A Few Thoughts on the Ridiculous in SFF

So, it turns out that the desire for “realism” in fantasy fiction stops when it comes to including well-rounded female characters in the story (shocking, I know). I was on a thread last night where commenters were saying that the reason JRR Tolkien did not have many female characters in his books was that he wanted to write more “realistically.”
Let me state first, that I enjoy Tolkien’s work. I adored The Hobbit and LOTR. Furthermore, I really enjoyed Peter Jackson’s LOTR adaptations, but thought his Hobbit was dreadful (mainly because he shoehorned a nonexistent female character and love story into the narrative). I don’t feel a lack in those stories because they are short on female characters.
I get upset when readers and commentators on Tolkien’s book try to say that inclusion of female characters (or POC and LGBTQ characters) is deviating from reality. And this ridiculous opinion does not stop with just Tolkien. This is an on-going debate in SFF fandom that got particularly ugly a few years ago during the 2015 and 2016 Hugo Awards.
Okay, let me get this straight: dragons, orcs, elves, giant eagles, and wizards are MORE realistic than having well-rounded female representation? Uhhh…
Okay, okay. Let’s forget about that fact that we’re talking about HIGH FANTASY here where the rules of “realism” are pretty fluid from the get go. Let’s even forget that “realism,” to their minds, means excluding HALF THE HUMAN RACE. The commenters shrieking about Tolkien’s “realism” said that Tolkien, writing in the 30s and 40s was reflecting his own reality in which women did not participate in war. Patently false. Sure, not many women were soldiers then (not going to say none, because I’m pretty sure there were women who went out on the front lines dressed as men, just like in the Civil War) BUT women were integral to the war effort. They worked as nurses, in government, in factories, took over farm work (you know, so people could EAT), and performed vital services in just about every single capacity possible – even as spies. So, do not come at me with this “women weren’t soldiers so it’s not realistic to portray them that way” because if the only characters you expect in your SFF are soldiers, I say it’s YOUR perception of fiction that is not realistic.
Furthermore, these commenters were saying, “Well, he drew on Norse mythology and that’s all about kings and warriors”. Okay, okay, okay. Stop right there. Both of the largest influences on Tolkien, Beowulf (Old English, by the way) and the Völsunga saga, had female characters in them in pivotal roles. For instance, in Beowulf, Grendal’s mother – the main villain, and female – was not only a strategist but a warrior. How many kings and warriors did she fight and vanquish in her life? Hmmm….
My point here is that the entire argument that SFF literature is some sacrosanct body that is LESSER for the inclusion of well-rounded female characters (as well as other marginalized groups) needs to stop, as do the beliefs fueling it. People who hold these beliefs and spout these opinions are yearning for something that just never was – a world of SFF literature without politics, social issues, or challenging ideas.

Startling Poetry: We’re Not Gonna Take It

Perhaps this is stretching the definition of poetry a bit… Nah, this is protest poetry! Written in the 80s but so heartbreakingly apropos today:

“We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister

Oh we’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
Oh we’re not gonna take it anymore
We’ve got the right to choose it
There ain’t no way we’ll lose it
This is our life, this is our song
We’ll fight the powers that be just
Don’t pick our destiny ’cause
You don’t know us, you don’t belong
Oh we’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
Oh we’re not gonna take it anymore
Oh you’re so condescending
Your gall is never ending
We don’t want nothin’, not a thing from you
Your life is trite and jaded
Boring and confiscated
If that’s your best, your best won’t do
Oh Oh
We’re right (yeah)
We’re free (yeah)
We’ll fight (yeah)
You’ll see (yeah)
Oh we’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
Oh we’re not gonna take it anymore
Oh we’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
Oh we’re not gonna take it anymore
No way
Oh Oh
We’re right (yeah)
We’re free (yeah)
We’ll fight (yeah)
You’ll see (yeah)
Oh we’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
Oh we’re not gonna take it anymore
Oh we’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
Oh we’re not gonna take it anymore
Just you try and make us
We’re not gonna take it
Come on!
No, we ain’t gonna take it
You’re all worthless and weak
We’re not gonna take it anymore
Now drop and give me twenty
We’re not gonna take it
Oh pledge pin
No, we ain’t gonna take it
Oh you and your uniform
We’re not gonna take it anymore

Startling Poetry: The New Colossus

I’m not sure how, as an American, you can’t NOT like this poem. I only wish its sentiments were still at the heart of our nation and its leaders.


