Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Getting Published in Canada by Kristi Charish (with GIVEAWAY)

Regular readers here in the Ruins are likely already familiar with Kristi Charish, whose debut novel, Owl and the Japanese Circus, I had the pleasure of reviewing last month. This is a book for fans of urban fantasy who are looking for something a little different, with Kristi managing to successfully reignite my excitement for a genre that I felt was becoming tiresome and repetitive. There is already a sequel on the release calendar, along with her first novel in a new series, which is actually what brings her by today . . .

Getting Published in Canada
by Kristi Charish

Over the past two weeks since my debut novel OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS came out I've been hitting the blog tour/promotion circuit. It’s been an absolute blast talking to readers both this side and the south side of the Canada/US border, but one of the themes that keep coming up this side is getting published in Canada. So that’s what I’m here on Beauty in Ruins talking about today.

Now, my first disclaimer before you read anything below is that I’m new to the game. Very new. I only started writing in Feb 2010 (I was on vacation) and finished my first novel (OWL) in the spring of 2013. After querying I was picked up by my agent, Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative, and by the fall had a contract for the first two books in the OWL series with Simon and Schuster. Back in December, I signed three books in my second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE, with Anne Collins at Random House Canada.

One could successfully argue I’m too new to the writing/publishing game to know what the hell I’m doing (it’s a fair point). One could also argue I managed to get five books in two series under contract with publishers before the first book came out so I must be doing something right. Personally, I figure it’s probably a bit from column A and a bit from column B, plus a whole heaping bucket load of luck.

The point is take absolutely everything I say below with a grain of salt.

With that heavy disclaimer, I give you 9 things I’ve come away with over the past five years about publishing and getting published.

1. There are No Rules, Only a Handful of Patterns
I went into the querying process (sending out a letter to agents asking if they want to see your manuscript) fully expecting to be rejected by at least 50, maybe accepted by the 100th, and then have my first novel not sell. Harsh expectations but this was the consensus, the average publication path most speculative fiction authors out there had experienced.

What in actuality happened:

  1. Finished Owl and the Japanese Circus.
  2. Wrote up a letter, got a list of agents who represented authors I liked, and emailed a batch of them over a month (personal emails only, no spamming lists. You’ll get booted to the junk mail folder) 
  3. Heard back from Carolyn Forde (who represents Ian Hamilton, one of my favorite authors) the day after I emailed her. A manuscript request and phone call later I had representation. 
  4. A few months later Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket US picked up my manuscript and the sequel.

What is the take away from my experience? The publishing world isn't fair and though it has a lot of patterns there are next to no rules. Everyone’s path to publication is going to be different. I repeat: Mine was unusual. That isn't to say my path to publication isn't valid- it could and does happen to new writers all the time – but it’s not an accurate representation of how getting published is supposed to go. Go into publishing with as few expectations as possible and if someone feeds you a line about rules, run. They’re probably trying to sell you something.

2. First time out you might want to go traditional...or not.
The debate between self-publishing and traditional publishing hasn't changed much since I started writing. If anything it’s intensified. Is one better or worse? It depends on just about everything from the author, novel, readers...

I didn't go the self-pub route so I can’t say much to that. You’d be much better off seeing what Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking, and E.L James have to say, as all three have had huge success.

As to traditional publishing? I like having an agent. My agent strategizes with me about my long-term career goals and has the connections and publishing industry know how to get my manuscripts in front of the right editors. She deals with the legalities of contract negotiations and it’s her job to make sure I sign the best deal possible for my book and my long-term career goals. My agent/agency also takes care of overseas and film rights, which can be tricky. So far I've found having an agent a huge help to my writing career and well worth the commission.

I also like the advantages that go with having traditional publishers. They've sold books before and they have a much better idea than I do about how to package and market a debut novel. They arrange editors, cover artists, marketing plans and strategies, promotion, reviewers, get books to retailers, and there is the matter of advances. Yes, as many authors have pointed out you now more than ever have to market yourself through social media, but going through a publisher, especially as a debut, opens a lot more doors than you think. Are publishers perfect? Of course not, nothing is, and neither is self-publishing. Pick the one that will work for you and keep your options open.

