In April, Writing to be Read celebrates fantasy. That area of literature and visual media where fantastical elements become possible, and maybe even expected. Fantasy is as old as the fables and fairytales which birthed it centuries ago. In fantasy, anything is possible, and readers journey to worlds beyond their own imaginations, allowing effective escapes from reality, which is why it is such a popular genre.
Although in fantasy, anything may be possible, each story world must have its own set of rules which should never be broken. And it’s the author’s job to be sure those rules are clear for readers and ensure that they are never breached. To ensure this, authors go to great lengths, drawing up elaborate story bibles and creating maps of their worlds in order to keep everything straight.
There are many subgenres of fantasy, including dark fantasy, which carries readers into evil realms; high or epic fantasy, which ventures into magical worlds on the hero’s journey; low fantasy, which magical elements mingle in the real world; magical realism, which takes place in worlds similar to ours, but where magical elements are common place; urban fantasy, where legends come to life; sword and sorcery, with sword weilding heroes who thrive on gallentry; space fantasy, which takes place in the imaginative worlds in the far reaches of the universe; western fantasy, where magical or supernatural elements invade the landscapes of the old west; fantand superhero fiction, where protagonists use supernatural powers to manipulate the elements of the real world.
The hero’s journey originated with fantasy, and that is where writing instructors turn to provide examples of the way that journey progresses for their students. Bilbo Baggins’ hero’s journey in The Hobbit is exemplary, but it is only a prelude to the ultimate hero’s journey Frodo embarks upon in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. J.R.R. Tolkien paved the way for fantasy writers right up to those of present day.
Stick with me this month for a great line-up of fantasy reviews and interviews with authors of the fantasy genre. My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest is L. Deni Colter, and my supporting interview is with J.B. Garner. I’ll also be reviewing the X Marks the Spot anthology, edited by Lisa Mangum; Severed Wings, by Steven Elliot Altman; and Indomitable, by J.B.Garner. I do interviews on Mondays and reviews on Fridays, so drop in and find out what is happening on the fantasy scene.
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When I began seeking my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, back in 2012, I would have said that the western was a dying breed. Even as I tried my hand at writing a western novel, with Delilah, I didn’t think the book would get very far. I figured publishers didn’t want to put out westerns anymore, because they were looking for books that would sell. I thought the only readers westerns had were old men who’d grown up on Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. I didn’t believe there was an audience for western any longer.
Today, I have to say that I was wrong, since there seem to be new western authors popping up all the time and a good portion of them are female. In fact, the genre seems to be expanding, rather than dying out. I’ve made the acquaintence of several who I did not previously know as a result of my research for this month’s genre theme. That first assignment eventually grew into the first book I was able to get published, but when I began to write Delilah, I looked at westerns as a male realm where a female author might find difficulty being accepted. Now, I’m seeing a lot more female authors of the genre than was previously the case and I am pleasantly surprised.
But I don’t think this is because publishers are eagarly scooping up western novels. A majority of western authors with books in the marketplace are self-published authors. I think western authors must self-publish first and prove themselves before publishers are willing to take a chance on the genre these days.
For a look at a new twist on classic historic western fiction, you can check out my review of Not Just Any Man, by Loretta Miles Tollefson. Like all good things, the western genre has had to change with the times to survive. Many authors are finding a selling point by combining western with other more popular genres, like romance. If you look, you’ll find that a good portion of today’s westerns fall into the category of western romance, although romance isn’t the only genre authors have combined with western. I’ve read a few paranormal westerns, as well. For an example, you can read my review of Joanne Sundell’s, A Slip on Golden Stairs. There are even a few science fiction westerns out there, as well as western dark fantasy, such as Chance Damnation, by DeAnna Knippling, which I reviewed earlier in the month, or check out my 2016 review of Chris Barili’s Hell’s Butcher series, which both feature supernatural elements.
I’d also venture to say that the number of westerns featuring tough female protagonists would tip the scales if measured against those featuring male heros in today’s westerns. It seems the cowgirl is determined to take her place in history, even though old cowboys never really die. But, all western heroines are not cowgirls. Western heroines may take the form of pioneer women tough enough to brave the western frontier and win, or a homesteading wife who loses her husband to one of the many threats that come with living in a harsh landscape and must survive in a brutal landsacpe and fend for herself, or prostitutes who lived lives of servitude and put up with indignities not spoken about in polite company in order to survive an isolated existence, or young girls full of dreams to see the world who are looking to escape and determined to do whatever it takes to achieve them. They aren’t all Calamity Jane, but they are each tough and bold and gritty in their own ways.
But don’t take my word for it. Maybe the western genre hasn’t changed as much as I think. You can find out what other western authors think by checking out this month’s interviews. My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest was western adventure author Scott Harris, and I also interviewed Christian western romance author Patricia PacJac Carroll, and western author Juliette Douglas. And if you’re interested in further discovery, you can check out my January interview with western author Loretta Miles Tollefson.
As for myself, I’m working on the rewrite of the first 45,000 pages in the second book in my frontier western saga, Delilah: The Homecoming. I know you’re not supposed to edit until you’ve finished the first draft, but that’s what happens sometimes. Your character walks up and smacks you and says, “Where the heck are you taking me?”, and you realize the story has taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. But I’m getting her back on track now. While Lois L’Amour is the reason I love reading westerns, Delilah and the other colorful characters featured in these books are the reason that I love writing them.
It’s been a great western round-up and I hope you’ll all join me in June, when will be riding the thriller train and looking at ways to give readers the thrills and chills they crave. My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest will be thriller author John Nicholls, and I’ll be interviewing author Dan Alatorre and reviewing his new thriller, “The Gamma Sequence”. My second thriller review is yet to be determined, so it will be a surprise. I hope you’ll drop in and see what’s in store.
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Chance Damnation, by DeAnna Knippling is a western turned inside out. It draws you in with a strange opening scene, jumping right into the thick of the action, where multi-horned demons attack a small ranching community in Buffalo County, South Dakota, and then carries you away into the depths of the story as things get even stranger.
There is definitely something out of the ordinary going on, and young Celeste Marie seems to be at the center of it. Jerome is determined not to let the demons have her, but the adults won’t listen to him because he’s just a kid. When Celeste Marie is kidnapped by the demons and Jerome goes after her into the demon realm below, community members who died in the demon rampage return as demons and Jeromes older brothers and other family members fight against the demons, but it seems as if they might be fighting a losing battle. This paranormal western fantasy is filled with surprises.
Stranger and stranger. But, it is strange in a good way. It captured my interest and kept the pages turning. It is strange in a good way. The story is well written and well paced, as is with most of the books I’ve read by DeAnna Knippling. It is a weird western, but a good story. I give Chance Damnation four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.