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Thank you so much to all of last week’s guests! The last two guest posts are going up tomorrow and Tuesday, but before announcing the schedule, here’s how to catch up on anything you’ve missed so far.

All of the guest posts from April 2020 can be found here, the first week in review can be found here, the next week in review is here, and in last week’s guest posts:

And the recommendation list project has been updated and opened for new recommendations! In 2013, Renay from Lady Business asked readers to submit some of their favorite science fiction and fantasy books written by women and we’ve been collecting submissions every year since. After updating it to include last year’s submissions, the list now includes 2,710 titles, many of which have been recommended multiple times. (There’s one book that’s been recommended 58 times!) It’s also possible to add more books to the list: you can add up to 10 of your favorites (or, if you’ve already done that, 10 of your favorites read over the last year).

A Note on the Recommendation List Project Search: It was brought to my attention this weekend that the search on the list was no longer working—something must have changed with the API sometime after I tested it earlier this month, which is odd timing since there’s never once been a problem when testing it each year and then it suddenly stopped working after I’d tested it this year. In any case, the search is working again, and I’m sorry if you ran into any problems with trying to add books. Please do let me know if you run into any further issues, and if you have some books you’d like to add, please add them!

Next week, Women in SF&F Month 2020 continues with guest posts by:

Women in SF&F Month 2020 Schedule Graphic

April 27: Jeffe Kennedy (Forgotten Empires, The Twelve Kingdoms)
April 28: Reni K Amayo (Daughters of Nri, “Andromeda”)

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Today’s guest is Robin Kirk! She’s an award-winning poet and essayist, and her short fiction appears in Beyond the Nightlight, Tomorrow: Apocalyptic Short StoriesWicked South: Secrets and Lies: Stories for Young Adults, and more. The Bond, her science fiction debut novel, received the 2018 Foreword INDIES Bronze Award for Young Adult Fiction and was a finalist in the 2019 Manly Wade Wellman Award for North Carolina Science Fiction and Fantasy. The second book in the Bond Trilogy, The Hive Queen, is coming out on August 3!

The Bond by Robin Kirk Book Cover The Hive Queen by Robin Kirk Book Cover

Science Fiction and Human Rights
By Robin Kirk

Science fiction is one of the greatest and most effective forms of political writing.”
Nnedi Okorafor, award-winning author of the Binti series


Science fiction is often credited for inspiring advances in technology. Jules Verne, author of adventure stories like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, may have inspired submarines. Arthur C. Clarke imagined using satellites for global communications. Lillian Cunningham’s gripping “Moonrise” podcast, produced for the Washington Post, traces how science fiction helped propel both the Soviet and American space programs.

As a longtime human rights advocate as well as a sci-fi writer, I believe this genre has inspired more than objects. Through the lens of story, we’ve also explored ideas about how society could or should function. Women writers especially have tested the boundaries of what it means to be human and live in connection with other humans.

And that shapes what rights we think we do or should have—even who should have rights at all. This observation is almost as old as science fiction itself. As the world careened toward World War II, H.G. Wells—author of War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Invisible Man, among other works, and a committed socialist—wrote “The Rights of Man,” a prescient treatise that proposed not only political rights, but rights to nourishment, housing, health care, and a home.

In “Imagining Human Rights: rights through the lens of speculative fiction,” a class I taught this semester at Duke University, I relied on authors like Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, and Nnedi Okorafor, among others, to explore how women writers have compelled us to examine the complexities of rights and how they may shift—or explode in our faces.

I started the course with Le Guin’s deceptively simple short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” For me, the story presents a powerful allegory for our willingness in modern society to accept the suffering of others so long as we are comfortable. In a 2018 Paris Review interview, N.K. Jemisin described a category of what she called “Omelas stories,” which, like Le Guin’s spare tale, “gut punch(es) you with the fact that this is the reality of living in a modern capitalist society. You are living at the expense of, amid the pain of, a lot of people who have suffered to bring you the wonderful lifestyle that you’ve got—if you’ve got that wonderful lifestyle at all, which a lot of folks in this country right now do not.”

