Tag Archives: fantasy

Speculative Poetry

So Chicago Literati published five of my poems today, and it felt like a celebration. Not that my poems haven’t been published elsewhere, they have been – often, and in a variety of different literary magazines and websites. But this group of poems to me really feels like that start of a collection. For a long time I have admired speculative poets. I’ve also admired genre poets who write Fantasy and SciFi poetry, some great examples of poets that have inspired me are Matt Bialer (whose most collection – Tell Them What I Saw was published recently by PS Publishing,) Tracy Brimhall (whose collection Our Lady of the Ruins,) was a true inspiration, and also poets like Roz Kaveney (who I heard speak about genre poetry at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton last year and she truly inspired me as well.) All three poets are really different in style, but I admired them for different reasons.

ruins brimhall cover  bialer cover  Kaveny_2012a-212x300

It was hard for me to break out of realism. It’s hard for me in general because even though I studied Poetry in university, I started out as a Nonfiction Writer – I loved Literary Nonfiction – so much so that I combined it with a history degree. But I’m a big lover and reader of fantasy. It’s been a process this year. In my poetry at least, I’ve been trying to break free, trying to be a little less afraid not to tell the truth. I’ve been working on it in my fiction too – with a collection of short stories that are based in magical realism and that have speculative elements, but this is really the first set of poems that I am truly proud of.

I feel, for the first time since I started writing poetry again (after a long hiatus of about ten years,) that I’ve really found my voice and that these poems are the beginning of a collection. They are five poems that tell a story, they all speak to each other, they are all sort of set in the same “village” in my mind, they describe the desert and the surrounding area in which I live, but they take elements of that natural world and play with them, all in all I’m just super excited about them.

You can read them here:  http://chicagoliterati.com/2014/06/18/five-poems-by-rena-rossner/



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On Historical Fiction, Epic Fantasy, and Knowing Your Stuff

I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing this month. Partly because it’s Nanowrimo season, partly because I’m always thinking about my writing. But maybe this month I’m thinking a little more.

For most of my life I have been captivated by stories of the fantastic. Though my taste skewed more to the fantasy side of things, SciFi crept in there too – as it has been known to do (and vice verse with SciFi readers and fantasy,) but for some reason when I studied  writing in University I took only classes in Non-Fiction and Poetry. I even declared a triple major: Non-Fiction Writing, Poetry, and History. And I thought that was my triumvirate.

I never took a class in fiction.

Fiction scared me. Fiction was MAKING STUFF UP.

Of course, that’s part of what I was doing in poetry, and in non-fiction writing, and even in history, because telling it like you see it – any take we have on the world – is inevitably a fiction of sorts. But even though I loved fantasy with all my heart, I didn’t think I could write it.

I knew I had a way with words. And I had interesting things to say, but I felt dwarfed by the greats, and I looked around me and thought, the world is far too interesting to make stuff up, I can just describe what I see. And I did so, but in poetry and prose. No dragons or monsters, no golems or dybbuks, no fairies or wizards or trolls or witches.

For ten years I wrote non-fiction. For ten years I was a pen for hire. And it took me ten years to realize that was all I was. And I say this with the greatest respect for journalists and non-fiction writers out there. Literary journalism and literary non-fiction will always have a very special place in my heart, for it’s what I strove to write for years. But slowly I began to realize that fiction is just non-fiction in another guise. And I realized that speculative fiction encompasses much more than just fantasy.

And so without even one fiction workshop under my belt I set out to write a novel. There was a tingling of magical realism in there but no more than that, I couldn’t allow myself that. And then I wrote another novel which could have been and may still end up being completely speculative, but I still wrote in some psychology, some window to explain the unexplainable.

At the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton two weeks ago I attended a panel about historical fiction and epic fantasy. Two of the women on the panel had PhDs in history. (I was particularly impressed by Helen Marshall who won the “Best Newcomer” award)  And as I listened to everyone talk about all the research that informs their work I realized that what separates historical fiction from epic fantasy is but a hairs breath. That the same work that goes into one is needed for the other. And I had this epiphany moment that I realized: everything in my life has led me to this point.

