The Wand that Rocks the Cradle—Author Interview with Joanna Hoyt

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Thanks for checking out The Wand that Rocks the Cradle! Periodically, we will be publishing author interviews or essays to help you get to know them better. Today, we are joined by author Joanna Hoyt, who contributed the short story “Legacy.'”

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If you had to tell someone, “If you like this person’s stories, you would like mine too,” who would you pick?

That’s a hard question.  I think my short stories share some common features with the writings of Elizabeth Goudge, Edith Pargeter, and Ursula Le Guin…but when I say this, a rather loud voice in the back of my mind says “Well! Giving ourselves airs, aren’t we?” and a quieter voice suggests that Le Guin and Goudge might not have approved of each other, though I am not at all sure they might not have liked each other.  But if someone liked all three of those authors, I think they’d find something to like in my stories as well.

What attracted you to writing?

The same thing that attracted me to breathing, I think.  I craved stories as far back as I can remember—I wanted to hear them, read them, tell them. I wrote my first story when I was three. After illustrating the first page I realized I had completely misunderstood my main character…

(Read more…)

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The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: a Kickstarter Campaign

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Families are full of magic. To celebrate that magic, Lagrange Books is proud to present The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, our forthcoming anthology of fantasy short stories from a fantastic group of authors.

Pre-order with our Kickstarter campaign to access exclusive rewards, including five bonus stories only available to Kickstarter backers! You can even get your own story critiqued by the anthology’s editor, get a full edit from anthology author Joanna Hoyt, or a custom flash fiction from anthology author WO Hemsath!

Check out all this and more!

Coming this Sunday: First Look at “The Wand that Rocks the Cradle”!

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I’m so excited, I can hardly wait—the Kickstarter for The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Magical Stories of Family is going live this Sunday!

We’re going to have all kinds of great content over the next month: interviews with contributing authors, dramatic readings of story excerpts, and more.

If you enjoy fantasy, and you also enjoy stories exploring family, and you definitely enjoy fantasy stories exploring family… then don’t miss The Wand that Rocks the Cradle! You can pre-order starting on Sunday, and get all kinds of cool backer rewards too.

Looking forward!

Writing exercises for regime types: the Palace

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(This post is part of Politics for Worldbuilders, an occasional series.)

This series of exercises refers back to this post on “The Palace,” a regime type where power is centralized in a single autocratic figure like a dictator, a powerful king, or other ruler. If you like these exercises, first go back to the above-linked post and read it, then come back and work on the exercises.

  1. Thinking about your ruler, what is the source of his/her power?
  2. What claim justifies the ruler’s legitimacy? Why do the ruler’s followers obey? (Examples: is the ruler thought to be a god? Or anointed by God? Is the ruler part of a special bloodline? Or the victor in a ritual combat over the succession? Does the ruler have the most stock shares in the corporation? Is the ruler simply the richest or most powerful figure?) How does that claim to legitimacy exclude the possibility of popular sovereignty or other forms of rule?
  3. Does the specific form of legitimacy claimed by the ruler imply certain restraints on the ruler’s behavior? Must the ruler spend time propitiating the ancestral spirits, or delivering shareholder reports, or meditating and generating magical power?
  4. Who are the members of Palace “court”? How might their power or influence be dependent on the Palace? What privileges do “courtiers” have because of their proximity to the Palace?
  5. How might the Palace prevent the growth of independent powerful figures (“nobles”)?
  6. How can the courtiers influence the ruler?
  7. If the ruler is feckless or incapacitated, which courtiers might usurp effective (but not de jure) power?
  8. How might the ruler be overthrown? Is such an overthrow consistent with the existing ruling ideology, or would it need to put forward a new ideology?
  9. Looking back over all the ideas you’ve written down, which have the most resonance for your story?

Writing Exercises on “Keeping Power”

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(This post is part of Politics for Worldbuilders, an occasional series.)

This exercise is meant to apply to concepts of this post, which discusses a flexible model for quickly sketching out the key political conflicts in your setting—focusing on who the ruler must keep happy in order to stay in power. If you like the exercises below and want to use them, first read the linked post and then come back.

