Just wanted to drop a line to my long-waiting readers over here. It’s been a long while since I’ve updated, but I’ve been busy! My debut novel just released, and while it’s not 100% steampunk, it’s got steampunk elements. I wrote it in 2008, and mentioned it quite a few times during the process, some might remember — it’s called Pilgrim of the Sky and the gorgeous artwork is done by none other than the immensely talented (and lovely, if I may say so myself) Brigid Ashwood.

You can purchase the novel at the Candlemark & Gleam Website, at Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble.

From Library Journal:
Maddie Angler’s lover, the brilliant and eccentric graduate student Alvin Roth, has disappeared and is presumed dead. Instead of moving on with her life, Maddie travels to Boston with Alvin’s socially challenged younger brother, Randy, to deliver a box of research papers to Alvin’s adviser, Dr. Keats. This simple action propels her into a parallel universe where she discovers through encounters with a more gregarious Randy that Alvin is not only alive but that he has discovered the secret of multidimensional travel and grown dangerously powerful.

VERDICT
Steampunk meets goddess worship in this unusual and highly original story of loves that cross the borders of time and space. Exploring the concept of multiple universes and the social, artistic, scientific, and religious differences among them, Barron’s debut is an sf adventure that mixes high action with exquisitely detailed depictions of everyday existence in these alternate worlds.

From The Steampunk Chronicle: (full review)
“Natania Barron’s first book, “Pilgrim of the Sky” from Candlemark & Gleam publishing is magical romp between worlds mundane, affluent, spectacular, primitive, and then back again.  This is a work of romantic Steampunk fiction where faces and bodies can be switched almost as quickly as fortunes and loyalties.  Behind those faces and – as she learns – behind Maddie’s own face, lie enormous power that brings the various worlds into great peril if she cannot solve the mystery of her beloved Alvin’s machinations and decide which allies she will draw close and which enemies she must draw closer.”

From Stories of My Life: (full review)
“Maddie is one of the best heroines I’ve read about. Or perhaps I should say she’s one of the best written: Natania Barron manages to take us to the deep pits of anodine life and near-depression at the beginning, when she thinks her old boyfriend is dead. She manages to confuse us with her feelings regarding the “special” brother of said boyfriend, with whom she’s forged a bond that, at times, feels uncomfortably close to love.

“Then, she blends it perfectly into the misgivings of a whole new reality, a place where she doesn’t know who to trust and where faces, familiar and alien alike, haunt her from a past that only at times belongs to her. In this world, Maddie makes mistakes and amends, and her change towards heroine begins.”

From So Many Books, So Little Time: (full review)
“Pilgrim of the Sky is a trip through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole for a new audience of readers. It is a ethereal mirage of splintered gods, improbable magic, and the threads of humanity that weave us all together. Above all it is a story about love, in each of its aspects and all of its possibilities.”

You can also check out the Goodreads page for the book, where apparently the trend is to ask for a sequel. 🙂

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KnightsTM

KnightsTM

From what I’ve been reading, people certainly feel as if there’s something amiss with what epic fantasy being published today. Either there isn’t enough of it, it’s dead (or not), it’s dying (or not), or it’s just lacking a je ne sais quoi. Certainly, I feel that perhaps it isn’t as pervasive as it once was, and has, in some cases, become either complete cliche or entirely inaccessible.

Paul Jessup linked to an article from IRoSF this morning on a somewhat unrelated subject, but indicated that sf/f makes up a little over 17% of the market, over $700 million. But if you think about that number, and what it includes, that’s quite a width and breadth.

In the 60s, when fantasy was “new”, fantasy as a genre had yet to be branded. There were no tie-ins yet, no movies, or light-up mugs. Most of the conversation then was fantasy writing and its connection to the myths and legends of bygone eras, more fodder for medievalists than the media.

And now, almost fifty years later, we’re in a very different world. Everyone understands, or so they think, what fantasy writing is. It’s swords, sorcery, sorcerors… usually included in the mix are some brawny dudes, scantily clad lasses, and sidekicks with clever quips. Right?

Well not exactly, of course. Those of us who write and read the genre know that it’s a great deal more complicated than that, and that real epic fantasy doesn’t just rewrite (because that’s important) but it challenges our ideas and preconceptions, too.

What I see in the market that is slightly disturbing to me is the adherence to brands in fantasy literature. This happens in SF too, and to a similar degree–but I don’t think it’s bled into the mainstream as much. There seems to be a great deal of new, exciting, unusual work being done in SF, but seemingly less in fantasy writing.

