Friday, July 3, 2020

Art is still Art, even if its tasty

Year of Genesis: Art is art, right?

Hey guys. Well, this has been a year, hasn't it?

Not going to lie, its been a bit rough here in Dallas- we are in day one hundred and something of lock down. I feel like I haven't really been writing, haven't really been promoting my second book, really haven't been revising my third.

I feel like I've got nothing to give as an artist to sooth or ease or help the world with the current situations.

But my lovely Helen Lowe asked, "What else have you been creating?"

She is brilliant that one. My preferred method of dealing with questions and emotions has always been words. The words I write and the words that I read, but I haven't been writing and the books just aren't enough for me right now.

After a quick scan of my phone's photos, it turns out I have been creating. Lots of stuff actually. Funny stuff, tasty stuff, practical stuff. I've been helping soothe and ease and educate my family, my microcosm, my very small world, the one place I can control. They may look small, but they have help me deal with the big questions circling our culture, our family, our future.

So in no particular order, here are some of the things I have created.

Me riding a dinosaur
What I call the "2020 hopscotch challenge"
Old man in the Sea (old man not pictured)
Homemade latte
Amazing steaks with home grown rosemary
Birthday cake!
Designed a new seating space outside
Apparently I like to watercolor?
New Art for seating space

So there you have it- my strange way of making my small little world a little nicer, a little brighter, and hopefully a little more fun.

I hope that in this time of uncertainty, you have also found a little time for some genesis.

Until next time,
Amanda Arista
Author, Diaries of an Urban Panther & The Merci Lanard Files

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Truth About Sea Monsters…

It doesn’t matter whether you’re reading or writing a story about sea monsters, the trick is to remember one thing: Once you go beneath the curling ocean waves, almost anything can be considered a monster. Even you.

So, I’m going to dissect some of the sea life found in my YA Urban Fantasy books, Fathom and Fury.

1. SELKIES: Sometimes disguised as seals, sometimes disguised as humans, sometimes wearing their natural glittering green flesh. Although these creatures are generally known to be gentle, you need to remember that many of them have Siren blood—those Selkies have the ability to conjure life-threatening storms and, therefore, they are far from sweet and innocent.

2. MERMAIDS/MERMEN: The Scottish Na Fir Ghorm found in Fury have blue skin and long tails. They speak in riddles, often lie, and have been known to sink human ships with their tails. These creatures are more foe than friend. Run far and run fast if you encounter them, unless you want to lose both your heart and your freedom.

3. HINQUEMEMEM: One of the most feared creatures in all the Seven Seas, this super creepy monster has a favorite food—Selkies. That’s fine and dandy, if you’re a human. But not so much if you’re half human and half Selkie, like Riley in Fury. It’s not that great for the characters in Fathom, either.

4. SEA WITCHES: Yikes. Just yikes. If anyone—Selkie, Mermaid, or Human—thinks a Sea Witch is their friend, they're woefully mistaken. They’ll find out soon enough, but trust me, by then it might be too late. Two monsters in this series were created by Sea Witches, and their fate was too horrible to describe here.

5. HUMANS: Easily tricked, these weak creatures can barely swim and can only hold their breath for a few minutes. When faced with peril, they perish easily. When faced with the supernatural beauty found in Selkies or Mermaids? No question, they're doomed.

6. SEA CREATURES: From sharks to tiny fish, if it swims, it's probably deadly. Best to stay away from anything you haven’t seen before.


I didn’t know where he had gone. I only knew that I thought I might never see him again.

That blasted, beautiful, blue merman who had stolen my heart and now held it in his hands.

He was bleeding, he was wounded, but he never said a word about it. Every breath came with pain and, even though his words sounded happy, the expression in his eyes said the opposite.

And now, this boy who was responsible for rescuing me from prison was about to tell me a secret plan.
I only wanted him to take me in his arms.

I hated myself for it. I wasn’t that kind of girl. I didn’t swoon over pretty boys or hand-some boys or any boys. Sometimes I thought that my human heart had turned to stone on that night when the Hinquememem tried to kill me. Every time I started to experience emotions again, that beast would return.

I was afraid to love.

So, this had to be friendship I was feeling; I’d been worried about Triton; he visited me every day to please his father.

But now, he began to tell me a different story. One of rebellion and danger, one that proved none of this had been done to honor the King. Far from it.

This boy who pretended that he didn’t care about me was risking everything so I could escape.

