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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Tori Bovalino! Her YA debut novel, The Devil Makes Three, is a gothic horror/mystery thriller story in which a summer job at the school library leads to unintentionally freeing a demon from an ancient grimoire. The Devil Makes Three will be out on August 10, and her next novel, a retelling of Christina Rosetti’s “Goblin Market” titled Not Good for Maidens, is scheduled for release next year.

The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino - Book Cover

On the Amorphous Nature of Horror
Tori Bovalino

Thank you to Fantasy Book Café for having me! Today, we’re talking about horror. So many elements of horror come into SFF, especially in recent times when darkness is its own type of escapism.

When I was growing up, my search for reading material had one major bit of criteria: will this scare me? I tore through RL Stine’s catalogue and moved on to Stephen King way before it was socially acceptable. My sister and I had a hardback copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and the subsequent sequels, which came out at every sleepover. We’d turn the page onto illustrations with our eyes half-closed to reveal Harold or the woman searching for her lost toe. This passion for spooks spread into other aspects of my life: when I had the TV to myself, I’d go searching for ghost hunting shows or murder documentaries. I spent hours online reading ghost stories from my little corner of Pennsylvania, until I was nearly too afraid to sleep. Even now, I spend way too much time on Reddit’s nosleep forum, searching for my next terror.

Horror exists to petrify, to terrify, to remind us of the things that may or may not lurk in the dark. Elements of horror bleed into other areas of fiction constantly: see the supernatural elements and undercurrent of fear in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle and the mix of body horror and suspense in The Cruel Prince by Holly Black.

But what are elements of horror? It’s such a varied genre that it can be hard to pin down. To go back to my childhood, asking Will this scare me? is as good a test as any. At its root, horror is intended to make a reader feel afraid or unsettled. Atmosphere plays an important role in this: does the voice of the book paired with the setting and the emotional reactions of the characters elicit dread? Horror can also contain elements of the supernatural, such as ghosts and demons.

The difference between a book with horror elements and a horror novel, though, is the intention: is fear the primary reaction, or does the plot have a different aim? We can see this difference in films like What We Do in the Shadows. Though the film has many elements of horror (gore, supernatural creatures, dark and mysterious house) these elements are overshadowed by the comedic plot. Thus, Shadows is not primarily a horror film.

The lines are certainly blurry. And the genre itself is incredibly varied. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica is a recent horror offering set in a realistic world in which humans are farmed for meat. It is very different from a book like Mexican Gothic by Silva Moreno-Garcia, which centers on a peculiar family living in a gothic house. Though these books have their differences, the elements of fear and dread are still present and primarily in the forefront.

When you evaluate the primary question of horror, Will this scare me?, it’s no surprise that there is such variation. How can a genre meant to terrify be consistent when every person’s fears are different? Horror has to be varied to cater to a variety of scary tastes.

When I write horror, or a book with horror elements, I know it’s not going to scare everyone. That’s a given since fear is subjective. If I’m scaring myself, then I’m doing a good enough job. Fear is a basic part of humanity, so of course fiction would seek to mirror that. I love to be scared because it reminds me, with every accelerated heartbeat, that I am alive.


Tori Bovalino is the author of THE DEVIL MAKES THREE, available August 10, 2021 from Page Street.

Photo of Tori Bovalino

Tori Bovalino is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and lives in London. She holds a BA in English and anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. She is currently a student in Royal Holloway’s Creative writing and practice-based PhD program. Her debut novel, The Devil Makes Three, is forthcoming from Page Street. Tori is represented by Dr. Uwe Stender and Amelia Appel at TriadaUS Literary Agency. She is active on social media as @toribov.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Angela Mi Young Hur! I’ve been excited to read her first speculative fiction novel, Folklorn, ever since I read its description: “A genre-defying, continents-spanning saga of Korean myth, scientific discovery, and the abiding love that binds even the most broken of families.” Folklorn will be released in just a few days—on April 27!

Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur - Book Cover

In Folklorn, headstrong and ambitious scientist Elsa Park, whose prickly exterior barely hides her wounds, contends with her mother’s claim that the women in their line are cursed to repeat the narrative fates of their ancestors—otherwise recognizable as Korean folklore characters. My novel is mostly a realist family drama examining intergenerational trauma brought on by war, immigration, and racism, though there are also flourishes of the gothic, absurd, and fantastical. Most important, numerous Korean folktales are woven throughout that I reinterpret through first-person monologues of feminist fury and lament.