I have a masters degree in history. I have a keen eye for narrative description and observation. I have lyric language from poetry. I CAN write the stories that I grew up loving. I just have to make that leap of faith.

The difference between the true and the fantastic – between science fiction and science fact, between history and myth and fantasy and reality, is really just a hairs breath. And I have everything I need to take the plunge.

I’ve been working on a series of linked short stories about the city of Safed (also called Tzfat or Tsfat) and I’ve been writing stories set in that mystical city – almost every one so far could have been a dream or a vision: Kissing the Messiah (in which a young woman has sexual encounters with Elijah the Prophet), The 614th Prophet (in which a wannabe vegetarian prophet tries to sacrifice a goat, and succeeds but not in way that you’d expect), The Ari (forthcoming from The Rampallian, which tells a tale of the ghost lion of Safed), and a few more as-yet unpublished ones. But last night I wrote about zombies.

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New Genres: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

I just finished reading City of Dark Magic by Mangus Flyte, and I must say that it was thoroughly enjoyable. Like a cross between a beach read,  a fantasy novel and a fun romping suspense/thriller. In truth, I have no idea how to even place it. Part Christopher Moore, part Katie Macalister, part Dante Club – and even a little of Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, I really have never read a novel quite like it.  I could definitely tell you that there were things that didn’t work for me: certain scenes that seemed a bit contrived, certain elements that were perhaps a bit implausible, but I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to tell you what I LOVED about the novel and why the bits that didn’t make perfect sense didn’t matter.

city of dark

I loved the setting: Prague, with all its intrigue and rich history and architecture.

I loved the quest: old manuscripts, secrets, a love story (both modern and historical), a connection to alchemy and even The Golden Fleece

I loved the task: to catalogue artifacts looted from a royal family by the Nazis, Communists and history and restore them to their rightful owners on museum display

I loved the narrator: modern, spunky, super smart yet skeptical – she reminded me of a lot of what I call “accidental” heroines that you find in Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance

I loved the quirkiness: the dwarf, hallucinogenic toenails, awkward sex in public places etc.

Does it matter now what I didn’t love? I didn’t think so.

I think that City of Dark Magic is a new genre of genreless books. Books that have almost everything in them and therefore can’t be pigeonholed into anything. Bring on more Rom-Com, Thriller/Mystery, Fantasy, Historical, Literary novels please!!



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The Rise of the Video Game Novel

So it’s an inevitable comparison: between Ready Player One and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, in fact, it’s a comparison that is already being made across the web. Nonetheless, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot and so I wanted to add my voice to the mix.


First, these are both books that I read recently and enjoyed tremendously. For one of the books, Mr. Penumbra, this was obvious and I sort of expected that I would. In terms of Ready Play One, it was completely unexpected. I’ll explain. First of all, Robin Sloan’s book has the word “bookstore” in the title. Ding! I’m already interested. Second, I was hooked from the first page (an immediate description of someone applying for a job in a narrow store-fronted mile-high bookshop in San Francisco) Umm. Yep. You got my attention. I have worked in bookstores in four countries, so yeah, I’m reading this book. But Ready Player One was not a book I ever thought I would be interested in. A book about video games? Not my thing. 80s culture? Yeah, I lived through it but don’t particularly want to go there again. I didn’t even understand the title until it was explained to me – that’s how few video games I have played in my lifetime – even though I am a child of the 80s and 90s. And yet. I loved the book.

Now, I’m not someone who can sit here and rattle off comparisons between these novels and others, because this is not a genre I normally read. I’m sure there are books out there (that I haven’t read) like Microserfs (I mean, how can you NOT mention Copeland here,) and the novels of Neal Stephenson (Ok, I’ve read some of his books,) which warrant comparison to Ready Player One, but to me the book was completely novel. Sloan’s book can easily be compared to books the The Club Dumas, with elements of the Da Vinci Code, a certain Umberto Eco feel, and even, I’ve seen people compare it to Haruki Murakami‘s work, I’m not sure I agree with that one. But still, the book defies comparison. Both of the books do. The only books I can think of to compare them to is each other.