“My father made you take a blood oath,” Triton began, staring at the floor. “I thought he meant to take you as a bride when you mature—and that was bad enough. His wives are little more than slaves. But Isbeil overheard him talking to our mother, telling her his plans.”

King Poseidon was going to force me to marry him, but he was also going to force me to do one other thing. Selkies have a special ability that no other creatures of the sea have—we could make ourselves look human, fully human. The Na Fir Ghorm came close, except they al-ways carried the color of their blue skin when they walked on two legs.

If I refused to share my secret, Poseidon planned to use a Sea Witch to enchant me.

“Why does your father want me to teach him how to do this?” I asked.

“After your marriage, he plans to unite this kingdom with that of the Selkie King—Neptune,” Isbeil said.

I shook my head. “King Neptune would never agree—”

“He will. When he hears the second half of the deal,” Triton said. “The two Underwater Kingdoms will unite and both armies will disguise themselves as human. They’ll sneak into key positions in the human world, taking the coastal cities first, then moving inland. My father has a whole battle plan put together and it all hinges on you.”

This couldn’t be true.

And yet, when I looked at Isbeil and then Triton, I saw that they believed it.

“What can I do?” I asked. “How can I stop this?”

“Help my sister escape,” Triton said. “Teach her how to look human. Then she can go wherever she wants. And they will...I mean, we will take you wherever you want to go. You have to flee too. Poseidon can’t force you to honor your blood oath if he can’t find you.”

His eyes glistened with tears when he spoke.

“You’re coming with us?” I asked.

“Of course.”

But he glanced quickly away when he answered and I knew there was something he wasn’t telling me.

Both books, Fury and Fathom, are available for a limited time at 99¢ each HERE.
Fury is currently a #1 New Release in Children's Multicultural Literature, a #2 New Release in Children's Multicultural Folk Tales, and a #2 New Release in Children's Greek and Roman Myths.

AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR AND ARTIST, Merrie Destefano studied art at Northern Illinois University, met her husband at a kazoo parade, laughs at all jokes, and ugly cries during corny movies. Her books have been published by HarperCollins, Entangled Teen, Walter Foster, and Ruby Slippers Press, and, most likely, she's writing her next book while you're reading this. Born in the Midwest, she now lives in Southern California, where she runs on caffeine, and shares her home with rescue dogs and cats.

Her writing awards include:
• 2010 Mount Hermon Writer of the Year
• 2019 Realm Award for Supernatural/Horror: Shade: A Re-Imagining of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
• 2019 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, Silver Medal Winner: Shade: A Re-Imagining of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
• 2019 YARWA Athena Award, Second Place: YA/NA Speculative Fiction for Valiant.

You can visit her website here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Year of Worldbuilding in Fantasy #6: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

#YoW Year of Worldbuilding
#WiF Worldbuilding in Fantasy


My blogging theme for 2020 is Worldbuilding in Fantasy, chiefly because it's one of the vital elements that holds all the different strands of the genre together. Plus it's always been one of the aspects of the genre that spins my reading and writing world.

As promised from the outset, I'm trying to look at Fantasy worldbuilding over time and across a range of subgenres. So last month I was firmly in the realm of epic fantasy and Robin Hobb's Liveships trilogy—but today I'm leaping forward to a very recent work, Tamsyn Muir's space fantasy, Gideon the Ninth


Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth has garnered a lot of positive notice since being published last year, including being nominated for both Nebula and Hugo Awards — and only last weekend, receiving the Locus Award 2020 for First Novel.

Exciting indeed — and fun as well when I summarize "what it's all about", in the words of UK author, Charles Stross:

"Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space! Decadent nobles via to serve the deathless emperor! Skeletons!"

To which I would add: plus duelling — with broadswords and rapiers! And as the cover bears witness, shades! By which I mean sunglasses, but as you can imagine, with a gothic palace, necromancy, and skeletons, there is plenty of shade and shadow to the story as well. It also has a great cast of characters, including the hugely likeable and engaging Gideon. 

Now you may say, but if it's in space, isn't it space opera and not fantasy? (And therefore not eligible for this series.) However, it's described as space fantasy and epic science fantasy respectively — although if splitting subgenre hairs I would argue that it's more swords-and-sorcery than epic fantasy. (Just imho.) 

I'm not really inclined to split hairs, though, but simply to say that despite a very broad-brush space setting, Gideon the Ninth is otherwise far closer to fantasy than science fiction, in that it's all about the necromancy and the low-tech adventure of duelling, rather than science. So I'm very happy to go along with the Space Fantasy descriptor.