One of these retellings is based on an actual ancestral legend of my family, the Gimhae-Gim-Heo clan, explaining the origin of our surname through my ancestress Queen Heo Hwang-Ok, also known as Suriratna. (My surname “Hur,” like “Heo,” is one of many Romanizations for “허.” My second cousins use a different spelling. My parents and brothers initially used “Huh” as early immigrants in the U.S., later changing it officially before I was born.) Queen Heo’s story is recounted in the Samguk Yusa, a 13th century Korean chronicle of history and legend. But the story’s even older, by a thousand years, as the Samguk Yusa references its inclusion in the Garakgukgi (Record of Garak Kingdom), now lost.

Folklorn is about the inheritance of myth from parents and culture, how these stories shape our identity and our lives, whether we submit, challenge, or reject. So it was delightfully Easter-eggy to include an actual family legend in this novel about story-fates and folkloric ancestors. Moreover, I incorporate this legend because her story echoes many of the folktales that are important to Korea and interrogated in Folklorn. Spoiler alert: in several tales, water is where girls and women are drowned by others, or led to sacrifice themselves, or spied on while bathing and then abducted. But seen another way, water is also the site of transformation, rebirth, or portals to another world.

My surname-sake ancestress, according to the legend, was a princess from the kingdom of Ayodhya. (Most archaeologists and historians believe this to be Ayodhya in Northern India, though some believe it’s the Ayutthaya Kingdom of Thailand.) One day, the princess’s parents put her on a ship with red sails and sent her in the general direction of east because they’d dreamt that’s how their daughter would meet her future husband. (I too have been tricked by my Asian mother into a surprise date with her friend’s son at The Cheesecake Factory. “He works at Google and bought his mother a house!” she said, announcing he’d pick me up in a half hour so I better slap on some makeup.) Luckily for my ancestress, she wasn’t left drifting too long because King Suro of Geumgwan Gaya (a kingdom in what’s now Korea) also had a prophetic dream. Now this is where my mother and Wikipedia differ.

According to Mom, the King also sailed out to find his future Queen, a maritime meet-cute for the ages, two royal ships coming together as equals in the ocean between them. I believed my mom’s version was the only one until I researched for my novel as an adult. The legend as it’s described in Wikipedia is confusingly loaded with details of emissaries, slaves, a pitched tent and the removal of silk garments as offering to the mountain spirit. I use my mother’s version instead but bend it further to suit my thematic needs. Mom’s retelling is also quite telling in itself. That’s something I explore in Folklorn—not just the stories we inherit and create about ourselves, but also how much we reveal in what and how we tell these stories.

My parents grew up in a very patriarchal Korean culture that’s sexist, often misogynist. They also grew up during the Korean War, a trauma that instilled in them the ethos to protect your own and survive at all costs—which in war, especially a civil war, isn’t always compatible. Immigration, building a business, and raising a family, while surviving multiple muggings and a near-fatal assault, didn’t leave much time for personal growth, healing, or political awakening for my parents. A mantra I often heard in Korean while growing up was: “Eat and survive.” That was life. And yet my mother, who’d always been told that her greatest asset was her beauty and gentleness, whose ladies’ college in Seoul had been a glorified charm school preparing her for marriage, had in her own way railed and raged against the tyranny of Korean patriarchy. My mother didn’t raise me to be a feminist, not in name. She is still very much a product of her generation and culture. But she did want me to be strong and proud of being Korean, to know I came from a princess who arrived in a new country and became its Queen, who accepted the King’s proposal only on condition that two of her children bear her surname and pass it on.

Portraits of Queen Heo and King Suro
Painted portraits of Queen Heo and King Suro from our jokbo

Maybe my mom did put her romantic spin on the story for a reason—displaced yearning, wish-fulfillment? Maybe she wanted me to subliminally absorb that I should demand equal footing from my future partner, to be treated like a queen. I can’t project too much though because her feminism is one that’s been slowly developing. She’s eighty, still learning.

What I know for certain—why she told me this story, and about my great-grandfather’s great-grandfather who was a magistrate of Kaesong, and about so-and-so scholar-granduncles on my father’s side. Why didn’t I ask her about her own family’s stories until a few years ago? Wouldn’t she rather be telling me the story of her own ancestress queen? Her reply was that their clan wasn’t fancy, no remarkable people. Just landed farmers who made good money.

