Saturday, September 23, 2023

Who is my favorite fictional hero (that’s not mine) and why?


The problem with picking a favourite hero is that all the rest will feel neglected. It’s a bit like having a favourite child - parents pretend they don’t have them but secretly they probably do. But if you won’t tell the others, I guess I can share.

Honestly, my favourite hero trope is the heart of gold and outside of glitter. The self-assured hero who knows absolutely that he is the god's gift to the whole wide world and isn’t afraid to flaunt it, preferably with an acerbic wit to match and possibly a love interest who completely flummoxes him. But deep underneath that acid and the flashy exterior, he’s probably hiding wounds of his own.

For that reason, there was only one hero that immediately came to mind. Rakken Tempestren, prince of the Court of Ten Thousand Spires, from A Rake of His Own by AJ Lancaster. We first meet him in the main series (Stariel) and I loved every scene that involved him, but it is in his own novel that he really gets the chance to shine. 

Rakken is a fae prince, one of the most talented living Fae sorcerers, and also a bit of a playboy. But underneath his attitude, he is unflinchingly loyal, and as the series and his own book progresses, we learn how much of his public persona is for show and that Rakken absolutely counts on people underestimating him because of it. He makes people believe he is the frivolous one so that he can be the weapon in the shadows.

But Rakken is absolutely at his best as a character when he meets his opposite. In this case, Marius Valstar, the nerdy botanist, whose bookish ways, immunity to Rakken’s powers and willingness to say no (something I doubt Rakken hears much) combine to put a big dent in Rakken’s armor. Sparks fly and Rakken finds himself drawn to Marius like a moth to the flame. We get to see him learning to care for mortals that he previously considered mostly interesting curiosities, and for the first time, being vulnerable with someone. 

Along the way, we see the pieces of Rakken that he hides - his sense of duty (to family, to those less powerful than him), and we see how no matter how much he wants to pretend to be aloof, Rake can’t help but let Marius into his heart. I love how Lancaster unfolds the story of Rakken like that, unveiling new hidden depths over time.

Rakken also shakes Marius up - makes him come out of his shell and breaks away pieces of his emotional armor. They change each other for the better, and call me sentimental, but that is my favourite part of a good romance hero.

Zack Bel writes about fairies, gothic fantasy and breathtaking romances. Based in far south Australia, they concoct their fantastical stories with occasional input from a menagerie of pets and house plants. Their debut novel The Nightingale Prince released in 2023. You can find them at 

Friday, September 22, 2023

Fallin' for the Hero

 I'll be honest and admit I'm on an anti-romance kick at the moment. Not that I dislike romance as a genre, I LOVE the genre. It's just not for me at the moment. So when we speak in terms of book boyfriends, I have a reflexive ick response. Don't worry. It's just a phase. It happens from time to time. I still read romance. I still write romance - though I'm not, right now. I'm just not in the emotional headspace (or maybe heartspace) for romance right now. That doesn't mean I don't have a favorite hero, though. I do.

The award for my favorite hero that I did not write goes to: 


Hush. No one said my fav had to be entirely or even remotely human. Gotta like me a hero of few words who's logical, effective, and efficient while suffering a long-term, major existential crisis. How can you not love someone who says: 

"Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency."

Murderbot is my people. Even if I'm lacking the weaponry. And computer interfaces. And armor. 

Now. If we want to talk about favorite TV heroes, come chat with me about gay pirates.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Favorite Hero/Heroine Part 2!

book cover of Violet Made of Thorns with dark purple background, gold filigree surrounding the title in white

I agree with KAK, this week’s topic is too close to asking ‘what’s your favorite book’ to which the answer always takes at minimum 15 min to talk about my top ten faves. We’re supposed to talk about who is my favorite fictional hero, that’s not one I wrote, and why.

In January we picked our favorite heroines we didn’t write…but I picked a favorite hero/heroine which ended up being Kvothe from Name the Wind. So I guess I’ll do the same thing, be contradictory to the topic, and pick another favorite hero/heroine…ugh, this is so hard!


