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Book tour and giveaway: THE BLACK TRILLIUM November 16, 2018

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The Black Trillium
by Simon McNeil
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
 
Confederation rules in Trana—so says the king.
But Fredericton is a long way from the shores of Lake Ontario, and
schemes for power will bring together three extraordinary young
warriors.
Savannah
A desert girl who came to Trana looking for refuge but has never found
a home
Kieran
A privileged city boy dreaming of rebellion and hardened by cruelty
Kyle
The disgraced heir to the throne desperate to win back his place in his
father’s heart
Sworn enemies or reluctant allies, they all have one thing in common: an
incomplete half of the legendary fighting skill known as the
Triumvirate sword art. They fight for glory, for power, for the
monsters lurking beneath the streets, and for the mysterious society
moving in the shadows of Trana—the Black Trillium.
Add to Goodreads
Amazon * Apple * B&N * Kobo
Read on for my review, a guest post, and giveaway!

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PSA October 19, 2018

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Look at all these fantastic books!

I don’t tend to bring it up much here, but I am the owner of and, essentially, one-woman show behind Brain Lag, publisher of science fiction and fantasy novels. I don’t tend to mention it because that means technically, my own novels are self-published, though aside from the fact that that has no correlation to quality, six other authors have liked my work enough to entrust me with theirs.

I love to do this. It took me almost thirty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to do it. I’ve seen two fellow publishers hang up their towels in the last couple years because it wasn’t right for them or it wasn’t viable, and I get it. My sales aren’t nearly what I would like them to be, and I’ve had to take on freelancing work to help support the primary function of Brain Lag.

But I believe in my business. I love taking the amazing manuscripts my authors send me and turning them into beautiful, professional books. I love seeing my shelf of books I’ve published expand and to introduce as many people as I can to these great stories.

So please, help spread the word a little. Tell your friends, mention it on social media, buy a book, request a copy at the library, leave a review. It would mean so much to me to help get my authors the recognition they deserve.

Thank you.

Gen Con 50 games wrap-up part 3 August 24, 2017

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And the conclusion of my Gen Con gaming posts. Read on for Pinball Showdown, The Sword of Zaldor: A Fantasy Escape Room, and Here, Kitty, Kitty!

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Ad Astra schedule April 27, 2016

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I’ll be at Ad Astra this weekend, Toronto’s original scifi/fantasy/horror literary convention. I’ll be spending most of my time at the Brain Lag table in the dealers room, and I’ll also be involved with the following events:

Saturday

11:00
Creating Art on Commission
So someone has asked you to create a piece of art for them. And they’ve even said they’ll pay. How much do you charge them? How do you sell yourself as a commission artist, and what are the pros and cons of offering to create work on commission?
Thornhill room

1:00
Selling Your Art at Conventions and Festivals
So you’ve finally finished a beautiful set of paintings. Or maybe you’ve been selling your fan art on commission and want to think bigger with prints. Maybe you want to do commissions for money, or you fancraft and have an Etsy store and want to sell in person. You’ve got wares, and you’re ready to sell them and think that a convention or festival is your best bet. How do you do this? What’s the etiquette? How do you market yourself? Should you participate in an art show or just book a table? And is what you’re selling even allowed? In this panel, learn the dos and don’ts of being an artist on the convention or festival circuit.
Thornhill room

5:00
Tabletop Games You May Never Have Heard Of
Are you bored of playing Monopoly and Risk over and over? A fan of RPGs but unsure what the best party games are? Curious about which games are best for specific numbers or types of people? This panel is a great opportunity to learn about and share recommendations for tabletop games from those in the know!
Oakridge room

6:00
Brain Lag launch party
Brain Lag invites all Ad Astra attendees to join us at our spring book launch party celebrating the release of Why I Hunt Flying Saucers And Other Fantasticals by Hugh A. D. Spencer and Tinker’s Plague by Stephen B. Pearl! The authors will be on hand to give readings and sign autographs, there will be free snacks and drinks, and we’ll be featuring an exclusive sneak peek at the cover art for the upcoming sequel to Tinker’s Plague, Tinker’s Sea!
Room 1080 (penthouse suite)

Sunday

12:00
Setting Up Shop as an Indie Publisher
So you want to be an indie publisher. How do you bring other authors on board? How do you build your reputation within the literary community? In this panel, learn from those who have done it how to be a publishing entrepreneur, and get tips on start-up costs, marketing, and what it takes to get started.
Newmarket room

3:00
Sunday Afternoon Fantasy Reading
Join authors Catherine Fitzsimmons, Rob Howell, Cameron Currie and Brandon Draga as they read a fantastical selection from their work.
Oakridge room

I hope to see you there!

On my journey to the Dark Side* January 13, 2016

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* Or the Light Side. They’re both fine choices.

I often find that when someone is a fan of scifi/fantasy books, there was someone in their life who led them to it. Maybe it was a parent, a teacher, or a friend. Someone wanted to share the stories that they loved and opened up a new world to a budding fan.

