Fearless Women - Tor/Forge Blog



The Economics of a Space Empire: Paying for Intergalactic Wars

Furious Heaven by Kate ElliottWe love space operas. LOVE. But we have questions.

Like how does one even afford a death star? How does faster than light travel affect supply and demand!?

Yeah fine, we get it. We’re nerds. But Kate Elliott joined us anyway, to talk about using ancient history to perfect the far future world of her epic space opera Unconquerable Sun and its follow-up, Furious Heaven.

By Kate Elliott

Much ink and countless hours of talk have been spilled on the question of which elements of social and physical landscape are critical to developing a consistent, believable secondary world.

Unconquerable Sun is a space opera spun from the premise of a gender swapped Alexander the Great (in space). It’s remarkable how useful teasing out aspects of life and society in the ancient world has been when it comes to creating an economic landscape for this far far future setting. Economics is a big topic, and in its largest theoretical sense can seem daunting. I chose to focus on three aspects: a top-down state economy, agriculture, and logistics.

Ancient Macedonia’s primary sources of wealth came from revenues raised through its forest and mineral resources. The king largely controlled timber and mineral wealth while, especially in the lowlands, aristocratic families partitioned out pasturage for horses and cattle as well as farmland. Wealth from the latter would be returned to royal coffers via taxes and gifts. King Philip’s treasury financed the training and outfitting of a powerful modern (in its time) army as well as his multiple campaigns.

But war is expensive. Fleets and military campaigns can also be paid for in part by what is looted or strong-armed from conquered lands. Both Philip and his son Alexander were always on the hunt for more revenue, more resources. Accounts of Alexander’s campaign frequently mention the staggering wealth of the Persian Empire which fell into the hands of Alexander to be distributed in part to his generals and his army. Later, what remained of this wealth was fought over and disbursed between the generals who, having survived him, battled among themselves for control of his empire. To the victor, the spoils.

As my story opens, the Republic of Chaonia has been on a war footing for over twenty years. I kept this state-controlled model of a war economy in mind as I wrote.

Because I grew up in rural Oregon farm country, my early world building thoughts inevitably stray to what food will be available in the world or worlds I’m writing about. What do people eat? What else do they grow for other purposes like feed, textiles, fragrances, cosmetics, fuel, pharmaceuticals, ecological health, and ecological mitigation?

What does agriculture have to do with the economy of space opera?

A common (although not required) element of space opera is a story set within a rich network of star systems. Even with a speedy means of interstellar travel, these are exceptional distances that can’t be conceived of as a mere one hour plane hop or car drive away.

Again, the ancient world proved useful as a means of conceptualizing distance as a measure both of time and space. In those days it could take weeks or months or even years to travel from one place to another on foot, mounted, or by wagon. The Persian Empire built a Royal Road that stretched from one of its capitals, at Susa, to the city of Sardis in what is now Turkey. This road made swifter communications possible, helped armies move more expeditiously, and benefited trade as well as tax collection.

It turns out that agriculture provides a perfect foundation on which to think about how an extended and extensive futuristic trade economy might work. What crops and vegetation are available and why? Where and how are these grown? Are they consumed locally only? If they are moved to a nearby city or across a continent or to another planet in the same star system, then who is moving these goods at what cost and for what destination? What about the economics of interplanetary trade? What other resources are valuable on and off planet? Is there anything worth trading on an interstellar level? How does a space merchant make a living, given the distances and expenses involved? The existence of merchants and the means by which they get from place to place exists in the deep background of the tale.

Agriculture rolls into the final element of this economic trifecta according to a saying attributed variously to Napoleon or Frederick the Great: An army marches on its stomach.

“Supply is the basis of strategy and tactics,” as Donald W. Engels wrote in his classic study Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (University of California Press, 1978). The enemies of Chaonia think about supplies and resources, and make decisions based on what they know of Chaonia’s fleet disposition and resource management. Queen-Marshal Eirene and her daughter, Princess Sun, and their marshals, go through similar calculations. As the character Hestia Hope says in Unconquerable Sun, “Logistics win campaigns.”

Politics and war can’t exist without the means and method to wage it. A story like Alexander’s erupts in large part because of the particular circumstances of his time and his background and his unique placement in the world at that moment. Part of my goal in the series has been to capture something of that unique moment. I’ve used pieces of the ancient world as building blocks, threads reaching across a great distance into an imagined far future setting.


Kate Elliott’s gender spun Alexander the Great in space is out now. Elliott been writing science fiction and fantasy for 30 years, after bursting onto the scene with Jaran. She is best known for her Crown of Stars epic fantasy series and the New York Times bestselling YA fantasy series Court of Fives. Elliott’s particular focus is immersive world building & centering women in epic stories of adventure, amid transformative cultural change. She lives in Hawaii, where she paddles outrigger canoes & spoils her schnauzer. 