Some students had read the story in high school and remembered the relatively simplistic moral they’d gleaned. Of course, they stated, one should walk away from such suffering. Using Jemisin’s analysis, I pressed them. Walking away changes nothing for that child. How, exactly, are you looking for that metaphorical child in your life? While some of my students come from wealthy families, others are first-generation and overcame immense obstacles to go to a place like Duke. They felt they had “earned” the right to be there. But what would it mean to really open that door and peer in at the child whose suffering helped make their success possible? Would any of them—could they—walk away from the Omelas that is Duke’s verdant campus?

Postcard from Octavia E. Butler
Postcard from Octavia E. Butler at Duke’s Rare Book and Manuscript Locus Archive

The class came alive on the day we discussed Butler’s “Bloodchild.” Previously, we’d visited Duke’s Locus Archive and I’d helplessly fan-girled over a Butler postcard to her editor (“I am Octavia E. Butler in all my stories, novels, and letters. How is it that I’ve lost my E in three places in Locus #292? Three places! You owe me three E’s.”). “Bloodchild,” winner of a 1984 Nebula Award and a 1985 Hugo Award, forced the students to detach from gender norms and ask what assumptions they had about rights when faced with survival.

Butler’s protagonist, Gan, is a male human born on an alien planet. With his family, Gan lives in a protected reserve run by T’Gatoi, a Tlic noble. T’Gatoi is a gentle, though firm, ruler. The pact with humans is simple. Each family commits one male child per generation to incubate a Tlic egg.

As with Butler’s other stories, including the mind-bending Xenogenesis series, the relationship can’t be distilled into a simplistic narrative of slavery or gender-bending. Butler maintained that her inspiration for “Bloodchild” lay in issues of sex and gender. These categories presume trade-offs around rights, especially as we edge into worlds where bodies (and body parts) are purchased and hired to create and carry children. In many areas, gender fluidity is replacing gender binaries. My students went over allowed class time as they discussed how this story related to their own lived experience around consent and future plans to have or not have children.

We even drew the Tlic, an exercise in disgust and fascination. I certainly could not have written the books in my own gender-bending fantasy series, The Bond and The Hive Queen, without having first read Butler.

Sadly, our in-person discussions were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’d managed to somehow pair the cancellation of classes with the assignment of M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts, planning to frame a discussion of rights and climate change once students returned from Spring Break. As it turned out, Carey’s apocalyptic tale and his unforgettable heroine, Melanie, were just as suited to a discussion of pandemic as rebirth and reveal.

Our final assignment is Nnedi Okorafor’s “Spider the Artist,” which takes place in a future Nigeria where multinational corporations defend oil pipelines with spider-like zombies. Fitting for an end-of-class discussion, the story introduces students to a woman who chooses to stand up for justice. In an interview posted to her blog, Okorafor says this story was the first she wrote consciously as pure science fiction.

The story is so rich in sensory detail that I wonder if my students will enjoy feeling transported from their quarantine homes into a Nigerian village so damaged by exploitation that “The air left your skin dirty and smelled like something preparing to die. In some places, it was always daytime because of the noisy gas flares.” Okorafor gives us a rich palette of Nigerian folklore, current politics, and the life experience of so many oppressed people, at the mercy of savage capitalism yet still determined to be human and fight for their rights. For Okorafor, “science fiction is one of the greatest and most effective forms of political writing.”

Only recently have women been fully recognized as having shaped our science fiction imaginary (despite the fact that the creators of the genre include writers like Frankenstein’s author, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, whose mother was a women’s rights champion). In some cases, the contributions are seismic in terms of rights and not confined to the page. Sometimes, just the fact that people of color, women, and the disabled, among others, are visible, regardless of what they are producing, is a rights advance.