Truth is, I didn’t inquire further as a child because I didn’t fully understand the significance of these stories, not until I became an immigrant mother myself, with mixed-race immigrant children who look different from the other kids around them. I live in Stockholm, Sweden, with my Swedish husband. In telling the story of Queen Heo to my six-year-old daughter I understand my mother’s intentions more fully.

As a child, I was often bullied by the Japanese-American boys at my school who called me ugly and kimchi-girl and likely hated that I was the “smart one” in the class. (My novel also examines the complicated nuances of internalized racism and intra-racial prejudice, often rooted in history and hierarchal race structures.) Luckily, I had my father’s innate sense of pride / superiority, and the bullying didn’t erode my self-esteem too much, though it did make me sad, withdrawn, often mute. I certainly didn’t tell them to fuck off because I was a descendant of a queen. I shrugged off the story my mom told me, knowing I’d be humiliated and mocked at school if I mentioned it, since I was obviously not rich, not royal, didn’t look like anybody’s idea of a princess. Everyone knew my father ran an auto body shop in a “bad” part of town and sometimes teased me about that too.

But now, when I tell my daughter the story of our ancestress, I embellish with storytelling flair to impress upon my six-year-old the grandeur and beauty of her ancestral myth. My daughter is a fantasy and sci-fi nerd, who loved the movie Labyrinth at age four, read My Little Pony comics at five, plays Portal the video game, and draws dragons with ice powers. She’s the kind of kid who muses right before bedtime: “What if this is all a memory or a dream, and when we wake up, magic is real?”

I want my daughter to be proud of her Korean ancestry, especially as a mixed-race immigrant in Sweden. I want her to know she comes from a line of women who’ve braved new lands, exploring and learning and teaching. I want my daughter to know her name comes from an immigrant who became Queen, whose written story disappeared when the Garakgugki was lost, but was recovered, reclaimed, and reinforced in the Samguk Yusa, a thousand years later. During that millennium in between, how was this woman not forgotten? She became an oral story melding history and fantasy, compressed into gem, with facets of symbol and code—she became a myth so we could remember her and pass on her tale. And by sharing this with my children—a story told to me by their grandmother, who’s also a published essayist writing in Korean—they will understand why I gave them both “Hur” for their middle names.

I wonder why though I also deflate the magic for my daughter by telling her this queen’s descendants, bearing her name, number more than six million; that Korea was made up of multiple small kingdoms, so many can claim royal descent. I explain how legends are born from history and fantasy. I also show her our jokbo, official genealogy book, and explain how these have been meticulously recorded and preserved throughout Korean history, how our jokbo goes back over sixty generations and is our claim to the Gimhae-Gim-Heo clan. I don’t tell her that some jokbo were stolen or forged or bought into—just as noble names were purchased or self-given in Europe during the same time. I don’t go this far, but the impulse remains—to protect my daughter, from what? From believing too much in fantasy? Perhaps my child-self still worries what the other kids would say? Considering the genetic spread over human history, millions of us are indeed likely descended from Queens and Explorers, Adventurers and History-Makers—why can’t my daughter be one of them?

Fortunately, the story is not only shaped by the teller, but also by the receiver. My daughter tells her Swedish scientist father that she is descended from a princess who came by ship to Korea and became its Queen. And just last week, she wondered aloud if she and her brother should also pass on “Hur” as a middle name to their children. I’d never suggested this before, but I agreed it would be cool. This is how her mind works, absorbing the story and adding herself to it, wondering to whom she’ll pass it on.

Photo of Angela Mi Young Hur Angela Hur received a BA in English Literature from Harvard and an MFA in Creative Writing from Notre Dame, where she won the Sparks Fellowship and the Sparks Prize, a post-graduate fellowship. Her debut The Queens of K-Town was published by MacAdam/Cage in 2007. Hur has taught English Literature and Creative Writing at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, in Seoul, Korea. She’s also taught for Writopia, a U.S. non-profit providing creative writing workshops for children and teens. While living in Stockholm, Sweden, she’s worked as a Staff Editor for SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. She is currently living in Stockholm, with her husband and children.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Chloe Gong! Her New York Times bestselling debut novel, These Violent Delights, reimagines Romeo and Juliet in 1920s Shanghai and was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a 2020 Goodreads Choice Award finalist for Best Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction, and one of Barnes & Noble’s Best YA SF & Fantasy of 2020. The sequel, Our Violent Ends, is coming out on November 16!

