. Probably. Just chase me until his old wind gave out.

But my cats. Oh my gods, my cats were out. My cats are hunters. I tuned in. Marley was nearby up in the cherry tree, watching with puzzled interest. Ivy the Rabbit Killer wasn’t around, but I needed to be on the alert for her. She tended to kill babies, but she’d go for me if she thought she could take me. And I had no clue how to fight as a rabbit.

I could hear furtive movement in our woods. I listened carefully, crouching still as a stone beneath the apple tree. Just deer, moving out into the front pasture.

But further away, on the far side of the big field across the lane I could hear stealthy footsteps. I raised my head slightly, my nostrils widening to catch the clues on the damp night breeze. A red fox, on the prowl. Looking for someone like me. Not close enough to be an immediate danger, but if he didn’t take another prey soon he might come my way.

A mouse scurried into the front pasture a few feet ahead of me. There was a flash in the moonlight, a thump, a tiny cry, and the owl soared off across the summer sky with its catch in its claws. I hadn’t seen it at all until it struck.

The clover under my paws smelled maddeningly sweet, but I was too afraid to lower my head and graze. Danger was everywhere.

I looked around for the goddess. She was lounging in the grass nearby, her long bow cast carelessly beside her. She had plucked a bunch of honeysuckle from the bush by the potting shed and was indolently nipping the tips and sucking out the tiny drops of nectar, discarding the spent blooms into the grass. They made a pile by her graceful knee, so red that even the moonlight couldn’t quite drain them of their color. They looked like a pool of blood.

“Enjoying the beautiful night?” she asked.

I glared at her.

“You think you understand nature, and wildness, and freedom. You humans don’t have a clue. Your beloved summer nights are filled with peril for the small ones, the soft ones, the swift little ones. And full of hunger for the hunters, who need fresh meat and hot blood, whose babies cry if they don’t kill. You’ve forgotten it all.

But you asked. So here it is.”

I turned from her and took a few tentative hopping steps. My farm looked so strange from this low perspective, the grass of the front pasture taller than my head. The deer drifted through it, unafraid of me, but their ears, like mine, constantly swiveling, taking in every slight sound. I could hear the horses grazing in the paddock out back, the hum of the air conditioner, the buzzing song of the cicadas, a distant car engine. A mosquito buzzed around old Tramp’s head up on the pool deck. A bat flitted overhead, and I could hear its sonic beep.

Wonder crept in, nestling next to the fear. Not replacing it. I hopped over to the driveway. Marley followed me with her blue eyes but didn’t make a move to chase me. I sat up and looked around. It was still my little farm, still beautiful, still beloved, but now so full of potential perils. Living like this would be possible, and even wonderful, but I would never, ever be free of fear. It would mean adjusting to the certain knowledge that fangs or talons or claws or beaks would always be looming at the back of my neck, and that the day would surely come when I wouldn’t be quick enough to escape.

I looked back at the goddess. She stood, picked up her bow, plucked an arrow from her quiver and before I could sort out my new powerful hind legs and flee, she shot me through the heart. Pain burst through me. Blood poured from my mouth and nose. I gasped, my legs twitched. Through my dimming sight I saw Marley leap down from the cherry tree and flee back toward the house. As my eyes closed I saw the goddess’s long legs stop in front of me.

I was sitting in the chilly grass, pushing my hair out of my eyes and trying to catch my breath. Artemis was sitting next to me holding a rabbit skin.

“Have fun?” she asked.

“Was that necessary?” I croaked.

She shrugged. “Probably. Anyway, it’s what I do. If you want to be coddled, don’t come to me.”

She stood, her long limbs gleaming like marble in the moonlight, and walked away into the trees. The fireflies swirled around her.

Artemis is a contradiction, a challenge, an enigma. She refuses to fit into any stereotype or conform to any society’s expectations in any way. She is the tender protector of mothers in labor and babies of all species, and she’s the unerring arrow that brings swift death. She’s a laughing girl, companion of the Kore and leader of the mountain nymphs, the oreiads. Yet this slip of a girl led the Athenians into battle, and was largely credited with the stunning victories over the Persians at Marathon and Salamis. She might comfort you, play with you, dance under the summer sun with you, or rip your throat out with her teeth.

The Virgin Goddess