Books. Tea. Cats. Scribbling.

Tag: Kickstarter

Welcome to the Archipelago with Charlotte Ashley

Want to read swashbucking stories set on the high seas? Want Lovecraftian creatures to mess that swashbuckling up? Want, above all, to see multiple writers duke it out with feedback from devoted readers like you?

If your answer is “yes”, then what you want is Archipelago.

Archipelago is a historical fantasy serial with multiple new episodes appearing every month written by Charlotte Ashley, Kurt Hunt, and Andrew Leon Hudson. Imagine a blend of Moby Dick, Pirates of the Caribbean, Master & Commander and Game of Thrones — with Lovecraftian monsters lurking beneath the surface!

Archipelago isn’t just about storytelling, though. Readers will have the opportunity to influence events as the adventure develops, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes devastating. To take part, you can support the project through Kickstarter and Patreon.

And today I’ve got a special treat: an interview with Charlotte Ashley, one of Archipelago‘s creators and a noted spec-fic author in her own right, with stories published in F&SF, PodCastle, and more.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Me: The biggest thing that struck me about the Archipelago stories is how they’re set during the height of the colonial project between Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and how the discovery of this other world parallels the “discovery” of the New World. How is Archipelago hoping to navigate, and potentially subvert, that sort of setting?

Charlotte Ashley: It was definitely my intention to turn Europe’s colonial aspirations outward, into uninhabited territory. We start our story around 1600 which was very early in the colonial process. England, Portugal, Spain, and the Dutch had all started building settlements, but they hadn’t claimed ownership on the large scale they would 200 years later. People in Asia, the Americas, India, and Africa were still fairly autonomous. We wanted to nip that European invasion in the bud, so to speak, so that non-Western people had a chance to participate in the Archipelago as strong, unconquered nations.

I think “discovery” is synonymous with “conquest” in our history, and we’ll explore that, but I also wanted to be able to look at alternatives.

Me: Yes! I really wanted to write down “Age of Conquest” in my first question, but that phrase has so much baggage.

CA: Well, there IS so much baggage there. I don’t want to dodge or deny the historical realities of the colonial period, but I hope we can imagine the power relationships a little differently.

Me: I was really intrigued by the setting of your story in particular. I wasn’t aware of the Ajuran Sultanate as a political entity before this. Aside from the parallel world aspects of the Archipelago itself, is all the other history up to the start of the story played straight?

CA: Not entirely. We did play a little loose with plausible, rather than confirm-able, technologies and ideas — Umur’s prosthetic hands, for example. They are absolutely within the realm of what was achievable by the artisans of the Islamic Golden Age, but I don’t know of any confirmed prosthetics of this kind. [Umur is the main character of the Ajuran Sultanate storyline, which will go live on May 19th at Black Gate.]

Me: Are any of the main characters based on specific historical figures?

CA: In the storylines of Roanoke and the Summer Isles, definitely. My nation is less rooted in historical reality, for two reasons: one is that historical resources about the Ajuran Sultanate in English are few and far between. The other is that I wanted to avoid too badly mangling a history that isn’t mine, so I focus more on the new nation and culture of Al’Tahj, which follows a very different trajectory than real-life Mogadishu did.

Me: There are so many different ways I can see this playing out — like each storyline establishing its own nation state and essentially duking it out in a proxy war. And then there’s the whole Lovecraftian aspect to things. I imagine that whoever is an indigenous inhabitant of the Archipelago is going to have a very different mindset and physiology compared to humans.

CA: The natures of the Archipelago’s major inhabitants are still a mystery. 😉 But, yes. The first settlers of the Archipelago have mindsets which are, we hope, similar to “real” 17th century ones, so they imagine this colonization process will be very similar to the one on Earth — that humans, at the top of the food chain, can move in and strip-mine everything in the name of their kings or gods or whatever. But this isn’t Kansas. They will find that out soon enough!