Thanks to Dr. Jeanne Reames for her help in writing this post.

Order Unconquerable Sun in Paperback Here

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Inventing a Game for a Future Disunited States

Flying the Coop by Lucinda Roy“I didn’t want to write about why the caged bird sings; I wanted to write about how the caged bird flies.”  –Lucinda Roy, author of Flying the Coop

Lucinda Roy’s speculative dystopia Dreambird Chronicles trilogy that began with The Freedom Race and continues with Flying the Coop depicts a haunting vision of future America. Despite the horror, elements of Black history are woven into the world-building. Check out this essay from Lucinda Roy!

By Lucinda Roy

When I wrote The Freedom Race, the first volume in my Dreambird Chronicles speculative trilogy, I was faced with some burning questions I had to address. And now, with the publication of Flying the Coop, the second volume, it’s clear that these questions have shaped the series in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I first conceived of the story over a decade ago.

Among the questions I had to address were these. If, in the aftermath of a second Civil War, slavery returns to a large section of a trifurcated country, a place now known as the Disunited States, how would enslaved characters retain their humanity? What would inspire them and give them joy?

In Flying the Coop, set primarily in D.C., I depict a future Disunited States still reeling from the aftermath of a second civil war known as the Sequel. The U.S. has been blown apart by conflict, climate insecurity and pandemics. Its primary autonomous regions are the Eastern and Western SuperStates along the coasts; independent cities like D.C., Atlanta, and Chicago; and the Homestead Territories in parts of the South and Midwest, which adhere to a segregationist ideology modeled on the old plantation system. It is chilling to see how much closer we have moved toward a second civil war since I first envisioned the series all those years ago.

Although I knew I could never minimize the horrors of slavery, I didn’t want to write about suffering without also exploring the miracle at the heart of enslavement. The miracle is this: in the face of unspeakable suffering, the enslaved survived. I didn’t simply want to catalogue a litany of suffering, especially when slavery has been handled movingly by writers in the past; instead, I wanted to celebrate this miracle of survival in a way that could be embodied in something concrete. But how?

I hadn’t expected that one of the answers to these questions would be a game the enslaved invent to honor those who fought against racism and slavery. The game was absent in the first iterations of this story. After a while, it became peripheral. Then it was something played by a few of the male characters. Only later did the game take shape as a central force and touchstone in the novels.

The game, called simply Fly the Coop, serves as a refuge, an inspiration, a site of rebellion, and a deeply ironic commentary on the apartheid system, a system that reclassifies “imported laborers” from Africa, and other people of color who don’t have the documentation to claim indigenous status, as botanicals—or, more colloquially, as seeds. In one fell swoop, this heinous reclassification strips laborers of their rights and privileges under the law and consigns them to a life of servitude in the Homestead Territories. The botanical classification cages them and holds them captive. But there’s a catch: it also amplifies their yearning for Freedom, a concept the so-called seeds revere and therefore always capitalize. This quintessential conflict lies at the heart of Fly the Coop—a game of contradictory impulses suffused with the tension slavery produces. If characters can’t literally escape the cage, can they escape it figuratively? Can they fly the coop in plain sight of those who hold them captive?

Designing a game played in a future Disunited States wasn’t easy. It had to be exciting enough to entice spectators and meaningful enough to players that they would be willing to risk injury or even death to play it. Having taught many college athletes in the past, I was aware of the critical role competitive sports plays in the U.S., and how team sports are often hinged to notions of ownership. Even so, I didn’t want it to be only a game imposed by oppressors on victimized people. Though this kind of simplified, top-down approach to game design in speculative fiction has proven popular, it seemed more plausible that this game would grow organically out of the soil of the setting. The characters’ yearnings would design it. What I had to do as a writer, therefore, was listen to them.

I had a few lights to steer by. I knew, for example, that whatever game I invented would need to be dangerous and uplifting, based in reality but dependent on illusion, part satirical commentary and part go-for-broke spectacle, part battle and part beauty. One other thing I knew for certain: the game had to reflect the culture that produced it, which meant it had to pay tribute to the phenomenon of storytelling and the persistent power of dreams.

Fly the Coop draws from tropes prevalent in stories by those of us who trace our roots back to the African Diaspora. But it also draws upon feelings of confinement felt by women and by disadvantaged men throughout the centuries. Prohibited from elevating themselves in any meaningful way, seeds invent a game that not only permits elevation but which actually enables them to “fly.”

