The good folks over at Ragnarok Publishing are running a Kickstarter for a new anthology featuring female protagonists, Hath No Fury, which ends in a few hours. They asked me to help get the word out and offered suggestions that would help to do that, including possible guest posts by some of their contributors. One of the authors with a story in the book is Bradley P. Beaulieu. His contribution features the protagonist from his current series, The Song of the Shattered Sands. I reviewed the first volume, Twelve Kings in Sharakai here.
So without further ado, here’s Brad:
I was recently at a convention—GenCon down in Indianapolis—and I was doing a short video interview where we got to talking about the state of the field and how quickly (or not) it changes. My basic take was that it’s a field, much like most of the entertainment industry at large, that’s pretty slow to change.
Why? Well, it’s complicated, but I think a lot of it boils down to how editors (and these days more and more, purchasing panels) decide what a publisher is (and isn’t) going to buy. For the purposes of this conversation, I’m just going to call these folks “editors”, but know that these days it’s almost never a single person that’s making the call, but rather a number of people, including sales, marketing, and other executives—especially if we’re talking about a hot author or property—but it all starts with the editors, so let’s be reductive for the time being.
When it comes down to it, editors play proxy for the reader. They’re trying to figure out what’s going to sell, and by extension, make money for their publishing house. One way to do that is to find the next breakout success—that is, to weed through all the submissions to find the thing that’s going to set the publishing world on fire. Super easy, right? Yeah, not so much. Publishing history is riddled with far more books that crash and burn than those that break the mold and set some new literary precedent. On the other end of the spectrum, they can find that’s made from the same mold as some previous success and push that. This is very much a Hollywood mentality: find an idea that people like and ride it until it’s dead, dead, dead.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. I think we, as readers, are very often looking for something like what we’ve read before while being, well, different. Different how? Who knows? I’ll let you know as soon as I find out. And there’s the rub. How do editors find books unique enough to provide a fun new experience while being familiar enough to be an easy leaping off point for the average reader? This, in a nutshell, is the black art of purchasing: finding something familiar, yet distinctly new. This is why publishing moves relatively slowly. Radical change, by definition, is not “accessible,” and the publishing companies do have bottom lines to worry about.
You can always find exceptions to this rule. In the interview I mentioned, I called out DAW’s publishing of Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death as one such example. It’s a brilliant book that didn’t fit easily into a preexisting fantasy market, but Betsy Wollheim still bought it, she told me, because “she had to.” That’s how good it was. Bravo for her and bravo to all those editors out there who are pushing the boundaries of what fantasy and science fiction has traditionally done.
And this is why I’ve been so happy to see the market coming around to publishing stories with female protagonists (“strong” or otherwise). To be clear, the market has always been there to some degree, and there are plenty of authors who’ve written wonderful female protagonists. Still, I think we’re seeing an upsurge in these types of stories, and I’m ecstatic it’s happening. Some may see the publishing world becoming more politically correct. I think that point of view precisely misses the point. I’ve grown bored with the macho lead male and the subservient females in need of rescuing. So have tons of other readers. There’s a pent-up demand for stories with female leads, which was why I was so pleased to hear about Hath No Fury when editor Melanie Meadors first approached me about writing a story for it. I was bordering on being overcommitted at the time, but I still said yes because, for one, I wanted to support this type of project, but also, it was such a great match for my new series, The Song of the Shattered Sands.
I decided to write about a woman named Djaga, a woman who teaches the series’ main character, Çeda, the ins and outs of fighting in the pits. There are some mentions in the opening book of my new series, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, that Djaga retired from fighting after a match in the killing pits with another famed fighter, a man lured from retirement for one final bout. We know, clearly, that Djaga survived. What we don’t know is why, after disavowing fighting to the death as unnecessary, she would agree to fight this man. We also don’t know why she came to the desert city of Sharakhai from the rolling grasslands of Kundhun. This story answers both of those questions, and shows Djaga on a quest for peace even while she prepares for a fight to the death.
The Kickstarter is now nearing completion, and I’m curious to see where it ends up. Most of all, though, I’m eager to read all the great stories that end up in the anthology.
Keith here again. I’d like to thank Bradley Beaulieu for his post. I’m looking forward to reading his story, along with those from the other contributors. Ragnarok does some really nice anthologies.
And on a final note, Brad has just launched a Kickstarter today with Tee shirts, tote bags, and other goodies from the series. And the latest novel, Of Sand and Malice Made is just out. I’ve started reading it, so look for a review soon.