I didn’t have anyone like that. No one in my family was really into speculative literature, my friends didn’t quite hold my same interests in fiction, and I was far too shy to attempt speaking to a school librarian about it.

I wanted to read fantasy books. But back in the days (you kids get off my lawn) before Goodreads, book blogs, or even social media, and in a genre rife with huge, epic stories that are often poorly marked as such, I had no idea where to start. My nearest library was a half-hour hike over lots of steep hills, and the small fantasy selection just didn’t seem to have any titles that caught my eye.

I read a lot of original stories posted online by authors back in those days, but when it came to actual published books, my list was quite short. I did read some great books back then, like one by an author recommended by a friend I chatted with over IM (Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint), a random purchase from a bookstore with a cover and premise that intrigued me (Thief of Lives by Barb and J. C. Hendee), and a gift from my future husband the first time we met (Green Rider by Kristen Britain).

I credit a lot of my truly discovering fantasy books with a mailing list I joined nine years ago that provided me with free e-copies of selections from many currently popular authors. I still feel like I’m not necessarily well-read, but I have certainly read enough that I could introduce someone else to the genre.

That seems to be how I have come into a number of my interests – by discovering it for myself, and even resisting when trying to be shown it (maybe that’s why I had troubles in school). I had friends who listened to Jpop but it wasn’t until I heard Japanese arrangements of a soundtrack I loved that I began to accept listening to music in foreign languages (which I have loved for many years now). I had friends who read a lot of comic books, but I never even really read any until last year, when I subscribed to Marvel Unlimited and discovered favourite series on my own – and now we have a pull list at our local comic store.

And now, it’s happened with Star Wars.

I’m not the Star Wars fan in my family. Let me rephrase – I’m not the Star Wars fan in the family. I enjoyed the movies, of course – well, the original trilogy – but I’m not the one with giant tubs full of Star Wars novels, action figures, and art prints. I tried to read a particularly well-loved Star Wars novel once years ago, but I couldn’t get into it. (I couldn’t get into tie-in fiction for a long time, whether fanfiction or officially licensed novels.)

Last year, however, fostered a decidedly increased interest in the Star Wars universe. It started with X-Wing Miniatures – because hey, I’m always up for a good table top game. Then, I started watching Star Wars Rebels, because it’s now canon (whereas those tubs of novels in the basement no longer are).

It escalated from there. Curiosity drew me to Kanan: The Last Padawan, a comic book series about one of the characters from Rebels, which I immediately loved. I saw the trailers for The Force Awakens and grew truly excited about it.

And when it released… well, it wouldn’t have become the top-grossing film of all time if it had been another Phantom Menace.

This week, I have taken the step I never could before – the novels. And not only have I read two Star Wars novels this week, but I didn’t even like one of them very much (but I still got through it).

Now, I’m hooked. I want to read different eras, different characters, I want to know more of the lore and the history and politics that don’t get revealed in the movies, and I’m fascinated by the rich tapestry of comics, shows, movies, and books that are making up the new Expanded Universe. And it’s even kindling a new interest in Star Wars Legends, the old canon.

Maybe I resisted for a surprisingly long time, but now, I have truly discovered the Expanded Universe. It’s always fun discovering new things.

Changes January 23, 2015

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I finished a new drawing last night, my first in over six months:

Sketch22420045It is a simple picture, in many respects, but this drawing is very important to me. Not because of the content, but because of the way it made me feel.

Because I enjoyed working on it. I enjoyed every step of the process – building up the sketch, designing the outfit, finding reference images for things like the hairstyle and anatomy, even learning to work around the limitations of the app I used, as I drew this from start to finish on my tablet. Intimidation reared its head and made it hard to get started at times, but I never had to force myself to work on it or felt discouraged that something wasn’t working and wanted to give up.

I don’t know why or how this changed, but this is a big deal for me, and it led to an even bigger revelation:

I feel good about my art.

I don’t care that it isn’t as good as the artists I follow. I don’t care that there are a lot of things I can’t or at least don’t know how to draw. I don’t care that after so many years I am still learning how to draw faces. I looked through my online gallery last night, both the drawings that kind of make me want to delete almost my entire gallery and the ones I still like, and it just made me want to draw more. For the first time in at least ten years, flaws aren’t the only thing I see, and I’m revelling in the act of creating, itself.

Now if only I had more time to draw.

To Boldly Go July 28, 2014

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As a mother of a now 3-year-old daughter, I tend to watch a lot of movies aimed at young girls. And my daughter fits the trope perfectly – her favourite things are princesses, faeries, and My Little Pony. She more or less came into these interests on her own; I didn’t really let her watch movies or TV shows until this year, and when I let her sit in front of the TV, she has pretty strong opinions about what she wants to see. Yes, we might have been the ones to originally introduce her to these things and allow her to continue watching them, but I try to offer her a well-rounded selection to choose from. And I’ll admit it, I just don’t want to let her watch something I can’t stand.