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong - Book Cover

Cover Art by Billelis
Cover Design by Sarah Creech
Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong - Book Cover

Cover Art by Katt Phatt
Cover Design by Greg Stadnyk

The Mary Sue Club Is Still Taking Applicants

Anyone who has been around long enough in the young adult bookish world has heard the term Mary Sue. It was everywhere in the 2010s, especially during the paranormal romance era right off the heels of Twilight and the dystopian boom à la The Hunger Games. Teenage girl heroines were commonly accused of being a Mary Sue: too powerful than they had the right to be, or too special in a way that wasn’t deserved. If a girl inherited old family magic, then she was a Mary Sue. If a girl was thrown into a world she wasn’t familiar with and excelled at surviving in it, then she was a Mary Sue. Most importantly, if the girl was beautiful but she didn’t know it, then she was a Mary Sue.

It was the impact of misogyny, no doubt, because male protagonists got away with identical traits without the same slander. Where Divergent had a cascade of Goodreads reviews that decided Tris Prior was a Mary Sue and a special snowflake, Percy Jackson’s titular character was rarely critiqued negatively for being the chosen one and the hero of a prophecy. Books with boys in the starring role were allowed to be judged on craft and plot enjoyment, while books with girls had the added—oftentimes unconscious—pressure of making sure the protagonists were likeable or sensible or emotionally regulated enough to avoid the Mary Sue accusal. Constantly paired with the Mary Sue label was also the accusal “TSTL”: the snappy shorthand for “too stupid to live”. If the girl couldn’t figure out that her love interest was secretly evil soon enough, she was TSTL. If the girl couldn’t leave her whole life behind to save the world, she was TSTL. And amid it all, there was the double-edged whammy that the girl was expected to be perfect and know all these things to avoid being TSTL because she was a perfect Mary Sue, but she was also hated because she was a Mary Sue, so how could she ever be a real, realized person?

Eventually, as we moved out of the paranormal romance and dystopian boom, YA SFF also moved out of this archetype. There had always been the people who slammed Mary Sues for existing, but that didn’t stop YA SFF books from having them because it was cool and fun for teenagers to see their leading heroines as all powerful and desirable by their—usually multiple—love interests. But YA lives and breathes by its trends, and as happens with all trends, once it becomes too saturated, it’s not trendy anymore and people get bored of their archetypes. The Mary Sue was out. YA SFF was supposed to be new and fresh with different archetypes. Everyone had seen the Tris Priors and Clary Frays and Celaena Sardothiens already.

Then the We Need Diverse Books movement happened, and authors of color started breaking into YA SFF.

And our heroines, despite being entirely new in YA SFF—seeing the world entirely unlike the heroines of major YA series in the 2010s that got these Mary Sue accusations by virtue of a different cultural lens—started getting accusals: This is a Mary Sue. We’ve seen this before. We don’t need this.

But we do.

Growing up, I adored those YA heroines. I didn’t care that they got slandered as Mary Sues; they were badass and entertaining and got to go on the most heart-wrenching journeys. So what if she knew how to fight like a seasoned pro despite training for a week? So what if she was the country’s greatest assassin despite being 16 years old? YA SFF was about creating beautiful worlds and compelling characters and swoon-worthy romances, and as long as they delivered in the bucketload, I was invested. There’s a whole other essay to be written about how the interests of teenage girls always get devalued and the weaponization of Mary Sues was a way to demean the target audience, but I digress. Mary Sue was a term used to box in the powerful heroines that teenage girls liked. But it could not be denied that the Mary Sue was an emerging archetype, one that was taking off for a reason. And as with all gold rushes, it became quickly saturated… but with one big caveat. When we think back to all the major series of the 2010s, each and every heroine who gathered fans and adoring readers were white, which makes a huge difference on her creation as a character.

As I set out to write These Violent Delights, I wanted to pay homage to the characters I adored as a teen reader. I wanted to write Juliette Cai, my protagonist, with the Clary strength and the Celaena sass—but I also wanted her to be East Asian like me, because I had rarely seen that before. Again and again in the present-day market, we are told that YA SFF has been filled to the brim with the powerful, sassy teenage protagonist, and that we should write something different if we want to stand out in the market. But I looked around and I tried to find an East Asian version. We know the stereotypes that come with Asian female characters: she’s either quiet and submissive and won’t say a peep, or she’s the dragon lady, the brutal sword-wielding seductress. The shelves hadn’t allowed for nuanced, real representation. The shelves hadn’t allowed for the powerful, beautiful, funny East Asian leading protagonist—and I wanted to provide. The industry has saturated the white Mary Sue, but until we also have a thousand Juliette Cais running around, then the complete archetype is nowhere near saturation.