A cross between a flying circus, a gladiatorial Colosseum battle, and cage fighting, Fly the Coop embodies the famous Flying Africans myth—the idea that people rose up spontaneously to escape slavery and flew a way back home. Protagonist Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule recalls what Uncle Dreg, revered by seeds as a Tribal wizard and prophet, told her about it:

Uncle Dreg used to tell Ji-ji that the coop was equally symbolic to seeds and steaders. To seeds it was a reminder that flight was possible; to steaders it emphasized the inescapable supremacy of the cage…. What mattered to Ji-ji was that the planting flying coop was the one place where her dreams were more powerful than her yearning.

The fly coop houses a multi-tiered, high-tech fly cage where battles are waged between pro teams. In these circus-like arenas, seeds and former seeds battle for supremacy, using weapons and daring athletic skill. Between battles, they vault from trampolines, fly on trapezes, and shimmy up hope-ropes, striving to seize a tactical advantage by climbing higher in the cage than their opponents.

The game is played inside an arena called a coop. Fly coops on plantings are modest in size—more like small circus tents. But the pro coops in the cities are massive, comparable in size to American football arenas. In Flying the Coop, the newly constructed Dream Coop in D.C. is an impressive feat of engineering, with a control booth and special effects teams, intricate projection systems, and a center ring that opens up like the mouth of a monster to reveal terrifying surprises which shock the tens of thousands of flyer fans in the arena and those watching at home.

As is the case in other pro coops around the country, much of the equipment inside D.C.’s Dream Coop honors Civil Righters, Middle Passengers, and other inspiring figures from history. There are King-spins and Harriet Stairs, Douglass Pipes and Rosa Parks Perches, ‘Bama’s Dramas (state-of-the-art trampolines), Ali Stingers, Baldwin Beams, DuBois’ Toys, Biles Trials, an enormous Ellison Wheel players can be invisible inside, and a smaller Wheatley Wheel flyers can leap onto to escape attack. The crowning glory in the coop is the Jim Crow Nest suspended from the dome, the largest nest of its kind and the exclamation point in the seeds’ satirical commentary on oppression.

The athletes who fly the coop select their own flyer names: Tiro the Pterodactyl, Angel Birdgirl, Laughing Tree, Marcus Aurelius (a.k.a. the Thinker), and X-Clamation, to name a few. Naming becomes a rite of passage for characters in these books, some of whom go by multiple names. Many decades ago, not long before he died, my Jamaican Maroon father selected another name for himself and his biracial offspring. Even though he had so little money (his paintings, sculptures and novels weren’t selling, and he’d been fired from his job at a Brillo factory for attempting to start a union), he paid to change his name legally. He told my mother he didn’t want to have a name that could be traced back to plantation owners. As a proud Black man, he wanted his name to be his creation alone. Names matter. They don’t simply tell us who we are, they can also reveal who we most want to be.

Fly the Coop’s arbiters are an acknowledgement of the brutal penal system in the Territories. The intimidating Jury of Judges awards points for victories in battle and for acrobatic skill on the coop equipment. The twelve black-robed judges often mete out justice arbitrarily, influenced by the sentiments of spectators and coop owners. The person who “conducts” the coop is known as the coopmaster. In D.C.’s famous Dream Coop, the maestro is also known as the Dream Master, a fitting title for a character named Amadeus “I’m-a-God” Nelson, who was once an outcast Serverseed and is now the most powerful Black Man in the city.

Not all of the enslaved are enamored with the fly coop. In The Freedom Race, protagonist Ji-ji Lottermule’s mother rails against it and against Tiro, the reckless fly-boy her daughter loves:

“Swinging around in that coop like some brainless bird! Those vulgar wings on his shirt! Using cheap tricks to fly! An illusion—is it not so? A game steaders play to pacify seeds—trick us into forgetting we can never fly from here. They’ve snatched our history like they snatched us!”

Yet most of the seeds find the coop inspiring, a sentiment Tiro describes as he sits inside the Dream Coop fly cage on a Rosa Parks Perch and speaks to his dead brother:

“We got an Ellison Wheel big as a building, largest wheel of its kind. It’s got these paddles function as landing platforms an’ springboards. With a touch of a button, Coopmaster Nelson can expand and contract it, spin it fast, or spin it slow. Can make the whole goddam wheel invisible, pretty much, if he wants.”