Oh, sure, there are exceptions – she likes some gender-neutral things like Winnie the Pooh, she has seen and enjoyed Thomas the Tank Engine, she does have a particular interest in Disney’s Planes, and she loves watching me play Mario Kart – but primarily, she likes the girly things. In fact, when it comes to Mario Kart, she insists upon me playing a princess as driver.

I don’t think Disney princesses are bad role models. Nor do I want to try to mold her into liking the things I prefer; I would rather she decide on her own what she likes. (Yes, this means I do not believe that putting Star Wars or Firefly costumes on kids far too young to be watching those is “parenting done right.”) But after watching so many of these movies and shows targeted to young girls, I find myself yearning for some variety. Why can’t we have a simplistic, kid-friendly story with a happy ending that takes place in present day, or the future?

So the bug bit me. I want to write one. I want to write a middle grade or younger story about a space princess. Or something like that. I want the main character to be female, because there’s not enough of that out there and I want it to be someone my daughter can relate to, and I want her to be independent and the hero, but not at the expense of her femininity. I want little girls like my daughter to read/hear this story and think that girls can do anything.

But beyond that, I didn’t know where to start. I got stuck trying to think of the theme or message of the story. I don’t want it to be about the girl learning that she can do anything, because then the conflict would center around the assertion that she can’t, which is not the message I want to send. But then, what should the theme be? I tried looking to my daughter for inspiration, but – fortunately for her and unfortunately for the sake of a story – I just don’t see any problems in her that might help to be resolved through another medium. Maybe I’m just overthinking things, but as someone who tends toward dark endings, complicated conflicts, and villains that are more grey than black, a story like this is quite a leap.

Then, my daughter gave me an idea in another way. I was listening to music and she asked me what song was playing, as she tends to do. It was an arrangement of a track from the Metroid video games. I immediately saw this as an opportunity. I showed her one of my Metroid game cases and told her about Samus Aran, fearless and strong warrior for justice in space – and female.

And I was overthinking things, because that’s all I need for this story: a space heroine. I’ll just go to a new galaxy and let the girl save the day. The rest is just details.

It’s still going to be quite a challenge for me to write, especially if I want a story I can read to my daughter. But just as I believe there’s too much stagnancy in speculative fiction for adults, I think too many kids’ stories are the same, and the best way I can combat that is to write something new.

Do you ever want to destroy the world? June 17, 2014

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I love superhero movies. I love the excitement, the escapism, the larger-than-life-ness, the sheer drama of them. And I really love superhero movies in which rather than trying to bring a fictional world to life, they make it seem like it really happens in our world. To an extent, of course; I wouldn’t be a fan of superhero stories if I couldn’t suspend a little disbelief.

Another thing I like about superhero movies is that the stakes are always very high. Of course; that’s what makes it a superhero story. In a story like that, one can cause incalculable, irreparable, and frankly pretty improbable damage to civilization or the world itself. That’s what makes it so dramatic, especially if it happens in the very world we live in.

The stakes are always high in fiction. The conflict might not be – will the boy get the girl? – but the risk defines the story – she’s all he ever wanted throughout his high school years, even when she went out with that bullying jock. It’s not dramatic unless it has a big impact. But the scale of that impact varies enormously. Millions of lives could rest on the actions of the protagonists, or just the main character’s feelings.

I’ve never been very comfortable working on a grand scale. I suppose writing fantasy is a bit of a cop-out that way, since I am only affecting imaginary worlds. But even inside my own worlds, I generally prefer to avoid working with those in the most power – kings, lords, etc. The stakes are still high, often world-changing, but the characters who directly resolve the main conflict are generally people who have little or no other influence over the world.

I’m equally (or perhaps doubly) uncomfortable with impacting the real world. That’s why my novel Halcyon, which takes place on Earth, still occurs in an invented city. I don’t feel like I know enough about real places to set stories there, not even places I’ve lived for years. Perhaps if I was writing some kind of novelization of my own life, I might be able to, but the characters in my stories don’t live my life and therefore don’t necessarily or usually live or go to the same places.

This is the part where research should come in, but the fact is no amount of research will make me feel comfortable with writing things that happen on Earth. And trying to write stories that take place on Earth and involve people of power? Hold the phone.

But I read books that take place on Earth and I love how real they feel. They can change so much about the world, even change the course of history, but because it’s the place where we live it feels more believable. I’d like to try it sometime, but it’s going to take some working up to it.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with my magic and dragons and just watch superhero movies.

Enduring Chaos: Trailer June 9, 2014

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The much anticipated trailer for my latest novel, Enduring Chaos, is live:

If you like it, please favourite, share, subscribe to the channel, and please spread the word! Huge thanks to the amazing cast of people who helped make this film a reality.

New art – Damian/Frozen March 21, 2014

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damian-frozen

Joke picture. This is Damian, star of my latest novel Enduring Chaos, which was released last fall. She is a young woman with a strange and unique power which she cannot control, exacerbated when she is upset, and for which she is shunned by others. Hence, a little wardrobe change for kicks. Costume design courtesy Disney.