I loved the heroines of these books so much, but I couldn’t find myself in them. Until Asian characters have been allowed to save the world, to wield the prophecy, to fall in love and make bad choices, then surely we cannot move on from an archetype that the readership of YA SFF has always adored.

Photo of Chloe Gong
Photograph © JON STUDIO

Chloe Gong is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, double-majoring in English and international relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, she now lives at the top of a crumbling, ivory tower in Philadelphia (also known as student housing).

After devouring the entire YA section of her local library, she started writing her own novels at age 13 to keep herself entertained, and has been highly entertained ever since. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times. These Violent Delights is her debut novel. You can find her on Twitter @TheChloeGong or check out her website at TheChloeGong.com.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Ashaye Brown! Her YA fantasy debut novel, Dream Country, features a sibling rivalry between gods: the triplets Sleep, Dreams, and Nightmares, any of whom may have committed matricide. Dream Country will be out on April 27—exactly one week from today!

Dream Country by Ashaye Brown - Book Cover

Fantasy as Lucid Dream

The relationship between fantasy and dreams can be confusing. As words, we have no problem recognising them as synonyms, both signifying the imaginary, mental imagery, the fantastic as a whole. But it’s when fantasy becomes Fantasy, a genre with plot and intention behind it, that suddenly it is nothing like a dream. Because dreams are something that happen here in the real world and Fantasy never could. When most people think about fantasy, they think about the impossible. They think about impossible worlds and impossible creatures and impossible lives. They see fantasy as divorced from reality and that’s off-putting to them. They throw out words like “escapism”, “childish” and “useless”, as if these are insults; as if some people do not need to escape; as if there is nothing worth keeping from our childhood; as if all things must have their use.

And yet these same people who say these things, most nights of their lives will interact with the impossible. They escape, they become a child again and they never, not once, puzzle over their “use”. In short, they dream.

I’ve often wondered about this contradictory attitude and wondered why dreams aren’t treated with the same derision as fantasy. If they were, then they would be a social taboo, some awkward thing our bodies did every now and again that we prefer not to talk about, like going to the toilet or excessive sweating. Instead, we keep dream diaries in order to remember them better and we look into dream interpretation and symbolism as if it were a secret message slipped to us by our subconscious. We talk about our dreams, in the mornings, over the breakfast table and no one becomes embarrassed or repulsed.

But when our dreams become a voluntary creation — a fantasy — that’s when the problem arises.

When I was a child, I would wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, heart pounding, tears brimming, having narrowly escaped the clutches of a bad dream. I would pad softly (and a little shamefully — it was only a dream, after all, I seemed to tell myself) into my mother’s room and she would let me stay the night with her. Or, I would climb down from the top bunk and lay down head to toe with my brother, even the sound of his rumbling snores and the proximity of his feet to my nose being preferable to having to face that terrible dreamworld alone again.

No one ever judged me for my reactions. They understood that even though it was a fear of the imaginary, it was not an imaginary fear. Then, in the safety of the light of the following morning, when my heart had had its chance to slow down and the tears had stopped flowing, my mother or my brother would ask me, casually — what was the dream about? And if I chose to tell them, I would tell it like a story, I would give it structure and meaning and plot and these would be my first clumsy attempts to tell a fantasy story.

Now, as an adult, I gravitate towards fantasy, whether it’s fantasy as light and as safe as my recounting of my dreams in the morning, or as dark and as terrifying as the bad dreams of the night before.

My mother has asked me if I would ever write anything set in the “real world”. My brother has asked me why I don’t read more stories set in the “real world”. It’s as if they have forgotten how real a dream can be.

If, as a child, I could have taken hold of my nightmare — warped my dreamworld into a shape of my own choosing, something just as fantastic, yet infinitely more manageable — I would have. I would have been amazed that a superpower like this already existed, but that some adults looked down on it, shunned it and shamed those who used it. It was not that, as a child, I did not know what the fantasy genre was — I was simply unaware of its potential.

