Friday, July 2, 2010

Making My Bow—& Why I Love Fantasy!

Contest Results: The sorting hat has now duly sorted and the results are:

The Heir of Night ARE
(US/Canada Posters Only):

Barbara E.

Thornspell (Signed Copies) (International)

Sweet Rachel
Stella (Ex Libris)

Please contact me on with your postal address so I can get the books to you.

Thank you again to everyone, for participating.


Contest Closed:
It's officially July 2 everywhere in the USA/Canada now (yup, even Anchorage) so time to close the contest. I'll post the winners of the 2 x The Heir of Night AREs (US/Canada only) and the 2 x signed copies of Thornspell here sometime tomorrow when the "sorting hat" gives me its result. (You can't rush the sorting hat, not if you don't want everyone to be in Slytherin!:-))

But remember, there's still another 4 hours before the companion contest on my own Anything, Really blog, for 2 x further signed editions of Thornspell closes off, so you can still comment there and be in with a chance to win.

But thank you so much everyone for participating—it's been great fun, and I've loved meeting you and finding out why you share my love of Fantasy. I'm really looking forward to spending time with you again on 1 August. meanwhile, don't be a stranger, come visit me at Helen Lowe on Anything, Really any time you like.

HelenL :-)


Pamela Palmer approached me to blog right here on the Supernatural Underground, my first reaction was what a tremendous privilege—to be given the opportunity to work collaboratively with so many great writers. And secondly, to have the opportunity to share my writing with such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience—both reactions that have only been underlined by reading the posts and comments over the past month.

So I’m very excited to be making my debut on the Underground today, exactly 1 month on from the Grand Welcome to “Books That Go Bump In the Night.” :-)

So—down to business! Who am I, anyway? And what stripe of speculative fiction do I write?

Making My Bow

Well, (waves, smiles) my name is Helen Lowe, I hail from Middle Earth—I mean, New Zealand—and I write Fantasy.
My first novel, Thornspell (Knopf 2008), has just come out in paperback and is a fairytale retelling: in this case of Sleeping Beauty, but from the perspective of the prince destined to break the spell—with a dark little backstory around the motivation of the wicked faery who has not at all given up her vile plots and machinations. Described variously as “darkly imaginative” (Canvas), and a “full blooded tale of ambition and romance” (Booklist) Thornspell was my first foray into the kind of Fantasy I love to both read and tell: swashbuckling, adventurous, and romantic, with overlapping layers of mystery and magic.

On 1 October, Eos will be releasing my second novel, The Heir of Night, which is a
darker and more epic tale aimed at older and “crossover” readers—and the first of the 4-book, WALL OF NIGHT series. Heir is a story of darkness and peril, mystery, friendship and love, which unfolds in a broken world of shadow and conflict where nothing is precisely as it seems …

OK, Why I Love Fantasy
Introductions complete, I thought maybe the best starting place for my very first Supernatural Underground blog is why I love Fantasy—reading it, writing it, and when you have something like The Lord of the Rings on offer, watching it at the movies as well. There are so many places to start: from loving fairytales, myths and legends as a young child, and graduating from there to Lewis and Tolkien, McKillip and McKinley and Cherryh, Gaiman and Hobb—to name just a few. But that’s “what”, not “why.”

is definitely tougher and leads more into why I love writing Fantasy as well. So many words spring to mind: color and imagination for starters, but I think the key word for me is possibility. Fantasy offers the possibility of something “other” to be explored, whether it is an historical world that is almost—but just not quite—our own, as in Thornspell, or a completely alternate world like the WALL OF NIGHT. Or worlds, as with Urban Fantasy, that are definitely ours but with the possibility of the “other” overlapped or entwined with them.

Together with possibility comes wonder—what if a world could be like this, or this, or this? Why would a boy growing up in a castle beside a great forest care about some story of a sleeping chick and a 100-year old spell, let alone “get involved?” Why would a people fight an eons-old war? What would keep them going? What effect would it have on them? How would that play out on a world where their very arrival had brought cataclysm and ruin? (This is Heir, btw.)