For instance, Nichelle Nichols, the actor who played Lieutenant Uhura on Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek, famously considered leaving the show to return to her first love, musical theater. After telling Roddenberry, she happened to attend a fundraiser where the organizers asked to introduce her to a fan. She was shocked when that fan turned out to be the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King told her that Star Trek was one of the few shows he and his wife, Coretta, watched with their three children. When she told King she planned to leave the show, he protested. With the role, he told her, she was showing the world that African Americans were accomplished and capable of doing anything, including traveling the universe.

Nichols chose to remain. She went on to push NASA to recruit more women and people of color, helping to bring in Sally Ride, Guion Bluford, and Mae Jemison, the first black woman to go into space.

When I teach the class again—hopefully with this pandemic in our collective rear-view mirror—my challenge will not be to find material but to pare down the richness of what’s available. My students have helped me see science fiction in a different way, now through the lens of a generation shaped by pandemic and profoundly familiar with how life and their prospects can change in an instant. My one hope is that these stories will help them cope with those changes and feel less defeated by them. It’s a challenge to all writers to find ways to help people understand that they matter and that stories can help us see each other and our planet as precious.

Robin Kirk Photo Robin Kirk is the author of The Bond and The Hive Queen, released on August 3, 2020, books one and two in a fantasy trilogy from Blue Crow Books. Her short story, “Love is a Wild Creature,” is featured in Wicked South: Secrets and Lies: Stories for Young Adults, also by Blue Crow. Her short stories and poems have also appeared in speculative fiction and other publications. Kirk has published three nonfiction books on human rights in Latin America as well as essays, articles, short stories, and opeds. She teaches human rights at Duke University. She is reachable at RobinKirk.com, @RobinKirk on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She is represented by Jacqui Lipton at Raven Quill Literary Agency.

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Today’s guest is Andrea Stewart! Her story “Dreameater” was selected for Writers of the Future Volume 29, and her short fiction has also appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Galaxy’s Edge, and Mothership Zeta, as well as other publications. The Bone Shard Daughter, the first book in her debut epic fantasy trilogy, is coming out on September 8—but you can read an excerpt from it right now!

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart Book Cover


When I was a kid, I had a big book of beautifully illustrated fairytales that I read until both covers fell off. Most of the tales ended the same way. Man marries princess, woman marries prince. They lived happily ever after.

But what happens next?

Don’t get me wrong, I love stories filled with the flush of new romance, tales of unlikely love that end up somehow working out. A man or woman from a humble background, through ingenuity and/or integrity, wins the heart of royalty. And so they are lifted from poverty, rising into the upper echelons of society.

Two characters in my book have embarked on just such a romance. By the time the story starts, the meet-cute has already happened, hearts have already been won, class differences and caution tossed to the four winds. Ranami is a commoner who started life as a gutter orphan, scraping a living from the streets. Phalue is the daughter of their island’s governor, set to inherit both a palace and rule of the island.

Phalue wants Ranami to marry her. Ranami wants to start a revolution.

Before I started this book, I saw a tweet yearning for the coupling of a princess and a female warrior, and that got me thinking. First, I don’t think I see enough F/F pairings in fantasy novels. Second, I loved the idea of these two disparate women as a couple, as a team, both skilled in different ways. I changed things up a bit, though. Phalue is the warrior, and Ranami is the one who is well-read and political. They’ve been together for three years. They fight sometimes, but they each have a deep respect and regard for the other.

So they’re in love. But, spoiler: this isn’t all they need to live happily ever after. If it was, there wouldn’t be any story left to tell. And I think there is so much more story left to tell within the context of an established relationship. Even the best relationships with the two most perfectly suited partners experience conflict. What matters isn’t that there is conflict; what matters is how they work through it.

Neither Phalue nor Ranami is a bad person; each wants her partner to be happy. But differences in perspective can make it hard to see eye-to-eye.

As a child, I took the fairytales at face value. Of course the couple lived happily ever after. They were in love! The commoner wasn’t poor anymore! All their problems were solved! I could close the book and that was the end of it. The story was over. As an adult, I thought more about the complexities the characters in such a relationship might actually face.