3. There are serious advantages to being Canadian.
When I first started out I was told in order to be taken seriously as a writer I needed an American agent. New York was where all the big deals were made.

Like most writing/publishing advice out there, there is some truth to the statement. New York is still where the heavy hitters of the publishing world reside. But in my experience, there is a huge advantage to being a Canadian author. First, there are fewer of us, and that’s not marginalizing the Canadian reading population or publishing world. On the contrary, when Canadian writers throw their hats in with the Americans, not only are they competing with each other but with all the Americans and every other hopeful writer on the planet.

A lot of bestselling Canadian authors (Ian Hamilton, Yaan Martel, Kelley Armstrong) have Canadian agents. Canadian Literary agencies are more than capable of negotiating with New York and over seas publishers and do so on a regular basis. The best part? They represent Canadian clients. Yes, there are fewer agencies in Canada than in the US, but they’re an option for us that the Americans don’t have and shouldn't be over-looked. I feel I've had more opportunities working with a Canadian agent and agency than I would have had otherwise.

We also have access to the Canadian publishers. All the major publishing houses have branches in Canada and publish under their own imprints. It’s not easier – there’s tough competition from other Canadian authors and there are fewer editors buying work – but it’s an option our American counterparts don’t have so why not take advantage?

4. Some Things you just can’t buy.
If you take no other advice off this list, please, please, for the love of assorted Gods and your bank account, please, take this one. 

You cannot buy your way into publishing.

Anyone who tells you different (or worse, offers you a way) is screwing you over.

Between writing conferences, critically acclaimed workshops, MFA programs, and conventions there are a multitude of places for you as a budding author to drop a serious amount of coin. And those are just the reputable ones. I know a number of aspiring authors who have spent upwards of 5000 dollars on reputable workshops and university track writing programs and have yet to be published.

For total transparency below I've listed my total expenditures on workshops and conventions before I was published. It was less than 500 dollars.

  1. Vancouver Science Fiction Fantasy Convention: Free workshop with published authors included with 40$ weekend convention ticket.
  2. Vancouver Community College 6 week Speculative Fiction Writing Class: $120   
  3. Vancouver Public Library Workshop with writer in residence Spider Robinson: FREE, as in world-class writer, no money left my pocket. 
  4. Shadbolt Community Center 6 week Writing Workshop with Aurora Award winning author Eileen Kernighan: $120
  5. Norwescon Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (Seattle): FREE writing workshops included with 60$ weekend membership. Also included publishing, editing and pitch workshops. 
  6. Subscribed to David Farland’s Daily Kick, a daily series of writing lessons delivered to your inbox: FREE

Spending money on the more expensive and prestigious workshops will not increase your chances of getting published or getting an agent. Once you’re published and have a bit of money from your work under your belt, great! Try one of the bigger workshops, but there’s no need.

The sorry truth is you can’t buy your way into a book deal. Writing is a solitary event.

5. The outfit doesn't make a book
And I’m not talking about the cover (though covers can totally make or break a book. For example, imagine your favorite action/adventure with a full on romance cover. The readers who pick that up are going to be real pissed). In this case I’m talking about another kind of dressing. The prose.

There’s a real propensity for critique groups and workshops to focus on prose- the way you convey the story rather than the story itself. This may upset one or two critique group workshops out there, but the more I learn about the craft of writing (and the more professional authors I meet), this strikes me as an amateur’s mistake.

It’s like worrying about how a gown for a ballroom dancing competition is going to look without asking yourself whether you know how to dance. The outfit helps you look good but if you can’t dance, no amount of trussing up is going to help. Twinkle Toes who showed up in the potato sack is going to win.

The purpose of good prose is to make a good story look better, but people read a story for the story- especially in commercial fiction. No amount of fancy writing is going to make a lackluster novel better than a spectacular story – even if the spectacular story decided to show up wearing a burlap potato sack and Birkenstock sandals. And don’t doubt for one second this doesn't happen every day in publishing. In fact, once in the publishing door there are a slew of editors (content, copyediting, proofreading) whose job it is to fix up the typos, prose, and make sure the logic of the story fits.

Yes, the story needs to be as ready to go as possible but wasting hours making it perfect is a poor expenditure of your time- especially when you should be working on the next project.

