Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Launching the Lawless Lands Kickstarter!

Well, I've been pretty quiet here and on social media lately. Partly that's been life, but it's also been gearing up for this:

Join us for all new adventures in the Weird Wild West! We have an outstanding slate of authors, new and familiar, with all great stories:

And yes, you did see my name in there. I am very excited to announce my short story "Rainmaker" will join this wild crew!

Please take a look at the Kickstarter and consider backing this great anthology, to be published by Falstaff Books in mid-2017.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sharing my writing journey on TheMillionWords.Net

My new Million Words blog post is available here:

Slowly, slowly, said the sloth... is a shared blog about our journey to become great writers. Join us as we talk about writing advice and our own experiences. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book Review: Dearest by Alethea Kontis

Dearest (The Woodcutter Sisters, book 3)
Alethea Kontis
HMH Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition
Pub Date
February 2, 2016
Purchased hardcover via Amazon

Friday Woodcutter is as simple and as complicated as her infamous patchwork skirt. She loves truly, feels deeply, and cares passionately--and these are all very different things. And she may be the key to saving the bespelled princess and her seven brothers, including Friday's dearest…

Publisher’s Description:

Readers met the Woodcutter sisters (named after the days of the week) in Enchanted and Hero. In this delightful third book, Alethea Kontis weaves together some fine-feathered fairy tales to focus on Friday Woodcutter, the kind and loving seamstress. When Friday stumbles upon seven sleeping brothers in her sister Sunday’s palace, she takes one look at Tristan and knows he’s her future. But the brothers are cursed to be swans by day. Can Friday’s unique magic somehow break the spell?

What I liked

I really love the characters in the Woodcutter family tales! Not just the sisters, although every one of them is wonderful, and I cannot wait for all their stories. But their mother and father, their brothers Trix and mysterious Jack, and so many secondary characters -- Alethea does a terrific job of bringing them to life in quick, vivid ways. And the weaving of so many classic fairy tale elements throughout the stories themselves. Friday is the most unlikely "hero" of the sisters so far, and her own self-doubt and discovery make the story feel personal and meaningful.

One of my favorite scenes is when Friday falls off the tower…

The descriptions and characterizations of the brothers as swans are wonderful, bringing them to life in a way the fairy tales never do.

What I didn’t like

To be honest, this story didn't have the depth of Enchanted or Hero, but it is also much shorter book. You have to pay attention to the quickly-swapping POV characters, or you can lose track of what's happening. There are a lot of threads being woven into this tapestry!


If you already know (and love) the Woodcutter family, then Dearest will be another charming adventure with them. I would advise picking up Enchanted or Hero before this one, though, so you don't get lost in the cast of characters. I've already continued with Trix, and I cannot wait for more Woodcutter tales!

I give Dearest 4 out of five “sparks”.


And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Appearance: Congregate in High Point, NC, July 15-17, 2016

I'll be a guest at Congregate in High Point this weekend! 
My panel schedule:


Writing Urban Fantasy Beyond Werewolves And Vampires And Witches )
Victorian A 

Moderators: Misty Massey 
Guests: A.J. Hartley, Margaret S. McGraw, Tamsin L. Silver
Steampunk, Victorians and the Occult 
Victorian A 

Moderators: Gail Z. Martin 
Guests: Tally Johnson, Margaret S. McGraw, Valentine Wolfe
The Woman Unscorned
Provincial A-B 

Moderators: Misty Massey 
Guests: Laura Haywood-Cory, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Emily Lavin Leverett, Margaret S. McGraw
From Who's Perspective 
Suite 215 

Moderators: Margaret S. McGraw 
Guests: Alexandra Christian, Darin Kennedy


 10:00am –  10:50am
Java and Pros
Suite 207 

Guests: Misty Massey, Margaret S. McGraw, Janine K. Spendlove
 11:30am –  12:20pm
The Daily Lives of Fans 
Provincial A-B 

Moderators: Janine K. Spendlove 
Guests: Renee Hill, Margaret S. McGraw, Gary Mitchel, Chris Shrewsbury


 11:30am –  12:20pm
The Fandom Awakens 
Provincial A-B 

Moderators: Janine K. Spendlove 
Guests: Jason Gilbert, Todd Lacey, Margaret S. McGraw, Edward McKeown

Looking forward to spending time with good friends, sharing panels with authors I admire, and also meeting a few new people!

More chatter on Facebook and Twitter, if you friend me there :-)

Margaret S. McGraw

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Book Review: Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley

A.J. Hartley
YA/Historical fantasy
Tor Teen
Pub Date
June 14, 2016
Purchased hardcover from Amazon
Ang Sutonga is the one person who can find her way from the depths of the Drowning's misery to the top of Bar-Selehm's city spires and solve the mysteries of a young boy's death and the theft of the city's greatest treasure.