The commoner grew up in poverty. They have people that they care about, friends they’ve made, empathetic connections formed with people from similar circumstances. The royal lives in a palace, surrounded by sycophants and wealth; they’ve never gone to bed hungry.

Would the commoner be content to then be lifted into wealth? What about the people they’ve left behind? Would the royal, no matter how kind and generous, understand the structural inequalities that led to their wealth? How could they, together, form a common understanding from which they could tackle the world as a team? I’ve realized as I’ve grown older, as I’ve left fairytales behind, that part of understanding one’s partner is understanding where they’ve come from. Even small differences can form gaps in understanding. I grew up biracial, both my parents having immigrated from their respective countries. My parents had many disadvantages, but eventually, by the time I could form memories, they were well off. My husband is white and was raised by a single mother in a small house with two siblings.

We…don’t always understand one another when it comes to food.

Larger differences in backgrounds mean that any problems, in the relationship or otherwise, are going to be seen through two very different lenses.

When farmers can’t meet their quotas, Ranami sees the quotas as unfair. Phalue sees farmers who have been given a fair bargain and simply aren’t working hard enough. Somehow, if they want to make their love work, they need to bridge this gap.

I still love fairytales. There’s something about them that resonates through time, that feels true despite the fairies and talking animals. But now, when I close the book, I can imagine a world in which the princess of “The Golden Bird” finally divorces the gardener’s son (because let’s be honest, the guy’s just a tad too foolish), Beauty and the Beast need to figure out how to survive the French revolution, and Cinderella and her prince start a social services bureau to check in on the well-being of orphans.

Even a happily ever after has an aftermath.

Andrea Stewart Photo
Photo by Lei Gong
Andrea Stewart is the daughter of immigrants, and was raised in a number of places across the United States. Her parents always emphasized science and education, so she spent her childhood immersed in Star Trek and odd-smelling library books.

When her (admittedly ambitious) dreams of becoming a dragon slayer didn’t pan out, she instead turned to writing books. She now lives in sunny California, and in addition to writing, can be found herding cats, looking at birds, and falling down research rabbit holes.

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Today’s guest is Jennifer Marie Brissett! Her short fiction has appeared in FIYAH, The Future Fire, Lightspeed Magazine, Motherboard VICEUncanny Magazine, and many other publications, and she’s also contributed to anthologies and collections such as Sunspot Jungle and Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler. Her science fiction debut novel, Elysium, won the Philip K. Dick Special Citation Award, was a finalist for the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and was selected for the Tiptree Award Honor List. Destroyer of Light, her second novel, is coming out this summer!

Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett Cover Image

The Sophomore Book
by Jennifer Marie Brissett

“It takes a lot of work to make it as a writer, and the writing isn’t the hardest part.”

These are words I wish I had heard years ago when I started this journey.


My career began “late” by many people’s standards. For most, I suppose this would be about my age. For others, it would be because I didn’t begin writing when I was eleven years old. But for me, “being late” means that I don’t have several rejected books under my bed. Folks who have those have no idea how much of an advantage they have. I know that to them it feels like they are accumulating failure. Yet, I can clearly attest to anyone that a bunch of unsold books gathering dust under their mattress means that they are literally lying on a pile of gold like a sleeping dragon.

Completing a first book is a major milestone for any writer. Whether that book remains under their bed until the day they die or sells to a publisher, it tells a writer that “yes, you can do this!” The second, or sophomore, book tells a writer that the first book wasn’t a fluke and that “yes, you can do this again and again!” It is possible, maybe even likely, that neither of these books sell—at least not right away. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

It can take years to get a writing career going and that’s not always a reflection on the quality of the writing. Sometimes the work simply is not in tune with what’s selling at the moment. 90% of success is just showing up. So aspiring writers should be constantly writing and sending out work. So, what do you do if you are producing all this writing but it’s also constantly being rejected? Well, we writers have a saying, “Trunk it,” which means that we file it away somewhere. But that doesn’t mean that the story or even novel is dead. On the contrary, one day when your career is finally moving, you will find that pile of rejected and/or unsold work will be a wealth of material to draw from to either present to your agent or publisher for publication, or to gather ideas from for your next new project. You will be able to basically steal from yourself!