6. You have to pass the crazy test
Now, when I say ‘crazy test’ I am not in any way, shape, or form alluding to mental illness. That would be insulting. What I’m referring to is a writer’s ability to behave in a congenial/civil/constructive manner when discussing their work with an editor or agent, criticism and all. And the behaviors I outline below absolutely deserve the derogatory and insulting imagery the word ‘crazy’ evokes.

The following behaviors all earn a ‘Crazy Test’ fail: Name calling the editor or agent, arguing ostensibly about your work, online flame wars, choosing to take insult without provocation, tantrums, refusing to consider constructive criticism, angry emails sent out at 3 am, and – my favorite – inappropriate comments or jokes involving anything to do with race/sexuality/religion/gender.

Publishing is a business and you will be tested on your professionalism before anyone buys your book.

7. Signal to Noise
  Your enemy isn't a bad review. Your enemy is no review. There seems to be a real assumption going around with new authors that a bad review will prevent hordes of their readers from discovering their book. I haven’t seen it. In fact, the opposite is true. There is many a book I've picked up that’s been denounced as space cowboy trash (I happen to like space cowboys) or an urban fantasy that’s been ripped apart by reviewers for not enough romance (I actually prefer less romance, more adventure in my UF reads). The point is a bad review meant someone read your book and took the time to write something about it. Be thankful. Most people won’t bother reading.

And, speaking of reviewers... Repeat after me: Those reviews are not the reviews you are looking for. They are written for other reviewers and readers. And that goes triple for the comment threads.

8. There is no such thing as a secret handshake.
There is this perverse and pervasive myth amongst hopeful authors that if they just make the right connection, sneak into the right party, and figure out the secret handshake, they will earn admittance to the land of lollypops and unicorns, where editors pay you, the unproven debut author, to write a book they've never seen.

No one is going to give you money to write a novel (except celebrities, and even they don’t get paid to write the book, a ghost writer with an extensive portfolio does).

A novel is a product that a publisher is contracting from an author. Unless you have an extensive, commercially proven portfolio, no one is going to pay you for a product they can’t see.

There is no secret handshake or mystical industry party in Shangri-la.

Still don’t believe me? I was (still am in many ways) about as unconnected in the literary community as you can get. First, I have a science degree so no MFA or English department connections. I’m not really on the Speculative Fiction conference circuit (See number 5. Plane rides and conference tickets can get expensive) and though I've made a few local writing friends I’m still getting to know most of the writers in the Pacific Northwest. Yet that didn't stop my manuscript getting picked up off the slush pile or prevent publishing house editors from considering it. Remember what the product you’re selling is. A story.

9. “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more of it I have.” Coleman Cox, 1922.

I left this one for last because it’s a damn good note to leave on.

No doubt about it, I've been incredibly lucky in publishing. I currently have five books under contract to two major publishers before the first one is out and I've only been writing 5 years.

I also have worked harder at writing fiction than anything else I've ever attempted in my life. When I started I was getting up at 7am to write for a couple hours before heading to the lab where I did my PhD, then writing on the train home and until I fell asleep on the computer keyboard (my spousal unit has a lot of unflattering and very un-photogenic dirt on me). Once I switched to full time writing the pace didn't let up- I simply had more time to write. Get up at 7am, write. Break at 9. Then more writing. Gym at 5, then – you guessed it – more writing. And that’s not considering social media, promotion, etc. It’s 2 pm on a Sunday as I’m writing this article. Once I’m done, I've another article to finish, a podcast to go on, writing on my next novel I haven’t gotten to since my book came out. I won’t get to bed until maybe 10 or 11pm. 14 or 16 hour days are a reality for a full time writer. And I wouldn't change it for the world.


About the Author

Kristi Charish is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. The second installment, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Jan 2016. Her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practioner living in Seattle, is scheduled for release mid 2016.

Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.



Fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Linda Hamilton will flock to the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.

Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.

To help celebrate the release, Kristi Charish has kindly offered up one (1) copy of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS for a lucky readers here in the Ruins (hardcopy for USA/Canada or ebook for International).

To enter, just pop me at email at bob[dot]beautyinruins[at]gmail[dot]com and let me know how you follow the Ruins - whether it be here on the BlogFacebookTwitterGoodreads, or Booklikes.