The first Year’s plot is very much about how the Nations set themselves up in relation to one another, as they would back home. Plots, politics, battles, espionage, and so on. But the world is its own character that will become more pronounced in future Years.

Me: How far out have you planned things?

CA: Pretty far — but with the understanding that everything could change on a dime with reader input and our own inter-Nation conflicts! The big pieces are there, though, the inevitability. How our characters react and live within the bigger picture is much less clear.

Me: One thing I also notice about the setting is that the entry points to the Archipelago are so spread out – the Caribbean, the Atlantic Seaboard, and the Horn of Africa. Supposedly on the other side of the portal, these three points of contact are a lot closer together. How do you see that affecting international relations? Like, if you can hop to Al’Tahj from near Bermuda, that really changes the relevance of sea journeys like sailing past the tip of South Africa.

CA: The Archipelago portals are actually quite far apart, but people are drawn to people! As soon as there’s any kind of a civilization, that’s where we go. We can’t help it. But the Earth-side politics come into play as well. Control over a portal is a huge geopolitical issue.

Me: What pieces of the SF/fantasy canon do you think Archipelago is influenced by? Conversely, are there any that Archipelago is trying to respond to or subvert?

CA: I know Andrew looked to things like Master and Commander, but Kurt’s work has a much creepier feel.

For my part, I have to admit to beginning with a vague sense that I wanted a story that felt like The Pirates of Dark Water [a Hanna-Barbera cartoon] did when I was 11 years old. But I also very badly wanted to respond to the idea that “discovery” always seems to mean trampling all over whoever was there first. In SF/F, we haven’t lost that mindset yet. For my part, I wanted to write something with the over-the-top swashbuckling fun of John Carter of Mars, but with an awareness of the politics of claiming lands, discovering things that have always been there.

Me: I imagine that it’s going to be more complex, though, than a character suddenly having an epiphany that Colonialism Is Wrong And Bad.

CA: Yah, I’m not sure they will ever come to that, necessarily. If I’ve pulled it off (and I hope I have), nobody should be able to see the subtext.

Me: Back to a few questions about the process: Do you foresee other authors and cultures contributing to Archipelago in the future?

CA: Definitely! We intend to bring in guest writers, but it would also be nice to create a rich enough world to retire storylines, nations, or even writers and bring in new ones. The format allows for it — hopefully the readers will stick with us that long!

Me: How do you and the other two contributors coordinate your stories, and how is the reader input aspect going to affect that?

CA: Hm, big question. We write several months in advance and share our stories with each other, to make sure we’re on the same page and not contradicting anyone. We have a Wiki with characters, places, and permissions. We have rules about what we can and can’t use. But, ultimately, we’re committed to writing an agile story. You can’t get too attached to your plan — or even your characters — because something might happen to it that you didn’t count on. I think of it as an ongoing writing prompt. The readers, or the other writers, give me some criteria, and I have to write my episode to fit it. And for me, the more I am given to work in, the better!

I am, personally, so excited about Tuckerizations. I am gonna have so much fun with those.

Me: There’s both a Kickstarter campaign and a Patreon for Archipelago. Can readers support both, or is it better to do one over the other?

CA: They both offer totally separate things, but in a perfect world they support both.  The core of the story will be offered through Patreon. The Kickstarter is more of an opportunity to taste – you get a world guide, some flash stories set in the world, some art, that sort of thing. That’s also where you can get Tuckerizations — but in order to READ the story you’re written into, you’ll need a Patreon subscription.

Me: Are there any final words you’d like to share with readers?

CA: Erm, gosh. Probably not. I talk endlessly! Despite all my blah blah about colonialism, this is some of the most fun I’ve had writing. I want this to be a joy, a ride. And it will be.

And that’s that! Charlotte is awesome, Archipelago sounds awesome, and you can support this project through both Kickstarter and Patreon. The Kickstarter campaign ends on May 31, so you’ve still got some time!