Though readers unfamiliar with figures in Black history may not recognize the allusion to Ralph Ellison’s famous novel Invisible Man, or know who is being referenced in the architecture and equipment in these fly coops, what is far more important is how the game houses the dreams of the characters. Played inside a gargantuan bird cage, where mystery and magic combine to thrill those who invest in a dream, the dangerous game of Fly the Coop reminds characters who suffer under the yoke of enslavement that liberty and justice—the most precious gifts a nation possesses—have never been easily won. For enslaved people, the yearning to fly the coop is eternal.

Novelist, poet, and memoirist Lucinda Roy is the author of the speculative novel The Freedom Race and three collections of poetry, including Fabric: Poems. Her early novels are Lady Moses, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, and The Hotel Alleluia. She also authored the memoir No Right to Remain Silent: What We’ve Learned from the Tragedy at Virginia Tech. Her latest book Flying the Coop, is now on sale.

Order Flying the Coop Here:

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How to Survive a Dragon Attack

How to Survive a Dragon Attack

Welcome to Dragon Week, a celebration of all things Dragon!

Even as we celebrate dragons, we know encountering them in the wild can be dangerous!
You have to ask yourself the important questions: Am I in a dragon’s territory? Do I have any wizarding or archery skills? Am I crunchy and good with ketchup?

So we chatted with the experts. People who have spent their whole lives reading about dragons and talking the talk. That’s right. We asked ourselves.

Here’s our expert advice on surviving.

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Caro Perny, Publicity Manager, Tor Books and Tor.com Publishing:
Just… Cloaks.
If you must have elaboration, though, I think cloaks are ideal.

  1. they are a disguise; you can flare it behind you and pretend it’s wings, to make the dragon believe you are a wayward spawn.
  2. Cloaks often have magical, protective properties. Surely, those would be useful against a dragon.
  3. If all else fails, and you’re definitely gonna die, you may as well do it with some style. And there is nothing more stylish than a cloak.

Capes are also acceptable.

Renata, Digital Marketing Manager, Tor Books:
Make yourself appear larger. Then play dead.

That dragon will think “Whoa, something over there killed that surprisingly large apex predator! I should avoid that area.”

I give the same advice for bears.

Chris Morgan, Associate Editor, Tor Books:
Dress the group bard up in a raw meat jacket and send them in to “negotiate”.

Christine Foltzer, Associate Art Director, Tor.com Publishing:
I think it’s to hide in a small place it can’t get in and hope it goes away!

Either that or befriend it and ride it to freedom.

Emily Hughes, Senior Marketing Manager, Tor Books:
Use a series of mirrors to lure the dragon to a predetermined defensible position, preferably against a cliff face, where you have set up a series of nets filled with soil, which, as we all know, extinguishes fire. Once the dragon is in position, pull the ropes to release the soil, thereby trapping the dragon underneath and preventing it from breathing fire.

Rebecca Yeager, Ad/Promo Manager, Tor Books:
Roll to seduce?

Mordicai Knode, Marketing Manager, Tor.com Publishing:
Dragons are mostly just reflections of the Seven Deadly Sins, so you can always just try being a virtuous maiden.

Christina Orlando, Publicity Coordinator, Tor.com:
Research first. learn about dragon communities, their habitats, their biology and anatomy. Knowing what you’re getting into is important. plus, dragon history and sociology is fascinating.

Julia Bergen, Associate Ad/Promo Manager, Tor Books:
Try to outsmart it! You’re not going to be able to overpower it, but it might not be that clever. Appeal to its vanity, or maybe its greed. At least try to distract it long enough to run away.


See, we are great at advice. You definitely won’t die if you do these things. How would you survive an encounter with a dragon? Sound off in the comments!



#FearlessWomen Authors Talk Procrastination

Writing nuanced, fearless, and even unlikeable women protagonists is hard work. So we asked 2018’s #fearlesswomen program authors one of our favorite writing questions, and they told us tales of floof, twitter, and binge-watching.

What’s your favorite way to procrastinate?


Jacqueline Carey:

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I like to cook. Generally speaking, the only good thing about procrastinating is that you can harness the energy required to avoid doing something you really don’t want to do (say, filling out a tax planner) to undertake a slightly less undesirable task (say, scrubbing the bathtub). But in many ways, cooking is the perfect complement to writing. I love words. I love the plasticity of language, I love bringing characters—and entire worlds—to life! And yet, it can be a profound relief to set verbal elements aside to concentrate on an art form that nurtures the body as well as the mind and soul.

Sherrilyn Kenyon:

Talking to my children.

V. E. Schwab:

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I am a master of the productive procrastination—I will happily avoid one task with another. I also love a good Netflix binge. When I first discover a show, I’m terrible at stopping at one episode.

