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Women in Horror: Marcie Lynn Tentchoff

WiHM11-GrrrlWhiteDeeply hidden along the mysterious coast of Canada, there is another Woman in Horror. Today’s guest is Marcie Lynn Tentchoff.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I honestly can’t be sure when I first discovered poetry.  It has always seemed to be an important part of my life.  My mother loved poetry, and we shared story poems from when I was very little onwards.  She also introduced me to the story poems within folk music, which probably added to the start of my addiction.  Then again, it can’t have helped that my father started reading Shakespeare to me when I was seven.  By that point my tragic love of poetry was probably fated.  One can’t hear the chants of the three witches from Macbeth as a child, in the dimly lit cabin of a slowly rocking boat, without being at least somewhat doomed to adore rhyme, darkness, and drama.

Why do you write poetry?

This question sort of boggles me.  How could I not write poetry?  Lines show up in my head.  Patterns, rhythms, and twists haunt me if I don’t write them down.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

I don’t find the writing of poetry to be difficult.  Remembering, on the other hand, that readers can’t see into the murky mess that is my mind, and that I might have to flesh things out a bit more for them, that can be tough.


There’s no lock on the door
since the Midnight Men came,
with their pale, grinning faces
their tire-track eyes,
and the sound of the shadows
seems louder somehow,
on the street that runs empty
past Emily’s house.

She still plays there sometimes
on the grey concrete stoop,
with the screen door wide open
to welcome the rays
that spread out from the dish
on the middle school roof –
education for all’s what
the Midnight Men say.

And the grown ups all smile
as they murmur along
with the lessons they learn
in the new, better way,
while they work at new jobs
that the Midnight Men brought
till their finger bones show
white on red, like their teeth.

It’s much safer these days —
no one worries at all
about vandals or thievery —
those things are done,
and if every gaze shies from
the old Northgate Mall
no one says much about it
or questions the smell.

But young Emily wishes
her life would change back
to the way that it was
before fog drifted down
from the cracks in the sky
where tomorrow peeked through,
before Midnight came early
and never moved on.

## First Published in Star*Line

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

tentchoffI love to write about bitterness, about making difficult and possibly the wrong choices.  I also love writing about how things can be different when seen from differing viewpoints, and how the tales behind known characters and character types are often darker and more complex.

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

I think everyone has dark moments and thoughts and that reading dark poetry helps to unlock and almost soothe those thoughts, much as listening to sad songs can soothe a person who is hurting.  It is easier to deal with one’s own sorrow and despair if it is shared with others.  Of course, I also think that there is, perhaps, an extra dose of truth to be found in darkness.  These days especially, truth is valuable, and all too scarce.


“Is that a thighbone?”
Smile and tell him
that you think it is.
He’s kind of cute,
if you discount
his hump and scarring,
and anyway,
it never hurts to
make an extra friend
in digger circles,
someone who can
swap you limb for limb,
or brain for brain.
One never knows
when one might need an
eyeball, or the toe of
a birth-strangled babe,
or even, as you do right now,
the perfect hips to match
with last year’s waist.

## First published in Dreams & Nightmares

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?tentchoff 2

I am currently trying to map out a new dark poetry collection, but somehow it keeps getting waylaid as I  realize that there are new markets that might want some of the poems that I am foolishly hoping to save for that collection.  We’ll see whether my writing can outpace my need to send work out.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about writing, horror or poetry?

In writing, as in acting, villains are always the most fun to play with.  Heck, even fairy tale based movies prove this, since the villain songs are always the best and the most memorable.  Writing the dark, the horrific, gives writers (myself included)  the chance to truly immerse ourselves in the villainous mindset.

Across the Floor

You held my eyes while dancing
Across the floor,
Your dainty feet
Twirling your gore-red lips
In smiling spirals.
And still,
While I weep blindly,
In my corner…
You hold my eyes.