This may be all well-and-good for those who’ve been working for years and years at their writing—you lucky so and so’s 🙂—but what about folks like me who started “late”? I began writing in my late 30s; went to grad school of creative writing when I was 40; and, sure, I now have a bunch of stories in print and a book that did very well with a small publisher (Elysium, Aqueduct Press). But… this is the point at which a “normal” writer could pull from that pile of unsold books and stories that have been rejected over the years. I have none of that. Everything I have is being produced right now in the moment. That’s a huge disadvantage I have. It makes me slow to turn out new books and seem less prolific in a field that prizes the next book yesterday.

So what has it been like working on my sophomore book—it’s been exhausting. Life happens when you’re a writer even when you would like it to stop for a minute so you can catch your breath. There are so many distractions. Like every other working writer, I have a life that I have to manage while I produce my work. And I’ve felt under pressure while writing this very emotionally difficult book—my sophomore book—because I’ve felt (feel) that this book could make or break my career. In all fairness, this is probably not true. Regardless of what happens with this book, I probably still will be able to continue writing and publishing. The important thing to understand is that feeling that my career depended on how this book turned out helped to make writing the book maybe a bit more difficult than it should have been. This is how having books already gathering dust under my bed would have been helpful. I wouldn’t have been starting from zero. There would have been a little crutch for me to lean on when I was feeling terrified of the blank page.

But there are advantages to writing by the seat of my pants. One of them is that all my writing is guaranteed fresh and immediate. I’m writing about what I’m thinking now at this age—not what I was thinking at twenty. I’m writing with all the wisdom of a lifetime to guide my prose. There is a no-nonsense sensibility to what I write, too. Playtime for me is over. There’s no slackness of trying something “just cus…” When I write and publish something, know that I have not compromised on content and that I fought like a lioness for every word that I thought mattered.


Another aspect of having my sophomore book come out is that I have the experience of the first to teach me a lot about the field. Not everything, but a lot. I have learned that whether someone can make a career of writing has less to do with their writing as it does with a writer’s business sense. Talent actually is not rare. I’ve met a lot of talented people. I’ve taught a lot of talented people, too. But having the good sense to treat people with decency, and even to help others along the way, are not lessons that everyone learns, but are also a part of a writer’s success. Knowing who to associate with (other writers, agents, publicists, mentors, etc.), who you choose to support, who has chosen to support you, even knowing who to leave behind because they are holding you back, are all factors in the success, middling, or failure of a career. This is hard stuff.

At this point, I’ve encountered a lot of people in the science fiction and fantasy field. It’s amazing how easy and fast it is to meet folks, especially if you have a book that is doing well. Some people have been absolutely lovely; others have been the devil’s own. I have learned not just as a writer, but as a person, that along with being kind, it’s also important to be smart. Not everyone you meet in this field should be your friend. Watch what a person does, not just what they say.

Another thing I’ve learned since my first book came out is that writers have a tendency to hear the criticism louder than we hear the praise. At least I can definitely say that about myself. It’s important to learn to be tough enough to tune out the noise. A critique on a work-in-progress from your writer friends is far different than a published review. One is for the benefit of the writer. The other definitely is not. Even as I received a lot of praise for my first book there were those who went out of their way to personally accuse me of some very unkind things. Is this because I am a woman? Is this because I’m black? Is this because I’m both? I don’t know. I can’t read into their minds. But now I have the experience from my first book to tell me how I can’t afford to be distracted by this stuff. Distractions can fill my head, and all my next books are only in my head. Since I don’t have a pile under my bed to draw from, I have to stay doubly focused because these distractions can hamper my writing.