Mary Robinette Kowal:

Napping. I have a very fluffy cat named Sadie who emits a strong nap field. Sometimes, I head to my writing chair, and she jumps up on the nearby sofa with a little mrrrrrp! She stares at me meaningfully, drawing me closer with her floofiness and her chirrups until I succumb and lie down. Then she settles, purring, on my chest with her head on my shoulder. Productivity is doomed.

S. L. Huang:

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The most likely way I procrastinate is to get distracted by INTERNET FOREVER!!!! But if I can swing it, my favorite procrastination is to delay doing something I should be doing by still being wildly productive. Like, before I was a published writer, sometimes it would be, “I’m going to procrastinate on this problem set by writing 12,000 words!” (Which worked out rather well for me.) Now that I’m writing professionally, it’s, “I need to write 12,000 words… TIME TO CLEAN THE BATHROOM!”

Sam Hawke:

Ooooh, hard to say, because I have so very, very many. I’m a big fan of vital, time critical chores like cleaning out the pantry/fridge, blowing the dust out of my keyboard and reviewing the 400 tabs I have open on Chrome to check whether I can close any (spoiler: I won’t!).

Robyn Bennis:

Place holder  of - 53That’s a hard question, not because I’m having trouble thinking of an answer, but because I’m having trouble picking from the dozens of answers that spring to mind.

If we’re going by sheer insidiousness, the winner is pacing. I tend to pace back and forth when I’m trying to work out a tricky plot snag, or come up with the perfect dialogue. So pacing seems like a productive pursuit, right? Not at all. It takes me away from the screen, and my mind inevitably wanders. Before I know it, I’ve spent an hour pondering the implications of the weak nuclear force on the ability to heal crystals in Steven Universe.

If we’re going by pure potential for time wastyness, however, the winner would have to be social media. Which is unsurprising, since most social media is designed from the ground up to waste as much of your time as possible, and to keep you coming back. For this reason, I forbid myself even a peek at Twitter, Facebook, and et cetera when I’m writing.

K. Arsenault Rivera:

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There are so many wonderful way to procrastinate these days. The simplest answer here is that I’m terrible at most video games, so I have to dump a lot of time into them if I want to get good—and I’ve recently gotten into Rainbow Six: Siege. I, uh, have lost a lot of time to learning that you don’t reinforce between sites. I’d like to thank all the people on the Western Europe servers who taught me that lesson with lead.

Mirah Bolender:

I love trawling through social media in search of really bad jokes. I love puns, the more groan-worthy the better.

Fran Wilde:


Twitter, drawing, and fountain pens.


Same guys. Same.



Meet the #FearlessWomen: Barsalai Shefali from The Phoenix Empress

Image Placeholder of - 16Written by Lisa Ickowicz

I am Barsalai Shefali, and I have earned that name twice over.

Barsalayaa Shefali is a woman of few words, but she is fierce, loyal and compassionate. Born to a Qorin family—a tribe of nomadic peoples within the Hokkaran Empire—her early years are filled with riding horses and learning to shoot a bow and arrow. Her life is not easy or privileged. The Hokkarans hate her dark horse-like looks and her own Qorin people dislike her because they think she is too pampered. Growing up Shefali only has one real friend: O Shizuka.

Shefali has her destiny intertwined with Shizuka’s from birth. Shefali’s mother is a dedicated servant and loyal friend to Shizuka’s mother. The girls grow up together and though they live across the empire’s borders they keep in contact through letters. Shefali can’t read or write Hokkaran, but she painstakingly learns—perfecting her calligraphy to impress Shizuka. The friendship between the two girls grows into a love between two women.

In The Phoenix Empress, Shefali is returning to Fujino to see O Shizuka after eight years in exile. But she soon finds that she is not returning to her beloved wife, but rather the Hokkaran Empress—a woman whose habits she does not know. Adorned in empress robes, with a painted white face, and glassy eyes, Shizuka is not the same woman Shefali left behind. Shizuka’s love of her ink bowl and calligraphy has been replaced by an obsession with getting drunk on wine. And it’s in that drunken state that Shefali finds her when they reunite. Instead of showing anger or resentment towards Shizuka, Shefali scoops her into her arms. She lays with her and calms her night terrors with a song. She is and always has been Shizuka’s rock. Shefali has endured trials the most superstitious would not believe in order to return to Hokkaran court and claim her rightful place next to Shizuka. Yet she still willingly wants to carry the weight of her wife’s troubles.

“I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Shizuka says. “You carry so much already. My suffering is a grain of rice, and yours is a boulder.”

 Shefali kisses her on the forehead.

 “You didn’t ask,” she says. “And suffering is not a contest. Losing a limb, losing a horse, losing a friend—the pain’s different, but the crying’s the same.”