## First Published in Sometimes While Dreaming

Tentchoff mMarcie Lynn Tentchoff is a poet/writer/editor/acting teacher who lives on the west coast of Canada with her various family members, both humanoid and rather obviously not.  Her work has appeared in such publications as Strange Horizons, Polu Texni, Star*Line, Polar Borealis, and Dreams & Nightmares.  There have been two collections of her poetry, Sometimes While Dreaming, and Through the Window: A Journey to the Borderlands of Faerie, as well as On the Brink of Never, a collection of poems by her writing group.

Marcie won an Aurora Award for her long Arthurian poem, “Surrendering the Blade,” and other works of hers have been nominated, short, or long-listed for Rhysling, Stoker, and World Fantasy Awards.

She is an active member of the HWA and of the SFPA, and while for a long time she found it difficult to accept that what she wrote could often be called horror, after enough people asked her why there was so much blood, pain and suffering in her sweet little love poems, she started to understand that maybe horror was as good a word as anything else.

“Coins for the Ferryman” currently on Polu Texni http://www.polutexni.com/?paged=4
“Go Bag” currently up in editor’s choice at Star*Line http://sfpoetry.com/sl/issues/starline42.4.html

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Women in Horror: Marge Simon

WiHM11-Scalples-whReally, no introduction is needed for Marge Simon, Anyone who reads or writes speculative poetry knows of her and she’s pretty much won every award you can get in the genre.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I grew up with poetry. My mother, an English teacher, also wrote poems and my father would read books of “grown up” poems with me. I loved the rhythms in such works as Sir Walter Scott’s “Hiawatha” and “Laska” by Frank Desprez, not to mention Poe. However, when I got to high school, it was the poetry of Steven Crane that hit me like a cyclone!This was long before I discovered genre/spec poetry. Flannery O’Conner and Angela Carter also were influences. Visions editor Bradley Strahan had a special sf issue of his magazine in the mid 80’s. I wrote my first speculative poem for him.

Why do you write poetry?

Why do I breathe?

A Hat of Crows

She’s posed, all feminine allure,
darkly unapproachable,
a murder of crows swirling
within, without that hat.

I fantasize touching her legs,
running the top of my hand backwards
over the soft brown skin,
stroking her torso upwards to her lips,
dreaming her into my power.

I beg her to remove her hat.
She only smiles that strange sweet smile,
as her crows circle slowly around her head,
beating their wings in terrible silence.

Space & Time Magazine 2019


What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

I’d that is a relevant question for individuals. For example, I don’t enjoy writing rhymed verse. I have high standards for rhymed forms of dark verse. I don’t care for forced rhyme, so I leave that to those like Frank Coffman, Ashley Dioses and Ken Opperman, who write only in rhyme, or at least, for the most part. In writing free verse, I work to be sure I’m not being too heavy handed or preachy.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

Subjects I like to explore: types of people, actions and reactions, climate change and all its many ramifications, human frailties – all with a dark or ironic twist. Unsung heroes and villains, subjects with rich comparison & contrast. My 2019 Elgin winning collaboration WAR, with Alessandro Manzetti is about all types of wars down the ages, the leaders and victims involved, the conditions. Mary Turzillo and I have another collection in progress: Victims. Currently: The Demeter Diaries, with Bryan Dietrich, an alternative love story of Vlad Dracula and Mina Harker told in poetry (Vlad) and prose poetry (Mina).

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

There’s a plethora of subjects and types of dark poetry, something for everyone from vampires and ghosts to ghouls and zombies, you name it. Besides the unsettling, the strange and creepy in verse appeal to a very large range of people from royalty to the village goof-ball.


She once was
Winter’s bride to be,
but she gave her heart
to Autumn.

She knows
Winter’s wrath,
his bitter-cold breath,
knows she is bound.

Winter was not pleased
to hear of her betrayal.
So with one icy blast,
he tore a hole in her throat
& then blew out her eyes.

She longs for
sweet September mornings,
sleeping lazy, sleeping late,
the smell of Autumn’s skin,
his dear touch just before
he entered her
with the bounty of
all his knowing.