Especially as that means I can include it in my Fantasy worldbuilding series. Because, dear Supernatural Underground readers, I loved the worldbuilding!

Magic systems are often, if not always, a vital construction block of worldbuilding, e.g.Lewis's wardrobe, Le Guin's equilibrium and true names, and Hobb's sentient ships. Similarly, the necromancy in Gideon the Ninth pervades the world, with skeletons and bones and the sorcerous use and abuse thereof abounding.

If you're a lover of steampunk, you will also find steampunk elements in Gideon's worldbuilding, particularly in the form of sorcerous construct-beings and revenants, which goes well with the duelling, along with the grimoires of sorcerous knowledge that must be unlocked, and the dank, dark dungeons explored. (I told you there were sword-and-sorcery type elements as well.) 

Forthcoming 4 August, 2020
All that being said, the physical worlds of Gideon the Ninth are also (unsurprisingly) integral to creating the world. The two main settings are the planet of the Ninth House, with its citadel of Drearburh and largely skeleton retainers, home to the necromancer Heir, Harrow, and her (reluctant) Cavalier Primary, Gideon Nav. The repression, bleakness and necromantic decay of the Ninth dominates the early chapters of the story, during which the Undying Emperor's summons comes to Harrow and Gideon, thus framing the remainder of the book.

The second world is the "haunted gothic palace" of Charles' Stross's quote (above)—although it's not technically in space, but located on the planet that holds the House of the First. (More on the Houses in a moment...)  In some ways this planet resembles our own Earth, being a world of oceans, sunlight, and blue sky, rather than the drear rock of the Ninth. The actual House (citadel/city) of the first is a dazzling white palace with green jungle, albeit emerging from the sea and not land, growing about its base.

Appearances aside, however, Harrow describes it as a tomb and it is also characterized by abandonment, decay, and considerable necromantic danger. The adventure lies in the quest to pass the Emperor's tests (he's recruiting lyctors) and unlock the House's secrets, which are far from all being his...

Although layers of additional worldbuilding are constructed on the reader's early exposure to both the Ninth and First Houses, it's the Nine Houses themselves that are the glue of Gideon the Ninth's worldbuilding (again, imho.) Introduced by a prelude verse that functions in the same way as Le Guin's poem at the beginning of A Wizard of Earthsea in framing the book, the Houses and their representatives—the Heirs and Cavaliers Primary—both contain and shape the overall story. 

As the Dramatis Personae also establishes from the outset, each House is represented by an Heir and Cavalier Primary, while the verse makes apparent the function and culture of the Houses within the overall necromantic society headed by the Undying Emperor. For example, those of the Ninth House (much reduced at the opening of Gideon) are the Keepers of the Locked Tomb, while the First is the House of the Emperor himself and his chosen lyctors. But the outward purposes and more nuanced inner motivations of the Houses, based on their verse-ascribed characteristics, are the most power 'actor' shaping the sorcerous and physical, political and personal outcomes of Gideon the Ninth.

Overall, the juxtaposition of sorcery and space, adventure and action, politics and mystery, makes for exciting Fantasy worldbuilding — so if Gideon the Ninth hasn't already appeared on your reading horizon you may like to seek it out.


Previous Months:

February: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
March: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
April: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire
May: Palimpsest by Catherynne M Valente
June: Ship of Magic & the Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb


Helen Lowe is a teller of tales and purveyor of story, chiefly by way of novels and poetry. Her first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Ships that Sing - Three Books Reviewed

Daniel Dociu Fantasy Art
Shark Ship by Daniel Dociu

Hi Everyone, 

I wanted to share today three novels that have an underlying theme - sentience vessels. (Shoutout to Helen Lowe and her inspiring post on the Live Ship Trader Series.)

The three books I'm talking about today have their own style and grace, SF wonder and amazement. Each author writes with ability, power and insight. But what really excites me about these novels is their treatment of human and non-human sentience.   

What is Sentience?

Is it sapience, intelligence, consciousness? The definition can blur between self-awareness, compassion, identity, ability to suffer and also to adapt, judge and change. But once named 'sentient' everything does, indeed change.

Sentient entities are generally considered deserving of moral rights, respect, and freedom, at lease where these rights are bestowed on humans. So, do these qualities, and therefore rights, belong to humans only? If not, where do we create distinctions?

I love these three books because they each explore these hard questions, though in different ways, yet always juxtaposed to a human main character.

Back in the 60's Ann McCaffrey wrote a short story called The Ship Who Sang. She went on to revise it into a novel and then a series which was also co-written by other SF authors of the time. I'm not sure how the premise would be handled now with more awareness, 60 years later, of persons with disabilities, but still, McCaffrey asks the questions, which is what a good storyteller does.