 Shefali constantly balances her role as a loyal, caring wife and a fierce, fearless warrior. But when a familiar demonic force grows closer, and tragedy befalls her, Shefali must do all she can to save herself, Shizuka, and the entire empire.

Order Your Copy

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Learning to Write #FearlessWomen

Image Place holder  of - 40Written by Mirah Bolender

From the moment I started writing, I limited myself in the type of characters I created. When I was a child, I insisted that I’d only write about animals, because those were the only things that I could draw decently and I loved drawing my characters. I essentially wrote humans in fur coats, but that didn’t matter. I felt like I could understand them better this way, in their disguises. A popular saying is “write what you know,” which makes sense as generic writing advice and also because I was obsessed with the Redwall series at the time. I read about talking animal-people, so I wrote the same. I freely admit that the results were awful. I’ve improved since then, but the “write what you know” concept stuck to me harder than I thought. Years and years later, in a writing class, another student critiquing my writing said my piece was decent, but also “a sausage fest.” It was. And it rightly bothered me. Why did I write such a drastic imbalance, I wondered. I hadn’t even thought about it—I’d thrown together interesting characters from older projects, and it happened that few of them were female. What was up with that?

Imagine your favorite book or movie. What made it special? The action? The plot that kept you guessing at every turn? The indomitable protagonist, who always came out on top? Think a little more about that protagonist. In most of the mainstream plots I followed, the protagonist was male. He had male friends. If a woman was involved, she was never at the front. There were roles for her, of course: the girlfriend, the girl next door who’d become the best friend’s girlfriend, a trickster with girlfriend potential who led the protagonist on, and, of course, the villainess, usually a more complex flavor of the previous example. Sometimes a woman could be a hero, but she’d be horribly outnumbered by the men on her team, and as the only member of her sex she had to embody it to extremes. She had to be addicted to shopping or scared of bugs, anything interesting she knew came from her brothers, and she inevitably had to become a frail damsel that the male heroes could rescue and have crushes on. She had to fit a mold.

I’m sure a lot of women remember a rejection of femininity during their early years. Pink suddenly a color to be avoided at all costs; bragging about having male friends because other girls were “too much drama.” You couldn’t enjoy anything girly, because it meant the mold. Male heroes, meanwhile, were allowed to have growth and depth. They could struggle and rage in situations deserving of it, while women became the distant trophy or got bullied into positions they clearly disliked, with the overwhelming message that this is how it has to be, and she was a bitch for trying to refuse abuse in the first place.

When I first came out of my only-write-animals phase, I wanted to write a male protagonist. He wouldn’t have the baggage a female would; he wouldn’t have to constantly reiterate his gender instead of who he was, would not have to exclusively focus on romance. As an asexual not quite at terms with myself, this was incredibly appealing. At the same time, it was awful. I was going to write what I knew, and I, a girl, didn’t think I could understand myself or people like me.

In the here and now, I’ve noticed something— the male characters I love have heavily feminine-coded traits. They are empathetic, thoughtful, vulnerable, and treasure other people above themselves. They teem with traits that would make a female character seem bland, but being male, they are allowed to play out grand stories where their compassion factors in without being written off. I want female characters to have that without being denounced as just another mold.

I think a lot of characters in my old works are like the animal ones: disguised, because that was the only way I could imagine them. I’m so glad other writers were able to dig out of that hole before I did, because these days I’m seeing so many female characters that are, unapologetically, complete people. Maybe they’re kind. Maybe they’re not. It doesn’t matter, because they’re compelling as all hell and I want to read about all of them.

Being a part of the #FearlessWomen campaign is phenomenal, because I’m surrounded by those who break the mold. There’s no need for disguises at this point. They are women, and they are whole, and they are not ashamed.

Order Your Copy of City of Broken Magic:

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#FearlessWomen Authors Tell Us How They Fell In Love with Sci-Fi and Fantasy

We’ve been celebrating Fearless Women all year, and we asked some of the authors who are crafting elaborate worlds and nuanced female characters to chat with us about how they first fell in love with genre storytelling.


How and when did you first fall in love with science fiction and fantasy?


Jacqueline Carey:

Through the wardrobe with Lucy Pevensie!  Narnia was my gateway. I’m not sure how old I was, maybe seven. After that, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain was probably my second great love in the genre. That’s a series that I don’t see discussed often in popular culture, at least in the U.S., but when I reference it, other writers often nod in agreement and understanding.

