Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

April 25, 2014

A Blog Hop!

Sometimes a girl just doesn’t know what to blog about, when out of the wide, limitless blue comes a friendly blogger-writer-friend with a golden baton that they will pass on to you, inscribed not only with the solution to all of your blogging problems, but permission to talk about yourself.

The reclusive bookseller in her natural habitat.

Really? May I? Simon McNeil (author of The Black Trillium, forthcoming from Brain Lag Publishingsays yes! It goes like this: because I have been tagged by Simon, I will answer the questions he has laid out for me. At the end, I will pass the baton to three more writers, who will answer similar writerly-questions which I will ask them. The pedigree of this blog hop is a good one: Simon was tagged by Adam Shaftoe, Adam by Matt Moore, Matt by Marie Bilodeau, Marie by Eileen Bell…. it’s possible this goes back to the birth of the universe if you want to follow it there, and Godspeed to you if you do.

With no further ado, here are the questions Simon put to me!

1) What book most affected your decision to begin writing? Why that book?

Like a lot of writers, I was one of those who decided to “be a writer” when I was maybe 7 years old, so I don’t have the clearest recollection of what story might have inspired this choice, if there was one. One of my first “long” works was a “sequel” to The Princess Bride (actually just the movie told over again, only starring me as the Dread Pirate Roberts’ BFF and co-adventurer) which I wrote when I was 8.

When I ran away from home and eventually enrolled in Celtic Studies in university, though, it was because of Charles de Lint. His Newford books in particular. I wanted to live those – writing something similar came a close second. I wrote dozens of first chapters that never went anywhere. Living them was a much greater success – but that’s another story.

I didn’t REALLY finish a book until they invented NaNoWriMo and I decided to jump in and pull a Harry Potter. I wanted to write meaningful, socially-conscious kid’s fantasy with a strong political/ecological message. And I think I did. I don’t know that this means Harry Potter got me seriously writing, though. It was a combination of things.

2) How do you deal with difficult protagonists in your writing and reading? Is it possible to bridge the gap between “I don’t like them” and “I don’t care about them?”

I tend to work with a close, limited POV with my protagonists, and the reader gets a lot of interior dialogue. My hope is that even if you don’t especially like the narrator, you will understand her. She makes her fears, motivations, justifications and expectations abundantly clear.

I don’t use difficult protagonists, though, unless they have a flaw which is meant to expose a particular point I am trying to make with the piece. You don’t need to like them in order to see how their politics/fears/hubris plays out in the world. I don’t ask my reader to connect with the character all the time – just to think about what the existence of people like them means to the world.

3) Pantser or plotter? Explain why.

I used to be a pantser, I am now a plotter. Nothing will give me worse writer’s block than coming to a point in the story where I realize it is going nowhere, or where trying to tie together all the threads will result in an enormous, ugly knot.

My weakness as a writer is in plotting – deciding what happens. I am good with the abstracts: settings, ideas, characters and motivations. I often know more about my world’s biosphere than I do the story’s plot direction before I start. Without plotting, my stories wound up just being the meandering adventures of interesting characters. They’d discover things, go places, have many meals and intelligent conversations – but none of it ever went anywhere and it didn’t culminate into anything. It didn’t mean anything. That thing most writers have, where they think “wouldn’t it be cool if this happened?” I don’t have a good sense of that. So I need to make sure I sketch out my story arc ahead of time.

4) Write a pitch for your favourite story you never wrote.

Okay, the following is the pitch for a novel I did start, and wrote the first four chapters of… but I don’t think I’ll ever be going back. Still, I had so much fun writing it.

“Seven years after the magii of Al’Tahj opened the first portal to Jammatan, the ocean world’s secrets are still buried. Thousand of islands hide ancient ruins, sophisticated artifice and complex messages from a long-dead civilization, now reclaimed by the jungle, the ocean, and the huge creatures that have come to dominate the world.

This is a world that rewards the brave, the reckless, and the ambitious. Those who cross through the portal and stake their claims on this new world grow rich, if they don’t get killed.

The Gloriana is bound for the open seas led by Captain Aziza Dualeh, who has a near-mystical talent for attracting, and conquering, trouble. Among her crew is the artificer Taban Haji Kaar, planted by the Caliphate of Al’Tahj to carry out a mission known only to him – a mission Taban finds himself increasingly unwilling to complete. Out on the frontier, away from the comfort and politics of Al’Tahj, Taban finds himself distracted by, of all things, his heart…”


Tag! I’m sending you next in the direction of Rati Mehrotra, Mari Adkins & C.M. Rosens! All three women have some fantastic work on the horizon, so I hope you’ll check them out.