  1. Spend five minutes thinking about your setting, then list all the kinds of people who have any influence at all on who the leader is. Are they powerful generals? Wealthy merchants? Priests? Voters in a democracy? Voters in an oligarchy or stratified society? Nobles? Regional governors? Board directors or shareholders of a corporation? This is the selectorate.
  2. Of all those people, what is the minimum level of support a leader would need to stay in power? How many different ways are there to put together such a support coalition?
  3. What could a leader offer his/her coalition members to keep them loyal? How could the leader threaten them?
  4. If a coalition member is disloyal, how easily could the member be replaced by the leader with another member of the selectorate?
  1. If the selectorate is unhappy with the leader, how easily could a new support coalition be built behind someone else?
  2. How might policies that favor the support coalition harm people outside of it? (For example, taxing the populace and giving a subsidy to coalition members.) How might potential policies to benefit outsiders harm members of the coalition, and thus be rejected? (For example, building a port that would make grain cheaper, when your supporters are rich landowners who sell grain.)
  3. How could new classes of people join the selectorate? (For example, women gaining the right to vote.) Who would benefit from such a change?
  4. How could existing classes of people lose their place in the selectorate? (For example, a democracy becoming a dictatorship; or powerful religious leaders being displaced by a religious purge.) Who would benefit from such a change?
  5. What might change to allow the leader to need fewer supporters, or to force the leader to seek more supporters?
  6. Looking at all the possibilities for conflict that you listed above, which has the most resonance for the story you want to tell?

Coming Soon: “The Wand that Rocks the Cradle”

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Sorry for the radio silence recently! You’ll be happy to know that it’s because:

  1. I’ve been mailing out the paperback books to Kickstarter backers of The Odds Are Against Us and, of more general interest,
  2. We’re getting ready to launch another Kickstarter for the next anthology!

This one is the “Family” fantasy anthology which we announced back in December. I am pleased to reveal that the anthology’s title will be The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Magical Stories of Family.

We have a great lineup of authors for you, and the stories will take your breath away. You’ll be able to pre-order your copy soon, along with all kinds of fun bonuses; so if you want to know when the Kickstarter goes live, sign up here and be sure to check “Fantasy Fiction.”

Editing this collection is so much fun! I can’t wait to get it into your hands.

More on Making This Editor Happy

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After I had finished making selections for Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, I wrote a post discussing some of the recurring patterns in short stories that did not make the cut. And now that selections have been made on two more anthologies (official announcement coming soon!), it seems a good time to expand that list. (I am proud to say that this time, every author did get personalized feedback—which apparently is not common these days.)

Variations of the “And” Plot

In an “And” story, something happens, and something else happens, and something else happens… but each event seems meandering. There is no progression from one episode to the next; and no buildup to a theme’s culmination.

This time around, there were a few subspecies of the “And” plot that deserve special note:

  • Wish Fulfillment: Again, not all wish fulfillment is bad necessarily. Harry Potter begins with wish fulfillment: neglected boy is suddenly told he is special and goes off to wizard school. The danger with a wish-fulfillment plot is when the author gets caught up in all the nice things happening to the protagonist, and avoids providing a real plot or conflict. The author is in danger of shying away from true obstacles, which seemingly get in the way of all the nice things happening to the characters. Done well, wish fulfillment can launch a story and make it cool, or it could even be the culmination of a story—but in between, there had better be serious conflict, drama, opposition, struggle, and in a word, plot.
  • Revenge Fantasy: Strictly speaking, this is a kind of wish-fulfillment story, but with the focus on all the suffering meted out to the protagonist’s enemies. Again, this had better be the culmination of a well-constructed plot, or it will simply be boring and lurid.
  • Passive Characters: In this type of story, the protagonist is basically a bystander. Problems are resolved via Deus ex Machina, as the protagonist stands around impotently and drifts from scene to scene, the better to observe all the exciting things that other people are doing to other people. (This is distinct from a “Watson” viewpoint character, who is not actually the protagonist but serves as a narrative device to observe the real protagonist.)

Nihilism

Yet again, the grimdark emo plot makes an appearance. It seems like many authors believe that fiction ought to be depressing and to reiterate the meaninglessness of life. This often leads to flabby stories in which a series of bad things happen, with no real theme or point.

A useful contrast would be HP Lovecraft. His stories were unrelentingly grim, of course; but they were not truly nihilistic, to my mind. Rather, in the Lovecraft mythos, human experience was approximately trivial in comparison to the vast ancient powers who battled over the cosmos. On some level, meaning still existed; it’s just that humans rarely mattered!

