Guest Post: Mystery Cults and the Secret World of the Occult in Urban Fantasy by Laurence Raphael Brothers

In my romantic-noir urban fantasy novella The Demons of Wall Street, magic and the existence of demons are secrets kept hidden from most people. Only a relatively small number of sorcerers, bankers, and their agents are in on the conspiracy, on the order of thousands of people worldwide.

Cover of THE DEMONS OF WALL STREET.The premise of magic-done-only-in-secret is not exactly an original conceit, and indeed it has become so familiar over not just years but generations of fantasy literature that it is hardly something to be questioned when it appears. It’s a convenient explanation for how magic can possibly exist in our familiar and ostensibly non-magical world.

Still, the idea of a very widely-kept secret to which thousands of people are privy may seem rather implausible. Surely someone would let the information slip? But as it happens, there are quite a few historical examples of widely-held secrets that were kept so well we aren’t sure what the truth of them was anymore.

I refer you first to the mystery cults of the classical world. In ancient Greece, and subsequently throughout the Hellenized and then the Romanized world, a great many people subscribed to the mystery cults of Eleusis, Samothrace, and (in Roman times) Mithras, among others. These cults required terrible binding oaths from their aspirants, and in many classical-period cities, substantial percentages of the middle and upper classes were members. But we don’t know, apart from a few scattered hints, what the cults believed, what their rituals were, or how members were expected to recognize and support one another outside of the ritual centers. It might be that the masonic phrase “I have seen the sun at midnight” was originally part of the Eleusinian mystery, which we know had something to do with the myth of Demeter and Persephone. But then again, that might be just wishful thinking on the part of the masons based on some modern invention. The names of the deities worshipped by cultists at Samothrace were forbidden to be uttered aloud, and while it’s believed they were mostly chthonic female members of the Greek pantheon, we really don’t know for sure. And even the cult of Mithras, to which millions of Roman legionaries and a great many other citizens belonged (including the emperor Julian the Apostate) is almost opaque to us now. There was probably the sacrifice of a bull involved at some point, but we know very little more than that of their beliefs and practices.
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Rambo Academy Certificates

The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers now has a certification program! I wanted students to have a way to represent the work they’ve put into the live classes when applying for jobs, workshops, and other opportunities, and so I’ve put together four categories.

How it works: If you have taken five classes in a category, you have earned a certificate. Mail me with the category or categories and the names of the classes, and I will send you the certificate as a .pdf. You have permission to display it on your website.

I’m working on something similar for the on-demand classes — look for that coming soon.
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Guest Post: “We Get By with a Little Help from Our…” by Vincent Scott

So, love’s great, right? All types. It’s a fascinating quirk of brain chemistry that leaves us caring about each other so much we’ll sacrifice resources and fight against oppression for someone else’s wellbeing. Spending time with people you love is, to my mind, what life is all about. I just want to preface this with that little disclaimer, so nobody feels like I’m attacking love or romance.

Let’s talk about how we often centralize romance in fiction, how friendships get short shrift, and how the romance that we get is usually pretty one dimensional. First, let me own a bias. I’m asexual and aromantic. If you’re not familiar, that means I don’t experience sexual or romantic attraction. Platonic love is my everything. So, romance and sex don’t usually top the list of priorities for me in any storytelling context. That said, from a distance, I’m all for it. Unfortunately, fiction has gotten into some bad habits when it comes to dealing with friendships and romantic relationships.

Friendships are rarely given the focus they deserve. They are one of the most common types of relationships people have in their lives, and yet rarely do they get any nuance. In most fiction, friends are just there. They’re taken for granted. A friend is a person you talk to about your dating angst. It’s not uncommon in a lot of fiction for the entirety of two people’s platonic relationship to consist of them talking about their paramours. I’m not saying friends don’t do that with each other, but is that everything you do with your friends? In reality, friendships have just as much drama and excitement as romantic relationships. There is a moment when two people become friends, and it’s an exciting and fraught moment filled with insecurity, hope, and intrigue. There are events that cause those relationships to deepen, and tragically sometimes friendships end, and those endings can be heartbreaking.

