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.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

An Interview With AJ Fitzwater, Author of “The Voyages Of Cinrak The Dapper”



I first got to know AJ Fitzwater when we both had stories appear in Tales for Canterbury (Random Static), a fundraiser anthology for the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-2011.

Since that time, AJ has gone on to attend the Clarion workshop of 2014 and her short fiction has been published widely, including in her home country of New Zealand and internationally. She is a two-times winner of NZ's Sir Julius Vogel Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror: for Best New Talent in 2015 and Best Short Story in 2017.

More recently (April 6), AJ's first collection, in this case of linked short stories, The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, was released to the world by Queen of Swords Press. I'm delighted to welcome AJ to Supernatural Underground today, to talk Cinrak and share the fun and goodness of a new-out book.


Helen: AJ, The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper is a collection of linked short stories chronicling the life, times, and loves of Cinrak, a pirate capybara sailing the high seas. So, if I may begin with a naive question for those new to your writing, why a capybara, in particular? And why pirates?

AJ: I usually answer this question with the double inspiration information — capybara were a running joke in my Clarion class, and I was into capybara memes from Tumblr. 

But there’s also something mystical and practical about capybara. They haven’t been mythologized in modern fantasy like rat pirates. They’re physically robust — broad of chest and shoulder, yet sleek and quick inside and out of water, which speaks of a sturdy fighter who knows the oceans. They’re a communal animal, the whole herd having a paw in bringing up their young, and chill with many other species — which suggests queer House Parents and loving of found family.

They’re also a great conversation starter. Some people have never heard of them, and I like being the capybara pirate whisperer.

Helen: I can imagine you as a capybara pirate whisperer, AJ! And I recall how exciting it was when you headed off to Clarion in 2014. So was there some special circumstance that made capybara a running joke for the class? And did anything in particular from that time carry through into the character of Cinrak?

AJ: Every class at Clarion (UC San Diego) in recent years has come up with funny names for the group. We never decided formally, but it was a toss up between The Were-Corgis, Were-Capybara, and Were-Chupacabras.
Capybara came up when we were doodling into an ARC of Authority that Jeff Vandermeer let us “vandalize” for him. People were slotting in random pictures or scene insertions of funny animals, and I put “Suddenly, a wild capybara appears!” with arrows into a very tense scene. I think Jeff was talking at the time about how much he wanted to pet a capybara.
Really, only the idea of a capybara as an interesting character stayed with me. It didn’t flesh out into something more until I learned of their chill, communal natures years later.

Helen: What about the character of Cinrak makes your heart sing, as an author?
AJ: Cinrak is square-chested, queer, and steady as ballast. A total butch, down to her suits and soft heart encased in a tough shell. She has oodles of love to share with her crew and family, something she didn’t get as a kit. She wants to make sure everyone has the space to be their best self. She loves learning from all the species of Rodentdom. She’s not always perfect — she pushes too hard and gives too much of herself, forgetting self care and spiritual release. She tries to be understanding of those who have wronged her, but her temper is slow burn and can make her quite stubborn.

Helen: Fantasy worldbuilding is my blogging theme for 2020, particularly on the Supernatural Underground, where I post at least once a month. So I’m particularly interested in Cinrak’s world of Rodentdom. Can you tell readers a little more about it and what makes it “tick” as a fantasy world?

AJ: Rodentdom during Cinrak’s time is in the midst of social and political upheaval — and they’re excited by it! Matriarchal leadership has been an undercurrent of their society, but its teachings have somewhat been corrupted by violence, greed, and expansionism. Pirates have been part of this, and modern Rodentdom pirates are in the midst of learning co-operation, fair distribution, and profit-sharing via unionizing and revisiting old scriptures (which have been usurped by conservatives, and upon research have surprisingly modern consequences).

They’re also learning hard lessons about how their expansionism has affected other species, chasing them out of or violating their historic homes, and how this affects ecosystems.

Plus, the old feudal inheritance system is transitioning to a democratic monarchy, but not without it’s problems.

Helen: Are there other species in your world of Rodentdom? And how do they interact with the rodent species? Also what is the magic of Rodentdom and how does it all work?