The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

My Ultimate Dinner Party

I’ll be candid here, I am terrible at thinking up blog post ideas. So, I actually have a Pinterest board full of posting ideas. The premise for this post sounded like a lot of fun so here we go: Name 10 people, living or dead, you would invite to dinner and also what would be served.

Let’s start with the guests:

Hypatia: An original pioneer in women’s education and also an early victim of Christian fanaticism, Hypatia would, perhaps, be a bit too heavy of an addition to a dinner party. But something tells me this woman knew how to let go and have a little bit of fun.

Marlon Brando: To my mind, Brando revolutionized the movie industry with his gritty, realistic performances. He was an intelligent, witty man. And… just damn gorgeous!


Jonathan Swift: I love a good piece of satire. And anyone who can CREATE satire is, by default, highly intelligent and socially aware. What a fascinating man with whom to sit down and devour a whole animal.

Jonathan Swift


Starhawk: Eloquent, thoughtful, and learned, Starhawk could definitely hold her own in any company.


Barak Obama: Unless you’re a political wingnut, I think you can admit that, whether you believe in his tactics or not, Obama is a damn funny guy. It can only help that he’s also well spoken and intelligent.


Imagine Dragons: Since they are a band, I consider them one unit (after all, I would send only one invitation to their agent!).  I adore their music and they are amazing artists – a plus for any dinner party.


Hayao Miyazaki: A filmmaking genius, incredible visual artist, and well-known defender of the environment I honestly just want to watch all of his movies with him sitting beside me. But I have a feeling he would hate that. So, next best thing, have him over for a wonderful dinner.



Frida Kahlo: An amazing visual artist, whose work expresses intensely personal truths, a desire for the subjugation of women to end, and a palpable pride in her home country of Mexico. And I’m pretty sure she knew how to have a great time!

“Frida on White Bench,” photograph by Nickolas Muray, 1939. Submitted image

“Frida on White Bench,” photograph by Nickolas Muray, 1939. Submitted image


Tom Hardy: Tom Hardy: This is my secret boyfriend we’re talking about so, I HAVE to invite him.  Plus, he’s intelligent, sensitive, and a staggering talent on screen. Plus, PLUS I really want him to stand next to a young Marlon Brando so I can detect if Tom really IS his reincarnation .

Tom Hardy

And now for the dinner. Since I would want this to last as long as possible, I would plan a full seven courses, but without that really formal setting. This would casual and comfortable dining.

Because it’s likely at least some of my guests will be vegetarian/Vegans, I would plan to offer options for them in all the courses:

Appetizer: Raw Endive Stuffed with Herbed Goat Cheese OR Raw Endive Stuffed with Carrot Puree

Salad: Nicoise Salad (with or without meat) served with a dry Rose


Fish/Pasta: Zucchini Pasta with Lemon-Garlic Shrimp OR Zucchini Pasta with Vegan Pesto served with Sauvignon Blanc


Soup:  Leek and Potato Soup (Vegan or not) served with Pinot Gris

Entree: Cabernet-braised Short Ribs with Gorgonzola Polenta and Roasted Vegetables OR Sauteed Tofu Cutlet with Vegan Polenta and Roasted Vegetables served, of course, with Cabernet Sauvignon

Cheese & Fruit Course: These would just be plonked down in the middle of the table for everyone to nibble. Served with either the leftover Pinot Gris or with a Reisling


Dessert: Lemon Meringue Nests OR Aquafaba Vegan Pavlova served with Viognier

2018 Reading Challenge

I love challenges (even if I don’t finish them). And even if I don’t complete reading challenges, at the very least I learn about a lot of books I otherwise would not have. So, for 2018, here is a pretty demanding reading challenge I found on PopSugar (with a couple of alterations). I’ll be updating this post as I finish books that fit into one or more of these categories.