Meanwhile the general lack of focus on platonic connection undercuts romantic relationships. Healthy romantic relationships have a platonic component. The old cliché is two people don’t get along, but it secretly means they like each other. In every longstanding romantic relationship I’ve ever encountered, the people involved liked one another. They had common interests. Two people have to be something when they’re not in the throes of sexual ecstasy or performing grand romantic gestures. Most of us are going to spend the lion’s share of our time together in sweatpants farting into the couch cushions, a set of circumstances that is far from the pinnacle of grand romance.

Sometime when you’re reading a romance novel, a story with romantic subplot, or watching a movie or television show that falls into the trope “two good looking people alone in a room: they’ve got to get together,” ask yourself, “Do these two actually have anything in common?” To be clear, I’m not saying everything in common. Great friendships are often defined by the differences between people, but amidst the differences there have to be points of commonality.

Cover of THE HEREAFTER BYTES: A FUNNY SCI-FI NOVEL by Vincent ScottSo, why does this happen? The honest answer: it’s easy tension. Two good looking people, they don’t get along, but they’re so good looking. How could they not be interested in each other? It’s plausible they would date, then their totally incompatible personalities give writers a deep well of conflict and drama to draw from. And frankly, that’s okay. Who among us hasn’t leaned into a trope or two? Let those who have no ink on their fingers throw the first pen. However, it does become a problem when it’s done so ubiquitously that it starts to influence people’s conception of real-world relationships.

Here’s the thing: fiction matters. It has real-world implications. Fiction without diversity normalizes a segregated world. Fiction with diversity challenges the status quo. Fiction rife with fundamentally incompatible romantic relationships makes fraught, tense, and incompatible romantic relationships seem normal. Meanwhile, when we treat friendships like they’re set dressing, we end up with a society where nobody puts the time and effort into maintaining friendships that they deserve.

So, what’s to be done? Well, next time you’re writing a romantic relationship, ask yourself, “What do these two do when they’re just hanging out?” In the space between grand romantic gestures and passionate lovemaking, who are they to each other? Do they like the same movies? Maybe they both like to cook. Maybe they’re big board game nerds. That doesn’t mean you can’t have the grand romantic gestures and the passionate lovemaking; just add the platonic love as well.

Next time you’re writing a friendship, ask yourself, “What holds these two together as friends?” There must have been moments in the past when they could have drifted apart. Why didn’t they? What do they see in each other that the myriad other people they’ve met in their lives didn’t quite appreciate? Who is this friend to your protagonist besides a useful literary device to move the plot along or an excuse to explicitly state some romantic subtext?

I’m not trying to lay all the problems of the world at fiction’s feet. There are a lot of forces in our society that diminish the significance of friendship and promote the idea that every problem in life can be solved by getting a date. But all too often, fiction isn’t helping. It’s not that hard to add that extra bit of nuance to relationships. There are good stories to be told that center friendships, even if they include romance. Superficial romantic relationships, with drama built on cheap interpersonal tension, are lazy. Spend a few moments thinking about your best friend. Think about how they make you feel. I’ll bet it’s a love story for the ages.


Vincent Scott HeadshotBIO: Vincent Scott is a comedy science fiction writer and green tea… well, addict is a strong word, let’s say enthusiast. His new novel The Hereafter Bytes is being launched via Kickstarter to raise funds for a full release later in 2020. The campaign runs from March 11th to April 1st, 2020 and can be found here.

You can connect with Vincent at twitter.com/writeitowldown.


If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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On Critiquing Fiction

One thing I strongly urge my students to find is a good critique group, preferably one where the other writers work in the same or a related genre. A critique group can become an important part of a writer’s process, can kick you in the butt to be productive and solace you when you’re not. It gives you other people whose victories you can celebrate, and ones who will celebrate yours. It can challenge, inspire, and encourage — but it does need to be one where the members are supporting each other, and where they’re exchanging useful critiques.

Sometimes people confuse the words critique and critical, and yet they are very different creatures. A good critique, one that helps and inspires the writer, may have elements that are critical of specific things, but that’s by no means everything it holds.
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Call for Hopepunk Novels

If you have a small press or independently-published book that is hopepunk*, I’m putting together a StoryBundle that will come out in the latter half of 2020. This is the bundle I was discussing last year; my chaotic 2019 meant I stuck it aside but I just confirmed the schedule. I’m looking for titles for inclusion.

I have a strong preference for novels over anthologies and collections. I would not mind including a couple of games if they are good fits. I’m also trying to create a bundle that has a lot of different representation. Right now I have three slots filled, and nine still open. 