So what does that mean? Do these novels mark the rise of a new genre? And what exactly would it be called? Techno-geek with touches of D&D, old-school 80s fantasy novels and culture, combined with the deep dark questions of where is technology leading us and what will happen when physical books are no more and we all live in virtual worlds? Because even though Ready Player One is post-apocalyptic, it is a story, like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, about how we make sense of our current reality. The only reason Ready Player One makes so much sense, is because its plausible. As is Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. The characters in both novels are real, humble, human, geeky, in other words, kind of like a lot of us, and technology and the internet gives them the power, to be larger and more powerful than themselves, to think in new ways, to think outside boxes and living rooms and even outside computer screens. I know this is going to sound cliche, but, in the end, both Clay in Robin Sloan’s novel, and Wade, from Ernest Cline’s novel, need to look within themselves for the answers. They are not super-heroes, but in going beyond their circumstances and their lives, and indeed in thinking out of the “box” that we all find ourselves glued to today (and I don’t mean TV,) they do become a form of hero, they get the girl, and they learn that technology and avatars and virtual reality don’t hold a candle to actual reality.

I must say that what I perhaps found lacking in Ready Player One, which was abundant in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, was book references. Anyone who was playing video games in the 80s and watching all those TV shows and movies that Cline mentions in the book, was also, often, reading classic 80s fantasy and Sci-Fi novels. Sloan touches on it in Mr. Penumbra, and to me it was one of the most endearing parts of the book – the idea that an author might encode or alter a version of his/her novel, the idea that the novels we write are works in progress that capture a reality of the world as we know it when we write the novel, but that that reality changes, and the power we as authors have to decide, or decide against, making a change or letting our work speak for itself.

My call? For the next great Ready Player One and Mr. Penumbra-style novel that is a homage to the virtual worlds we all grew up in between the pages of 80s books.

For me, it’s 80s Fantasy:
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover, David Eddings’ Belgariad, Terry Brooks’ Shannara, Margaret Weis’ Dragonlance, Stephen King’s Dark Tower, Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms, Zelazny’s Amber Tower, Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionovar, Tad Williams’ Dragonbone Chair, Ann Mcaffrey’s Pern, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Charles de Lint’s Newford, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, Raymond Feist’s Riftwar, Brian Jacques’ Redwall, Piers Anthony’s Xanth,and so many more: Mercedes Lackey, Stephen Donaldson, John Crowley, Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, Dianne Wynn Jones, Clive Barker, Tracy Hickman and…I must stop this list or I will be here all day.

Please add ones I’ve forgotten in comments!

And I call on someone else to make this list for 80s SciFi because I am not well read enough in that genre to list those worlds, though they are sister/brother worlds to the ones I listed above, and deserve an expert of their own to pay them homage.

I only wish I had the time and brain space to write it myself.

(Oh, and totally buy Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in Hardcover – it GLOWS IN THE DARK!! Ready Player One is out in paperback.)

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May 1 – The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

As gruesome as his descriptions of being a serious burn victim are, I still enjoyed Andrew Davidson’s novel The Gargoyle tremendously. Not only is it well written, but the unexpected story told by Marianne and how unreliable both his narration and hers become. It is at once a psychological thriller, a moral novel, a love story, a novel about art and sculpture, about religion and faith, a fantasy, historical fiction, a story about addiction and recovery and a story about hope – but more than all of these combined – an extremely well written novel.

I hope that Andrew Davidson has more for us, because I am ready and waiting for his next!

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Feb 21 Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

I think that Angelology: A Novel is not only one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, but also one of my favorites. I wanted to read the book in one day, but decided not to because I didn’t want the book to end. This book has everything: mystery, suspense, history and fantasy! And on top of all that, it’s well written, intellectual, literary and engaging. I highly recommend this book and can’t wait for the next one!

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Jan 28 Tithe by Holly Black

This book was a lot of fun. Not what I expected, I guess from the cover and the hype I thought that Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale would be darker, but for all its light-heartedness I thought that the story was enjoyable and well-told and that the outcome wasn’t quite what I expected. A nice take on the urban-fantasy world of faery and I would be interested in reading more of her work.

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