Publisher’s Description:
Thoughtfully imaginative and action-packed, Steeplejack is New York Times bestselling A. J. Hartley's YA debut set in a 19th-century South African fantasy world

Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga lives repairing the chimneys, towers, and spires of the city of Bar-Selehm. Dramatically different communities live and work alongside each other. The white Feldish command the nation’s higher echelons of society. The native Mahweni are divided between city life and the savannah. And then there’s Ang, part of the Lani community who immigrated over generations ago as servants and now mostly live in poverty on Bar-Selehm’s edges.

When Ang is supposed to meet her new apprentice Berrit, she finds him dead. That same night, the Beacon, an invaluable historical icon, is stolen. The Beacon’s theft commands the headlines, yet no one seems to care about Berrit’s murder―except for Josiah Willinghouse, an enigmatic young politician. When he offers her a job investigating his death, she plunges headlong into new and unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, crowds gather in protests over the city’s mounting troubles. Rumors surrounding the Beacon’s theft grow. More suspicious deaths occur. With no one to help Ang except Josiah’s haughty younger sister, a savvy newspaper girl, and a kindhearted herder, Ang must rely on her intellect and strength to resolve the mysterious link between Berrit and the missing Beacon before the city descends into chaos.

What I liked
"The last person up here never made it down alive, but there was no point thinking about that." What a terrific first line! This is great storytelling. Hartley's use of language is smooth and expansive, poetic and philosophical by turns, and yet completely draws the reader in to the physical world and Ang's thoughts as she finds herself and her city in increasingly desperate situations. The mystery and danger feel very real, as Ang uncovers piece after piece of the puzzle.

I particularly appreciated Hartley's subtle inclusion of the natural world throughout the story. Ang is a city girl and says herself that she is uncomfortable around large animals, which are seen and heard throughout the story as she moves through the city and countryside. A real and imagined menagerie, including hippos and giraffes in the wild, and jackals and mongoose living in the old city, as well as weancats and pink rollers (birds) that are deftly described usually in passing, an integral part of life in and around Bar-Selehm.

What I didn’t like

To be honest, although I loved the worldbuilding, especially the descriptions of the natural world and the cultures, there are a lot of storylines weaving together, and sometimes I had a hard time keeping the cast of characters straight. And the one storyline that felt dissatisfying to me was around Ang's newborn niece, Kalla, which is the only part of the story that felt unrealistic from the beginning. However, it included several key elements of storytelling and character development, and was emotionally important to Ang's narrative.


I thoroughly enjoyed Steeplejack and look forward to the next Alternative Detective story from A.J. Hartley, whether it tells more of Ang's story or others. This is a fast-paced, engaging read, with a satisfying mystery and lots of cultural and personal narratives woven together in a fascinating tapestry.

I give Steeplejack 4-1/2 out of five “sparks”.


And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Open Submission for New Anthology: Lawless Lands

Are you ready to venture back into the #WeirdWildWest?

I am! My editing posse, Emily Leverett and Misty Massey, are rounding up stories for another anthology: Lawless Lands: Tales from the Weird Frontier, to be published by Falstaff Press. We have an incredible lineup of anchor authors, including:

  • Jake Bible
  • David B Coe
  • Laura Anne Gilman
  • Barb Hendee
  • Faith Hunter
  • Nicole Givens Kurtz
  • Margaret S. McGraw
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Devon Monk
  • Edmund Schubert

Yes, my "Rainmaker" story that started this whole crazy venture will have stellar company in this anthology.

And one of the things my posse loves best about these anthologies is the opportunity to bring new stars to the rodeo! Submissions are open now through September 30th, and we would love to see a story from you! Lawless Lands will be funded with a Kickstarter, which will run in December, and we want to have our stories in hand in order to guarantee an amazing campaign. We’re looking for stories that embody the frontier spirit of the American West, but with a weird twist. Gunslingers with laser pistols, cattle drives through the galaxy, cursed nuggets of gold, talking jack rabbits that grant wishes – fantasy, SF, steampunk, or horror... if it’s weird, we want to see it.

We will pay each author a minimum of 4 cents a word, with the possibility of more if the Kickstarter makes stretch goals, and two print copies. Word count – 3000 to 7000 words. Submission deadline – September 30, 2016. Submission attachments should be in 12 point New Times Roman, in Microsoft Word format (preferably .docx). We’re happy to see a brief cover email explaining your previous publications, but try to keep it short and sweet. And don’t stress if you have no prior publication experience – we love discovering stars!