Polu Texni, 2018


What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

As mentioned, a dark collection with Mary A. Turzillo, Victims, and Sifting the Ashes (victims of fires, climate change) with Michael Bailey.

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror or poetry?

I enjoy taking the writing challenges from Lee Forman’s Pen of the Damned, and Nina Archangelo’s Women of Horror FB writing to prompts project (flash prose or poems). I also have been fortunate selling dark flash fictions to Daily Science Fiction.

Marge 2016 300dpi small.jpg savedMarge Simon lives in Ocala, Florida and serves on the HWA Board of Trustees. She has three Bram Stoker Awards, Rhysling Awards for Best Long and Best Short Fiction, the Elgin, Dwarf Stars and Strange Horizons Readers’ Award. Marge’s poems and stories have appeared in Clannad, Pedestal Magazine, Asimov’s, Silver Blade, Matter Press, New Myths, and Daily Science Fiction. Her stories also appear in anthologies such as Tales of the Lake 5, Chiral Mad 4, You, Human and The Beauty of Death, to name a few. She attends the ICFA annually as a guest poet/writer and is on the board of the Speculative Literary Foundation. www.margesimon.com Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B006G29PL6


  • Winner, Bram Stoker for excellence in a Poetry Collection: Vectors (with Charlie Jacob), The Four Elements with Linda Addison, Charlee Jacob and Rain Graves, and my own Vampires, Zombies & Wanton Souls, inspired by Sandy DeLuca’s art.
  • Twice winner, SFPA’s Elgin Award: Sweet Poison with Mary Turzillo and WAR with Alessandro Manzetti.
  • Winner, Best Long and Best Short Rhysling Awards
  • Winner, Dwarf Star Award
  • Grand Master Poet, SFPA


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Women in Horror: Zoe Mitchell

WiHM11-Scalples-wvThe scalpel design for Women in Horror Month may be an apt logo for my next guest. You will see how Zoe Mitchell deftly wields the charge edge of language to expose another layer of meaning.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I was quite young when I started reading poetry, I loved Roger McGough when I was little – I was obsessed with a book of his called Mr Noselighter about a man with a candle for a nose which, looking back, is mildly horrific but at the time I just loved the sound and rhythm of the words and what they added to the story. When I was a teenager I went through a phase where I would read Ted Hughes’ Crow poems over and over, and later I loved listening to Simon Armitage on the Mark and Lard show on Radio One. Other teenagers go through phases with bands, I did it with poets – and I’ve never looked back.

Why do you write poetry?

I write poetry to make sense of myself and the world. The creativity and various forms give me different ways to explore ideas, process experiences and communicate something that seems difficult to share in other ways.


Some women are born to work with knives.
Just as some must sing or stir their words, you

will stand behind them in the dark, their guilty
secret. They need the smallest eye you can cut

from a creature, they need the bloody shanks
to fill their blackened pots with magic.

They’ll say your arched back lacks music.
Your shoulder rotates to penetrate an innocent

or petty accuser on their behalf but they will not
let you dance. They can’t cauterize their disgust

at the ominous shapes you offer up to moonlight.
Your liberty lives only in the darkest corners

everyone else wilfully ignores. You’ll live your life
forever behind a half-open cupboard door –

everyone knows you’re there but no one wants
to acknowledge your steel. The words of women

cut deeper than the most pitiless dagger. And yet,
while men fret over herbs and muttered curses,

you can shatter bone. You will know your sisters
from the blood under their fingernails. Like you,

they have the soul of a surgeon, the eyes of a butcher.
Imagine the stealth of a mother with a sleeping child:

if you unearth our stories to anyone, she will advance
from her kitchen and cut out your tongue.


