SWA Presenter Spotlight: Charlotte Babb

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is science fiction writer Charlotte Babb.


This writer/Web designer/teacher has most recently published two science fiction story cycles in a collection called Port Nowhere. Eppie-winner Babb also writes poetry for children, including her anthology, The Thing in the Tub, and she has various short story and article credits, such as “Fairy Frogmother.”

She runs two blogs, Maven Fairy Godmother and Be Your Own Fairy Godmother. For more information about her work, please visit her Web site.


RS:  How did you get into writing?

CB: I have always wanted to write, and [I] wrote stories in elementary school for myself.

I wanted to grow up to be Jo March [of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women], and did to some extent, going into teaching instead of writing for a career.

RS:  What keeps you writing?

CB: I need to write. I use writing to find out what I think. I use it to build worlds where the good guys win and where people can do magic.

It gives me a sense of personal power to shape the words—when I can get them lined up like I want them.

RS:  What do you do when you’re not writing?

CB: I am a web designer for Sherman College of Chiropractic, and I teach college writing for the University of Phoenix online.

When I am not writing or reading, I am grading papers, studying web analytics or watching movies from Netflix.

RS:  What draws you to the science fiction category?

CB: I am fascinated by other cultures, other ways of looking at the world.

I grew up during the space race—my first grade teacher actually brought a TV to school so we could watch Alan Shepard fly into the sky and fall back down in 1957—and when I was a senior in high school, Neil Armstrong took that one small step onto the moon.

I fell in love with Spock Prime. Along with Louisa Alcott and Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, I was reading Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and eventually, Stranger in a Strange Land.

The feeling is mutual, Charlotte. 😉

The golden age of science fiction was about “know how” and using science to solve problems, most of which were caused by people who were ignorant and thought that physical laws could be repealed. Like many people, I felt like an alien in my own land, so it was comforting to know that there were other places, other times, other ways. I find historical novels interesting for the same reasons, but history lacks the sense of wonder that is necessary for good science fiction.

I also love fantasy, but I am weary of vampires, which to my way of thinking is just the Gen-X reversal of the James Dean syndrome: Die first and live long as a beautiful corpse.

RS:  What are you currently working on?

CB: I am plotting out the sequel to my first novel, wherein my fairy godmother has to deal with the repercussions of her first week on the job.

I have some other stories in mind, and they are clamoring for my attention. I have a lot of research for a science fiction novel, but the characters have not shown up yet.

I am also doing some research for content pages for my day job, which will promote the college where I work. I teach online, so a good bit of my writing is explanation and conversation with my students, teaching them the finer points of writing for college.

Bibbity bobbity boo! Babb encourages you to be your own fairy godmother.

RS:  What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet?

CB: I’d love to learn better copywriting, compelling sales copy for my day job.

I miss the academic work that I did for my master’s and the pulling together of information about myth and folktales to make analysis of popular culture and re-tellings of those stories.

RS:  What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

CB: I’m reading Jodi Picoult’s Second Glance, and my Facebook book club has started Sherman Alexie’s [The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian].

I’m looking forward to the second book in Kate Elliott’s Spirit Gate trilogy, when my chiropractic intern finishes it.

I have the most recent copies of [Analog: Science Fiction and Fact] and [Asimov’s Science Fiction] for research on the current science fiction market.

RS:  Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

CB: Robert Heinlein’s books [and] YAs written for boys in the late ’40s and early ’50s showed me a world where it was assumed that girls make better pilots than boys because they understood math better.

Heinlein’s characters believed that anyone should be able to cook, diaper a baby, pilot a starship or do any other task that might be needed. I started reading Heinlein in third grade, just after graduating from Dr. Seuss. While his female characters were always beautiful and sexy, especially in his adult novels, they were also smart and independent.

I was also reading Alcott and Montgomery, who had a strong feminist thread in their books (which were written as the women’s suffrage movement was getting started), and I was reading during the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of Vietnam.  These two influences showed me worlds equally alien to my rural North Carolina home, but told me that it was all right to be different, to see my own road and to follow it.

I like Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton, whose work has one foot in science and one in fantasy.

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

CB: I’m teaching a four-hour course called “Science Fiction,” with a look at the elements that group those books on the shelf together, although vampires, zombies and werewolves are crowding out the science fiction.

I plan to explore why that is, and how the market is changing.


For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

You Have a Question? I Have an Answer: Sci-Fi/Fantasy & Subgenres

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q:  I have a vampire novel.  What is it, sci-fi?  Fantasy?  What’s the difference between these things?  How do you tell them/their subgenres apart?            -S.B.