I need stuff in mobi form by the end of April at the latest, and getting things to me sooner rather than later helps your chances. If you sent me something before, please ping me and just give me enough info that I’ll be able to fish it out of the seething morass that is my set of inboxes. Please mail anything to catrambo AT gmail.com and include Hopepunk Storybundle in the subject line.

If you know someone who might be interested, please feel free to pass this along.

*If you don’t know what hopepunk is, here’s info and a reading list.

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Newsletter for February, 2020

News and More Stuff from Chez Rambo

Hello folks!

Well, by now you know my big news, which is that my novelette Carpe Glitter is a Nebula Award nominee. I’m deeply honored to find myself in such fine company and absolutely twitter-pated to find out how many people have enjoyed it. The Nebulas are chosen by other writers who are SFWA members, and that makes this very meaningful to me. I will be at the conference that weekend.

If you’re not a SFWA member, but want some say in whether or not it appears on other ballots, it’s eligible for the Hugo Award and Locus Award in the novelette category and the World Fantasy Award in the novella category. You can see the cool banner that Meerkat Press did for me at the top of this newsletter.

If you’ve read the book and found it fun, please think about giving it a review or posting about it on social media!

Want to hear the first bit of it? Here’s a YouTube video.

In recent class news, I’m in the process of lining up classes for the April-June time frame, but will be taking most of April off due to travel and moving.

One new class I’d like to point you at is How Not to Feel Like a Failure in Your Writing Career with Jennifer Brozek, which talks about dealing with imposter syndrome, guilt, and other writerly frailties.

I’m excited to say Judith Tarr will be giving a workshop on how to write about horses on May 2, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific time. I’ll post more details as soon as I have the full description but you can go ahead and reserve a slot if you know you’re going to want to attend.

Look for news of more upcoming classes soon – I’m hoping the list will include at least one with Seanan McGuire, plus I’ve got some other rad stuff in the works.

Here’s the complete list of live classes in March at the moment. Classes appearing for the first time are bolded.

Remember that if you can’t make the live classes, there’s plenty of on-demand ones!

Along with chat server access and class discounts, Patreon supporters this month got:
◦    2 installments of serial novella BABY DRIVER, the pulp-y adventures of Patricia Savage and her five associates in 1930s America.
◦    Weekly online co-writing sessions on Wednesday mornings. If you’d like to join the next one, the link will be posted on Patreon and Discord. I will schedule at least one weekend one in March.
◦    A chance to participate in weekly goal-setting and check-in.
◦    Snippets included bits from Flowergod (SF story), The Butterfly Court’s Bathroom (fantasy story), (2) Because It is Bitter (SF near future novella), writing exercises from Fran Wilde’s Fantastic Worldbuilding class.

Want to join us in the Chez Rambo community? Here’s how.

Cat or Rambo Academy Stuff to be Aware Of
Chez Rambo Community Links
Gaming
Market News
For Writers and Readers
Random 

The January giveaway was for a signed copy of my new novelette, CARPE GLITTER and the winner was Gretchen (I’ve dropped you an email, Gretchen, let me know if you didn’t get it).

This month I have stickers that will be going out to Patreon supporters – if you’d like one, drop me an e-mail with the address to send it to you!

Happy writing!

-Cat

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Guest Post: Debbie Lynn Smith Daughetee on Rediscovering the Voices of Woman Horror Writers

When I first started to take my writing seriously, I went to see Ray Bradbury at a UCLA event. I loved Bradbury’s work, my favorite short story being “The Veldt.” You can imagine my dismay when he stood on that stage and announced that women could NOT write horror fiction. I remember sitting there and asking myself, “Did he just say that?”

Later, when I became a television writer, I heard the same sentiment, only now it included science fiction and edgy drama. This is why I ended up writing for Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; Touched by an Angel; and Murder, She Wrote (although I did get to write the vampire episode of the latter).

When I started my comic book company Kymera Press, I was told, “You can’t use all women artists. You have to have some men, or you’ll never sell your books.” That is why the company slogan is: We’re not asking for permission.

Preview of cover image for Kickstarter: comic art of woman reading to monster, with images of women floating above them.Kymera Press does use all women artists and writers, and we don’t have a problem selling our books. One of our titles, Ivory Ghosts, is in the Smithsonian National Natural History Museum’s gift shop in Washington DC.