So a big part of the fascination and also the fun of Fantasy for me has always been the excitement of new ways of looking at the world, and the flexibility to play with those possibilities. As a reader, I enjoy exploring other writers’ visions; as a writer, I love asking those why and what if questions and having the freedom to answer them without being bound by what we know has happened in history, or constrained too much by the laws of physics.

How about you? What draws you to Fantastic fiction? What kind of speculative fiction spins your wheels, and why?

Another thing I love about Fantasy is the whole experience of world building—to look through another writer’s eyes into a world that has texture, color and history; that is real and believable when you walk its streets. As an author, writing Fantasy allows you to unfold new worlds to share with readers . . . I use the word “unfold” advisedly, because sometimes it does feel as though the world is already there and my role is simply to reveal it through the characters’ eyes; a mystery, perhaps—but also one of the great fascinations of writing Fantastic fiction.

I could never exhaustively list all the Fantasy worlds that I have fallen in love with, but here’s just a few of my favorites: CS Lewis’s wardrobe opening onto the lantern burning in a snowy wood; Tolkien’s Middle Earth, from Bilbo Baggins’ round hobbit hole to the golden woods of Lothlorien, and the older, darker secrets of Fangorn; Patricia McKillip’s rich, fantastical, and mysterious world of the Riddle-Master series, and Robin Hobb’s Rain Wilds; Terry Pratchett’s Discworld (definitely flat, circular, and on the back of four elephants standing on a giant turtle . . .) and China Mieville’s darkly realized city of Bas-Lag.

So what are your favorite Fantastic worlds? Which writer’s world building has stayed in your imagination?

And Yes: there’s give-aways!
My editor, the lovely Kate Nintzel of Eos, has put up two AREs of The Heir of Night to go to readers resident in the USA or Canada, and I’m also adding in two signed copies of Thornspell for readers anyway in the world.

You can earn points by:

+1 Posting in the comments section

+1 Linking to this post on Twitter

+1 Linking to this post on Facebook

+1 Linking to the Supernatural Underground blog on your own blog/website

Just post the total number of points that you’ve earned in your comment (and say whether you’re from the USA/Canada for the Heir AREs.) Your name will be entered in the draw again for every point you earn. Eligibility will close at midnight today, July 1.

And if you visit me on my blog: Helen Lowe on Anything, Really you can also go in the draw to win one of two further copies of Thornspell, once again for anywhere in the world.
I look forward to meeting you, both here on the Supernatural Underground, & at home on Anything, Really.


Tracey O'Hara said...

When you live in the land of hobbits, I'm not surprised you love fantasy ;).

Great post. I love fantasy too. And world building is the best thing. I would have to say Raymond E Feist's MAGICIAN was my first fantasy love. And the worlds he created were fabulous.

nymfaux said...

Hi! I've heard some great things about Thornspell, and Heir looks really good, too!!!

When I saw your topic, I thought YES!!!!--And then when you were asking what makes fantasy so fun, as soon as I thought of my own answers, I read them in your post--For myself, I love the feel of magic, that anything can happen, anything is possible.--I think one thing about these stories, is that people who live in magical worlds, or have contact with aliens, or who explore space or time...they don't question whether there's someone else out there or if something is possible technologically or magically; people descended from the gods don't have to question their existence. Now, whether it goes the way they expect or not...that's part of the story...

The world/universe that has always stuck in my head is the Tortal Universe from Tamora Pierce's books--It's kind of borderline medieval, with knights and castles, but also with magic and adventure--and so many unexplored places--I have been reading her books over and over again for years and could picture myself there in a second.

And I would also say Hogwarts is pretty set in my mind, too!

Thanks so much for the contest!!!! And congrats on your success!!!! Looking forward to reading both books!!!!

I'm from the U.S.
+1 Posting in the comments section
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nymfaux said...

oh, and I forgot to agree with you on Narnia!

Helen Lowe said...

