Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Loren Rhoads bw2

Today’s guest post comes from Loren Rhoads, the author of the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy, published by Night Shade Books. The Dangerous Type is out now, followed by Kill By Numbers on September 1 and the conclusion, No More Heroes, on November 3.

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When Publishers Weekly reviewed my novel The Dangerous Type, they accused me of trying to bring the style of grimdark fantasy to space opera. I wasn’t familiar with the term grimdark — and even though I liked the sound of it, I wasn’t sure it was meant as a compliment — so I emailed my gaming friend Seth. He wrote, “Grimdark can mean different things to different people, but for me at least, if I saw a review like that, I’d immediately be interested in reading the book.” He equated grimdark fantasy with betrayals, hopelessness, and, often, social commentary. Seemed like the shoe fit…

The phrase grimdark comes from the game Warhammer 40K, whose tagline is “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” So grimdark started out as science fiction, got applied to fantasy (think Game of Thrones), and now is wrapping a tentacle around space opera.

In The Dangerous Type, the Human-Templar War ended while Raena Zacari spent 20 years in prison, but the struggle is far from over. The Templars are dead, wiped out by a human-engineered plague. The human empire that conceived and disseminated the plague — and imprisoned Raena — has been dismantled. Humans are spread thin across the galaxy, refugees and survivors of the tribunals after the War. Still, the galaxy pays lip service to the fiction that “even humans have rights.”

Of the humans who survive, the Thallian clan epitomizes grimdark. Jonan Thallian served the empire as a nominal diplomat, capturing and torturing humans who stood against the Empire’s expansionist dreams. Blackmailed over his relationship with Raena into spreading the plague, Thallian saw his family nearly wiped out at the end of the War. The remnants hid in the depths of their home ocean, while their planet was executed in their stead, bombed into perpetual winter.

In the years after the War ended, Jonan has cloned himself sons. He’s trained the boys as human shields, cannon fodder who will throw themselves between danger and their father. Maybe that’s grim enough to earn the label. I was inspired by the stories of the child soldiers in Africa, stolen in the middle of the night and told to fight or else. When you’re a child, you do what you have to in order to survive. If they praise you for it, you learn to like it.

In an essay about “The Appeal of Grimdark,” ( C.T. Phipps, the author of Esoterrorism, boils grimdark down to two questions: “Is the situation screwed up beyond all repair? Do your heroes fight anyway?” Which is exactly what I’m aiming for: Raena knows as soon as she walks out of her tomb that if Thallian survived the War, he will hunt her down. She knows he will exhaust every resource, expend every minion, until he gets her back.
She’s prepared to give up and choose death until Doc tells her it’s time to take the fight to Thallian. From that point on, Raena is obsessed with training, getting her strength back, and preparing to do the job. She doesn’t expect to survive the confrontation, but as Doc says, Raena is the last person left in the galaxy who knows how Thallian thinks. She’s the only person who can bring him down.

Raena is fairly clear-eyed about her role. Thallian trained her as a killer. She’s going to kill everyone who gets between her and her former commander. As recognizes, “she does show a few small acts of mercy (and some that even she knows only remain a mercy in the short term).” She’s avenging the Templars because she’s the only one who can. Still, she doesn’t see herself as a hero, only as an agent of fate.

If that’s grimdark, that I accept the designation with glee.

DangerousType cover lo-res

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The trilogy’s home page:

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I’m pleased to welcome today’s guest author Selah Janel, who is stopping in at Exquisite Corpse as part of her blog tour celebrating the release of her latest novel Olde School.


About Olde School:

Kingdom City has moved into the modern era. Run by a lord mayor and city council (though still under the influence of the High King of The Land), it proudly embraces a blend of progress and tradition. Trolls, ogres, and other Folk walk the streets with humans, but are more likely to be entrepreneurs than cause trouble. Princesses still want to be rescued, but they now frequent online dating services to encourage lords, royals, and politicians to win their favor. The old stories are around, but everyone knows they’re just fodder for the next movie franchise. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all old superstition and harmless tradition.

Bookish, timid, and more likely to carry a laptop than a weapon, Paddlelump Stonemonger is quickly coming to wish he’d never put a toll bridge over Crescent Ravine. While his success has brought him lots of gold, it’s also brought him unwanted attention from the Lord Mayor. Adding to his frustration, Padd’s oldest friends give him a hard time when his new maid seems inept at best and conniving at worst. When a shepherd warns Paddlelump of strange noises coming from Thadd Forest, he doesn’t think much of it. Unfortunately for him, the history of his land goes back further than anyone can imagine. Before long he’ll realize that he should have paid attention to the old tales and carried a club.