30 Days of Reviews: Pancake Breakfast Black Tea from 52Teas

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In the spirit of the month, instead of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I’m going to write a short review every day, up to a maximum of 300 words. Think of it is NaNoReMo (National Novel Review Month). This month I’ll do short reviews of books, varieties of tea, and even individual short stories as the mood strikes. So read on!

Tonight I’m going to look at a tea that I got nearly a year ago from 52Teas as part of last year’s holiday Kickstarter campaign. In addition to her seasonal blends, Anne also offered backers the chance to try limited-edition reblends of older teas, so I took her up on it.

And oh man, some of the teas in this reblend package looked amazing, like tonight’s sample, Pancake Breakfast Black Tea.


Upon opening the package, I was greeted by an intense smell of sweet, syrupy cakey-ness. It really did smell amazingly of syrup-soaked pancakes! Underneath the sweetness of the syrup scent and the doughiness of the pancake batter scent, I also detected a note of creamy saltiness: the perfect companion note of a pat of butter, melting over the pancakes.

Here’s what the leaf looked like — curled black bits mixed with the occasional orange streak of dried calendula petals:


Brewing this according to the directions on the package resulted in a deep, dark brew with cool, coffee-coloured undertones rather than warm, amber ones.


On the tongue, I tasted the sweetness of the syrup and a doughy thickness at the back of my mouth that was definitely reminiscent of pancake batter. However, there was also a slight floral sharpness underneath, which I’m assuming came from the calendula petals.

The overall combination gave me the impression that I was drinking a tea flavoured not just like pancakes, but like blueberry pancakes, which is really something. Pancake Breakfast Black Tea is totally legit. Who would have guessed?

Book and Tea Kickstarters

she_changed_comics_kickstarterToday I felt like a change of pace. So instead of drinking tea, I’m going to talk about some interesting book- and tea-themed Kickstarter campaigns that have recently caught my eye.

She Changed Comics

Women are still underrepresented in the comics industry, but that’s changing thanks in large part to the women who came before—the women who changed free expression in comics. These women ventured into unexplored creative territories, opened doors for their contemporaries and those who followed, broadened the scope of comics, and faced down those who would silence them. She Changed Comics tells their story!

In She Changed Comics, we’ll profile more than 60 women whose work changed the landscape of free expression, from the turn of the 20th century to present day, and include new interviews from the women whose work is defining the future of comics.

What do I think of it? This sounds super interesting, and considering the recent news regarding the departure (aka: unceremonious firing that’s got people in an uproar ) of Vertigo editor Shelley Bond, I think it’s worthwhile to support a project like this. Plus, at this point the project has already met its funding target, so there’s no need to worry about it falling through. The only thing that’s keeping me from contributing is that this campaign is in US currency, and if I bought a print edition, I’d have to pay an extra $10 in shipping. The Canadian dollar is in the toilet right now, so it would be pretty expensive to do so.

When does it end? It ends in only 5 days! If you’re considering backing this campaign, do it soon.

Learn more about the campaign for She Changed Comics here.

Tea Journey Magazine

Half the world drank tea today. We intend to double that count.

Kickstarter gives us the opportunity to not only share our tea knowledge but to introduce you to a remarkable artisan tea, the first step in your Tea Journey. These teas come from many different lands to meet every level of interest. There are green and white and exotic selections, each described in detail. Tea, as you will discover, is more than a beverage. It is a cultural experience. Tea Journey establishes a bridge from those who craft handmade teas in 35 countries to the growing number of consumers in the West. It gives an identity to millions of tea workers and an opportunity for them to benefit financially from your purchase of specialty tea.

Tea Journey is a collaborative venture, self-financed by editors, writers, tea consultants, tea educators and tea experts globally. The team is led by Dan Bolton, a veteran magazine editor and publisher who has managed six publishing ventures from multi-nationals to startups (see About Us). Dan travels widely in the tea lands, frequently addresses tea professionals at conferences and writes and commissions hundreds of articles each year for the weekly World Tea News, STiR Tea & Coffee and the Tea Biz blog.