Whether I have what it takes to make it as a science fiction and fantasy writer depends on how I handle the next few months. Which bridges I choose to build, and which I choose to napalm, can determine how far I go in this field. I need to choose wisely. Moving from a small press to a large one has required more compromises than I ever imagined. It has actually been quite difficult. I’ve truly needed the group of more seasoned authors that I’ve built over the years to gather advice from, and I’ve tapped that wisdom pool several times. (Thanks, guys!!) The image of the solitary writer creating a masterpiece all by themselves is a complete utter (excuse the pun) fantasy. It simply doesn’t happen that way. Every successful book has tons and tons of people behind it—and not just the editors, agents, and publishers—but the friends, fellow writers, and the loving spouses (who patiently listened to you go on and on about how tough this writing game is for years on end) are also a part of the success story.


In the end, I feel that I have to trust the instincts that I have developed over the course of a lifetime to guide me. My sophomore book may or may not be successful. Only time will tell. But I will lean on the lessons from the publication of my first book as well as my life experiences to carry me through. For me, this means trying hard to stay focused and to tune out distractions. It also means that I won’t be messing with people who are problematic. As Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

This is my life now. I chose this. I write because I love writing. It’s given me much joy to share my stories with others. But everything comes with a cost. That’s what James Baldwin meant by the “Price of the Ticket.” How much am I willing to pay to be the thing I want to be, which in my case is a successful science fiction and fantasy writer? We’ll find out in the next few months and years. Wish me luck.

Jennifer Marie Brissett Photo Jennifer Marie Brissett once owned an indie bookstore in Brooklyn called Indigo Café & Books. Now she is an author and has written the novel ELYSIUM (Aqueduct Press) which won the Philip K. Dick Special Citation Award and was a finalist for the Tiptree and Locus Awards. Her sophomore novel DESTROYER OF LIGHT (Tor Books) will be published in the summer of 2020! She currently is a professor of Creative Writing in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in NYC. Her website can be found at www.jennbrissett.com

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Today’s guest is fiction writer and poet Shveta Thakrar! Her story “The Rainbow Flame” was a selection in Year’s Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction 2015, and her work can also be found in Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold, Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft, A Thousand Beginnings and Endings: 15 Retellings of Asian Myths and Legends, The Underwater Ballroom Society, Uncanny Magazine, Mythic Delirium, and many other publications. Star Daughter, her debut novel, was described in the Rights Report as “contemporary YA fantasy inspired by Hindu mythology [that] follows a half-mortal/half-star girl who must win a celestial competition to save her human father’s life”—and is coming out August 11!

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar Book Cover
Artwork by Charlie Bowater; design by Corina Lupp of HarperTeen

As a writer and someone whose expectations of relationships used to be deeply shaped by the books I devoured as a kid, I think a lot about the messages in stories. We tend to get trained by the things we’ve already read and watched to think stories have to go a certain way—the parents must be out of the picture in a kidlit adventure, the lead characters must end up together even if the story in question isn’t a romance, the main character must keep her magical identity hidden from everyone, and so on.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a good trope, but as a writer, I’m interested in exploring how I might build on them in the stories I tell. Why, for example, can’t girls support one another throughout the course of a story? Sure, our world is a patriarchal one for the most part, but that doesn’t mean caring people and loving, supportive female friendships don’t exist. It’s not all Mean Girls out there, and there’s no reason our fiction can’t reflect that.

In the earliest drafts of Star Daughter, even though the main character Sheetal and her best friend Minal have known each other since they were tiny, for most of their lives, Sheetal kept her stellar heritage secret from Minal. Of course, when their big Moment of Revelation finally happens, Minal is left feeling betrayed and scared of this person she’d thought she’d known. I showed that draft to a friend, who rightly asked me why: Why did Sheetal have to hide who she was from someone who loved and would support her? More importantly, my friend added, how did that even make sense? They’re best friends; there’s no way the truth wouldn’t have come out a long time ago.