  • A book made into a movie you’ve already seen
    • My pick: Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King (completed)
  • True crime
    • My pick: *Murder of Innocence by Joel Kaplan (completed)
  • The next book in a series you’ve started
    • My pick: Authority by Jeff Vandermeer (completed)
  • A book involving a heist
    • My pick: The Taking of Pelham 123 by John Godey (completed)
  • Nordic Noir (had no idea this was even a thing!)
    • My pick: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (completed)
  • A novel based on a real person
    • My pic: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (completed)
  • A book set in a country that fascinates you
    • My pick: Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier (completed)
  • A book with a time of day in the title
    • My pick: **Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
  • A book about a villain or anti-hero
    • My pick: *The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • A book about death or grief
    • My pick: **The Pagan Book of Living and Dying by Starhawk
  • A book by a female author who uses a male pseudonym
    • My pick: **The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  • A book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist
    • My pick: **Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas (completed)
  • A book that is also a stage play or musical
    • My pick: **The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you
    • My pick: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (completed)
  • A book about feminism
    • My pick: *The Yellow Wallpaper & Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • A book about mental health
    • My pick: **The Alienist by Caleb Carr (completed)
  • A book you borrowed or that was given to you as a gift
    • My pick: Gerald’s Game by Stephen King (I borrowed it from the library) (completed)
  • A book by two authors
    • My pick: **Dracula: Prince of Many Faces by Radu R. Florescu & Raymond T. McNally
  • A book about or involving a sport
    • My pick: **Winterdance by Gary Paulsen
  • A book by a local author
    • My pick: The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • A book with your favorite color in the title
    • My pick: **Fast Ships, Black Sails edited by Ann VanderMeer
  • A book with alliteration in the title
    • My pick: Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty (completed)
  • A book about time travel
    • My pick: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • A book with a weather element in the title
    • My pick: **The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (completed)
  • A book set by the sea
    • My pick: *The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo by Kerrigan Byrne (completed)
  • A book with an animal in the title
    • My pick: *The Lady or the Tiger & Other Stories by Frank Stockton
  • A book set on a different planet
    • My pick: *Provenance by Ann Leckie (completed)
  • A book with song lyrics in the title
    • My pick: Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (completed)
  • A book about or set on Halloween
    • My pick: His Darkest Craving by Tiffany Roberts (completed)
  • A book with characters who are twins
    • My pick: **The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani
  • A book mentioned in another book
    • My pick: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (completed)
  • A book from a celebrity book club
    • My pick: **A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (included in Florence Welch’s book club) (completed)
  • A childhood classic you’ve never read
    • My pick: **The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • A book published in 2018
    • My pick: *Circe by Madeline Miller
  • A past Goodreads Choice Award Winner(I’ve changed this to a Pulitzer Prize Winner – more of a challenge since I rarely read anything from that list)
    • My pick: *Empire Falls by Richard Russo (completed)
  • A book set in the decade you were born
    • My pick:
  • A book you MEANT to read in 2017 but didn’t get to
    • My pick: **Vampires are Us by Margot Adler
  • A book with an ugly cover
    • My pick: **Story Engineering by Larry Brooks (completed)
  • A book that involves a bookstore or library
    • My pick: Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence (completed)
  • Steampunk
    • My pick: *Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina
  • A bestseller from the year you graduated high school
    • My pick: **The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama
  • Cyberpunk
    • My pick: Slow River by Nicola Griffith
  • A book being read by a stranger in a public place
    • My pick: *The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • A book tied to your ancestry
    • My pick: **Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn (completed)
  • A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title
    • My pick: **The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories by Michel Faber
  • An allegory
    • My pick: **Bless me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  • A book by an author with the same first name as you
    • My pick: **The Inheritance by Robin Hobb
  • Microhistory
    • My pick: **The Witches of Warboys by Phillip C. Almond (completed)
  • A book about a problem facing society today
    • My pick: **The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
  • A book that’s been on your TRB list for WAY too long
    • My pick: **Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand by Louise Hawes

What’s on your reading lists for this year?

RIP Dolores O’Riordan

In the wake of Dolores O’Riordan’s sudden and tragic death, I’ve been thinking about how she and The Cranberries effected my youth. They were most popular during my teen years in the 90s and their music certainly had a prominent place in the soundtrack of my life.

“Zombie” from No Need to Argue

Oh man, this song… My best memory of it is definitely warming up before color guard competitions while Dolores wailed over us. Twenty of us girls would be crammed into a high school hallway in rows. Someone would hit this song on the boombox we carried around with us and we’d go into a modified dance routine in order to both hype our spirits and warm our muscles.

One particular instructor, a generally terrible beast, made us turn it off during an early morning warm-up once because she “just couldn’t take it right now.” I think we all fantasized about punching her in the throat that morning.


“When You’re Gone” from To the Faithful Departed

Every time I hear this song, even after all these years, I think about Jason Nice, the boy I absolutely adored in high school. He was one year ahead of me and I met him when we both took a world history elective. I fell in love with him when he was a slightly flabby, quiet loner who was really into art and drawing.

Later he started playing soccer, got super fit and gorgeous (not to mention popular), and I loved him still. I even went to all of the home soccer games just so I could watch him play.

I played this song over and over and over in my room at night while I daydreamed about Jason.

