Author Spotlight: Eric Hardenbrook

  • a fan, an author and an artist, usually in that order.

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Eric Hardenbrook.

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Eric lives in central Pennsylvania with his gorgeous wife and daughter. He writes to get the stories out of his head.

When he’s being a fan he helps run Watch The Skies and assists in the publication of their monthly fanzine. He can be found (at least some of the time) at The Pretend Blog.

When not working on those things, Eric enjoys the occasional video or board game and is an old school role player.

Eric, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Ah… pets. I am not a pet person. I have nothing against pets or animals, I am simply not interested in having or dealing with pets.

I don’t freak out, I’m not allergic nor am I scared of pets – I just don’t want one. Yes, I know they’re “cute” or whatever word you’d like to put in there. Yes, I understand the bond that can grow between pets and owners. Yes, I know that statistically people with pets live longer.

I don’t care. I don’t want one.

No, it doesn’t matter how cute they are in your mind. If you’d like to have a pet, good for you. I’m glad you want to have that relationship. I’ll be fine without, thank you very much. Some consider this a short coming on my part, but most accept it and move on.

Being a non pet person DID lead to one of the best compliments I’ve ever had as a writer. It wasn’t phrased like a compliment and I suspect it wasn’t really meant to be one – but I’ll take it. A story of mine came out in Dogs of War as part of the Defending The Future Series from E-spec Books. The stories in the book are about our animal comrades in arms (military science fiction). I was interested in the opinion of somebody who reads a great deal, so I brought my copy of the book to her. She took a few minutes and read the story while I was there. She grinned at a couple of parts. She read it straight through. The part I considered a compliment arrived at the end. She finished the story and said (paraphrasing) “wow, it’s like you really love dogs…”

Most people wouldn’t take that as a compliment, but I write fiction. I like to tell a good story. If you believe it then I have done my job well. The fact that she knows me, knows the fact that I’m not at all interested in animal companions and still thought the story came off like it was written by a true animal lover is all the compliment I needed.

My life is currently petless. It is simpler, if not as happy or as messy.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I write genre fiction. I know that’s a broad statement, but it covers things I think. My published work all falls under military science fiction and fantasy/humor at this point, but I love old fashioned sword and sorcery. I have also dabbled in urban fantasy, but that hasn’t really worked out.

As for getting started… I don’t really remember. I know there are lots of authors out there who will tell you about novels they wrote while in middle school and how many reams of paper they’ve got stashed away in a trunk. That’s not me. I have always loved telling stories, and somewhere along the way I figured out that you could write all those things down. My first story was published in 2006. I’d say I’ve been bumping around trying to make this work for around 20 years now total. I’m sure to be an ‘overnight success’ any minute now.

I hear ya on genre fiction. Growing up, I barely paid attention to the fat there was anything else. I’m so glad you figured out you could write your stories down, along with the rest of your fans!

What do you like to read?

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” and I was off to the races. If it was fantasy I wanted it. I grabbed it and devoured it. In the many years since then I have grown and my reading tastes have changed. I have learned to identify what I like about the stories I enjoy the most, but that’s more about character and structure than genre. These days I read a little of everything. I’ve got a translated horror novel, a comedy, a fantasy and a non-fiction book all in progress right now.

Fantasy’s home for me, too. But, there’s so much out there.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Write what you know

First, uh… stuff I ‘know’ isn’t that exciting. I want to believe it is, but my friends and relatives have convinced me that construction specifications are not exiting at all.

Second, who knows about space flight, sorcerer spell casting or alien biology? It’s not possible for you to ‘know’ that.

Third, and I think most importantly, in writing what you know you run the risk of info dumping your thesis paper into your story. I recently read a story where the author essentially lifted a huge amount of historic research and dropped it into the story with the names filed off and replaced for the fantasy setting. It was not fantastic.

Don’t write what you know, write a crazy amazing story!

So true! You can filter in what you know of people and emotions and logic. But, to make your world work and spell out every step in excrutiating detail? It’s really something that’s better hand-waved.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Read.

It’s vital. It matters. Look at authors you love and ask yourself how they do what they do. Read your favorite genre. Read outside your genre. Read non-fiction… just READ. The more exposure you have to the written word the more your mind will expand, filling your imagination with all sorts of amazing cross sectional material.