Fantasy is not a lesser version of reality, it is a greater version of a dream. It is a lucid dream. It is the dark and the light, the safety and the fear. It is escapist, it is childish and it is useless. Fantasy is not the realm of the impossible, it is the genre where everything is possible. It takes a dream to create a fantasy, it takes knowing what it is like to be in awe of what your mind can do when it’s free in order to have the confidence to let that freedom reign. To imagine. To create. To dream.

Photo of Ashaye Brown Ashaye Brown is a British author of Afro-Caribbean descent. Ashaye’s unparalleled passion for mythology led her to study a range of world cultures and mythologies, before exploring them further through her writing. Ashaye’s debut novel ‘Dream Country’ is the first in an intended series set in visionary realms themed around dreams, nightmares and rich mythologies.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Ciannon Smart! Her Jamaican-inspired YA fantasy debut novel, Witches Steeped in Gold, is out tomorrow—but if you can’t wait until then to start reading about witches seeking vengeance, you can read this excerpt!

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart - Book Cover

Building an Empire

I didn’t think I had the imagination to create a secondary world.

Now, the jury’s still out as to whether I can or not, but Witches Steeped in Gold has been written, bound, and is waiting for its April 20th release in various warehouses around the world. It’s too late to back out now.

When I first knew I wanted to become a writer, I gravitated towards writing books similar to what I was reading at the time: Twilight, Divergent, The Hunger Games. They all contained worlds that felt familiar, aside from an eldritch wrongness permeating the foundations of society. Familiar felt safe for me, comfortable, as I wrote and rewrote my earliest manuscripts at fifteen. There’s an adage, write what you know and draw what you see, that I actually read in a book. For five years I did just that. My worlds were western; the magic, where it appeared, was soft whisper on the page.

Then I came across Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and that familiar ground beneath my feet gave way. Suddenly I was immersed in a world of angels and demons, chimera and magic; what’s more, I loved it. My reading tastes expanded; I discovered the City of Bones books, Shadow and Bone, Red Queen, and more. I was hooked on these expansive societies, some hidden in the pockets of the familiar, others in entirely fabricated places.

Things changed once again when I heard about two books that would change the game, for me: The Belles, and An Ember in the Ashes. Magical Black and brown girls. New worlds with non-western touchstones. I wanted more; in order for that to happen, I had to write the story myself.

Up to this point, the lane through my memories that we’ve been walking, dear reader, has been linear. But before I can move forward, I need to go back a decade to the second time I’d been in Jamaica. A family tour of the island included a trip to Rose Hall, a former plantation home in which an alleged white witch lived. Like most 90s babies, I grew up hooked on Sabrina The Teenage Witch; to learn my own culture had a magic system, witches, floored me. So much so that, when the time came to write the non-western fantasy story I craved, this trip would be my inspiration.

I wasn’t cavalier about what was ahead, but my fear to leave the familiar was replaced by drive. I turned to those authors whose works I’d admired. Victoria Aveyard, in particular, was keeping a blog back then that I found hugely informative. I drew maps, I read through Brandon Sanderson’s Laws of Magic, I excavated Jamaica’s history by way of my mum and various relatives. It was an interesting symbiosis; layering my story removed layers from a heritage I hadn’t known as well, growing up in England.

And layers, really, have been key to building the empire in the Witches Steeped in Gold world. As much a character as my cunning protagonists, it too is varied and nuanced; not to be trusted, and flawed. Book One is but the tip of the iceberg of places I can’t wait to show you.


Photo of Ciannon Smart Of Jamaican heritage, Ciannon Smart grew up in a small town in the south-east of England. As the only daughter in a house full of boisterous sons, she developed a voracious appetite for reading from an early age, preferring anarchy in stories rather than real life. In YA she loves her heroines exactly as she loves her villains: willful, wily, and unpredictable. When not writing, Ciannon can be found reading, painting, or taking the long way home to listen to a good song more than once. Witches Steeped in Gold is her first novel, and you can learn more about her at www.ciannonsmart.com.

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Thank you so much to all of last week’s guests! Here are their guest posts in case you missed any of them:

All of the guest posts from April 2021 can be found here.

And the next week of guest posts will resume tomorrow! This week’s guests are:

Women in SF&F Month Schedule Graphic

April 19: Ciannon Smart (Witches Steeped in Gold)
April 20: Ashaye Brown (Dream Country)
April 21: Chloe Gong (These Violent Delights, Our Violent Ends)
April 22: Angela Mi Young Hur (Folklorn)
April 23: Tori Bovalino (The Devil Makes Three, Not Good for Maidens)