A:  At the South Carolina Writers Workshop this past weekend, literary agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe (Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation) and Suzie Townsend (FinePrint Literary Management) led a session on paranormal, dark comedy, dark drama, and horror, and similar questions came up.

One of the conference attendees wanted to know what is with all this urban fantasy business she’s been hearing so much about. Another asked about the difference between paranormal and supernatural.

All good questions.


Supernatural. I've never seen the show, but I do love me some Jensen Ackles!

Stampfel-Volpe and Townsend explained that writers often confuse these genres and subgenres because, in some cases, industry peeps use some of the terms interchangeably.  I will mix a bit of what they said with a bit of what I’ve found in cyberspace in order to help answer these questions.

The sci-fi and fantasy genres confuse many because they tend to overlap in their most basic requirement: imaginary elements.  Because of their common ground, bookstores often lump them into one section.

However, this rule should help you distinguish between the two: Although they both include fantastic or imaginary elements, which contradict our current world/our understanding of it, those elements in science fiction are generally based in scientific reality, while those elements in fantasy rely more on myths and fables.

Still lost?  Here’s some help.  Disclaimer: With all the subgenres out there, there’s no 100% hard and fast rule, but if you stick to the below, you should be on the right track most of the time.


Ask yourself:

  • Is something different about the time?  Think: Back to the Future.
  • Is it set in the future?
  • Is there time travel?
  • Is it set in the past or the present, but there’s some element that is different from what we know?  Does, as Doc Brown puts it in BTTF2, the timeline skew into a tangent, creating an alternate 1985 (or whatever year)?
  • Is science or advanced technology involved?
    • Do the words “time machine,” “anti-matter,” “cryogenics,” or “technology” appear?  How about “flux capacitor” or “Mr. Fushion”?
  • Is it set in outer space?
  • Are there aliens?  Robots or computers becoming self-aware?

"Pull out your pants pockets. All kids in the future wear their pants inside out." --Doc Brown, Back to the Future Part II


Ask yourself:

  • Does anyone use magic or have supernatural powers?
  • Is it set in a mythical world, or are the main characters drawn from a contemporary setting into such a place? Think: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe or Harry Potter
  • Are there fairies?  Trolls?  Goblins?  Centaurs?  Basilisks?  Rings or grails?  Wizards with long white beards?

The Scary and the Hairy

Sci-fi/fantasy subgenres get particularly complicated because this is where a lot of terms are used interchangeably—much to the chagrin of, well, everyone trying to figure out this stuff.

The biggest head-scratchers for newbies at SCWW:

Paranormal vs. Supernatural

These are pretty much the same thing.

In the Stampfel-Volpe/Townsend session, we fleshed it out as a class, and here is what we came up with:

  • Supernatural is more when a character is born with or discovers he has super powers—in other words, these powers come from within.
  • Paranormal more has to do with ghosts, spirits—in other words, outside forces.
  • However, we also said that, because you usually have one when you have the other, these terms often get tangled, and that is OK.

Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal Romance

These are often used interchangeably as well.

Both are set in contemporary/real-world/urban settings, both can contain vampires and werewolves and shapeshifters (Oh, my!), but according to Publisher’s Weekly article “When Love Is Strange: Romance Continues Its Affair with the Supernatural,” the treatment of the relationship is the key element which separates the two.

  • In paranormal romance, the romantic relationship is the primary focus of the plot (yes, Edward Cullen fans, I know you’re salivating all over your keyboards right now).
  • In urban fantasy, the world the couple lives in takes center stage.

That shouldn’t be too hard to remember.  Paranormal romance = romance, and urban fantasy = setting.  So, they’re not just clever names!  See?  Not so difficult after all.

See Gwenda Bond’s article in Publisher’s Weekly for a more comprehensive look.


I know, I know, but he's still fun to look at.

To see a general breakdown of all literary genres, Writer’s Digest to the rescue. This link not only defines the above, but it also has a more extensive dichotomy of subgenres within sci-fi/fantasy (i.e., space operas, Arthurian fantasy, etc.).

I hope this gives you some basic insight as to how to classify your manuscript. Although, according to FinePrint Literary Management agent Janet Reid, authors need not worry about genre.  She says the agent will be able to tell and will categorize accordingly, if she wishes to sign you.

So, if you’re still confused, fear not.  The agents will set you straight.