What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

Finding the form for each poem can be a challenge – although it’s always a joy when it emerges. When I start writing I never have any idea of the form or even of where I want the poem to go, so the first stage I just have a mass of scribbled text and then as I start editing and refining I usually get a sense of what the poem is really about and from there, the form starts to become clearer and I can start chipping away.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

I am fascinated by folklore and mythology, so that comes up a lot. I think those old stories have so much to teach us still. My debut poetry collection, Hag, features stories from Roman and Celtic mythology as well as witches and ghosts. I’m not quite sure of the “why” other than it is what interests me and what sparks my imagination. I think the overall theme of my book is survival – through heartbreak, destruction or despair – and it connects those ancient stories to modern lives as a way to express resilience. Although the poems often speak in the voices of supernatural creatures, my focus in the end is on what that tells us about our humanity.

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

Zoe- hag

Hag, nominated for a Stoker Award in poetry

I think it’s for the same reason that people write it – to make sense of the world. The element of fantasy provides a way to explore feelings and challenges that are otherwise difficult to address. After my Dad died, I wrote a long poem about an evil ghost train designer who made a ghost train to another dimension – if you’d asked me to write directly about my grief, I don’t think I could have faced it but I felt safer exploring those ideas in a fantasy world. In fact, at the time I didn’t realise how much I was processing my loss through the poem, I thought I was giving myself an escape and it was only later that I could see what I was doing. For readers, myself included, I think it’s the same thing – an escape in some ways, but also a chance to consider subjects and emotions that can be challenging to face head on. I think also there’s just the love of stories and language, how that sparks the imagination, and poetry can intensify that.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

At the moment I’m working on a creative PhD about witches in women’s poetry. I’m studying female poets who have written as or about witches and I’m creating my second collection which is all about witches and powerful women. As a female writer, it’s a liberating topic and it gives you a huge breadth of subjects and scope to explore everything from politics to love. I love the mischievous quality of witches, which allows me to play with form and language. I have a year to go before I finish my PhD so that’s my primary focus, and in the meantime I keep sending out the poems I write to magazines to see if I can get my witches to wreak a little havoc!


You carry all the eyes
that ever saw a horror
or glanced upon a mirror

and bristle with ears
to catch every whisper
that insists it is about you.

You scent the trail
of smoke, lick the grit
of something rotten.

Everything that goes inside
your mouth is stirred
with sex and violence –

simmering chastity too.
Everything that touches
your insides follows you.

Each stained organ
is accumulating infection,
proof that you are animal.

You are made of skin
and trapped within,
pulled apart and screaming

for someone to rip out
the gristle of your heart.
Your body is a hex bag

and all the things inside
make up this curse:
you, wherever you go


Is there anything else you would like to mention about poetry and horror?

I have long kicked against this idea that horror – and any genre fiction or poetry – is somehow lesser than other literary forms. I like to think things are changing for the better now, and I think perhaps horror is finally getting the recognition it deserves because the themes are so appropriate for the sometimes terrifying times in which we live. I would say to anyone who was thinking of studying creative writing but afraid that they can’t write what they love, or that horror wouldn’t be taken seriously by a university, that it’s not been my experience at all. In more than one instance, my tutor has pushed me to make my poems darker and creepier, so you won’t be expected to write in a certain style or genre. I don’t think you need any qualifications to write, but it’s certainly helped me gain some confidence and the experience has transformed and improved my writing to the point where it’s now a career.

WitchZoeZoe Mitchell is a widely-published poet whose work has been featured in a number of magazines including The Rialto, The London Magazine and The Moth. She graduated from the University of Chichester with an MA in Creative Writing and was awarded a Distinction and the Kate Betts Memorial Prize. She is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, examining witches in women’s poetry. Her first collection, Hag, won the Indigo-First collection competition; it was published in 2019 by Indigo Dreams Publishing and is on the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a poetry collection.

You can order Zoe’s collection here: https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/zoe-mitchell/4594569914

Find out more about her writing on her website: www.writingbyzoe.com 

Or drop her a line on twitter and say hello: @writingbyzoe


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WordPress Bushwhacked Me

The other day, as I was inserting images into my posts, I noticed I had multiples of the same image. You know, the books, the quills, and all those specific images for my posts over the years.