I’ve been hearing women can’t for a long time. Though history has tried to hide it, women have been doing all kinds of things they’re not able to do. Hedy Lamarr, an actress during MGM’s golden age, co-invented a radio signaling device that changed radio frequencies to prevent the decoding of military messages. The system was a steppingstone to guaranteeing the security of communications and cellular phones.

You probably heard of Anne Easley, since the movie Hidden Figures was made about her and four other African American women who did significant work at NASA. Easley was considered a human computer in a time when there were no “machine” computers. When computers were born, she taught herself programming languages and worked as a programmer for NASA’s Centaur rocket project. This was the first technological stage for the space shuttle. Do you drive a hybrid car? Her work led the way to its development.

These are just two women who did what women supposedly couldn’t do. Women have been breaking barriers set for them for centuries. And this includes the field of writing.

Not convinced? When you think of Victorian writers, who comes to mind? Charles Dickens? Lewis Carroll? Bram Stoker? These men were famous in their time and ours. But what about Elizabeth Gaskell? Amelia Edwards? Margaret Strickland? These women were as renowned as the gentlemen above, but have you heard of them? An English major may answer yes, but the rest of us? Probably not.

Sneak preview of comic page from Kickstarter: Frankenstein's monster meeting Mary Shelley.Nancy Holder is a contemporary horror writer who has won 5 Bram Stoker Awards for her horror fiction. I am the owner of Kymera Press, a comic book publisher. The two of us teamed up to resurrect the stories of these amazing women by adapting them into a comic book series entitled Mary Shelley Presents. Mary Shelley and Frankenstein’s monster introduce the stories of Elizabeth Gaskell (“The Old Nurse’s Story”), Edith Nesbit (“Man-size in Marble”), Margaret Strickland (“The Case of Sir Alister Moeran”) and Amelia Edwards (“Monsieur Maurice”). Nancy writes the adaptations and artists Amelia Woo, Dearbhla Kelly, and Saida Temofonte bring the comic books to life. The text of each original story is printed after the conclusion of the adaptation.

Kymera Press, however, isn’t the only one resurrecting these women’s voices. Weird Women is an anthology that presents “Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers 1852-1923.” It was edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Lisa Morton. This anthology contains 21 short stories by women who wrote horror during the Victorian era. It includes “The Old Nurses’ Tale” by Elizabeth Gaskell and a different story by Edith Nesbit. It’s a fantastic anthology edited by two people who are well-known in both the academic and the horror fields.

You can help resurrect these women’s voices by buying a copy of Weird Women and supporting a Kickstarter for Kymera Press, launching on February 12, 2020. We want to collect the first four issues of Mary Shelley Presents into a trade paperback with an amazing stretch goal of a hardback.  Libraries and teachers prefer trade paperbacks, or even better, hardbacks, when stocking their shelves or using them in classrooms.

Perhaps, with the work being done to bring these women’s voices back to life, we won’t have to hear people who pass by the Kymera Press table say, “I didn’t know a woman wrote Frankenstein.” It’s time for people to know that yes, women can write horror. Women can do anything and everything. And we’re not asking for permission.


Comic-style headshot of the author from her website.BIO: Debbie Lynn Smith Daughetee has spent most of her career writing and producing such television shows as Murder, She WroteDr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; and Touched by an Angel. She has published short stories in magazines and anthologies, including the Bram Stoker award-winning Dark Delicacies. In addition, she has also written audio dramas set in the world of the 60’s classic television show, Dark Shadows, including her Scribe award nominated, The Lost Girl. Most recently, Debbie created Kymera Press, a comic book publishing company that supports women in comics. She writes the comic series Gates of Midnight which was winner of the 2019 Irwin Award. She travels the country with her husband Paul attending comic book conventions where they sell their titles. You can also buy Kymera Press Comics at KymeraPress.com.

Probably the most interesting thing about Debbie is that she is a double lung transplant. Please become an organ donor. It saves lives. Like hers.