Indubitably. It’s the rare writer indeed who didn’t start off as a reader. It’s our first love. Many of us write simply to find out how this story in our head ends, since no one else can tell us. When it comes to reading myself, I’ve taken a step back from writing every spare second, and started tackling my massive to-read pile. It’s not just aspirational.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

In fact, I know a cool thing you can read! My latest short story is going to be published in the final edition of The Realm Beyond from Fortress Publishing. I also am thrilled to have a story in In Harm’s Way – more military science fiction from E-spec Books. There are some great stories out there.

If you’re into fan based stuff, you should also check out Watch The Skies. We publish a fanzine (for real – we’re Hugo eligible) every month other than December and we’re always looking for contributors.

Down the Rabbit Hole: The Appeal of Portal Fantasy

Portal fantasy has always been popular. From tales of fairy circles to Narnia, we’ve always enjoyed watching people from familiar places enter fantastic realms.

At the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Seanan McGuire, Vina Prasad, Genevieve Cogman, and Kathryn Sullivan discussed what it was about portal fantasy that kept people coming back for more.

What Is Portal Fantasy?

In a portal fantasy, the main character is transported from our world to another. This allows us to see the new world through the eyes of someone with our context. (NOTE: The Japanese version is called: Isekai )

Usually, the protagonist is either young and/or dissatisfied with their life and looking for an escape.

But, the portal to go home has to be hard to reach. If it’s like flipping a button, it’s just a story about someone who lives in two (or more) worlds.

But aren’t portal fantasies just big fairytales?

Well, while fairytales are a subset of folklore, in those, you know where the portal world is and how to access it. And you choose to go there (or at least risk it).

Portal fantasies, you stumble into, and you have to find out the rules as you go along.

Introductions to Portal Fantasies

  • Most of the 80s cartoons
  • Doctor Who
  • Wizard of Oz
  • Digimon
  • Narnia
  • own daydreams
  • John Carter of Mars
  • Irish Mythology
  • Dante’s Inferno

Favorite Portal Fantasy Tropes

  • When the main character tries to introduce something they know from their own world that seems obvious… and then finds out WHY things were the way they were.
  • The kids who go through the portal are never the cool or popular kids. It’s the weird kids. And? Whatever the kids’ weirdness is, that weirdness is the reason they succeed in the portal world.

What is the Appeal of Portal Fantasy?

  • Wish fulfillment – one day, as a kid, you wake up and realize that you’re not actually going to become a unicorn/space princess
  • Being the one with the answers – you go into the fantasy world knowing so much more about technology and mechanicals possibilities, that you can actually change society.
  • Different expectations – in a fantasy world, they can value something that is a detriment, or that nobody cares about in the real world
  • Teaching the value of home/what you already have – Sometimes, home sucks and you’re better off elsewhere. But, for most of us, being reminded to look at what we have helps us see, with all our struggles and issues, it’s not that bad.

Are you a fan of portal fantasy?

What are your favorite portal fantasies?
How do people get them right… and how do people get them wrong?

Let me know in the comments below and join me next week, for more writing tips and writerly musings
.

Author Spotlight: R.J. Garcia

  • a writer, wallflower, and Hufflepuff, who wants a re-do at the sorting hat. She is a wife and proud mom, too.

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to R.J. Garcia.

R.J. Garcia earned her MSW and worked with foster kids, and the geriatric population. Writing has been her other great love.  Although faced with the challenge of dyslexia, she is publishing her second novel, The Call of Death with The Parliament House.

R.J., thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

In that case, why not go big. An elephant. I loved Rosie from Water from Elephants. I wouldn’t really want to keep a majestic animal like that as a pet, but it would be awesome to have her stop by and hang out and bond with her. They are such loyal and intelligent animals. In real life I collect some elephant figurines.

If I was going to choose a fantasy pet, I’d choose Hedwig, Harry Potter’s lovable snowy owl.

Both are excellent choices! You’re not the first to dream of an elephant. I’m sure you’d have a momma certain it can still curl up in your lap. And an owl-friend/companion would be so lovely.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I had a love/hate relationship with reading because it was a struggle for me as a kid. Yet I loved the covers and longed to escape in books. I remember reading The Outsiders by SE Hinton in the 8th grade. It was the first book that I completely fell into. I started reading all kind of books and loved how the protagonist didn’t quite fit in like me. It was like I found my people. After I was also writing short stories on cheap notebook paper. I have written stories ever since.