And I saw, with the new way WordPress brings up media files that I can now click and insert an image from a previous post, hence I only needed one version of the quill or the book. So I had a cleanup day, and I deleted and deleted and deleted. I won’t need that picture of the food from the Apocalypse Diet again, so away it goes. I won’t need the image of the genital bleaching graphic, so it went too. Wholesale purge of the image files, because, you know, there is only limited space that WordPress gives you for those images.

Today, I was writing a comment onto another list and wanted to include a link to a previous post. I googled my post and it came up, but no pictures. What? Is the internet acting up? Is there a wordpress glitch? Search back and forth and then the horrible realization hits. I wasn’t just deleting multiple images from my media files; I was deleting the links to the images. WAH!

Dear WordPress, why not have a warning for those of us that don’t understand that we must always always always keep the image in our files or it goes bye-bye from our posts? Why not have something so that when I click “Delete Image” a little note comes up and says, “Deleting this image will remove it from your blog post. Are you sure you want to continue?” Sob* I’m really cranky now and will possibly replace some of the images. But… Geeze. The grief. So I’m sorry if you find a post of mine and it’s blah with missing pictures. Send me a message and I’ll try to erect another image or a big sad face because it’s gone forever.


I should add, that if this happens to you, you can get some of them back. The pictures won’t show in your post but if you happened to put a caption and alternate text tag words, you can highlight the spot in the post, copy it and do a google search for your caption. Add in the name of your blog and you can narrow down the images. Your image will show in Google. You can then upload it again to the blog. Paste in your copied caption and you won’t have to rewrite it. Still a pain but it’s not completely lost. I’m going to slowly put the pics back, when my posts come up on the stats pages as the most look at. So Starbucks and the Censored Mermaid, and How to Wear Skirts and Manskirts now have their pictures back.

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I Have an Addiction

Corning Glass Tower (Corning Museum)

I never thought I would have an addiction to such a thing, but I do. How do I know it’s an addiction? Well, it is affecting my life, I need it every few days, I can’t get enough.

But this addiction isn’t what I’d call detrimental. At least I don’t think it is. It’s about glass, and that’s not a fancy name for a new designer drug. Corning Glass has done this amazing video of what the future can hold in the way of sensitive, touch enabled glass. I’m not going to explain it all here; just watch the video, A Day Made of Glass.

But why am I completely enthralled with this? I don’t know. I’m mesmerized through the full five minutes of the Utopian future depicted. What do I love about it? Let me count the ways.

  • It uses a multiracial family.
  • The music is so positive and uplifting and bright that I sometimes just play it in the background.
  • It presents ways of working with glass that defy the term glass and in fact I wonder if some would be plastic. It does so in so many ways, from darkening a bedroom window to bringing up news reports and messages on the bathroom mirror, to playing with photo images, cooking food, GPS, messaging, interactive meetings, getting bus maps, talking, video, you name it.

The masterminds of this piece have done an excellent job. And it’s all done with no words, just music and action. Obviously they have computer technology coupled with glass, but the possibilities are wonderful. I don’t just like this. I absolutely love it. Yes, truly. It makes me feel good to watch it, it buoys my spirit and gives a possibility of a future that can be bright, not one of war and oil crises, soaring prices and people unable to afford to live. And it’s all clean at least in the looks. How it will be made and what the circuitry will consist of, I don’t know but glass has been with us for thousands of years.

Corning has me hooked. Maybe it’s because I’m an SF writer as well but I actually do watch this about every second day and will continue to do so until the wonder wears off. http://www.corning.com/index.aspx

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Writing: How to Ignore Women

Here we go again. You’d think a few people might learn by now. And perhaps these fellows truly believe the greatest writers that ever lived or live are all men. But you would think that if they include the very first and the very latest there might even be one woman? Albeit a list of the Top Ten SF Writers of all time is a pretty small list, but still.