Violet from Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen was the most recent hero/heroine that really gave me pause. Violet is the savior of her country, gifted with the ability to glimpse the future she is plucked from the slums and provides prophecies directly to the king. Except, her moral compass is kinked at an early age and Violet is never the same after that. She is at odds with the crown prince and activates a curse that ensnares them both. 

What I loved about Violet was that she wasn’t the antagonist, there’s a greater evil out there, but she’s also not the shining heroine who will triumph over all to save the day. She is clever. And she has crazy ideas. you should definitely check out her story if you’re in the mood for a morally gray fantasy character. 

Violet Made of Thorns

by Gina Chen

Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.

But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.

Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Book Boyfriend of the Moment: The Crimson Rain Sought Flower

 This Week's Topic: Who is my favorite fictional hero (that's not one I wrote) and why?

Oh no. This is akin to being asked which book is my favorite. Yarghhh! Fortunately, this isn't Highlander and The Kurgan isn't decapitating all the dudes who aren't mentioned. 

{taps bottom lip} 

This is tough because all my faves exist as an amalgam in my memory as Sir Supportive 'n' Studly whose best attributes get mashed together, reshaped, and then plucked apart like monkey bread to become BFFs or Romantic Interests in my books. 

{looks to the left, ponders more}

Since I have to pick one, I'll go with my favorite character from the series I'm currently reading: Hua Cheng from Heaven Offical's Blessing by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu (aka MXTX). Over the course of the series, he becomes the protagonist's significant other, yet to simplify his character like that does him a great disservice. He is fully competent and capable independent of the protagonist. To everyone but the protagonist, he is The Great Villain, a supreme ghost king, one of the four great calamities, the bane of the heavens...and so much more. Yet as the series develops and backstory is revealed, the Villain's Journey is more heartbreaking and more satisfying than the Hero's Journey (which is a feat, because the hero's story is cute on the surface but gutwrenching underneath). 

There are so many attributes that make Hua Cheng a great character: from the myriad ways he serves humble pie, to his obvious and hidden motivations, to his tearjerking sacrifices. His weaknesses are relatable which makes him more adorable: whether it's his atrocious handwriting or his grossly skewed self-perception due to childhood tormentors (he had heterochromia, so he dug out one eye to stop the bullying, but now he believes himself hideous and unworthy of the protag). What makes him my favorite fictional hero is how he demonstrates his devotion to his love interest without being an alphahole. Though he and the protagonist have a long, complicated, and mysterious history, the protag doesn't remember it, but Hua Cheng does. Thus, in the first book, Hua Cheng casually reenters the protag's life, content to be a useful stranger the protag met on the road. Over and over, he touches the protag's life like a butterfly, providing outcome-altering support, and then departing (causing the protag to do rounds of introspection and confront feeeeeeelings). Of course, whenever Hua Cheng reenters the story, I cackle with glee because circumstances are going to get SUPER fun. Whether someone's about to get their ass handed to them or the charming banter in the primary ship, if Hua Cheng is on the page, I'm not putting down the book.  The more I read about him, the more I love the character MXTX created. So, yep, there ya go, my current book boyfriend, Hua Cheng, The Crimson Rain Sought Flower. 

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Nuns, Detectives, and a Heist


I've always had a fascination with nuns. Growing up in a large French-Canadian family, I viewed my two aunts who had taken the veil with curiosity tinged with fear (what is it about the habits that make them seem unapproachable?). I read the Dune series with delight at the Bene Gesserit's machinations. Recently, I devoured the Warrior Nun and Mrs. Davis television shows. You may not have realized it, but nuns hold a powerful place in the Western imagination.

I started seriously pursuing creative writing after studying and teaching medieval religion and literature at university. At first, I thought I needed to write historical fiction to use my academic studies to full effect. With nuns, of course, since everyone would share my obsession with these figures. 

The story idea had some promise--strong female characters, a community with secrets and interpersonal turmoil, and cool historical details. But I couldn't make it work. Like Marcella (see her post here), I tried to shove everything into the story. There were secret babies (more than one!), a kidnapping and a murder, a mystical prophetess, a snooty Duchess, and an evil bishop... I could go on, but you get the idea. It was full of cringe (the common theme this week), yet it still holds a special place in my heart.