What do I think of it? I’m not impressed. When I look at the description of the campaign above along with the reward levels, I feel utterly confused.

Here’s why: Tea Journey Magazine is a magazine. But how is it described? As a way to “share our tea knowledge [and] to introduce you to a remarkable artisan tea, the first step in your Tea Journey.” This makes it sound like a tea subscription of some sort, rather than a publication.

It’s only until we get five paragraphs in to the description that we understand what the tangible purpose behind this campaign is: “Tea Journey identifies the best tea articles found in Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Hindi and Japanese publications. The staff then translates and ‘retells’ these stories in nuanced English.” (By the way: putting “retells” in quotation marks like that? That sounds super sketchy, like you’re searching for a polite way to say you’re embellishing the truth. When you’re translating something, it’s already assumed that you’ll be doing the work to make the story intelligible and interesting to readers of a different language — there’s no need to do any additional “retelling”.

Even worse, when I look at the backer rewards, I’m utterly mystified. I can pledge $15 and get a “charter subscription” to the magazine plus a canister of tea. But you have to scroll down to the $30 reward level to learn that the phrase “charter subscription” actually means a year-long subscription that contains 3 issues. Oh, and the $30 reward level only gets you a charter subscription plus an acknowledgement in the inaugural issue — what’s the point of that when I can pay half that amount and get the same subscription in addition to a package of tea? Is having your name included in the acknowledgements really worth that much extra?

It’s incomprehensible. Seriously.

Finally, I don’t understand how this company is going to use their funds. They’re asking for $125,000 for three issues of a magazine per year? What plans do they have to sustain the subscriber base to make subsequent years a reality? Plus, that dollar amount sounds like an awful lot to repurpose pre-existing content. It’s only when you scroll further down into the description that you see any mention of there being “custom apps for Apple iOS and Android tablets and phones.” (Mobile apps cost quite a bit of money to make. I should know; I do work with a major telecom company.) But then in the same breath, they say that the people involved in bringing Tea Journeys to life (“writers and photographers, museum curators, scientists, tea retailers and tea masters”) are already financing the project’s web design and custom apps.

So where exactly is the money going? Isn’t it a bit much to expect people who are new to the magazine to pony up over $100,000? Besides, where are the stretch goals? Stretch goals are a great way to drum up enthusiasm for a project, but they make absolutely no appearance here.

When does it end? It’s got 38 days to go. Considering it’s not even 15% funded, I’m not sure if this campaign will meet its goal. My guess is that several other would-be backers have the same reservations as I do.

Learn more about Tea Journey Magazine’s Kickstarter campaign here.

No Sh!t, There I Was – An Anthology of Improbable Tales

Is there a better phrase to start a story than “No Shit, There I Was…”? If you hear someone start with that phrase, you know it’s going to be worth listening carefully. That’s how all the craziest – and most interesting – stories start.

And then we turned a bunch of speculative fiction authors loose on that phrase.

I mean, these stories – whew.  Science fiction. Fantasy. Humor. Even horror. What they came up with is kind of hard to believe.

But no shit, there we were.

What do I think of it? I think this idea sounds fun! However, I must admit I’m biased, as my long-time friend Andrew Barton is a contributor to this anthology, and he’s also offering a short story critique as a backer reward. Even better, the pricing on this is really reasonable — you need to pledge only $5 to get an eBook. So go, go! Give my friend your money!

When does it end? This campaign has 23 days to go, and considering it’s already over 50% funded, this seems like it has a good chance of succeeding. (Good news for Andrew!)

Learn more about the campaign for “No Sh!t, There I Was” here.

So, do any of these Kickstarters strike your fancy? Let me know (or tell me about others!) in the comments.

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