Oh wow! You really had to struggle to get into something that so many of us take for granted. Fortunately for all of us, and all your fans (present and future), you knew your passion and persevered despite your challenges!

What do you like to read?

I love to read suspenseful books and coming of age stories. Some horror reads and  YA, too. My Heart and other Black Holes was an incredible story. I also like to dive into some fantasy. I love the Harry Potter series and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I don’t read romance as a genre but need to have a little romance in the books I read, or a strong friendship to fully get into it. I love to discover some great Indie books from small publishers, or self-published reads sometimes. 

That’s a lot of what I enjoy (although, I sometimes do full-on romances), so now I’m adding a book or two to my to read pile.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Outline

A physical outline doesn’t work for me. I like to have a fluid outline in my brain. If it is written down, I feel more pressured.

Ah… so you’re a plantser, like me! A light outline, almost more in my head, and the willingness to ignore it to get the story out. #plantsersForLife

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Use beta-readers.

Beta readers are so important. I need someone to read my stories and always benefit from constructive input. Shout out to my teenage daughter, Sabrina, brother Kevin and fellow writer, Christine Dwivedi who read  everything I write.

Definitely! Having a second set of eyes (or third) to let you know that the story is coming across the way you intended. To ask all the details that you thought you’d put in. All of that is crucial for a writer.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

My debut novel, Nocturnal Meetings of the Misplaced is available wherever books are sold. I have a short story about The Axeman of New Orleans in a horror anthology titled, Masks from Filles Vertes Publishing. It will be released in time for Mardi Gras. I’m excited to announce that my new novel, The Call of Death hit shelves today.

Fourteen-year-old Hannah Priestly crashes into a terrifying future. She wakes up in her dorm room now knowing the name of an infamous serial killer, Norman Biggs. He will attack her in the future unless she and her three male friends can change fate.

Hannah is a suntanned, obsessive-compulsive California girl dropped off at an English boarding school by her celebrity mother. Hannah has difficulty understanding algebra, let alone her increasingly dark visions. Rory Veer is Hannah’s smart, easy-going and romantically challenged friend and school crush. When Norman Biggs unexpectedly appears in Rory’s reality, terror is set in motion. It is Rory who must acknowledge a past he has denied if the mystery is to be unraveled.

Pick up your copy today:
Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo | Apple

In the Background: Class in YA Fiction

In the real world, the social class we come from can have far-reaching consequences into our lives: from the jobs we hold, to the things that worry us, to our long-lasting health. Getting class, and its consequences right, can be tricky to do.

In the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Marieke Nÿkamp, Avery Delany, Caroline Hooton, and Victoria Lee discussed the ways their class upbringing compared to their current social class, and the implications inherent in that.

How The Classes Differ

Most of us are not rich. But the differences between working class and middle class can be easily missed if you’re not paying attention.

When the working class is even seen by those outside it, it’s typically through a political lens: either the lazy bums, looking for a handout. Or the poor, unfortunate who needs charity.

Working class

  • Social mobility is rare
  • You don’t always know where your next meal is coming from
  • Your parents are more likely to need help with bills than be able to help you out in case of emergency (groceries, sudden bills, job loss, ER visits)
  • One bad week is the difference between a rented home and life on the streets
  • Accents and expected behaviors are different — and failure to adhere can cause people to discount you
  • Attendance at events that can help your career can easily be beyond your financial means
  • Health conditions, because of inadequate health care, not enough time to rest, and/or physically demanding jobs
  • Transport is either public, rides from friends, or a car that isn’t in great shape
  • Don’t always have hot water. Or electricity.
  • Accent and speech patterns are looked down on, and seen as something to hide when not home
  • Diverse

Middle Class

  • Social mobility — down or up (at least as far as upper-middle class) is normal.
  • When things are bad, you eat cheap non-nutritious meals
  • If something goes wrong, your parents can usually help. (Car repairs, rent, bail, or at least a bag of groceries)
  • Far more homogeneous

How Is Class Represented in YA?

Often, we’ll see either the aristocracy, the middle-class, or the temporarily poor. Almost always the main characters are able-bodied and cis-gendered (their gender matches what they were declared at birth).

The ending or resolution almost always involves elevating the main character out of the working class. Implying strongly that the character growth and work deserves an “improvement”. That the working class is not something to be proud of, to strive for.

And? After one or two snafus, the ‘uplifted’ character seems to fit in seamlessly. Not finishing their meals because they’re ‘stuffed’.