For more information, or to submit your story,

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Prompt: Healing with a passing touch

"It was the salmon mousse."
"What?" Startled out of my nausea fog, I jerked my head up to the flight attendant as she rested a hand on my shoulder.
"Sorry. I shouldn't joke. I can tell you don't feel well."
I waved my hand feebly and noticed the warmth of her hand through my stiff cotton shirt. "Thank you. I'm fine."
I wasn't currently hooked up to any machines or IVs or an oxygen feed. Funny how our standards get redefined.
She was staring at me, not the almost-glance and smile most attendants spare as they move with brisk efficiency down the plane. The warmth on my shoulder was spreading down to my arm. She leaned toward me and slid her other hand under mine, resting on my thigh. "What ails you?"
Such an odd question. Such a personal one. I flushed and looked around. She smiled and waved her hand around before returning it to my shoulder. "Don't worry about them. They don't notice us."
It was true. The seat next to me was blessedly empty, but the people around us were paying no attention to us, no curious glances, no studied ignorance. "They don't see us?"
"For now."
Her fingers tightened on mine. Warmth from both of her hands rushed down my arms, across my chest, and down my spine. Her eyes widened.
"Oh! I'm sorry."
I don't know how, but she knew.
I grimaced. "Stage four. It's metastasized up my spine. There's nothing more to be done."
"That's not true, Alex."
"How do you know…"
She grinned. "No mystery there. I checked you in at the door, remember?"
I shook my head. I had been barely functional for days. This trip was the last one I would make. Home.
But the warmth flooded through me, and I felt…something…
"What's happening?" I wasn't alarmed, although I thought that was strange too. I felt calm, comforted. I looked at my neighbors, and it seemed like there was a dark cloud around us. Another attendant moved past this one--mine--as if she weren't' even there.
"Oh. I'm hallucinating."
She laughed, shaking her head. "No, I'm quite real, thank you."
"What are you doing?"
"I'm healing you."
She was so matter of fact, I didn't doubt her for a moment. As she said it, I could feel my body strengthening…inside.
A shadow crossed her face. "I don't know. It's a gift that was given to me when I needed it, and now I'm giving it to you. But Alex, you have a responsibility now, to give it to as many people as possible."
I nodded, thinking. "Is that why you're here? To touch as many people as possible?"

# # #

Original concept:
Plane passenger sick - healer holds his hand and hand on shoulder, just talks with him, when he gets embarrassed at attention, she waves her hand and says they don't see us and a veil of darkness surrounds them - Maybe healer is flight attendant - can touch a lot of people casually in passing

Then as I was writing this, I had the idea of the healing itself being passed along - and perhaps some longevity or immortality with it…

It's fun when ideas take off! But as you can see, the beginning needs work.

And I hope you chuckled at the Monty Python reference!


And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Con Report: ConCarolinas 2016 Fantasy the World Over

I moderated this panel on Saturday morning. A terrific panel of authors gave insight on writing fantasy based outside the traditional Western European traditions, and a great reading list!

In American publishing, fantasy has long been based almost exclusively on European mythologies. But the world is full of non-European cultures with rich storytelling traditions. Is it cultural appropriation for Western writers to set stories in non-European cultures? How can we borrow from these wonderful mythologies in respectful ways?

In American fantasy, the traditions are steeped in Greco-Roman mythology and European medieval/Renaissance settings. But the world is full of non-European cultures with rich storytelling traditions. Let's talk about some of the ones that interest us.

Janine, marine pilot, has traveled all over the world, is from Brazil
Short story "Inbrief", in the Star Wars 2016 Del Ray Sampler
Janine's daughter is from Mozambique, the main character is very much like her daughter
Janine used Portuguese terminology
There's a delicate line of cultural appropriation. Representing with respect - not taking. You can't take a white person and stick them in Asian or African culture as if it's their own…
A book she admires: Bride to the Sun, Lia Patterson, Swedish, written in English, lived in China as a teen, fantasy

Misty - recently decided to learn all the countries outside of her familiar Europe - so much beauty and amazing culture in every culture of the planet, don't limit ourselves to what's inside our own culture - look for someone inside that culture, or someone who's done their homework - lots of attention to detail
A book she admires: Daughter of the Sword, Steve Bean, main character is a female member of Tokyo police dept, fights sexism, doesn't depend on anyone else, magical swords, very interesting--tells story  of each sword