Giveaway ends Sunday at midnight, and I'll draw the lucky winner Monday morning.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fiction Review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request often include details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

With his third collection of short fiction, Neil Gaiman presents us with stories, verse, and even a 50th anniversary Doctor Who story, all previously published (please note that Black Dog, the one story exclusive to the collection, was not included in the ARC).

Having only read him in novel or graphic novel form, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances was my first introduction to Gaiman's short fiction. It was an interesting read, largely entertaining, and even if there was a long, deep stretch of works in the middle that just didn't grab my attention, there were more than enough strong entries to book-end that gap.

Rather than review every tale in the collection, I thought I'd just offer my observations on those that worked best for me:

The Thing About Cassandra was most definitely an early highlight, and even if I saw the twist coming a few pages early, it was still a great story.

Down to a Sunless Sea was one of the shorter tales here, but powerful in the depths of its sorrow. The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains . . . was absolutely fantastic, with the stunning image of a girl perhaps too-tightly bound by her ponytail, and marked by the cleverness of a promise. Adventure Story was too short, but unexpectedly comic, while Orange was odd, oddly told, and oddly compelling.

Click-­Clack the Rattlebag was really just a tease, ending just as we get to the meat of it, but I quite liked the monstrous concepts of the Click-Clack and the Rattlebag. An Invocation of Incuriosity was a great story within a story, full of myth and fable, while “And Weep, Like Alexander” was a fun story about un-inventing and the unintended consequences of progress. Nothing O’Clock, the Doctor Who story, was one of my favorites, taking as its inspiration the simple question of "What time is it, Mr. Wolf?" and making of it something perfectly creepy, properly Who-amusing, and entirely unsettling in its resolution.

Pearls: A Fairy Tale was just that - a faery tale - but a contemporary one of drugs, dogs, hookers, stepmothers, and magic, that I quite enjoyed. Kether to Malkuth and The Sleeper and the Spindle both continued the classic faery tale theme, but in a more familiar setting . . . even if Gaiman puts a few unexpected twists on the traditional tropes.

Introductions are always a tricky thing when it comes to a collection, and you wonder/worry about how much the author might give away, but I think it fits here as an intro (rather than an appendix). Gaiman really sets the stage for each tale, telling us less about them and more about how they came about. They allowed me to appreciate some stories (such as A Calendar of Tales), even if I didn't enjoy them, and really served to expose his inspirations. All in all, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances is a solid collection, despite the dry spot in the center, and perfect for those of who don't follow his short fiction obsessively.

ebook, 352 pages
Expected publication: February 3rd 2015 by William Morrow

Saturday, January 24, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

A busy week in the Ruins this time around, with some very exciting posts:
Both the Tim Marquitz and Paul Rudd giveaways are still open, so be sure to check them both out and enter today!


Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

After being so good, so diligent, and so strong, I completely fell of the wagon this week when it comes to my book addiction. New titles on the review front that I just couldn't resist include:

• The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett (The long-awaited 4th volume in his Demon Cycle doesn't hit the shelves until the end of March, but I'm ready to dig in now!)

• Haterz by James Goss (A blackly comic crime novel about a one-man crusade to make the internet a nicer place, whatever it takes, and no matter how the bodies pile up.)

• Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love by Mercedes M. Yardley (A story of demons and monsters, serial killers, and doomed, vengeful love.)

• Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman (His third collection, this once includes an American Gods exclusive and a 50th anniversary Doctor Who tale)


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

• The Unremembered by Peter Orullian
I missed out on this when it was first released, but I wanted to catch up before the sequel lands this spring . . . and so far the 'Author's Definitive Edition' rocks.

• Dead Heat by Ren Thompson
A perfect reason why you should never judge a book by it's cover - yes, there is a lesbian romance involved, but it's also a very bloody, very violent horror story of a zombie apocalypse.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, January 23, 2015

WTF Friday: Outcast by Marc Saville

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't get a lot of press, and which rarely get any retail shelf space.