Hey Tracey,

I love Raymond E Feist, too, although I think the Empire trilogy that he did with Janny Wurts might be my absolute favorite. Then again, Faerie Tale was one of the first truly "urban" fanatsies I read and I just loved the whole idea of that--weaving the supernatural together with a world that was so very much ours.

Helen Lowe said...


Ah, Tortall! How could I leave that out? I have been a huge fan of Tamora Pierce's stories ever since I read "Alanna: the First Adventure" and currently I am really enjoying the Beka Cooper books, partly just because of the return to the Tortall world.

And a HUGE yes to Hogwarts--and what about Platform Nine & Three Quarters and Diagon Alley? Definitely a world of possibility and wonder there.

Bast said...

For me, it's the characters that make fantasy great. People who have all of the normal challenges and problems of just being human, but then have the additional challenges that come about from the world they live in.

Thanks for the contest. I had never heard of your books before, but they both sound really interesting and I definitely want to read them.

+1 for commenting

I live in Korea, but have a US address as well ... if it's possible to be entered for both books.

Helen Lowe said...


Consider yourself entered for both!

And I agree with you "entirely" (as Buffy would say) about the characters, without whom there would be no story—maybe for my next post? :-)

Living in Korea—are there similar folk stories there to those Kij Johnson draws on for her Japanese inspired novels, "The Fox Woman" and "Fudoki"?

Bast said...

I had to look about Kij Johnson as I had never heard of her before. "The Fox Woman" sounded interesting.
I'm not too familiar with much of the folklore of Korea. Most of my time is spent teaching English and in search of better ways to teach English.
But, I think with Korea, the most popular folk story -- and the one that most people would know -- is that of the imoogi. There was an American movie, D-War, that came out I think two years ago that dealt with this. An imoogi is basically a giant snake, trying to become a dragon. But they only get the chance every thousand or five thousand years (I'm not sure of the number).
I'm positive there are folk stories like those drawn on by Kij Johnson, but I'm not aware of them at the moment.
Thanks for entering me in both drawings.

HelenLowe said...

Well, 'imoogi' do sound interesting--and Kij Johnson is a good writer, worth checking out. Thanks for your reply. :-)

Pamela Palmer said...

Wonderful post, Helen. I think you captured the reasons so many of us write speculative fiction, as well as read it. That sense of wonder, that certainty that anything can happen. Nothing is given or fixed or ever, ever boring.

The first 'other' world I fell in love with was Star Trek. The characters, definitely, but also the excitement of exploring a new world with every episode, where anything could happen.

Your books sound fabulous, by the way!

Helen Lowe said...

Thank you, Pamela. :-)

Star Trek did do those 'other worlds' so well—opening up the collective imagination. (Oops, just realized that sounded like the Borg, except for the imagination part!)

Jessica @ a GREAT read said...

Great post!

It's really hard to answer which world is my favorite. I read mostly urban fantasy so the setting is already believable. But to go with straight fantasy, NOT urban, my all-time favorite is Maria V. Snyder's Study/Glass series world! Since both trilogies take place in the same world I'm going with both of them!

I love her world, I get soooo wrapped up in it, I forget about reality and am lost in her books. The settings are amazing, the characters travel within the country moving from place to place and time should move slow based on travel but it doesn't! It's very well paced. You totally forget about electricity and technology because there's magic involved and a lot of great action/fight scenes and of course a little romance and tons of surprises!

My all around favorite FANTASY world!

Helen Lowe said...

Jessica: I haven't read Snyder yet and clearly I must, I've heard so many good things. But it's wonderful when a world is so real you lose yourself in it: that's the best, imho!

Helen Lowe said...

I'll be offline for a few hours now because it's just after midnight here in "Middle Earth", but keep the comments coming: I'm looking forward to getting up and reading them in the morning. :-)

Tanya said...

Hi Helen,

My first memory of a fantastic world would be Narnia. I was about 10 and my Nanny bought me the boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia. Those books are what gave me a love of reading and an addiction to fantasy.
My kids laugh because I will watch Harry Potter over and over again without getting tired of it.
Lord of the Rings is the same for me. I am so jealous that you live there. It must be beautiful. Thanks for the great discussion.