And this does not mean that grim, depressing stories are verboten. But they need to have a point. The Grapes of Wrath, 1984, or Old Yeller were all grim; but the grimness was in service to the story, not its focus.

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So there you have it. The recurring theme of all of these entries is that stories, in my opinion, ought to have conflict over important stakes. The conflict need not be big and pyrotechnic; small vignettes can also be good. But it has to illustrate something that matters. At a time when we have literally millions of books to choose from, a good story needs a reason to demand the reader’s time. Tell a story worth reading.

“The Odds Are Against Us” Gets Some Love

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Our recent anthology, The Odds Are Against Us, just got a glowing review from James Reasoner, an incredibly prolific author of Western fiction. (Seriously, he’s written over three hundred and fifty books!)

He writesI backed the Kickstarter for this anthology, and now that it’s been published and I’ve read it, I’m glad I did. It’s an excellent collection of military fiction, some with contemporary settings, some historical. I’ve always liked war stories, and these are very well done. My favorites are…

Oops! I guess we ran out of room on the blog or something. Oh well, I guess you’ll have to click on over to Reasoner’s blog to read his favorites, huh?

And don’t forget to buy your copy!

OAAU Final Cover

Writing Exercises for Social Orders

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This exercise is meant to apply the concepts from this post, which discusses the tensions between wealth and power and how they end up shaping the entire structure of society. If you like the exercises below and want to use them, read the linked post first and then come back.

  1. Spend five minutes and list all the forms of power—loosely defined, for our purposes, as both the ability to harm people and break things, and the ability to force other people to do what you want—in your setting. Fighting ability, magical power, or command over a band of robbers count; what else?
  2. Spend five minutes and list all desirable goods in your setting. Money or valuables count, but so would fame, social status, immortality, attractive romantic partners, et cetera.
  3. For our purposes, let’s define all of the above as “wealth.” For each relevant type of wealth, how might someone use different forms of power to get more wealth? List as many possibilities as you can.
  4. Likewise, for each type of power, how might someone translate different forms of wealth into more power?
  5. Now, imagine that centuries pass in which powerful people try to gain wealth, and wealthy people try to gain power. List at least five scenarios for how the society might end up looking. If a given group of people became stronger over time, who else would be threatened? How might they react? Who would win? Imagine as many possible social conflicts that you can, vary the outcomes, and list them all.
  6. Of all the ideas you’ve listed, which have the most resonance for the story you want to tell?

Writing Exercises for Stories with Foraging Bands

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(This post is part of Politics for Worldbuilders, an occasional series.)

This is meant to accompany this post about egalitarian bands and this post about class conflict. If you like the exercises below, read those posts before working through them.

Let’s say you have an idea for a story that involves a society of people who don’t have a fixed home. Perhaps they are wandering cattle-herders, or perhaps they forage for roots and berries in the jungle, or perhaps they are wandering space-gypsies who survive off of volatile gases harvested with ramscoops. In any case, these exercises should help you flesh out your idea consistently, and understand how it can drive conflict and story dynamism.

  1. Spend a few minutes and list five possible reasons why your band chooses not to have a fixed home. (You don’t have to use all five in the actual story. Brainstorm.)
  2. What forms of wealth might be different between people? Try to list at least three. Does a given form of wealth tend to be dissipated over time, via feasting or gifting or divisions between heirs or another means? Or does it build on itself?
  3. What special status might someone in the band (or some family) have that others do not? Try to list at least three, remembering that not all special statuses need be in the same family. (For example, one family might be chiefs, another might be shamans, another might have the hereditary right to guard the Sacred Hospitality Blanket, and so on.) How might such status be gained or lost?
  4. How does the band handle internal conflict? Are there mechanisms for doing this? Would conflict threaten to tear apart the band? What is at stake?
  5. Why might outsiders come into conflict with your band? List five possible reasons. (“We raid their settlements and take slaves and plunder” is an acceptable reason! So is “They want to wear our sparkly purple skin as trophies.” What else?)
  6. Why does having a wandering band fit in this story? What aspect of such a band fits the theme or the conflict?

Suggestions for more? Let me know in the comments!