If there is a diverse character, they’re usually not intersectional. They’re not disabled AND working class AND a person of color. They have one token diverse trait.

Who Is Writing? And For Whom?

Books in general and YA in specific is written by those with the time and energy to do so. Books are sold by those who have the money and energy to promote their works. Leading to very few working class authors.

Publishers look at past sales and, if they don’t see any, they assume there isn’t a market and don’t buy working class author’s works. After the success of The Hate U Give, there’s been an upswing in more working class books. But, they’re seeing them as a niche, as an issues driven book. And publishers typically only acquire one book per niche per publishing cycle.

What agents and editors see as a neutral environment, in an industry run on unpaid internships and publishing companies that are a net loss, labor of love, isn’t. People without a social net don’t even have a chance.

Many of the guest speakers from working class backgrounds, only made it to WorldCon thanks to grants and school funding. Others were denied Visas, so couldn’t even be here for the discussion. Money talks, and without it, you’re left on the outside, not even able to look in.

Worldwide, there are millions of people without access to education, much less to libraries. Think of all the stories we’re missing, because those people never had the chance to share?

How Can You Help Working Class or Diverse Writers?

How can you help mitigate the class segregation inherent in the publishing industry?

  • Share their work
  • Promote their work
  • Leave room at the table for them
  • Buy their work
  • Borrow from the library
  • Review them on Amazon
  • Contribute to their Patreon
  • Donate money to con scholarships
  • Read more diverse works
  • Host a writing workshop for them
  • More paid internships — especially remote ones
    • New York and London are expensive and challenging, even for people with money and connections.

What YA stories have you read that explored class? What did they get right? And what did they get wrong?

Do you have any other suggestions on how to help encourage diverse writers?

Twas the Week before NaNo

In honor of the last week of October, here’s a Throwback Post.

‘Twas The Week Before NaNo

‘Twas the week before NaNo, and all through the land
Not a writer was ready, not even the grand;
The stories all waited, ev’ry last one,
In hopes NaNoWriMo soon would be won;

The characters jostled all shoved in our heads,
While visions of new worlds continued to spread
And Facebook on the PC, and I in my tweets
Had just settled DOWN to fill those blank sheets—‌

When up on the screen there arose such a clatter,
I clicked off my doc to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew in a flash,
Scrolled over the adverts and cleared out my cache.

The notification of a new month said hello,
Giving luster of import to objects below;
When what to my wondering eyes should egress?
But a miniature list with eight friend requests!

Then with a li’l old idea, so lively and quick,
I’d know in a moment if this one would stick.
More rapid than eagles, the story now came,
And I whistled and shouted, and called components by name:

“Now Chapters, now Setting! Now Plot and Conflict!
“On False-peak, on Raised-Stakes! On Black-moment-strict;
“To the top of the peak! To the climax and fall!
“Now type away! Type away! Type away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When you meet with an obstacle: write fast, do not sigh;
So, up to the document’s top, I will go
With my head full of musings‍—‌my ideas now in tow:

And then in a twinkling, you’ll hear my keyboard
The tapping and clacking, each word I’ll record.
As I draw down my head, and ignoring all sound,
Down the page, my story will grow with a bound:

My main character formed, from her head to her foot,
And her clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of supplies was flung on her back,
And she look’d like a peddler just carrying her pack:

Her brow—‌how it furrowed! Her eyes, my how wary,
Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a cherry;
Her fair little mouth was drawn up so’s to bite,
And the hair on her head was as black as the night;

The dangers she fled were as deadly as sin
And the safety she sought, oh–her lead, it was thin;
The plots, they did lead, and oh how I chased ’em,
While watching my subplots all full of odd whims:

A blink of my eye and a twist of my head
Soon’ll give me to know I had nothing to dread.
I’ll speak not a word, but return to my work,
And fill all the pages; then turn with a jerk,

And stretching my fingers, all done with their task
And after a click on the save key, I’ll finally bask.
I’ll spring to kitchen, to my fridge give a peek,
And filling a good bowl with th’ ice cream I’ll seek:

Then you’ll watch me update, ere the clock strikes midnight—‌
Happy NaNo to all. Put up the good fight.

(For more tip-filled posts, check out my previous NaNoWriMo posts:
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
An Outline To Write By (for Plantsers and Plotters)
How to win NaNoWriMo
3 Things That Helped Me Win NaNoWriMo early
Craft Vs Professionalism )