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Bethany C. said...

I think the fact that it's called 'fantasy' pretty much says it all. Whether it's your own fantasy, or getting to read someone else's, it's, well, a fantasy! My first real introduction into it (which I'm SO glad for) was Terry Brooks's world of Shannara. I also loved Diana Pharoah Francis's Path trilogy.

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pegasus358 said...

Hiya, Helen!

Lovely post! I love to sink into the fantasy worlds of Middle-earth and Harry Potter, of course, as well as Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series. Bishop's world is so fully realized that every time I read those books (which is quite often), I can picture it as clearly as if I'm standing in the middle of Kaeleer.

Helen, you know I love your writing-- I sink right into the worlds you create and I don't want to climb back out! I can't wait to see HEIR in print!

Beth Miller

Claire Dawn said...

I think what draws me to fantasy is that the possibilities are endless. As for favourite worlds? I don't even know where to begin. I guess since I really hope they play quidditch in heaven, I'd have ot say Harry Potter!

Btw, I'm international (JAPAN).

cassandra.crouser said...

I'm crazy for middle earth you shoul see my room and all the LOTR stuff. I'm also still pretty pissed I didn't get my Hogwarts letter 10 years ago:'( I'm still crying myself to sleep over that one lol


Cassandra c
from Canada

Sharon S. said...

Great first post!! I am more of the UF type cause I like the paranormal mixed in with my reality. But! I got lost in the LOTR books and Dune. Does Stephen King's Dark Tower series count? I love me some Roland. I like my fantasy to have limits, if that makes sense . Magic should have rules and consequences. I appreciate the art of world building the same way I do a piece of art in a museum.

2 points for me!

Unknown said...

Fantastic guest post!

I love reading fantasy novels because of the originality: the author is completely free to take a conventional myth and turn it any way they please! I love how depending on author/book/universe creatures have different powers and are vulnerable to other threats. I love how with fantasy I'm alawys in for a surprise not knowing where the author will take it.

I mostly read urban fantsy and paranormal novels.

Kelley Armstrong's, Ilona Andrews, Laura Bickle's and Sonya Bateman's world creations amazed me most.

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International entrant

Thank you!

stella.exlibris (at) gmail (dot) com

Sarah K said...

If I had to choose just one, I'd have to say my favourite fantasy world is the one Jo Clayton built for the Drinker of Souls/Wild Magic trilogies. The world was just ENORMOUS, and the rules would shift every time they crossed borders into new countries/territories. Those books are probably the most re-read of any of the books in my house (and there are many, many books)

Fantasy (and Sci-fi, I like me some soft science fiction) have an anything goes ethic that I enjoy. As long as it makes sense within the constraints of the world that's been created, you can do anything. That's a large part of why I enjoy it so much.

I'm in Canada :)

+1 For tweeting:

nymfaux said...

@Helen-I'm totally with you on all the Hogwarts places--and I will add Hogsmeade!

Oh, and every cartoon I watched in the '80s--Thundercats, Smurfs, She-Ra, Gummi-Bears...

And Disney fairy tales...

Oh, and Legend of the Seeker series

but Tortal and Alanna and Daine and Kel, and Beka will always be my favorites!!!

Sweet Rachel! said...

Hello Helen,

What does not draw me to Fantastic Fiction! I love every aspect! The breath of a new book in a completely new world! AH there is nothing like it. For me, books that create new universes are the best. Garth Nix's
"The 7th Tower" Series painted such a beautiful picture in a new breathtaking world.

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Sweet Rachel! said...

by the way I am from the US :))

lingeorge said...

My favorite fantasy is Urban Fantasy. I like the idea of things lurking in my world that very few know about. Maybe it is just that I like the idea that people can actually be more than can be imagined. Oh yes, the Kick-Ass heroine is the icing on the cake.

Kimberly B. said...