Click. My friend had pulled the cord on the lamp in the room of my thoughts, and suddenly I could see what had been hidden in the shadows. Why had I done that? Because I had internalized the way fantasy stories went: the heroine always suffered in isolation. But once I really thought it through, that didn’t actually make any sense, and also, it wasn’t the kind of story I wanted to tell. The story of my heart was one that celebrated friendship and family even as those things complicated and enriched the situation for the protagonist. What I really wanted was to write a female friendship like the kind I wish I’d had as a teenager.

So I did. In the final version of Star Daughter, Minal knows the truth. She’s the first—and only—person Sheetal can turn to when the crisis begins, and she helps Sheetal stay grounded (sometimes with wry humor and blunt commentary). In return, there’s no question of Sheetal leaving her bestie behind when she sets off to find her starry mother. The story is still Sheetal’s, as are the obstacles she has to overcome, but that doesn’t mean she has to go through any of it alone, nor does it mean Minal can’t have her own arc alongside Sheetal’s. And that decision seems to have worked; one of the repeated comments I’ve gotten from early readers is how much they enjoyed the girls’ friendship.

But I also made that decision because I have no use for the toxic idea that women and girls are always at one another’s throats, that we can’t be celebrating our sisters’ success as well as our own. That we must be in competition instead of working together to find solutions and make things happen. That’s not what my life looks like, and I want my readers to know it doesn’t have to be like that for them, either. I’m tired of compassion and kindness being undervalued, even derided, in our media. I want there to be room in fiction for the things that lift us up, too.

I want my work to say it’s okay to lean on others—that, in fact, we have to. So many of our stories are about the Lone Hero(ine), but there’s no such thing as success in a vacuum. Human beings need one another both to survive and to flourish. We help one another grow and balance one another with our individual flaws and gifts. As a person who firmly believes in and seeks out enchantment and inspiration in her life, I know we make some of the best magic of all in collaboration.

If there’s a takeaway from Star Daughter, it’s this: you don’t have to go it alone, and there is a place where you belong, along with people who will help raise you up and catch you when you stumble. And if you choose to read Star Daughter, I hope Sheetal and Minal leave you feeling that way, too.

Shveta Thakrar Photo
Photo by Lindsey Márton O’Brien of Lumina Noctis
Shveta Thakrar is a part-time nagini and full-time believer in magic. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies including Enchanted LivingUncanny MagazineA Thousand Beginnings and Endings, and Toil & Trouble. Her debut young adult fantasy novel, Star Daughter, is forthcoming from HarperTeen on August 11, 2020. When not spinning stories about spider silk and shadows, magic and marauders, and courageous girls illuminated by dancing rainbow flames, Shveta crafts, devours books, daydreams, travels, bakes, and occasionally even plays her harp.

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Today’s guest is The Lost Girl author and Color Outside the Lines editor Sangu Mandanna! If you’ve been following this site, you’ve probably seen me gush about her fantastic Mahabharata-inspired Celestial Trilogy, which begins with a secret princess besting her twin brother in a contest for a god-forged sentient warship—despite a war goddess advising her against taking that path. A Spark of White Fire, the first book in this young adult mythic space opera series, kept me riveted with superb pacing and plenty of family drama. The next installment, A House of Rage and Sorrow has one of the best ending sequences I’ve read and left me eagerly anticipating the conclusion, A War of Swallowed Stars—coming this October!

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna Book Cover A House of Rage and Sorrow by Sangu Mandanna Book Cover A War of Swallowed Stars by Sangu Mandanna Book Cover

Creativity in the Time of Corona

This is a worrying, stressful and frightening time for almost all of us across the world, which is in itself almost unprecedented, so I don’t think I’m alone when I say that it’s been incredibly difficult to hold on to my creativity over the past several weeks. Some days, all I can do is keep my children alive and get them to bed before I, too, fall asleep; other days, I can read a book, maybe, or play some Animal Crossing, or even doodle a little before my energy burns itself out.