To this day, I credit Taran Wanderer with teaching me to wrestle with challenging and scary adult concepts like the fact that you don’t always get your heart’s desire. It also gave me a life-long romanticized view of throwing pottery on the wheel (which, I will add, owes nothing to the movie Ghost, although it didn’t hurt.)


V. E. Schwab:

I was eleven when Harry Potter came out, so I am indebted to it for making me a reader, while Neil Gaiman’s work in poetry and prose made me a writer, and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell swept me away.


Sherrilyn Kenyon:

Honestly? Before I was born. My mother was a huge fan and I’m sure I heard it in the womb and knew I was in love prior to my arrival. One of my earliest childhood memories is turning the kitchen chairs on their sides and pretending I was an astronaut blasting into space. The first novel I wrote at eight years old was sci-fantasy mixed with horror. Maybe it’s because I was born the same year Star Trek debuted, but I was hooked and can’t imagine a life without it.


Mary Robinette Kowal:

I honestly don’t remember a time that I wasn’t reading science fiction. Children’s literature doesn’t draw the hard lines that adult works do. But I’ll tell you the first book that I was conscious of as science fiction: Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl. It’s YA, but I read it in elementary school, and it’s the first one that I remember finishing and thinking “I want more books like this.”


S. L. Huang:

I was long gone as a SFF fan before I even knew it was a genre. Thanks to my mom, the public library was a regular destination growing up, and I remember coming home every week with another boatload of books. I also spent all my allowance on books—well, books and Legos! I read everything I could get my hands on, and it was only much later that I looked at my shelves and realized somewhere along the way all my favorites had ended up being the ones with spaceships and sword fights.

If I had to take a guess, I’d say I love SFF so much because of the way it allows us to examine real, hard truths about the world through a metaphorical lens—sometimes when it’s too difficult to look at those truths straight on. But also, you know, spaceships and sword fights are just cool.


Robyn Bennis:

Like most nerds of my generation, my initiation came via Star Trek reruns. I might have been seven when I started watching the original series obsessively. It started as a childish interest in aliens and spaceships, but as I matured, I began to appreciate the deeper levels of the show.

I think this is why so many writers cite Star Trek as inspiration. It can be enjoyed on multiple levels, from mindless lightshow to philosophical examination, so it’s always ready to teach you a new lesson in storytelling. Beyond that, there’s such a strong sense of optimism written into the very fiber of the series. Kirk, contrary to his reputation, strives to find a diplomatic solution to every conflict, considering violence not just a last resort, but an outright failure of his core mission. Science and discovery are so highly valued that they’ve become the primary pursuit of Starfleet, with defense second. And need I even mention Uhura, who fearlessly stands up and takes crap from no man, whether they’re friend, enemy, or, in one case, even Abraham Lincoln? Perhaps my favorite moment in the entire series is when Sulu, who’s involuntarily space-drunk, reassures her, “I’ll protect you, fair maiden!” Uhura replies, “Sorry, neither,” and shoots him a look that says, “I can protect myself just fine, dude.”


Sam Hawke:

I can’t remember a time when fantasy and science fiction weren’t part of my life. We grow up surrounded by stories designed to ask ‘what if’ or to transport us to another world, and children seem to be hardwired to enjoy the wonder and curiosity and exploration that those stories invoke in us. It’s no surprise that fairy tales and myths in almost every culture are often based around speculative elements even as they are teaching about people and the real world. Most of the media I consumed as a kid was in the realm of SFF–from Hans Christian Andersen and Grimm Brothers fairy tales, Enid Blyton stories full of magical creatures and different worlds at the top of the Faraway Tree to Star Blazers and Astro Boy on the TV. I guess some people feel like they have to outgrow dragons–I just moved on from picture book dragons to The Hobbit and never looked back.


K Arsenault Rivera:

Honestly, I can’t remember a time I wasn’t interested in genre fiction. As a kid I wrote a letter to the mayor because I thought my elementary school library didn’t have enough books on Greek myth. Between my dad fostering in me a love of ridiculous over the top video games from a young age there was really no other path for me to walk. Or read, as it were. If I couldn’t swing a sword at a couple hundred demons while shouting “showtime!”, then I’d have to make a character who could.


Mirah Bolender:

Fantasy was the baseline of every story I read from childhood—what Disney movie or fairy tale isn’t fantasy?—but what really solidified it for me was discovering the Redwall series in elementary school. I latched onto sword-wielding mice and never looked back.


Fran Wilde:

I was eight, and being raised by a library and a small independent bookstore. The bookstore kept a box of science fiction and fantasy novels set aside for my sister and me. The library had a great collection too. We both started reading SFF and we never really stopped.