Hi Helen! What a great posting! Like you, I came to fantasy first through fairy tales--"The Little Mermaid" and "Brother and Sister" were my favorites. I think I love fantasy because fiction, for me, has always been about going places I've never been and meeting (or even being) people I've never met, and fantasy is just the pinnacle of that!
My favorite fantasy worlds include Charles de Lint's Newford, Diana Wynne Jones's Ingary and world of Chrestomancy, the old Bordertown series, Steven Brust's Adrilankha. . .really, too many to count!
Oh, and I'm in the US. Thanks for the great giveaway!

Anonymous said...

OMG, your books sound fabulous! Hmmm...lets see, my first brush with fantasy books was C.S. Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe in 5th grade.

Then my hubby introduced me to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, which I fell in love with.

But some of my other favorites are Kate Elliott, Tamora Pierce (loved her Trickster series), O.R. Melling, Christopher Paolini (Eragon), Kristen Britain (Green Rider Series), Mindy Klasky (The Glasswright Series), Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments), Karen Marie Moning (Fever Series).

Phew, yeah I think my list could keep going (LOL). I love fantasy for the sheer and simple fact that it is different. Each novel takes us to a different place. And not everything has to be human. There's something magical about picking up a fantasy novel and losing yourself in it.

Rebekah Purdy

Helen Lowe said...

Hey all—the sun's up now in 'Middle Earth' :-) and it's great to see so many amazing posts. Thank you all for participating!

Tanya: I think Narnia was probably one of my very earliest influences, too—and my older brother had to "make" me read 'The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe' because I didn't like the cover (gray as I recall, with a black faun on the front.) But I remember being "hooked" from the very beginning, first by the Professor's house and then the lantern in the snowy wood!

Bethany C: One of my friends is adamant that 'The Sword Of Shannara' is the "best book ever written"—I think he has all of them! Diana Pharaoh is another author I haven't read but clearly will have to try. :-)

Hey Beth (blows kiss): so great to see you here! And thank you for loving my worlds. (And you know, I can't wait to see "Heir" in print either—even the ARE is really special.) I agree re Anne Bishop's "Black Jewels" books, the world is intriguing and you're right, very real: you really feel that darkness.

Claire—konbanwa to you (ohayo for me :-)) But quidditch in heaven: that would rock!

Helen Lowe said...

Cassandra: I think Hobbiton might still be my favorite part of Jackson's Middle Earth, simply because of that satisfaction of: ah, they got it right! But then there's Edoras, which was simply awesome ...

Sharon, I totally agree! Magic has to have limits and consequences, not just function as a deus ex machina. And LoTR and Dune (another story that blew me away when first read) are ground-setters for world building. I love UF, too; it just doesn't seem to be what I'm 'called to write'—yet!

Stella: Yes, the freedom is definitely important(do I hear echoes of Braveheart?) And it's great to be in the company of so many fabulous UF and Paranormal writers right here on the Supernatural Underground.

SarahK: Jo Clayton is great! And you're so right about the making sense/constraints: I call that 'continuity', same as with films.

nymfaux: there's just so much to love, isn't there?

Jacqueline C. said...

My favorite fantasy worlds include Harry Potter's and Narnia. Narnia is the first complex fantastical world that I remember reading about as a child. I've been hooked ever since.

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I'm a US resident.

Helen Lowe said...

Sweet Rachel: Grant Nix's Tower series is wonderful. And I know what you mean about creating a "universe"—I think that's what first blew me away about LoTR, the depth/breadth of the world. It was real.

Lingeorge: Melissa Marr does the "things lurking" very well in "Wicked Lovely". I also really like Charles de Lint "The Blue Girl", and Robin McKinley's "Sunshine" captures both the 'lurking' feeling to the—almost, anyway—real world— and her heroine is most definitely "kick-ass." There's a character in The Heir of Night, called Asantir, whom early readers tell me is satisfyingly "kick-ass"—and the main character, Malian, is no slouch either, although she's young when the story begins.

Helen Lowe said...