I learned a great deal about writing from that unpublishable project (it was no The Other Boleyn Girl). The closed setting of a nunnery was a great way to explore character dynamics. I identified a slew of genres and tropes that I loved and wanted to use (just not all at once). And I realized that historical fiction was too limiting for my purposes. I got caught up in historical details rather than letting my imagination take the helm. 

Too much time was spent looking backward instead of forward when I first started writing creatively. It was only when I opened myself up to integrating all the parts of myself--all my weird and wonderful obsessions and knowledge--that I found my voice as a writer. Whereas academic writing requires the author to subsume themselves and create an "objective" perspective (with many many rules and limitations on what can and should be said - and don't get me started on the fallacy of anyone having a quote-unquote objective perspective), creative writing asks us to embrace our whole selves. We pour in our creativity, experiences, and interests. We take the books we've read, the passions we've felt, and the questions we have, throw them into the cauldron, and stir them up into a wonderful new potion. 

My favourite cauldron is fantasy literature. It took me some time to get there, but it's where I can bring my whole self to my writing. Where I look forward, even as I look to the past. Where I have limitless options to play as I create. Where I can bring in  my fascination with religion and the supernatural, my desire for stories with strong women characters, my love of heist movies and spy stories, my fondness for romance and feel-good relationships, my lifelong reading of fantasy and science fiction novels, my penchant for fairy and folk tale themes, and anything else that moves me at that time! 

It can take some time to find our way when we begin writing. And that's ok. All the writing we do takes us further on the journey to find our voice.  

All the best,


Friday, September 15, 2023

Careful with the Cringe

Current 'panther' friend
Three stories. First, the everything-but-dinosaurs-and-aliens story. It had it all: a castle, a princess fighting to save the kingdom, pirates, and a black Jaguar named Scott. Oh, and sword fights. Did I mention the sword fights? Lots of sword fights. I don't know that it had terrific narrative flow. Or even a plot. But I was 12. So that book covered ALL the cringe. That young Princess was a fencing prodigy, a horseback riding prodigy, and the black Jaguar was, naturally, her best friend. Of course, her father's Kingdom is under threat from within and from without as the pirates are raiding the town below the castle. Our heroine can't immediately address the internal threats, but she can keep the pirates from harming her friends in town. In the course of trying and failing to fight the pirates, she makes things worse by getting kidnapped by them and held for ransom. This is ransom no one is going to pay. See the aforementioned internal threat. It's all fine, because naturally, the pirate captain falls for her. I mean why wouldn't he? So now, insert redemption arc for pirates who are going to help her bedevil the internal threat and reclaim the Kingdom. Much swashbuckling, big Goonies energy, tons of fun. Totally reads like I was 12. This one is buried deep and so it will stay.

Second, fanfic. ALL the fanfic. Scads of it. All tucked safely into archives where it can’t get me into trouble for writing inside someone else’s IP. Was it cringe? Maybe. It was 100% self-insert into worlds that fascinated me, but at the time I was writing fanfic, AO3 didn’t exist. I could write whatever I wanted with the knowledge that none of it could be published, ever.


It finally occurred to me one day that one could pub fanfic if no one knew it was fanfic. If I could change names and alter the world enough to be its own thing, I might have a viable product. And that’s how I found out it was far easier (and just as much fun) to build your own world and your own characters.

Third, the contemporary romance novel that lacked a single shred of internal conflict. I had a great time writing it. It was my attempt to prove that you could in fact write a rock star romance and make it work. Except, you know, for the fact that I didn't. It was supposed to have one of those 'annoying big brother' books. Curmudgeon and ray of sunshine things. The heroine is there out of necessity, in a position the hero doesn't want her in, but his meddling sister is intent on setting the two of them up. It was big on bickering, low on actual conflict, and it was a hoot to write. It still lives in a box under the bed. It is likely to remain in that box under the bed. I look back at it now recognize a slew of problematic tropes. There's nothing wrong with the heroine trying to prove herself. This story took it wicked too far. This heroine ends up a martyr. The power dynamic between hero and heroine was super dysfunctional. Granted, at the time I wrote it, I had some crappy relationship templates and what was ‘normal’ for me at that point wasn’t, in fact, normal. So yeah. I credit this book with being the one that started me on the journey of actually learning and understanding what makes a romance a romance. The story is okay. But reading it now, I flinch at all the stuff I see that’s wrong. I’m careful not to judge past me by what current me knows. But still. This book, while it holds together, won’t likely see the light of day, ever.