AJ: Just like in any world, for an ecosystem to be effective, survive, and thrive, it needs multiple species. Being somewhat aquatic, it makes sense to have water-faring species. There’s the mer, part humanoid, part fish (does their evolution speak to humans in the far past? There might be something in the human-tales about that). Ogres are almost humanoid, but they are scaly and have more in common with the great leviathans of the oceans with regards to their size and communal spirit. And there are the leviathans themselves, the whales and kraken. Because of their sapiency, superstitions and rules about eating types of seafood are abundant — kraken are friends, not food.

The land and oceans and elements are the magic. Perhaps the whole planet is a living planet, but Rodentdom hasn’t got that far in their evolution, science, and understanding to see the world from outside its limits…though the kraken have! But Rodentdom has learned to treat their environment, the earth, trees, moons, water, food, with respect. Take one, put one back. Those with the most respect for the land and its elements have the greatest ability to touch it’s magic. This is where Cinrak’s “saltiness” comes from — her ability to interact with the winds, understand the needs and movements of the stars, and follow the currents of the oceans with an ease that perplexes other pirates.
Helen: I understand romance features in The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper. How would you describe those romantic elements?  And is there one significant romantic relationship, or several?

AJ: Cinrak, the marmot opera diva Loquolchi, and rat queen Orvillia are in an ethical polyamorous relationship. There are moments that go into their meet-cutes, and how they negotiate their relationships, but I haven’t written any stories that focus on their romance. Yet. 

Cinrak is terrible at romance. It’s cutely awkward. She’s happy to let Loqui and Orvillia be all the flowers and hearts and picnics, and they’re happy to make a fuss of her. She acts as their rock and negotiator. Everything works extremely well, because none of them would be happy married or stuck in the same place with each other all the time. Their relationships remain resilient because they value freedom, consent, and open communication.

Another major relationship of the stories is between Agnes the Kraken and the glass whale Xolotli. It’s a queer love that spans centuries and oceans. 

Helen: If challenged to describe The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper in three words, what would they be?

AJ: The book does have the promo line: Lesbian. Capybara. Pirate. Which is apparently delightful to many people, and their joy is a joy to me.

To take it a step further: Madcap. Magic. Hug. 

Helen: And  “Also, dapperness”, which I must admit appeals to me a lot, as does anything that offers magic and the madcap, along with a hug! Thank you very much for dropping by, AJ, and sharing your insider’s insights, as author, into Cinrak and her world. I am sure readers will be as fascinated by both as I am, and join me in wishing you and Cinrak every success in the wide and wild world of publishing, readerdom, and books.


More About The Voyages Of Cinrak The Dapper:

Dapper. Lesbian. Capybara. Pirate.

Cinrak the Dapper is a keeper of secrets, a righter of wrongs, the saltiest capybara on the sea and a rider of both falling stars and a great glass whale. Join her, her beloveds, the rat Queen Orvilia and the marmot diva Loquolchi, lead soprano of the Theatre Rat-oyal, her loyal cabin kit, Benj the chinchilla, and Agnes, last of the great krakens, as they hunt for treasures of all kinds and find adventures beyond their wildest dreams. Let Sir Julius Vogel Award-winning storyteller A.J. Fitzwater take you on a glorious journey about finding yourself, discovering true love and exploring the greatest secrets of the deep. Also, dapperness.


More About The Author:

AJ Fitzwater lives between the cracks of Christchurch, New Zealand. A Sir Julius Vogel Award winner and graduate of Clarion 2014, their work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Giganotosaurus, and various anthologies of repute. A unicorn disguised in a snappy blazer, they tweet @AJFitzwater

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 is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Year Of Worldbuilding in Fantasy #4: "Palimpsest" by Catherynne M Valente

#YoW Year of Worldbuilding
#WiF Worldbuilding in Fantasy


I'm focusing on worldbuilding in Fantasy as my theme for 2020 here on Supernatural Underground because—strictly in my humble opine, of course—it's one of the vital elements that holds all the different strands of the genre together.