The Ship Who Sang is about Helva, a human born disabled to the point they only could save her brain. Her life is salvaged by implanting her into the titanium body of an intergalactic ship. When she chooses a human partner, her life unfolds in terrifying and spectacular ways. Ann McCaffrey herself said this was the best story she's ever told...

Toxic by Lydia Kang

Toxic is a standalone, Young Adult SF romance with a touch of fantasy and horror. Written in Kang's ever-engaging style, Toxic is a smart read, one that takes a 'speculative' concept and makes it feel true, right down to the core.

The story focuses on a dying ship and a suicide squad sent to record its demise for the company that made it. In that crew is a young man named Fen who plans to use the last days of his life to make up for a series of wrong choices. 

Unknown to all is Hana, the girl left behind by her crew, a girl that has never been out of her room or far from the aqueous folds of her 'bio-mother-ship'... until now.

Toxic asks questions about human and non-human rights, about shifting loyalties and the power of cultural conditioning. But none of that occurs to you while turning the pages. There's too much at stake!

This book, the first in a series of at least one more, still haunts me with its metaphysical questions and real, hard-core truths. The story is, on one level, about a young woman named Seske Kaleigh, heir to the command of a biological, city-size starship carved up from the insides of a spacefaring beast.

Carved up, literally.

While still alive.

The 'beasts' take years to die and there are classes of humans on the city/vessel/beast whose sole purpose in life is to keep it living until they find the next one to replace it. Every possible point and counter-point to the sentient experience is explored in dramatic, spellbinding, heartbreaking ways.

The world--the world-building!--that Drayden creates is so utterly unique, cinematic and so...well, real, you can't tear your eyes off the page, sure is sure is sure

I highly recommend all of these reads if you want to awaken your mind to the hard questions of science and philosophy, rights, laws and justice of what we deem alive and worthy. But I promise, while you're reading, you won't be 'thinking' at all of these things but instead gripping the edge of your seat until the ride is over.

Do you have a favorite 'non-human sentient' character? I'd love to hear of them in the comments.


Author Kim Falcconer

Kim Falconer's New YA Fantasy Series is out August 4, 2020 - Crown of Bones. (Writing under A.K. Wilder) 

Also, check her urban fantasy  - The Blood in the Beginning - an Ava Sykes Novel and the SFF Quantum Enchantment Series. 

You can find Kim on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Or pop over and throw the bones on the site.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Year of Worldbuilding in Fantasy #5: "Ship of Magic" & The Liveship Traders Series by Robin Hobb

#YoW Year of Worldbuilding
#WiF Worldbuilding in Fantasy


My blogging theme for 2020 is worldbuilding in Fantasy, chiefly because it's one of the vital elements that holds all the different strands of the genre together. I also believe the distinctive worlds are a big part in what makes Fantasy fiction such fun. 

I'm trying to look at a range of Fantasy worlds and types of Fantasy, as well as choosing both older books as well as more recent works. The primary focus, though, is always worldbuilding that has rocked my fantasy-reading worldwhich means I absolutely can't go past Robin Hobb and her Liveship Traders series, comprising Ship of Magic, The Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny

Ship of Magic & the Liveship Traders Series by Robin Hobb

The Liveship Traders is my absolute favourite of Robin Hobb's many series and the worldbuilding is a major reason for that being the case.

Although set in the same world as the earlier Farseer trilogy, which commenced the linked trilogies that make up the larger Fitz and the Fool storyline, the Liveship series is set far to the south of Farseer's Six Duchies. Although the story encompasses a wider geography, the pivotal and defining parts of the worldbuilding encompass the Rain Wilds and Bingtown, with their family-based trading societies, and the sentient liveships that tie them together. Having said this, the Pirates Isles play their part and the whole region is known as The Cursed Shore.

I have always loved sailing ships, and Robin Hobb's Liveship worldbuilding channels the age of sail and many of the historical aspects that accompanied it, including exploration and mercantile expansion, colonialism, slaving, piracy, and the nautical history of the whaling and sealing era. In terms of both the ships and societies, i.e. technology and cultures, the historical ethos "slides" between the 17th and 19th centurieswhich I found very 'fresh' when I first read it, and have always enjoyed on rereading, since adventurous and epic fantasy often has a more medieval or archaic world focus.

