I might be a tiny bit excited by this.
Michi Trota is joining us today to talk about Uncanny Magazine Year Two: The Return of the Space Unicorn Kickstarter. Here’s the Kickstarter description:
Last year, three-time Hugo Award winner Lynne M. Thomas & three-time Hugo Award finalist Michael Damian Thomas ran the Uncanny Magazine Year One Kickstarter. We promised to bring you stunning cover art, passionate science fiction and fantasy fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, and provocative nonfiction by writers from every conceivable background. Not to mention a fantastic podcast featuring exclusive content.
With the hard work of the best staff and contributors in the world, Uncanny Magazine delivered everything as promised. All this content is available for free over the web, thanks to your support.
Though Uncanny has developed several additional funding streams to make the magazine sustainable, we’re not quite there yet. Which is why we’re running the Uncanny Magazine Year Two: The Return of the Space Unicorn Kickstarter.
If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to join or rejoin the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, now’s your chance!
Our Year Two goals will bring Uncanny closer to sustainability by paying for more great content and making sure the magazine’s business infrastructure is solidified.
On deck for Year Two is an outstanding group of solicited contributors, fantastic backer rewards, plus some additional surprises.
- Seanan McGuire
- Aliette de Bodard
- Ursula Vernon
- Scott Lynch
- Catherynne M. Valente
- Elizabeth Bear
- Mary Robinette Kowal
- Maria Dahvana Headley
- Rachel Swirsky
- Max Gladstone
- Amal El-Mohtar
- Alyssa Wong
- Carmen Maria Machado
There will also be more slots for unsolicited submissions (we reopen in September). We’re deeply committed to finding and showcasing new voices in our genre from around the world.
Uncanny Magazine is published as an eBook (MOBI, PDF, EPUB) bimonthly (the every other month kind) on the first Tuesday of that month through all of the major online eBook stores. Each issue contains 3-5 new short stories, 1 reprinted story, 3 poems, 2 nonfiction essays, and 1 interview, at minimum. Our monthly podcast includes a story, a poem, and an exclusive interview in each episode.
Kickstarter Backers at the Subscriber Level or higher, and those purchasing single issues, get each issue in its entirety up front, no waiting. Those reading online for free wait a month for the second half, which appears on the second Tuesday of the month at http://uncannymagazine.com/.
We at Uncanny think we’re doing important work, and we’d like to continue. Please consider supporting Uncanny Magazine Year Two.
What’s Michi’s favorite bit?
I’m pretty sure the first story I remember my parents reading to me was The Hobbit. Science fiction and fantasy dominated my bookshelves as a kid, and as a 37-year-old adult, that hasn’t changed. No offense to my husband, but SFF was really my very first love. So the past year I’ve spent as managing editor for Uncanny Magazine has been absolutely incredible.
Choosing what my Favorite Bit of working on Uncanny isn’t an easy prospect because there are so many things I enjoy about it. I’m an editor and writer by education and trade, so getting to utilize my professional skills in a passion project is an unlooked for gift. Getting to see fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by authors whose work I’ve admired for years go into a publication with my name on it makes my inner fangirl squee with delight (I may or may not have run around with that first issue, pointing at it to all my friends and giggling over my name in the masthead). Also, our logo is a Space Unicorn, and we call our supporters the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, how cool is that?
But if I had to choose, what I love the most about Uncanny is the view it’s given me into how truly inspiring, diverse, and passionate the SFF community really is.
Every piece of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction that Uncanny has published has brought a unique vision and voice to the magazine. Every story submitted to the magazine, regardless of whether or not we publish them, demonstrates an incredible amount of passion for SFF. It takes a lot of effort, love, and not a small amount of risk-taking, to submit your work for publication, and I’m in awe every day at the sheer volume of work that I see coming into Uncanny.