Having kicked off the year with two influential examples from mid-twentieth century children's literature (The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe by CS Lewis and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin), last month I switched to more contemporary and adult works with Seanan McGuire's Ghost Roads series. The series currently comprises two books, Sparrow Hill Road and The Girl In The Green Silk Gown. (Links to the previous posts appear at the end of this feature.)

Palimpsest by Catherynne M Valente

Today's post is also focusing on a more contemporary work, although not quite as recent as the Ghost Roads duology.  

Palimpsest, by Catherynne M Valente, was published in 2009 and went on to win the Lambda Award for LGBT SF/Fantasy/Horror in the same year. Palimpsest was also a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2010, which is when I first read it--and was blown away by the richness and depth and sheer imagination of the worldbuilding. I believe I have rarely read a work of fantasy with such a strongly developed and compelling sense of place.

The Ghost Roads series is urban fantasy—and so, too, is Palimpsest, but just not in the usual way. I was going to write that it's a tale of two cities, but in fact it's a tale of many cities. In this world, we primarily canvass Tokyo and Kyoto, Los Angeles and San Francisco, New York but also Novgorod, and Rome—all in a way that evokes Italo Calvino, celebrating each one as physical space, but also as cities of myth and imagination, woven through with history, geography, and magic, all experienced through the lens of individual lives.

But the place that matters, and by extension the world we, as readers, must enter in the same way the four main characters do, is not Kyoto or San Francisco, New York or Rome, but the city of Palimpsest itself—and the novel opens, not only on that magical city, but a truly fabulous piece of worldbuilding. The language is rich and powerful, the world evoked fantastical and evocative and compelling:

"On the corner of 16th Street and Hieratica, a factory sings and sighs. Look: it's thin spires flash green, and spit long loops of white flame into the night ... Workers carry their lunches in clam shells. They  wear extraordinary uniforms: white and green scales laid one over the other, cling obscenely to the skin, glittering in the spirelight...Their eyes are piscine, third eyelid half-drawn in drowsy pleasure as they side step and gambol and spin to the rhythm of the machines."

Yep, also available as an audio book.
And that, dear readers, is only the beginning, in a story that is all about layers and loops and labyrinths of world and storytelling, all imbued with mystery as well as magic. Nonetheless, it serves to lure us into the world of Palimpsest, both city and story, as surely as Melville's "Call me Ishmael" hauls the reader into the first chapter of Moby Dick.

Nonetheless, the worldbuilding in Palimpsest is not about the cities and landscapes, both built and natural, of our world, or alternatively about Palimpsest alone. Rather, it's about the juxtaposition between the two and the crossings back and forth of characters—albeit only at night—and magic. In this sense it's as much about routes and gateways as the Ghost Roads series, although unquestionably they're very different stories. Palimpsest is what I term "portal" or "crossing-point" fantasy, chiefly because it's both "our world" urban fantasy and secondary world fantasy at the same time, with the two realms overlapping each other through the story and characters.

Palimpsest is also all about artefacts and artifice: this is a worldbuilding woven around trains and keys, artificial insects but also bees, maps and bookbinding, ink and tattoos. Yet there is more to it again: I would also describe it as a worldbuilding of sensuality and sexuality where human relationship and the diversity and nuance of sexual encounter is integral to the reader's understanding of the world—and the story that both inhabits and transcends it. In this context, I believe Catherynne M Valente writes in the tradition of Angela Carter and The Bloody Chamber.

We are often advised, as writers and in life, that "less is more." To me, though, the worldbuilding in Palimpsest is what I think of as "more is so very much moar"—and I love every word of it. In short, if you also love richness and texture, mystery and sensuality, myth and fairytale, wild imagination and the sheer fantastical in your worldbuilding and fantasy reading, then I believe Palimpsest will reward the investment of your time.


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


Coming Soon!

In the spirit of loving Fantasy fiction and worldbuilding in all their myriad guises, as well as bringing your the new, I'll be posting an interview with friend and fellow author, AJ Fitzwater, here on Supernatural Underground. 

We'll be discussing AJ's newly released book, The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper. Yep, that's right folks: Lesbian. Capybara. Pirate: Also Dapper! We'll be taking you to the High Seas: what could be better. ;-)

Watch this space! 


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 is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.