Fear not, though: this is still fantasy through and through, starting with the highly prized, sentient liveships, which are the only vessels able to survive the acid waters of the Rain Wild river and engage in the lucrative trade of the resource-rich river, including artefacts of the long-vanished but magically and technologically advanced Elderlings. Through the ships, this trade is controlled by the Bingtown and Rain Wild trading families. The magical elements also include the dragon Tintaglia, who plays a vital part in the later story. 

Both Bingtown and the Rain Wilds are colonies, but the denizens of the latter are more mysterious, with both men and women always appearing veiled when dealing with their Bingtown counterparts. The reason for this is one of the story's evolving threads, so I shall not reveal more now. In terms of worldbuilding, though, I believe the Rain Wilds are one of the most compelling creations in epic fantasy. The world is not only the liveships and the vast river (think Amazon) with its acidic waters, but the immense impenetrable rainforests that can only be traversed by means of the river. Owing to the challenging and often lethal environment, the mysterious Rain Wild-ers live among the great trees rather than on the forest floor.

In both Bingtown and the Rain Wilds, the societies are shaped culturally and socially by their physical environment, as well as economically—and, as the story progresses through the three books, politically as well, with significant tensions between the colonial societies and the powers that founded them. This also accords with the historical era that gives the Liveship worldbuilding its texture. 

But wait, just to underline my point regarding the richness and depth of Robin Hobb's compelling worldbuilding, there's more! The final, major element to the Liveship Traders worldbuilding, which brings in an alien wildness that both contrasts with and enhances the rest, is that of giant sea serpents and their migration across the oceans plied by the liveships and their traders, as well as the pirates. Initially distinct, the story threads of the liveships, the trader communities and pirates, the sea serpents, and the dragon Tintaglia, all come together in the final book.

In short, the worldbuilding of the Liveship Traders trilogy is a longstanding favourite and one that has been a constant traveling companion since I first read Ship of Magic.

Previous Months:

February: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
March: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
April: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire
May: Palimpsest by Catherynne M Valente


Helen Lowe is a teller of tales and purveyor of story, chiefly by way of novels and poetry. Her first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Fallen angels and dark fantasy, anyone?

Well, it took years of patience, politeness and persistence, but a few months ago, I finally got the rights back to ALL of my previously published HarperCollins books! That means that I’m finally able to re-publish my Devil’s Bargain Series with the covers and titles I always envisioned for them, and THAT is how I’ve been spending my downtime during this stay-at-home period! (If you remember the character of Sammy Divine from my first series, you might want to visit him again within his Kingdom of Ashes, but if fallen angels and dark fantasy novels are not your thing, that’s okay. I understand.)

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Get Caught Reading

Get Caught Reading 
Welcome everyone, to lovely May, the Get Caught Reading Month.

Get Caught Reading is a nationwide push inspired by the Association of American Publishers. The aim is to remind people in this time of isolation and crisis how much fun it is to read.

But we don't need reminding, right? If you're part of the Supernatural Underground party, reading is a given.

Still, it helps to throw our hands in the air and celebrate the joy of books! Let's do that now by recounting some of the awesome things reading does for you.

Women Get Caught Reading
1) First up, reading is entertaining and good for your health. Not only does allow us to immerse in story worlds, but it also reinforces neurotransmitters in the brain, keeping the mind sharp and firing.

2) Some studies show that reading reduces stress by up to 65%. That's a lot of stress to let go of!

Note: I'm not sure that the actual writing of books reduces stress, but that's a topic for another day. :)

Anime Characters Reading

3) It may surprise you to learn that reading fiction, or even non-fiction, helps us do MORE in the world. Studies show that if we read about other people's adventures, we are more likely to have adventures ourselves. It gets the brain moving, which means the body is more likely to follow suit.

Reading Romance

4) I've talked about rereading and social surrogacy before. Basically, when we read, we make connections to fictional characters in the same ways to do ‘real’ people.

Psychologists call it parasocial interactions because they are one-sided, but the fact remains, these relationships offer us all the mental and emotional benefits of camaraderie, community, romance and a sense of belonging, essential states for our health and well being.

If the brain is imagining it, physiologically, it's happening!

So, tell me what you are reading this month to celebrate the joy of books! I'd love to hear why reading is good for you.

See you in the comments!


Author Kim Falcconer

Kim Falconer's New YA Fantasy Series is out August 4, 2020 - Crown of Bones. (Writing under A.K. Wilder) 

Also, check her urban fantasy  - 
The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel and the SFF Quantum Enchantment Series

You can find Kim on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Or pop over and throw the bones on the site.