Val's father was Navy, brought back books as he traveled all over the world and sent letters with local stories that he heard - he loved Japanese cult movies and "chop sake" movies
Surprisingly good one: Saolin Grandma - very good, unexpected, set in post ww2 Japan
A book she admires: Weather Child, Philippe Ballantine, Australia , she's from New Zealand - she reads the audiobook in her lovely accented voice!
Val's mother's family are Ashkanazi and Sephardic Jews - different European culture - Eastern European culture has Mongol and Russian influence
We ignore Arabic
A book she admires: Guy Gavriel Kay's historical fantasies (Tigana, Song of Arbonne, Lions of Al-Rassan…most recently  Under Heaven about China

Christie doesn't read a lot in the field, better to read from other sources, doesn't want to lose her own voice
Always fascinated by myths and legends from other cultures, looks for sources, Joseph Campbell, hero's journey
Working on her own series based on elements (fire, water, air, etc)
Wrote three, now planning to finish the last two, looking geographically for desert cultures, lots of commonality based on climate, foods, rituals, religion
Weaving elements of Norse-Finnish, Celtic, Polynesian

Kalayna is a folklorist, mostly studies traditional Western European, loves to study around the world, almost all have a bloodsucker, a walking dead,  dragon….
A book she admires: Skinwalker, Faith Hunter, main character is Cherokee, very westernized, Faith's done a careful job of incorporating Cherokee elements that are integral to the story
Wickedly Dangerous, Baba Yaga series, Deborah Blake, Eastern European, Russian

Christie says avoid the stereotypes, think about it and be aware

Misty says do your research, don't rely on movies,
Talks about AJ Hartley's terrific new novel, Steeplejack, Victorian South African setting
Doesn't want to offend the cultures he's trying to express

Janine, War of the Seasons series, worried a little about it being a "bait and switch" - was new to Celtic mythology, didn't want to include just one thing, didn't want Tolkien  elves, had different races with each clan
This race is as diverse as the human race, they're the primary species on this world
[I think this was one of the most important points about writing cultures in a non-Earth setting - there should be at least mention of the variety like we have on Earth, or some explanation about why not, if not, but that's another panel…]
Loves fanfic, writing a Hobbit rebelling, cast a woman from India, wants to represent, not to offend or alienate
Don't be stopped by your fear that you'll get stuff wrong - you will!

Val - I try to have a lot of variety in the characters passing through, they don't all look like me, they're just people,  they are my side characters, but they're the protagonists in their own stories

Misty talks about our experiences with stories for the Weird Wild West anthology and our now-open submissions for Lawless Lands - You may be writing in a  Western culture, but think about what other cultures were coming in at that time? Native America, Mexican, Chinese…

The thing is, to be honest, diversity in traditional fantasy is hard to find - what are some stories out there that inspired your interest?
Fortunately there's lots of good new writing out there!

Preparing for this panel, I looked on Goodreads and was disheartened by the dearth of non-European-based fantasy in the "classics" until I found this:

Is it cultural appropriation for Western writers to set stories in non-European cultures? How can we borrow from these wonderful mythologies in respectful ways?

Cultural appropriation is a popular phrase these days, and it has taken on a negative connotation. The definition is
 Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture.
Let's talk about when this can be a good thing and when it's a bad thing

Acknowledge your bias, your cultural lens
Margaret - I am a white cis het female, I grew up in American southern upper middle class culture. I've travelled outside the US and studied different cultures through the lens of anthropology. I know how much I don't know! I'm slowly realizing how much I take for granted, how much I don't notice from my position of relative privilege

Kalayna worries about it - it's a double edged sword
But if we don't make the effort, it's a very whitewashed world
Hollywood gives the non-European roles to white people anyway!
As creators we have a responsibility to add more diversity

Melanie (audience) says "I am the epitome of wasp", has had opportunity to work w/Smithsonian Native American museum, has gotten to learn, loves the phrase "Red heart"

Val - college friends would send the Filipino friend in their group to order Chinese food - they gave her the good spicy stuff!

Amy - Writing a Caribbean story, wanted a revenge story because whites came in and killed so many, took over - how to write a villain from that culture -
Janine if you cast them in a certain light, doing them a disservice, people are strong and weak, good and bad, don't want only character of color to be a villain,
If you only have one, they have to represent (even though that's not fair to them--no one person can represent their own culture)

Paula (audience) if you never have a main character from another society, at least have secondary characters--the crowd--more diverse

Val has an entirely different story - her main character talks about her isolated people and how hard she had to convince her father to let her go

Janine says you have to make it clear--Is the villain a villain because his goals are different from his opponents?

Misty loves a good revenge story--you do run the risk of your good guy looking like a bad guy--revenge vs Justice--if he's the last of his people, be cautious, you don't necessarily want him to turn into the bad guy

Be careful if you have someone from that culture read your work--they can give you their own personal feedback, but one person cannot give "permission" on behalf of a whole culture--still do not assume you haven't made any mistakes!