Darkness threatens to overwhelm not only Paddlelump, but the entire realm. With a little luck, a strange bird, a feisty waitress, and some sturdy friends, maybe, just maybe, Padd will survive to eat another meal at Trip Trap’s diner. It’s enough to make the troll want to crawl under his bridge, if he can manage to keep it out of the clutches of greedy politicians

Olde School is Book One of The Kingdom City Chronicles.

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The Enduring Appeal of Fairy Tales

 It amuses me that people still like to argue about fairy tales. “Oh, they’re children’s stories.” “They’re too dark.” “They’re not dark enough.”

Illustration from Olde School

Illustration from Olde School

“They’re sexist.” “It’s not a real genre.” I’ve heard it all. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that we’re seeing a resurgence of fairy tale titles in books and on the screen. They’re very visual, they’re visceral, and they tap into parts of people that beg for something deeper from a story. The thing is, these stories have refused to die for hundreds or thousands of years, and have inspired many generations of storytellers to tap into similar themes.

But why? What is it about these seemingly simple stories that ignite our imaginations and keep us coming back?

These tales have some things in common with myths and legends. There are larger than life problems and solutions. Magic and strange creatures lurk around every corner. Sometimes the problems the characters face seem to go on and on until they rise above them or succumb. Still, there are some differences, in my mind. If myths are huge and vast with idealized heroes, fairy tales deal with those who should be overlooked dealing with impossible odds. Tailors, fools, simpletons, servants, scorned lovers, abuse victims…none of these seem like the blueprint for a hero. Yet time and again the tailor faces down the giant, the simpleton brave graveyards full of ghosts and ghouls, the scorned lovers dare to face impossible curses in the name of the heart, and those who were hurt can fight and have adventures and end up discovering a love worthy of them. Things may not turn out happily ever after for all, but there is the possibility of justice, the possibility of resolution, the possibility of happiness. There’s also the possibility of death, of disappointment, of heartbreak.

Fairy tales are possibility.

They encourage us to put our belief in their characters and their magic. They keep us guessing. You never know what stranger on the road will hold the answer to your problem or which is really a monster or witch in disguise, ready to do you in. When you think you’ve had it and you’ve been turned into a deer, cursed with eternal sleep, or killed, suddenly the pieces fall into place one day and things turn out all right after all.

They may be for children now, but once upon a time (before Grimm, before Perrault, before a lot of the names we associate with them) they were handed down orally. There’s the thought that they were teaching tales, warnings on why you don’t do things like go out into the woods on your own. A lot of the stories we know today are actually very edited. That isn’t a Disney quirk – Grimm edited their tales to be marketed to children because that’s how they were able to sell them, and it’s been going on ever since. Originally the level of violence met the level of wrongdoing, and some of it was apparently fairly graphic. Stories that seem lopsided now, stories where millstones are dropped on people and people are forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes – well, the thought process is that the actual crimes were much more fitting of their punishments. Even in their current forms, you can kind of understand the thought process. I mean, think about it – you have characters who are willing to kill innocent girls or worse, or exact curses for simply existing and being too cute. Those are not normal or sane people. At the end of the day, the world can be a terrifying place (even without magic and monsters), and if those stories told around the hearth fires encouraged people to keep watch over their shoulder, then you can understand why some of these tales are so over-the-top violent and dark.

I get the gender argument, but again, you have to keep in mind when these tales were conceived. A woman didn’t have much of a choice as to her station in life, and marrying up was about the best she could hope for. It’s interesting to me that a lot of people forget that there are a good many stories about poor boys struggling then doing a service for a kingdom and marrying up, as well. It’s true that through the years the stories didn’t change with the times. If anything, I think it’s more the modernization and lack of explanation of circumstances that’s the problem.

By Anne Anderson (1874-1930) ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsWe’ve been quick to sanitize the stories, but not really provide context, or even let the stories age with children as they grow up. Personally, I really love a lot of the international Cinderella stories. A lot of these girls escape their homes to get away from some awful circumstances. Some are very bright, others are bold, some have luck and magic on their side, as well. A lot of them involve a strange cat-and-mouse game where she wanders to a nearby kingdom and is actually a servant of the prince, and toys with his emotions by being bold as a servant, then aloof when she appears as the princess of his dreams. Maybe it’s just me, but once they’re together, it’s occurred to me that the men they marry are going to hear about where they’ve come from at some point. I’d like to think that these princes in question possess a certain kind of loving understanding and willingness to stand by his bride. And the stories back me up – there are plenty examples when after the wedding the abusers in question are brought in and punished at the hands of the prince.