So, there are approximately 10 million subscribers to WoW (if every WoW subscriber bought one fantasy novel a year, even in paperback, that’d account for nearly the entire statistic above). You’d imagine they’re the perfect folks to get into epic fantasy–clearly they have a thing for armor, quests, etc, ad nauseam. But are they buying new epic fantasy, too? Or are they sticking with more familiar territory, like WoW novels, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, that sort of thing? Do the markets coincide much? I know they do, on some level, because I’ve met plenty of intelligent WoWers. But is it a wide enough trend to make a difference? Has fantasy in general become so mainstream that it’s too hard to do seriously any longer?

I just wonder if people are more likely to pick up something familiar, something branded, because it’s comfortable. It won’t challenge, it won’t discomfit, it will just be entertaining. And there isn’t anything wrong with that, if that’s the case, but it does shed some light into an increasingly complex genre.

So, as writers of fantasy, then, do we write what the readers want to read, or do we challenge them? Do we put success higher up in our priorities than telling the stories we feel are most important?

I’m not really sure, when it comes to it. I want to see more epic fantasy that pushes the envelope, that gets everyone talking… just not sure where it’ll come from, or when, or how. Maybe I already missed it? Maybe the Golden Age is passed, and we have to work harder to make the next age as impressive.

A bit o\' The Tapestry

Sometimes I wish I spoke German. I hear the German language is much more forgiving when it comes to compound words and concepts than our own. English is a tricky little mutt.

I want to talk about genre. It’s one of the basics you learn in school, along with Aristotle’s Triangle and hero types. I suppose it makes sense on the surface: yes, it’s important to classify things. It makes our human brains happy to know that all fits into some great order; no square pegs in round holes, and the like. Romance, fantasy, western, science-fiction, history, biography, steampunk, cyberpunk, horror, suspense, crime… I could go on for miles.

But what if you don’t fit? What does genre mean really mean anyway? Are there rigid requirements? Will publishers and readers alike toss you out if you don’t conform?

I worked for a while at a huge bookstore chain, and spent a great deal of time perusing the aisles. It’s a simultaneously exciting and depressing experience. Crack open any number of published authors, in some cases best sellers, and you’re rather shocked to find bad writing. Good stories? Maybe. I’ve never been one for crime dramas, or for suspense, so I can’t really say (I think I read The Client when I was in grade school if that counts, but only after seeing the movie).

Personally, I’ve always felt more at home in the fantasy and/or science fiction department. I know it has nothing to do with the cover art and design; a momentary pass through will inform even the most aesthetically challenged that something is amiss here (warrior women holding spears and fighting dragons in bikinis, anyone?). I guess I’ve always felt comfortable with the freedom many of these writers possess–they write without filters, freely describing and coloring worlds sometimes so alien as to be nearly incomprehensible to the regular reader. There’s a stigma here, in these aisles, something that says, “You’ve got to be a dork to read this stuff.”

Hell yes. I am a dork. I’m not ashamed to admit it, you know. And it’s not to say it’s all Booker Award winning stuff; I realize, very much so, that much of what is published these days is… significantly lacking. That’s the problem with sticking within one genre. How many wizards and elves–how many dwarves and orcs, space-westerns and black holes–can we write about until we run dry? Not to dispute that there is an audience for this sort of thing, of course.

I’ve noticed, in recent years, that the Internet has had a profound impact on genre. Perhaps it’s the fact that so many people, and so many influences, have converged. At any given moment while I write, I’m a click away from Wikipedia to learn more about percussion pistols and Victorian codes of conduct that I ever knew possible. And this is important. My Masters is in English and I studied medieval English mostly, so I doubt (with the exception of Tennyson and Morris as Victorians at least) that I’d have come across anything remotely steampunk were it not for the Internet. But by the same token, I’m well aware that I am not writing your garden variety steampunk novel (if there really is such a thing–I’m not sure). There are some very romantic aspects to my story–both in the “roman” sense of the word, and in the romantic lovelorn sense–as well as aspects of good ol’ Westerns, Arthurian legends, and even a little science fiction and fantasy, for good measure. How in heck do I pitch that to a publisher?

So I ask anyone out there who might know better than I, or who has ever asked the same question. Where do the weird ones fit?

(It seems my question, in particular, is pointed toward beginning authors. People like Stephen King do it all the time–his Gunslinger books being a perfect blend of about fifty genres at last count…)