Ahhh, the particular sting of unrequited adolescent love!


“Dreams” from Everybody Else is Doing it, Why Can’t We?

This song just seems to encapsulate the whole decade of the 90s. It was hopeful and upbeat with an untamed edge. Dolores’ voice was so pure and yearning. I’d bet nearly every person who went through puberty during the 90s felt some connection with this song, slight as it might have been.


“Ode to My Family” from No Need to Argue

Who doesn’t remember cruising in the car trying to match your voice to Dolores’ while this wafted through the speakers?


“War Child” from To the Faithful Departed

I think this song was my first glimmer of social awareness. Because it was so simple and quiet, it was easier – for me at least – to grasp the social message Dolores was sending out. Whereas “Zombie” had such a driving and exciting beat, it was easy to miss the deeper complexities and meaning. In any case, “War Child” moved me to tears on more than one occasion.




Rule of 7

7 Everyday Things I Couldn’t Live Without (aside from food, water, and shelter):

  1. A toothbrush
  2. Books
  3. My computer and Microsoft Word
  4. Running hot water (and believe me, I’ve had to go without it before!)
  5. Blue-ink Bic pens & lined paper
  6. Drawing paper and pencils
  7. My kids and dog, Lovelace

7 of My Favorite Songs:

  1. “Demons” by Imagine Dragons
  2. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler
  3. “November” by Gabrielle Aplin
  4. “F**king Perfect” by P!nk
  5. “Hey Jude” by Beatles
  6. “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac
  7. “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven

7 Adventures I Want to Have Before I Die: 

  1. Ride in a hot-air balloon
  2. Start and run my own literary magazine
  3. Learn fencing, archery, and Krav Maga
  4. Take hose-riding lessons
  5. Go on a fishing trip where I catch and cook my own fish
  6. Experience a sweat lodge
  7. Model in a fashion show

7 Pastimes I Never Tire of Doing:

  1. Reading
  2. Listening to music
  3. Collecting books
  4. Cuddling with my kids and dog
  5. Collecting pictures on Pinterest
  6. Eating out (bad habit, I know)
  7. Yoga

7 Treats I Could Eat Everyday:

  1. Sushi
  2. Indian food
  3. Ice-cream
  4. Chocolate candy with either nuts or peanut butter
  5. Cheesecake
  6. Nutella
  7. Cake

7 People I’d Be Lost Without:

  1. My mother
  2. Lovelace
  3. My children
  4. My husband
  5. My editor, Kate Foster
  6. Teachers I have worked with throughout my life
  7. Jane Austen

7 Places I Want to Visit:

  1. Literary tour through Britain, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland
  2. Hike either the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails
  3. Climb Trolltunga
  4. Australia and New Zealand
  5. Vaadhoo Island
  6. Madagascar
  7. Neuschwanstein Castle & the Black Forest


Meet Lakewater Press Editorial Assistant and Book Ninja, SC Alban


For the holiday season, we at Lakewater Press thought it would be a good time to share who we are with a little holiday blog hop.

Between December 1 and the 24th we’ll share holiday interviews with our authors and the Lakewater Press staff. It’s an excellent opportunity for us to get to know each other a little better, and to give our readers a peek behind the scenes–or pages!

Perhaps you’ll even find a new blog to follow, or your next favorite book!

(Be sure to read all the way to the bottom for our holiday giveaway!!)


Today’s interviewee:

Name and LWP affiliation: Samantha Alban, Staff (Assistant Editor)

Your blog (url): www.scalban.wordpress.com

Where do you live? Sonoma County, California

What are your chances of having snow on Christmas Day? Most likely 0%, but who knows…this year has been full of weather surprises!

Do you have any favorite holiday traditions? I love setting up the train around my Christmas tree. Last year I even bought liquid smoke for it! I was heartbroken when it broke down and I

spent days trying to troubleshoot and fix the problem. After the fourth (I think) day, I finally got it working! I was so excited, I totally forgot about the liquid smoke and didn’t even find the bottle until after I had taken it down for the year. So this year, it’s all about getting that train running WITH the liquid smoke 🙂

Eggnog: Yes or No? YES!!!! (but, I drink Coconut Milk “Egg” Nog).

Are you an artistic gift wrapper or a basic “paper & tape” warrior? Nothing says a traditional

Christmas like brown wrapping with a simple red bow. I call it “simple chic.”