These stories evoke possibility of love, possibility of retribution, possibility of adventure, possibility of having things work out. They remind us that yes, the world can be an awful place, but sometimes all it takes is a little twist of fate and the story can change entirely. They involve foreign lands and fantastic concepts, but at their core they’re about us: our desires, our darkness, our fears, our hopes, our needs, our loves, our possibilities.

It’s that hope, romance, and possibility that I think keeps these stories lurking in our minds and hearts. The magic, the distant kingdoms, the fantastic creatures, the adventures and quests may hook us and get us reading, but I truly think it’s the fact that they give us something to believe in, a possibility to keep firmly in our hearts and heads that insures these stories will never go away. They may get edited, they may get twisted, they may get gritty revamps, they may get blended into other forms, but they will never truly die.

Besides, everyone knows that in fairy tales, death doesn’t always last, anyway.

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About the Author:

SelahJanel-smallerSelah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination and a love of story since she was little and convinced that fairies lived in the nearby state park or vampires hid in the abandoned barns outside of town. Learning to read and being encouraged by those around her only made things worse. Her work ranges from e-books to traditional print, and she prefers to write every genre at once rather than choose just one. The stories “Holly and Ivy”, “The Other Man”, and “Mooner” are available online through Mocha Memoirs Press. Her work has also been included in The MacGuffin, The Realm Beyond, Stories for Children Magazine, The Big Bad: an Anthology of Evil, Thunder on the Battlefield: Sorcery, The Grotesquerie, and the short story collection Lost in the Shadows, co-written with S.H. Roddey. She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her fairies to play mind games, and her princesses to have adventures and hold their own.

Catch up with her thoughts and projects at:


Twitter: @selahjanel




Today I welcome fantasy author Douglas Kolacki to Exquisite Corpse. Douglas began writing while stationed with the Navy in Naples, Italy, published numerous stories in San Diego, and recently completed a cross-country trek to his new home in Providence, Rhode Island. His short story credits include Weird Tales, Dragons Knights & Angels, Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates, Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies and Big Pulp. His published novels are Elijah’s Chariot and On the Eighth Day, God Created Trilby Richardson.


I see that you have spent some time living in Australia.  What was the best thing about Australia? And the worst? Did your Aussie experience inspire any stories?

The best thing about Australia was living in a faraway land, near a tropical ocean, when I was young and had never really been out of America before. And the wildlife: big brown emus, bouncing roos—if you were out driving after dark, you had to watch out for those. A lot of cars had “roo-bars” on them.

The worst was living in a crowded barracks; that’s always been difficult for me. Greenpeace came out and protested us every year, because we had a VLF tower broadcasting out to the submarines, which made us a nuclear target. This was in the mid 1980’s. One night somebody snuck onto the base and draped a sign on the water tower saying, “Yanks go home, no nukes!” We actually thought that was cool! Someone audacious enough to pull that off, I’d like to shake his hand. Years later I wrote a short yarn based on it.

How important is setting to your stories? Being a fantasy writer, do you prefer to create completely make-believe settings, or are they rooted in reality?douglas chariotfine

They’re almost always rooted in reality. It’s more fun, I think, to take our own mundane world and turn it on its head. In Elijah’s Chariot, the dead come back as four kinds of “Revived” and bring elements of the afterlife back with them, like demonstorms.

Your stories have appeared in five of Rayne Hall’s seven “Ten Tales” anthologies. How did you come to be involved in this series? Which of those five stories is your favourite, or the one you’re most proud of?

Rayne asked if I would like to contribute. And it was fun brainstorming for ideas about each book’s particular theme. For the devil anthology, I had just been jerked all over the place by the bus lines traveling from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. I got to thinking, what if there was some sinister reason for this, behind the scenes? And it all got into the story, with a twist I hope readers like.

The yarn I’m most proud of is “The Explanation for Ghosts” in the ghost anthology. I’ve noticed that solitary, loveless men are so often portrayed as sociopaths or mentally screwed up, and I wanted to give them some dignity.

Common questions put to writers are, “Who are your literary influences?” or “Who are your favourite authors?” My question is, “Which famous author would you consider to be your polar opposite?”

Quite a question! I’d say Nicholas Sparks, because he seems to specialize in romance novels set in the real world, whereas I’m drawn to adventure stories and weird tales set in improbable places.

  If you had to be transported into the middle of one of your stories, which one would you choose?

There’s a yarn in the pirates anthology called “The Book Of Adventures,” in which a character can project himself into any tale he likes, changing things around and adding items from history. For example, a Roman trireme and modern guns in a book like Captain Blood. I’d love that.

Pirates versus zombies – who would win?

Pirates! Then they’d set the zombies to work scrubbing the decks.