April 24, 2014

Clavis Aurea April 24th 2014

I talk about Terror, Horror & Ann Radcliffe over at Apex Magazine this week in my Clavis Aurea reviews. Have a look!

April 15, 2014

Five Great Heroes for Small Girls

Navigating media with a young girl can be a disheartening experience. If you think representation matters, like I do, you’re constantly on the lookout for smart, confident, diverse girls represented in interesting ways. They can be hard to find, but not impossible. Six years in, I have built a small but sturdy library.

Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking, the hero of Astrid Lindgren’s eponymous books, was my #1 most favourite female hero for kids before I actually had kids. There were very few characters I, personally, identified with more when I was eight. Pippi lives alone with a horse and a monkey. She has incredible super-strength, which is neat, but not nearly as enticing as her independence. She has a father somewhere, distantly, who is a buccaneer captain. Pippi isn’t bothered by her father’s absence since he is alive and merely busy having adventures, so Pippi’s feral independence isn’t darkened in any way by loss or grief. She just straight up gets to do anything she likes, and does.

Mosca Mye

Mosca Mye is the hero of Frances Hardinge’s incredible books, Fly By Night and Twilight Robbery. Another lone, independent 12-year-old, Mosca does have a darker past, and it adds a definite edge to her character. Razor-sharp, Mosca escapes her dull relatives after sort-of-accidentally-on-purpose burning her uncle’s barn to the ground and freeing the loquacious conman, Eponymous Clent, who comes to be her partner in crime. She also has a goose named Saracen, who is the fiercest creature in all the world. Mosca’s not old enough to have lost a childlike innocence, despite her street smarts, and she survives all sorts of dangerous encounters on wit alone. Bonus points for major themes of literacy!

Zahrah the Windseeker

I’m partial to bold, independent heroes, but my elder daughter is a different creature. Adventures are scary to her, even when they come out well in the end, and so she instantly attached herself to Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu’s Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the 2008 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa). Zahrah’s a shy, contemplative 13-year-old who is absolutely reluctant to go charging off into danger. She needs to think, internalize and understand – and occasionally be given a final firm shove. But she has strength of character and wisdom beyond her years, not to mention SHE CAN FLY, which is obviously amazing.


It would be easy to make this a list of characters from Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films, but let’s stick to one. Kiki is probably the strongest of Miyazaki’s characters. The film is about her and her growth as a character, and very little else. But it’s enough. Kiki’s independent, but less sure than some of the more assertive characters. She’s a witch, but she doesn’t know what her special skill is yet, and she quickly learns she isn’t as rich or fancy as other girls in the big city she has chosen to live in. Her fears and struggles are terrible relatable, though Kiki never sacrifices her fundamental goodness. Though she’s almost a young woman, the film’s lack of a “bad guy” makes it wonderful for kids of any age.

Zita the Space Girl

Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl (along with the sequels Legends of Zita the Spacegirl and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl) has pretty much everything you can ask for in space opera, pared down to the innocent scale of a young girl. Zita has arrived on a strange planet via a portal triggered by her best friend. He’s abducted: she dives through to rescue him. Instantly she’s thrown into huge, galaxy-spanning plots, con artistry, large scale rescue missions, desert crossings, overthrowing governments, salvaging robots, riding giant mice, standing up for economic refugees – have I missed anything? Probably – Zita almost has too much going on, but this never bothered my kids. Zita’s powers are pluck and the moral high ground – and it works.


I’ve had a thing or two to say about good representations for young girls before, and my essay “The Princess Problem” is now available as part of Jim C. Hines’ Invisible: Personal Essays on Representation in SF/F. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to Con or Bust, a fund administered through the Carl Brandon Society that helps get people of color/non-white people to attend SFF conventions. Take a look! Excellent work within.

April 10, 2014

Clavis Aurea April 10th

The 3rd installment of my short fiction reviews are up at Apex Magazine! As ever, you should read them!

April 4, 2014

How To Get My Money – Periodical Edition

I read a lot of periodicals. I have subscriptions to fifteen magazines or journals, and buy individual issues of countless others. I try to at least look at each one, even if I don’t always read them cover to cover. I feel as if I might have some grounds for talking a bit about why people might read your publication, and why people might not.