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Meet the #FearlessWomen: Cas Russell from Zero Sum Game

Image Place holder  of - 24Written by Lisa Ickowicz

Name: Cas Russell

Age: 25

Sex: Female

Eyes: Brown

Hair: Brown, Curly

Marital Status: Single

Address: Unknown

Occupation: Retriever. She gets things back for people. And will take any job…for the right price.

Strengths: Cas Russell is good at math. Too good. She’s able to bring down armed men twice her size and whole motorcycle gangs using vector calculus. Momentum, velocities, objects in motion—these are her deadly weapons of choice. Also a skilled weapons expert, she can handle a .45 caliber and a 9 millimeter better than most police officers. She collects grenades and treats her favorite gun like a cherished pet. And when guns and other hardware aren’t available, she can turn a shard of broken windowpane or a houseplant into a deadly weapon.

Weaknesses: Though Cas is ruled by logic and mathematics, she can let her emotions get the best of her. She has a deep loyalty towards her allies. Linked to a ruthless mercenary known as Rio, she will put herself in harms way if anyone threatens him. She’s also not always the best judge of character and can let money cloud her judgment. As proven when she accepts a job that gets her mixed up with someone with a power even more dangerous than her own.

Evaluation: Cas Russell is not only very intelligent, highly skilled and fiercely independent. She is fearless. She is able to use quantum mathematics to shoot around corners, drive any vehicle anywhere, and fall off of buildings without getting hurt. She possesses the powers of a modern day superhero, and as such she is also somewhat flawed. Her moral compass continually sways back and forth between being highly loyal to her allies, having a soft spot for kids, yet not hesitating to leave a trail of dead bodies in order to accomplish her goal. Although she can solve almost any math equation, the one thing that she can’t add up is her own past. So she lives in the moment, taking one retrieval job after the next—getting anything back for anyone—if the price is right. Cas has faced many frightening enemies and she is about to face her most dangerous yet. Someone who wants to become the world’s puppet master. Someone that can reach directly into Cas’ own mind. And not having control of her own thoughts may be the one thing that puts her fearlessness to the test.

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Meet the #FearlessWomen: Sydney Clarke from Vengeful

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Written by Katherine Forester

The Clarke sisters looked identical, despite the fact that Serena was seven years older, and seven inches taller. The resemblance stemmed partly from genes and partly from Sydney’s adoration for her big sister.

When Sydney Clarke first appears in Vicious, she’s in a tough spot: alone, betrayed by her older sister Serena, and seriously injured. A near-death experience – hypothermia after falling through thin ice – has changed both sisters, made them more than human. Serena’s power, mind control, makes her the perfect ally for the villainous Eli Ever, whose mission is to kill all the extraordinaries (EOs) he can find. And Sydney? Sydney’s power is resurrection, which makes her one of Eli’s most hunted targets.

Sydney is found by the side of the road by Victor Vale, Eli’s rival, and quickly becomes a key member of his group. Not only is her power integral to Victor’s plans of revenge against Eli, but her humanity in the face of evil helps bring the hardened criminals of Vicious together. Not to mention the pet dog she resurrects for her found-family!

Come Vengeful, Sydney is struggling with her seemingly unchanged looks (after all, what adventurous 18-year-old wants to look like she’s still 13?) and the death of her sister. To make matters worse, Victor hasn’t been quite right since Sydney resurrected him: he can’t control his powers and he’s on a killing spree. All this with the ever-looming threat of the EON, ExtraOrdinary Observation and Neutralization, a facility built specifically to detain people with powers.

Barred from making her own decisions and forced to live in hiding, Sydney refuses to let her circumstances define her. She starts pushing back and sneaking out, making new friends along the way. New friends like June, a shapeshifter who could offer her freedom from Victor’s curse.

I don’t want you to save me. I want to save myself.

Sydney is tired of being used by people, tired of hiding, tired of being betrayed. Her powers are growing, after all, and every day she can control them better. She’s going to live by her own rules. She’s going to make her own family.

She’s going to bring her sister back.

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Download the #FearlessWomen Fall Sampler today!

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Place holder  of - 51Meet this fall’s #FearlessWomen! These are the authors who are shaping new blockbuster worlds—and re-shaping our own. Highlighting major titles from bestselling authors V. E. Schwab, K Arsenault Rivera, Nancy Kress as well as titles from acclaimed and debut authors such as S.L. Huang, Fran Wilde, and Mirah Bolender we think you’ll love the stories these #FearlessWomen have to tell.

This free #FearlessWomen Sampler features the first 20 to 30 pages from each of the following titles:


Plus, make sure to use the #FearlessWomen hashtag on Twitter to learn about giveaways and other content celebrating fearless women!

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