Ilona Andrews brings in a lot of diverse characters
They (husband/wife team) use a lot of Russian mythology

And so, with a loving heart, I offer you 
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite: 
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes 
the light of the universe that shines within you. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Con Report: ConCarolinas 2016 Women in F/SF

I started my ConCarolinas weekend with this panel, and I felt totally outclassed by this outstanding group of women:
  • Beth Revis
  • Alexandra Duncan
  • Wendy Delmater Thies
  • Janine Spendlove
  • Nicole Givens Kurtz

Sorry my notes are pretty rough -- I was still getting into Con mode!

For aspiring authors - who want to write in spec fic
Let’s talk about women as characters

There's a panel this weekend on negative tropes: Hell Hath No Fury
Rape is lazy writing - an overdone trope
Yes it happens, it's a very real thing
But in writing, it's not the only way to build drama
It turns women from characters to victims and objects
Too often we see the author sacrificing the woman for the man's plot - kill them, sideline, marginalize
In much of feminist fiction, men stink - that's not really helpful either

Why do we get the dark tales? Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, etc.
Do we have postive ones? Absolutely!
Lois McMaster Bujold - Vorkosigan series - many of the women have courage, conviction, honor, wits
We all have different strengths

What about older women? Vorkosigan, also CJ Cherryh's Foreigner series -   terrific role models
Ageism is rampant in SF
How ridiculous to try to pair young Scarlet Johansen with Robert Downey Jr? 

Hate the "There's only room for one bitch in this room" trope - as if you can't have two strong women work together

We need a panel on librarians! Because you don't mess with the librarian!

What are some of your fave sci fi characters?
The Bees by Laline Paull - not marketed as SF- takes place within a beehive - Watership Down for bees - murder-
Wendy's second-in-command at Abyss & Apex is a Canadian woman from Trinidad - she's writing a novel with an outstanding female main character
Leia in Star Wars
Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint - sequel shows the main character training to build muscles and become a competent warrior

Mary Sue - how do we overcome the trope?
It's primarily about wish fulfillment
Men have James Bond
Read about a woman resisting assault - female empowerment fantasy
Make the character imperfect - make mistakes, learn and grow
Daniel Craig's incarnation of the brand-new James Bond - part of the appeal was that he *wasn't* perfect - he fumbled and made mistakes!
Women are allowed to be shown with different kinds of strength
Men are stuck - *have* to be the hero, strong, successful
Nicole wrote Cybil and Jane as terrific partners - Cybil has to train and work out - she is injured and put in hospital, she's not infallible - grittiness, realism, didn't want her to be overly strong or a Mary Sue

How to write a strong female character who is more than a "dude with boobs"
Athena's Daughters - wanted to see women all out, show emotions, show strength and resolve when she needs to, not just physically strong, but someone who will sit up all night with a baby and then go to work the next day,  someone who puts up with sexism every day and stands up against it even though they know they could lose their job
Women characters, goal oriented, know what they want, move toward it despite everything
Decide what they want and go for it
Humans are infinitely variable
Weak women and weak men exist

Saga-graphic novel

Beth praises Alexandra's Salvage

Breaking stereotypes and roles - beautiful young want to get married and have kids - how does SF tear down those and show other amazing women?
Captain marvel comics - in her mid 40s - kick ass
Zoe in Firefly
Ready Player One - explodes a lot of tropes
Star Wars canon reboot
Claudia Gray, Lost Stars
Chuck Wendig, Aftermath
Janine didn't put a single white man in her story, Inbrief, in the Star Wars 2016 Del Ray Sampler
BBC just announced all their future shows will be 50% women
We make assumptions - all the time! "Black Hermione" ( JKR retroactively approves casting a black woman - she never said Hermione was white in the books!)
We have default settings in our brain

The first person to name Ripley's cat (Jones) in Alien won a copy of Athena Daughters 2!

And so, with a loving heart, I offer you 
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite: 
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes 
the light of the universe that shines within you. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Appearance: ConCarolinas, Charlotte, NC, June 3-5, 2016

I'll be a guest at ConCarolinas in Charlotte this weekend! 
My panel schedule:
8:00pm Women in F/SF
9:00pm Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading
11:00am Fantasy the World Over
12:00pm Spellslingers and Showdowns
1:00pm Grammar Geeks 
12:00pm Steampunk
1:00pm Getting to Know Your Aliens and Other Non-Humans

More chatter on Facebook and Twitter, if you friend me there :-)

Margaret S. McGraw