While I can freely admit that my early efforts at fiction might not meet the bar for publication, I want to say that when I use the word ‘cringe’ in this blog, it’s with a fond smile. Cringe is one of those words that has been swept up by society to judge and make fun of something. I don’t want to judge or make fun of someone learning how story works. Not even – or maybe especially not even – when it’s me. We’re allowed to be bad at something we love or are fascinated by. We’re allowed a visible learning curve. There’s art and grace in developing as an artist. The thing that gets lost when we talk about the lack of skill in our early efforts is just how vital and necessary those early efforts were to our survival. These stories I talked about will never be thrown away or deleted. They got me through times I didn’t think I could get through. If our early story efforts are called cringe because we get sexist BS terms tossed at us like ‘Mary Sue’, as if every action movie ever made isn’t some dude’s 14-year-old self-insert fantasy. There’s a fine line between acknowledging that our early works weren’t ready for prime-time and disparaging ourselves as creatives. I bet that if someone could find the first painting Picasso ever did as a child, it could reasonably be called cringe. It would also likely fetch millions on auction.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

First Writing Projects

Alexia, wearing a blue scarf, long grey sweater, and black leggings, stands beside her black and white Siberian husky on a dry leaf scattered riverbank

I don’t think I’ve written enough. I’m pretty sure that’s where I’m landing on our topic of the week which is what’s the most unpublishable niche story we’ve ever written. 

My near-future sci-fi thrillers don’t stray into the weird sci-fi area, mostly a lot of neat tech with a medical related plot. And  I’ve also written some Norse inspired fantasy, right now it’s a trilogy, and there are some excellent comp titles out for those. Which leads me way back to the first book I wrote. Historical fantasy. That’s about as niche as I’m going to get.

When I started writing my first novel I wasn’t thinking about genres or what would sell. I was just telling a story what I thought was fun. And that  book for fun garnered a finalist badge in Romance Writers of America®’s national Golden Heart® Contest. Whenever I go back and read it I laugh at how young I sound. But the story holds up. 

Historical fantasy isn’t the it genre right now. But what sells never is, right? That’s why we need to keep writing whatever we enjoy. Because the truth is, you never know what will be a for-sure sale. And even if it never sees the light of day, all those words will make your next attempt better. So after all is said and done, make sure you’re writing what makes you happy. 

How about you? What was your first writing project? Does it make you laugh or cringe?

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

My Cringeworthy First Writing Efforts

 A praying mantis friend found her way onto my skirt the other day. Just one of many special blessings coming my way lately!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the most unpublishable niche story we ever wrote.

Mine isn't necessarily a niche story - although it was of indistinguishable genre - but it was absolutely unpublishable and totally, as KAK puts it, cringe. In truth, it's because I can't think of this piece without that soul-deep cringe, that it springs to mind here. It wasn't even worthy of the word "story," it was that terrible.

See, I'd decided to become a writer. I'd cut bait on my PhD, got my MS, got a job as an editor/writer to build my chops, and was taking night classes to learn. But I hadn't gotten very good at the actual WRITING part. As in, I had no writing habit, I hadn't finished much of anything, and I was pretty much just farting around. Then I heard on the radio that Wyoming Arts Council (I lived in Wyoming at the time) was offering fellowships in literature. They had a rotating schedule between fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I could either submit something for that year's award or wait three years. Since three years seemed like an impossibly long time then, I was determined to enter the competition that year.

Only I didn't have anything much to submit. But! I decided that I could enter the first few pages of a novel I'd started - the only pages I had of it - and trust that the judges would be so dazzled by the sheer promise of my work that they'd fall all over themselves to give me the fellowship.

Cringe cringe cringe

I have no idea what those judges thought of my fragmented pages of nothing. I obviously didn't win, nor did I receive any comments. Only much later did I realize just how delusionary I'd been. 

But you know what? Many years later, I did win one of those fellowships. It just took time, lots of dedicated work, and pulling my head out of my delusions.