Kimberley B: "The Little Mermaid" was always one of my favorite fairy tales, so beautiful and so sad. I am a tremendous fan of Diana Wynne Jones as well—I don't think I've met a book of hers that I don't like. One of my favorites is Eight Days of Luke ( her first?) which is really an urban fantasy, imo.

Rebekahl—your list sounds like mine, it just keeps going. And Cassandra Clare, Kate Elliot and Kristen Britain were definitely favorites of mine from the moment their first books appeared (The King's Dragon—yes!) And I kind of think my books are fabulous, too—no, hold on, I think I might be biased ...:-) (The jury will pay no attention to that last remark from the author!)

JacquelineC: It's hard to go past Narnia, isn't it?

Barbara E. said...

I enjoyed your post and I'm going to check out your blog as well. I love fantasy, urban fantasy, scifi, pretty much anything that takes me away to another world because normal life is just so normal.
Although they're more SciFi than Fantasy, I love Linnea Sinclair's Dock Five universe, and Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax's world.

+1 Comment

Alicia said...

The world that Kristen Cashore invented in Graceling and Fire has always stuck with me. The world is fantastic.

Helen Lowe said...

BarbaraE: great to meet you on my blog, too! And I'm like you, I tend to love 'anything really' so long as the world and the characters grab me.

Alicia: I haven't read Fire yet, but I loved Graceling. Katsa is such a great character and I'm really looking forward to finally sitting down with Fire—soon!

Natasha said...

+1 I've been hooked on many series, but the Hollows by Kim Harrison, seems to stick in my mind. Witches, Vampires, Demons, Elves, Pixies and more! I feel apart of her world when I read each book.



Helen Lowe said...

Natasha: What more could a gal want—ok, wizards, dragons, angels!—but the great thing about the Supernatural Underground is that it's pretty much all right here!

Crystal @ RBtWBC said...

Good evening and great post! I agree with what you and everyone said about fantasy. I love the magic and the impossible being possible.
The first thing that comes to mind when you ask about our favorite fantastic worlds is the fantasy world of Fantasia from The NeverEnding Story. Totally dating myself here but that came out when I was only a couple years old and is my first memory of a fantasy world and what probably started my love of reading at a young age thanks to Bastian. I fell in love with Bastian and especially Atreyu, cried when Artax was lost in the Swamps of Sadness, imagined flying with Falkor and was in awe of the Childlike Empress.
( I think of the Childlike Empress all the time now because my daughter looks just like her with her hair pulled back. =) )
Then a bit older, reading The Chronicles of Narnia. I wished I could open up my wardrobe and enter a whole new world!
Those stories have stuck with me throughout my life and I plan on sharing them with my kiddos too.
I am looking forward to your WALL OF NIGHT series coming out, can't wait to read The Heir of Night!
Hope everyone has a fun and safe 4th of July weekend here in the States!
*Commented & Posted on FB
+2 points

Stacey Smith said...

What draws me to Fantasy is the not knowing whats out there so you can amagen all sorts of things.
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nymfaux said...

@Crystal--I LOVE NeverEnding Story!!!!!!!!! SO GOOD!!!!!!!

Helen Lowe said...

Crystal: The Neverending Story is definitely a classic—and how many kids do you reckon, have spent years knocking hopefully on the backs of wardrobes? Fantasy is an old, old tradition of wonder and imagination (also Horror), and I know I am proud of being part of continuing the tradition and the wonder.

Stacey: And with books the reader's imagination is part of the process, too, it's not just 100% someone else's vision, which is part of why I love the book form of storytelling so much!

nymfaux: hey again!

nymfaux said...

Hi Helen!!! Still going to have to keep an eye out for your books! ;)

congrats to the winners!!!

Helen Lowe said...

Thanks nymfaux: please do! But also, I'm pretty sure Kate is planning to offer another two Heir AREs next month, so maybe check back in on 1 August to see what's the "go. And thank you for participating-that definitely makes it all more fun.

best, HelenL :-)

nymfaux said...

will keep an eye out!!!! thanks!!! hope you're having a good weekend!!!