Honestly, neither of these kinds of days is wrong. It’s okay to only be able to achieve the bare minimum right now, it’s okay to find that you haven’t got the energy or time or space to care about anything other than basic survival, and it’s okay if you haven’t been able to fill your days with activities and projects and Instagram tutorials. Let your mind and body rest, however that rest manifests itself, and try not to feel guilty about it (easier said than done, I know!)

That said, maybe you’re in a position where creativity is essential. Maybe, like me, you find yourself feeling anxious and depressed if you don’t have something creative to focus on. Maybe you have deadlines that require you to be creative, maybe you have a creative job that you can’t risk losing at an uncertain time like this, or maybe you have a hobby you love that you’re having a hard time getting stuck into because you can’t quite switch off from the outside world.

So how, then, do you find ways to be creative even when there’s a global pandemic and you’re more anxious than you’ve ever been in your life?

There’s no easy answer that will work for everyone, but here are a few things that have worked for me over the past few weeks. Maybe some of them will work for you!

1. Exorcise those demons through your art
This is an obvious one, and one that has worked for authors and artists for centuries. Sometimes, the only way to make sense of huge, terrifying things is to immerse yourself in them. For example, you could write a survival story, give your characters all the conflicts you’ve already faced or are afraid you may yet have to face, and then give them a happy ending. Putting those demons down on paper (or in any other creative form that works for you) is sometimes the best way to exorcise them.

2. Play ostrich
Alternatively, you could go the opposite way and try to avoid reality altogether! Yes, it is important to stay informed about what’s happening, especially in terms of what rules, laws and procedures your city or country is putting into place to tackle the virus, but there’s nothing wrong with taking in the essential information, acting on it where possible, and then quietly retreating from it. One of the things that’s helped me most over the past few weeks is reading romance (I love romance at the best of times, but the escapism has been especially wonderful lately!) and playing gentle, fluffy videogames. After an hour or two of playing Animal Crossing, I find I’m in a much better frame of mind to write a few hundred words of my manuscript.

3. Work on something else
This is something that works for me in pretty much any other circumstance too. Often, if you’re stuck or struggling with a particular project or can’t quite stop worrying long enough to work on the thing you’re supposed to work on, the best thing to do is to take a break and work on something else. I do this quite often and I’m always amazed by how quickly my creativity is unlocked, which makes it that much easier to then go back to the project I was meant to be working on in the first place!

4. Go outside
This is difficult when we’re all in isolation, but if you have a garden, or even just a balcony, try to spend some time outdoors. A bit of sunshine and fresh air is always good for us, of course, but sometimes I find that the act of being physically out in the open can also make my mind feel less tight and confined too.

5. Get cosy
The flip side of #4! There are times when I barely have the energy to get myself out of bed, let alone get out into the garden. At times like this, what I try to do where possible is make myself a warm, snuggly nest somewhere in the house; sometimes it’s on the sofa with blankets and a toddler draped over my arm, sometimes it’s in bed with music on, and sometimes it’s a sunny spot by a window. Getting snug like this is a great way to feel safer and more secure, which is a much needed feeling at a time like this, and that sense of safety may be just what you need to get your creativity flowing again.

What works for me may not work for you, but I hope that something here helps you even a little bit. Above all, though, I want to stress that the most important thing right now is not to put more pressure on yourself. We’re all already worried about our families, our friends, our health, our income, toilet paper, and so much more. If being creative helps you cope with that, then by all means, pour your heart and soul into it if you can.

But if creativity feels like just one more thing you’re demanding of yourself, one more pressure, then it can wait. I promise you, it can wait.

Sangu Mandanna Photo Sangu Mandanna was four years old when an elephant chased her down a forest road and she decided to write her first story about it. Seventeen years and many, many manuscripts later, she signed her first book deal. Sangu now lives in Norwich, a city in the east of England, with her husband and kids.