Do you have any special holiday memories that include books? Are there any specific titles you remember? I always try to give a book to someone every holiday season. I could spend hours in a bookstore and even though books are available for purchase online, I still love walking into a decorated bookstore during the holiday season. And spending the time in the store, looking through all the titles and trying to find the perfect one for someone else to love and enjoy is something that I’ve always done and still love to do.

What is your earliest book-related memory? I grew up surrounded by books. I devoured them as a child. I had my own bookshelf since I can remember and it’s always been stuffed with books. I LOVED all my series books, as a child. In elementary school, I had all My Babysitter’s Club, my Nancy Drew’s, my Sweet Valley High’s, and all of my Christopher Pike’s and later on, all my King’s and Rice and Twain and Dicken’s books all along the shelves squeezed in between all my classics. My most favorite thing to do, after dusting my room (my most hated chore), was to take them all off the shelf and reorganize them. I know, mucho nerdy.

Do you write/work during the holidays? I write all year round, so yeah, I usually squeeze in a bit of time on a holiday.

Can you share what you’re working on now? I’d love to. Right now I have mucho projects, but I’m really excited about this YA magical realism I’m working on called THE MIRROR WALKER. It’s about this girl with a special ability to travel through mirrors to other worlds. (Ed. note: Samantha writes as S.C. Alban)

What are your goals for 2018? Yikes, I’ve got so many! Let’s see…to publish Book 3 in The Strega Series (Death Before Dying), clean up my 2 YA novels for querying, find two amazing books I can suggest to the Lakewater Press list, tackle a new WIP I’ve been stewing on for a while, and snag agent representation (hey, dream big or go home, right?)


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Meet Lakewater Press Author, Susan Pape


For the holiday season, we at Lakewater Press thought it would be a good time to share who we are with a little holiday blog hop.

Between December 1 and the 24th we’ll share holiday interviews with our authors and the Lakewater Press staff. It’s an excellent opportunity for us to get to know each other a little better, and to give our readers a peek behind the scenes–or pages!

Perhaps you’ll even find a new blog to follow, or your next favorite book!

(Be sure to read all the way to the bottom for our holiday giveaway!!)

Today’s interviewee:

Name and LWP affiliation: Susan Pape, Author

Your blog (url): www.bookloversbooklist.wordpress.com

Where do you live? I live on the site of an old lunatic asylum (yes, it really was called that) in Menston, between Ilkley and Leeds in West Yorkshire.

What are your chances of having snow on Christmas Day? It’s possible that Ilkley Moor (behind our house) could get a light dusting…but I don’t remember ever having ‘proper’ snow on Christmas Day in West Yorkshire.

Do you have any favorite holiday traditions? My favourite Christmasses were spent with some really good friends who lived in a converted station near Saddleworth Moor. We played games, took part in a pantomime written by the host, tried to look serious during The Queen’s

broadcast, and sat down for lunch and all the trimmings – that lasted from about 1pm until 9pm. I also love being away at Christmas – Florence was a wonderful place to be, and then Cambodia/Vietnam more recently.

Egg nog: Yes or No? Ergh…no!

Are you an artistic gift wrapper or a basic “paper & tape” warrior? Basic, I’m afraid. I’ve tried to do those classy, neatly tucked corners, but they fail me every time.

Do you have any special holiday memories that include books? Are there any specific titles you remember? Christmas seems to be a time of giving ‘joke’ or ‘improving’ books. The joke books go straight on to the shelf in the downstairs lavvy and the improving ones (Shakespearian Tragedies; London Architecture and Tony Benn’s Diaries) get put in the pile for the charity shop.

What is your earliest book-related memory? My parents were not great readers (other than Reader’s Digest) but they did have a shelf full of Graham Greene so I worked my way through those until I was old enough to get my own library card. Not entirely sure it was suitable reading for a child.

Do you write/work during the holidays? Newspapers don’t stop for the holidays so a skeleton staff was always needed to be available on Christmas Day – and throughout the holiday period. When I worked on newspapers, it was usually down to staff without kids to work over the holidays – and that was usually me. I didn’t mind too much as I could take time off in lieu when life returned to normal after the Xmas excesses.

Sue and I at an author talk we did recently

Can you share what you’re working on now? Book Three in the Friends trilogy that Sue Featherstone and I are writing together. So many ideas are bubbling right now – and I can hardly believe this will be the end of the road for the two main characters, Teri and Lee.

What are your goals for 2018? To finish writing the third book in the Friends trilogy and then complete the murder mystery that Sue and I have already started. It takes us out of our comfort genre, so please, wish us luck.


The decorations in a Cambodian hotel




me and hubby at a masked Christmas dinner









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