They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

I find myself of two minds about Outcast, conflicted as to whether the surprises completely outweigh the disappointments. There's no doubt that Marc Saville has crafted an effective and engaging dystopian sci-fi thriller, and there's no denying the smartness of its Orwellian aspects, but it feels as if he held himself back from the edge for much of it. What could have been an extraordinarily shocking bit of social commentary is content to settle for mere tease and titillation.

In a futuristic parallel universe, biological humans are a rare and dying breed, while genetically engineered replacements are programmed to play a designated role in life, free of emotions or free will. Having just come of age in this brave new world, Layla Thomas is about to take her place as a professional BDSM switch in her sister's high-class brothel, except the mere thought of fulfilling her predetermined role makes her violently ill. That illness drives her into the arms of her secret lover, Petra, and into a dark conspiracy involving the Strays - underground social outcasts whose programming has failed.

There's so much potential for shock value in that set-up, it's really a shame it felt wasted upon the page. Forget the absence of the erotic for a moment, and think about the implication of the power-exchange. Layla has been programmed to be both a dominant and a submissive, in a world where everyone is designed to be submissive to their programming. I really felt Saville could have done more to explore that theme, to look at the nature of obedience, and to examine such taboo gratification, especially in the absence of love. Instead, he tosses around a few toys, floggers, and fetish attire, but stops shy of indulging in anything truly taboo.

Similarly, there's a lot of potential in the relationship between Layla and Petra that I felt was wasted. Petra is a genetically engineered hermaphrodite Stray who never appears to Layla in the same guise. She has a key role to play in the story - in fact, her ultimate reveal is probably one of finest surprises in the tale - but her dichotomy of gender is no better explored than that of Layla's power-exchange. We never get inside her head to understand why she chooses to express herself as she does, and we get nothing from Layla to explain her unique appeal. Saville does attempt to be deliberately shocking by repeatedly referring to her as a manchick, but that vulgarity is so out of place coming from Layla that it loses all effect.

Disappointments out of the way, this is an effective dystopian thriller. There are some really dark touches to Saville's portrayal of the future, especially in how we devalue and dehumanize one another, and a fantastic exploration of what happens when one's programming breaks down in the face of genuine humanity. There's a bit of satire to it, no doubt, but nothing that's ever played for humor. Instead, we get heaping doses of cruelty, and some very unsettling questions as to whether cruelty is worse as an side-effect of efficiency or a as a deliberate act of control. What's really interesting is that politics and government are largely insignificant here - instead, it's the media, the police, and the doctors who front the true horrors of control.

I can't help but feel that Outcast could have been a stronger book if Saville had truly let himself go, but that doesn't mean it's a bad book. It's darkly imaginative, thoroughly chilling, and entertaining from beginning to end, working as well as a thriller as a mystery. The characterization of Layla suffers a bit from her emotionless world, but that's largely deliberate, and I think he did well to explore her as much as he did. I really wondered where he was going with it for a while, and found the capture-assignment-escape-capture routine wearing a bit thin in its repetitiveness, but the final twist and Petra's big reveal make for a stunning conclusion that really pays off.

Kindle Edition, 162 pages
Published November 15th 2014 by DJK Media

Thursday, January 22, 2015

REVIEW: Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks by Andy Burns

Wow, what a strange few months it has been for Twin Peaks fans. After 25 years of teases and denials, Lynch and Frost finally announced we'll be getting a long-awaited continuation of the series in 2016, with Agent Cooper, Laura Palmer, and Audrey Horne already confirmed to return. In addition, Frost announced he'll be writing an accompanying novel to fill in the 25 years between the two series.

As a result, Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks couldn't have come at a better time, even if the timing means Andy Burns finished the book before the news of a confirmed revival could provide a fitting epilogue.

It's a relatively short book and a quick read, but Burns does a great job of examining what made the show special, and of exploring its lasting legacy in terms of influence and inspiration. He breaks down the technical details of how scenes were framed, of how different effects were achieved, and of what kind of direction actors and writers were given to discover the characters. He talks about just how much influence Lynch's cinematic vision had on the series, and which of the other writers were most responsible for its most memorable moments. I was barely a teenager when Twin Peaks first aired, so I was largely ignorant of the technical, stylistic aspects. Looking back, and applying Burns' analysis to the scenes I remember, casts the series in a whole new light.