Here is a step by step guide to how I will approach your publication, as a reader; what will convince me to read and what will drive me away.

A shiny new ‘zine appears! 

Yay! I click through to the website. Oooh, looks interesting.

Can I buy an issue to read on my ereader?

If I can, I will buy it right away. I might hesitate if the only retailer is Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble or some other giant. If it’s direct, Weightless Books or Gumroad, I won’t even stop to think. I will BUY. I will read! Horray!

Can I subscribe to an e-edition?

If the ‘zine has a good track record or speaks directly to my soul, I will subscribe without too much thought. After all, I spend $20 on a book, why would I balk at spending the same amount of money to get 4-12 issues emailed directly to me? I love esubscriptions. This is why I have six of them.

Can I buy a paper copy?

Okay, so not everyone is putting together digital ‘zines. That’s cool. I like paper better anyway. I will buy physical copies if the total cost of the issue plus shipping is under $20. I will likely subscribe if it is something I really love. I love mail. This is why I have nine physical subscriptions.

Does it have an awesome mobile site?

Once I cannot buy an issue or subscription for comfortable reading, things get tricky. I used to read on my phone, but this resulted in a rapid decline of my eyesight, headaches, and general discomfort. I can read in short bursts, but I will not curl up with an issue on my phone.

If I have to read something on my phone, it had better be optimized for mobile reading. The text size has to be big enough, or adjustable. The menus must be simple. There can’t be ads or flash graphics reloading things every thirty seconds. Preferably, the text should take up the entire screen, so I don’t have to zoom (and end up with scrolling issues).

Some ‘zines have got perfectly serviceable mobile reading experiences (Apex Magazine and Ideomancer do good jobs). I tend to open these ‘zines in web browsers and leave them there for weeks. Maybe I will get to them, maybe I won’t.

Do I have to read it on an old-school website?

I probably won’t read. It’s too hard. It’s uncomfortable. I will only bother if a specific story has been recommended to me so many times that I can’t look away.

I mean, I get it. It’s free. You’re all working for free. But it is because it is free that I’m not as likely to read if you make it hard for me. I paid for my other magazines. I’m invested. Given the choice between reading something that hurts my eyes online, and reading something I paid for on my Kobo, I will do the latter every time. And I do have to choose – 15 subscriptions, after all. I can’t read everything.

A quick note on Kickstarters:

I acquired a large number of my subscriptions through Kickstarter. If you are running a Kickstarter for your periodical, it is an early subscription campaign. If you are running a Kickstarter for a periodical and your core tier is not “SUBSCRIPTION”, then you are doing it wrong. Any Kickstarter campaign, whatever it is for, should sell, fundamentally, the thing you are making. Probably for cheap, like an early bird special. It is dead easy for a supporter to see that $15-$20 tier and say, yah, I’ll throw you a twenty. And I get a subscription, which would cost me $22 if I waited! Good deal! This is where most of your supporters will lie. Your subscribers too. You will have contact with these supporters for the rest of the year. They are your core constituants.

Tiers full of postcards, prints, signed books, Tuckerizations, critiques… these are cool, but this isn’t what you are selling. This is the extra stuff, the honey that sweetens the pot of Zine Tea. If I have to pay ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS to get the equivalent of a subscription, you have missed the point. I want to love your product. It looks like a cool product. Please sell your product.

A quick note on free ‘zines who do everything right:

You produce a great product, you make ezine subscriptions available and you do it all for free. You are AMAZING. But I still want to give you my money, and you are making it hard by giving it all away. I know, I could just click the PayPal button. I probably won’t. I will procrastinate. I will think, “I should throw some money in the tip jar some day.” I won’t get around to it.

It takes very little “extra” to get me to pay in. Release the paid material a week ahead of the free edition, as Beneath Ceaseless Skies does. Maybe include an extra story in the e-edition. Send me a t-shirt, I don’t know. But do something to fish for that money. You might think you don’t want it, but you do. Give it all to your featured author if you feel bad pocketing it. Buy your slushies Starbucks gift cards. But do take the offered money and put it to work. If you don’t, somebody else will, and that person might not be as awesome as you.

So, how about you? What makes you read a ‘zine? Leave a comment even just to say hi!