Who are Shaun Nichols and Iain Thomson that they would be experts on SF writers? Well, they are techy geeks guys, which by definition makes them SF fans. And they write for http://www.v3.co.uk , some techy geek site that does Top Ten this and that. And as readers of SF they are as qualified as you and me. Here’s a bit culled form their bios on the site. Shaun Nichols is the US Correspondent for V3.co.uk, and primary writer and editor for the Mac Inspector blog. He holds a BA in Journalism from San Francisco State University. Iain Thomson is the US editor of V3.co.uk and was previously technical editor of PC Magazine, reviews editor of PC Advisor and editor of Aviation Informatics.

Now, within the restrictions of the top ten, they decided to go with SF novel writers, not short stories, nor with TV or movies, though they gave an honorable mention to Gene Roddenberry. They mentioned they’re going to get hammered on their list, and seem to be looking at who has had a”key role in inspiring research and eventual technological development.” Okay, that’s one way to put it but their list won’t hold true to all of their choices though the great three, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein, whose fiction did inspire inventions and many of them are named after the artifacts in the books (a waldo is one example).

They in fact wanted to put the writers of Red Dwarf onto the list but maybe it was TV before it was a book? And I’m not sure how Red Dwarf inspired technological development. As well, the authors say, “SF deals with the possible and sets specific constraints on the writer. Fantasy, to my mind, is just an excuse to develop alternative realities with no reference to the real world.” This is a pretty important quote because it means all the SF they mention needs to be Earth-centric. But how? Do the books only need to have humans who once began on Earth? Does it need to refer to Earth in the course of the book? Does Earth have to be central to the plot, because indeed there is much SF that does not take place on Earth or the “real world.” And what exactly constitutes the real world? The real world today, fifty years from now, a thousand years from now, a hundred years in the past or a world that would be if X happened?

The ten names are all recognizable to SF readers: Iain Banks, H.G. Wells, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Jules Verne and Arthur Clarke as number one. Okay, real world and Douglas Adams? Hmm, it’s humor but is it possible? In fact, some of these authors write plausible futures but probable? Not likely. Still, most of them were influential to the genre. David Brin would count as would others not mentioned, but what is really missing are the women. Saying only hard science counts, or mundane SF, might help if the list didn’t have Douglas Adams, or Ellison in that sense. Maybe there weren’t any women of influence in SF, but that’s just not true.

Ursula Le Guin is one who comes to mind. For mimicking parts of US fundamentalism mixed into politics you could even have Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, or Orwell’s 1984. Writers of long ago? What about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein? That’s spawned many a tale and Soviet experiments of truly frankensteinian nature of attaching a pup to an adult dog or two heads to a dog. But maybe she didn’t write enough. Other female authors include Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffery (oops her world is not Earth based), Sherri Tepper, James Tiptree, Kage Baker, Doris Lessing (How many other SF authors have received a Nobel prize in literature?), Pat Murphy and Pad Cadigan who had a book filled with people watching numerous weather channels or food channels and it was called food porn and weather porn. That book prophesied aspects of today.

It would have helped to name more specifically what the writers contributed. But with each of the definitions the writers of the piece gave, there were at least several authors who did fit that description. I think that a woman stepping into the SF ring alone changed the history of much and there should at least be honorable mentions. But Nichols and Thomson can redeem themselves, should they choose to do the Top Women SF Writers of all time, if they’ve read any.


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Writing: What Constitutes Fantasy

Discussion has recently come up on my writer’s list about fantasy stories. One of the members asked a range of questions, not because she needed advice but because I believe she’s had discussions with other writers on what constitutes fantasy. Most of the members had close to the same answers here so I’m listing her questions and how I view each of them.

1.     Should a writer write down to an audience, or just use their own conversational voice?

 I took this to mean, should a writer condescend to, take on an instructional tone in explaining to an audience that may not know as much. Or should the writer use the author’s voice. However, I believe she meant, use your regular writing voice, thought that wasn’t clear. I have elaborated on my original answers.