While the homages and tributes are obvious, such as the Darkwing Duck parody that I still quote to this day (and which he fondly recalls), the overall influence on TV is something I had never considered. We've become so accustomed to things like season-long story arcs, cinematic production values, and weird or experimental storytelling, that it's easy to forget how much Twin Peaks did first. Burns walks us through both sides of that influence, and really helps to put the show's legacy in context. We toss around terms like 'ground-breaking' all the time, but this is one of those shows where that term is completely deserved.

If you've never seen the show, this isn't likely to make you want to go back and watch the original series, but fans will find a lot to appreciate in Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks. Along with reminding us of how fantastic the show was, it's a great recap of the characters and story lines, and a perfect way to get quickly reacquainted with the world Lynch and Frost created.

Paperback, 144 pages
Expected publication: February 10th 2015 by ECW Press

Tough Travels - Pets

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: PETS

Everybody needs somebody to love. And the best companionship doesn't always come from the same sentient group, does it? Be it furry or scaled, large or small, sometimes an animal companion is the best thing a person can have. (Thank you to Nathan's wife for this week’s topic).

Do familiars and companions count as pets? Well, they may protest the fact, but let's ignore the barks and growls and assume that they do indeed count . . .

The first pet I can remember encountering in epic fantasy (if you don't count the ferrets in the BeastMaster movie) is Guenhwyvar from R.A. Salvatore's Icewind Dale trilogy. A sleek black panther, she was actually an astral being that Drizzt Do'Urden could summon to his side through an onyx figurine. Limited to 12 hours of physical existence each day, she served as both friend and animal companion to Drizzt, accompanying him as much to stave of the loneliness of being exiled from his homeland as to fight alongside him in battle.

My favorite pet, hands-down, would have to be Oy, the cute, humorous, sadly loyal billy-bumbler from Stephen King's Dark Tower Saga. Kind of a cross between a dog and a raccoon, billy-bumblers have zebra-striped fur, spiral tails, and gold-ringed eyes. Both smart and clever, they have the ability to understand and mimic human words and actions. Jake Chambers adopts Oy as his pet in the third novel, and the little billy-bumbler remains a faithful companion right to the very end, serving to save the lives of the ka-tet on more than one occasion, and providing one of the saddest, most touching moments King has ever written.

Pets are, of course, a defining aspect of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. First we have the Stark children (and Jon Snow), who each get to adopt a cute little Direwolf pup. Of course, these cute little pups eventually grow to monsters the size of small ponies, and aren't shy about tearing out the throats of anyone threatening their owners. Then there are the baby dragons that Danaerys hatches and adopts. They're a little harder to tame, with some hungers that can't easily be appeased, but a dragon is a cool pet no matter how quickly it grows.

Part pet, part friend, and part familiar, Nighteyes is one of the most remarkable characters in Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy. Fitz is blessed (or cursed) with the Wit, a magic of the Old Blood that most find distasteful. It allows him to befriend and bond the young wolf, Nighteyes, with their relationship a driving force in the trilogy. There are accusations they bonded too young, and Nighteyes certainly seems more like a domesticated dog than a wild wolf, but he's a huge part of the story.

Sticking with the wolf theme for a moment, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time brings us Hopper. It's through his friendship with Hopper that Perrin begins to understand his role as a Wolfbrother. The two are able to communicate through a visual form of telepathy, consisting of images rather than words, and their affinity allows Perrin to enter the wolf-dream and run alongside Hopper as a wolf himself. It's definitely more of a familiar or friendship relationship that a pet one, but Hopper remains a trusted part of Perrin's destiny all the way through the series.

Finally, and this definitely counts as more a companions than pets, but there are few animals in epic fantasy more memorable than Yfandes from The Last Herald-Mage by Mercedes Lackey. These intelligent, loyal, honorable horses are Heralds who have passed on and chosen to come back as a Companion, to choose a Herald, and become bonded to them. Vanyel is a dark, tragic sort of hero, and Yfandes carries a heavy burden in trying to convince him that he's loved, and that his life is worth living. This is one of the darkest, saddest, most tragic fantasies I have ever read, but also one of the most powerful - it's what made me a fan of Lackey, even with an ending that rips your heart apart and pours shadows into your thoughts.