Twitter: @kymerapress

Instagram: Kymerapress

Facebook: Kymerapress, D. Lynn Smith

Kickstarter: Mary Shelly Presents


If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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The New Rude Masters of Fantasy & Science Fiction – and Romance

We’re closing the doors on 2019 and with that, I’ve finally finished up this essay, which I’ve been working on for over a year and which keeps having to be updated as new scuffles arose. I have many thoughts on the modern publishing scene, many of them related to class/race/gender/disability issues, but I will focus on a particular question because right now we’re seeing a lot of this getting enacted yet again, this time in the form of the Romance Writers Association debacle, where author Courtney Milan was officially censured, suspended from membership for a year, and banned for life from RWA leadership after two other members complained that she had repeatedly/intentionally engaged in conduct injurious to the RWA through comments on social media.

As part of the resulting furor, which seems to me just a flaming trainwreck and shining example of how an organization shouldn’t handle something like this that has included moments like Chuck Tingle disavowing knowing RWA President Damon Suede, authors of color are yet again being called rude for speaking out. So with that, let’s begin to try to pick apart why this keeps happening, by looking at what happened with fantasy and science fiction.

How is Fantasy & Science Fiction Publishing Changing?

In this decade, writers have found themselves at an unsettling and unpredictable moment in publishing as well as history, one that marks major changes in the ways humans consume words. New forces have entered the scene. Among them are the rise of indie publishing, the ability of binge readers to download an entire series to their e-reader in an instant, the accessibility of free media through sites like Project Gutenberg, unforeseen copyright battles involving new technology and business models, and social media with its global reach, to mention only a few.

This moment is shaped by political shifts seeping through from the overall culture. One such shift is an attention to previously-marginalized voices. On the political left, there is a concerted effort to acknowledge that a system of privilege has muted and silenced some groups while privileging those in the mainstream. In recent years, conferences have begun with acknowledging first peoples and their land, cultural repositories are focusing their acquisitions to remedy gaps, and fan conventions are bringing in fans of color and include codes of conduct, to present a few examples of such initiatives.
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Guest Post: Jasmine Arch on A Safe, Inclusive Haven for Writers

I do my writing in between the cracks of a fulltime job, four dogs, two horses, and the renovation of our house, in which a lot of the work is done by my husband and myself. So yes, my writing time is precious. Very much so. However, most evenings, at least one hour of my time, and sometimes more, is not spent drafting, revising, or editing. Not exclusively. That time is spent in an online writing community, where I am one of the founding members.

Typewriter logo, with the letters for "Inkubator" in red in a single line of keys.

For some people who, like me, live in a part of the world where English is not a prevalent language, where cons are few and far between and writing groups even more of an oddity, these online groups are pretty much the only opportunity we have to interact with other writers on a regular basis.
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End of 2019 $5 Sale

Happy holidays, no matter what form you celebrate them in! Here at Chez Rambo, we mix a lot of traditions, all focused on friendship, food, and lots of lights, the last symbolizing our determination to keep shining brightly in 2020.

To celebrate, here’s the special end of the holidays sale, starting NOW and going through midnight of January 1, 2020. After that the coupon code will no longer be valid, alas. Stock up now!

Every on-demand class in the Rambo Academy is on sale for $5. Here’s the list of classes! The coupon code to use is HOLIDAYDAZE. If there’s any trouble, drop me an e-mail. That coupon is good on every on-demand class, so even if you stocked up on them last year, you’ll find some new to 2019.

Want to spend a little on yourself or still need a present for someone? The holiday bundles are good through the end of the sale.

Bonus offer for careful readers: Buy everything and get $20 off all live classes while registering between now and Jan 1. To redeem, mention this offer and the email that you used to sign up for the Academy. Offer can be used with the special Patreon/student rate. Here is the list of upcoming live classes.

If you’ve enjoyed the Rambo Academy’s offerings over the past decade, please share word of this sale with others who might be interested: your writers group, your own newsletter and fans, that friend you write with, or the students you want to encourage. And please let me know by dropping a comment or mailing me if there are classes or teachers you want to see, particularly for the live classes.

Thanks, everyone, for a stellar year for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which is now a decade old. While this year has had its share of ups and downs, teaching and the connections I made through it have provided many of its joys. And I’m looking forward to some cool new upcoming classes as well.

Celebrate your holidays with sparkle and shine, but also with compassion for those who are scraping by this season. Give a stranger a smile, at the very least, or a sympathetic ear. Send out joy into the world and it will come back to you tenfold.

Here’s to 2020, with love,
Cat

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