I’d think neither. You’re writing using characters so your characters should help reveal the world. A character has a personality and a unique voice and depending on the point of view, that will affect what voice is used. You could have a condescending narrator; in that case yes he/she would talk or write down to the audience.

To explain the particular setting/technology/society of a world requires deft revelation, some of which may be through a particular character. Albeit, some exposition is required in a novel, but it shouldn’t be talking/writing down so much as making sure your regular reader understands the functioning aspects of the world as needed to understand the story. Example: I recently edited a book for someone who had all sorts of words/slang about airforce planes but on a level most of us (unless we were pilots) wouldn’t understand. He needed a bit more info in context so that the reader could understand what was going on.

 Unless you (the author/narrator) are an integral part of your novel, the authorial voice should not be there. When author’s drop into their stories it’s disconcerting and pulls the reader out of the world. Terry Pratchett from time to time uses an authorial or omniscient narrator (as you suspected, dear reader). It takes skill to use it in a way that enhances a story as opposed to detracting from in and ruining the atmosphere.  

2.     Should a fantasy novel assume lack of science and technology?

No. Even a world of magic has some technology or science. Whether it interacts with the story is another matter. Cups, weapons, dyes, plows, walls, etc., are all a science when they’re discovered/invented. Pre-industrial societies had science and or technology. Stories that involve alchemists (as an example) often mix science with magical properties. Books have been written where magic and science blend equally.

If you mean the logic/science behind how magic works in a particular world, then yes it still has to make sense and work in the story. But science does not negate magic necessarily.

3.     Should a fantasy novel assume a pseudo-medieval milieu?

No. It can, as is evidenced by numerous novels, but some are of far earlier societies. Some are integrated in later worlds and some are just plain ole alien. I read Brandon Sanderson’s novel, Mistborn, which had a plantationesque era and established magic. There was science as well. I really liked it for being of a different milieu.

Often there is the accepted trope that in a world that is not industrialized, magics develop in different ways within people. But a world could have magical creatures, i.e., not found normally on planet Earth and still not be medieval. Many medieval fantasies fall into parallel world tropes, where it is the middle ages but some element of magic is real. Many take an Earth like world and values but create fictitious places. Everything from the myths of the ancients up to the modern urban fantasies, like Charles de Lint’s (his name came up often in this discussion) are fantasy but not medieval. And really, a fantasy story has a better chance of selling if it is different rather than the same as every other book on the shelf.

4.     Should a fantasy novel necessarily encompass magic?

Again, it doesn’t matter really. Yes or no, depending on your world. A world can just be “other” or different from the world and the past we know, yet have nothing magical about it. It will still fall into the fantasy category. The lines between science fiction and fantasy can be blurry. Anne McCaffrey’s famous dragonriders of Pernseries started out as a medieval fantasy where people in feudal style societies rode dragons that killed the invading threads. She argued that it was science fiction because it was a different world, where originally the humans came from someplace else.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books were similar in that they started out in a medieval style world, where some people had special powers. But as she wrote more and more books, there was interaction with people from other planets and spaceports. Fantasy or science fiction? Yes.

5.     Should magic in a fantasy novel be hard or just part of the norm like breathing?

Depends on if everyone does it, or if it’s a gifted few. Are they born with it or like us, do they go through a crawling stage before walking and then flying? Many books have magical talents begin with puberty. In others, the person must study and earn the talent. It could be a world that has an inherent magic in the way it works such as creatures that change shape. It all depends on what is integral to the plot and how that affects the outcomes and solutions the protagonist must find.

Overall, I’d say almost all of these are not hard and fast. It depends on how the world is set up, what tale you’re trying to tell and how integral magic is to that story line. But questions like these are always goods to ask because as writers, it keeps us thinking and examining what we do. And sometimes it pushes us outside our comfort zones and we move beyond the box.

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