The magazine’s staff are some of the most skilled and enthusiastic people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Their commitment to celebrating the best that SFF has to offer has inspired me to do some of the best work of my life (even though it often involves a lot of sleepless nights and enormous amounts of coffee and chocolate during deadline time!). Though I had spent the last several years becoming more active in my local Chicago geek community by doing panels and writing about representation issues in geek culture, becoming a part of Uncanny has allowed me to join a world of SFF fandom that’s wider, more creative, and more invigorating than I could have imagined. I’m challenged each time I read Uncanny’s stories, in the best possible way, by provocative narratives that expand my understanding of what shapes SFF can take.
I’m also reminded, with each issue we publish, that in spite of the efforts from some corners to corral SFF into a narrow little box, new voices, perspectives, and interpretations are flourishing in the genre — and people are eagerly clamoring for more. The number of supporters who joined Uncanny’s Space Ranger Unicorn Corps and made our Kickstarter for Year One such a success, who’ve bought subscriptions, individual issues, or contributed to our Patreon, stands in stark opposition to the notion that SFF fans are only interested in “heroes with swords” and “laser-firing rocket ships.” The SFF community is one that’s inexorably moving toward greater inclusion and representation, and I’m so proud to be a part of that.
A few years before Lynne and Michael Thomas asked me to join them on their newest publication adventure, I’d been falling a bit out of love with SFF, because I felt like I was reading the same stories, and each new genre kerfuffle made me wonder if there really was a place for a person like me in SFF, both as a fan and an aspiring creator. Thanks to becoming a part of Uncanny, I’ve been both reminded why I fell in love with SFF in the first place, and given the ability to see SFF with new eyes. I’ve been able to connect with fandom with a re-invigorated spirit, and new faith in what our community is capable of. And maybe, just maybe, enough inspiration to revisit that long-held dream of writing my own fiction.
At Uncanny we say we look for “intricate, experimental stories and poems with verve and imagination that elicit strong emotions and challenge beliefs from writers from every conceivable background. Uncanny believes there’s still plenty of room in the genre for tales that make you feel.” And that’s exactly what My Favorite Bit about Uncanny is: it makes me feel.
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Michi Trota is a writer, editor, speaker, communications manager and community organizer in Chicago, IL. She is the Managing Editor for Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Michi writes about geek culture and fandom, focusing primarily on issues of diversity and representation, on her blog, Geek Melange, and is a member of the Chicago Nerd Social Club’s Board of Organizers. Topics guaranteed to get her talking for hours include comics, Doctor Who, and food geekery. Michi was a featured essayist in Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F (edited by Jim C. Hines). In her professional life, she is a managing editor with fifteen years of experience in the publishing industry. In her spare time, she spins fire with the fire+bellydance showcase, Raks Geek, and at the Chicago Full Moon Jams.
Stina Leicht is joining us today with her novel Cold Iron. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Fraternal twins Nels and Suvi move beyond their royal heritage and into military and magical dominion in this flintlock epic fantasy debut from a two-time Campbell Award finalist.
Prince Nels is the scholarly runt of the ancient Kainen royal family of Eledore, disregarded as flawed by the king and many others. Only Suvi, his fraternal twin sister, supports him. When Nels is ambushed by an Acrasian scouting party, he does the forbidden for a member of the ruling family: He picks up a fallen sword and defends himself.
Disowned and dismissed to the military, Nels establishes himself as a leader as Eledore begins to shatter under the attack of the Acrasians, who the Kainen had previously dismissed as barbarians. But Nels knows differently, and with the aid of Suvi, who has allied with pirates, he mounts a military offensive with sword, canon, and what little magic is left in the world.
What’s Stina’s favorite bit?
Every novel has that moment when it signals to the author that everything is working. Cold Iron was no different. Mind you, it took a while because Cold Iron, the novel, started life as a failed short story. I say failed because it never sold, and I gave up sending it out. (Which, by the way, you totally shouldn’t do.) Anyway, I’m a novelist. So, that short story grew into the novel, but I didn’t fall in love with it until Nels’s best friend Viktor appeared.
Viktor Reini is Nels’s korva. Korvas are kainen with a certain talent for fading into the background. They’re quiet. They’re extremely average-looking. They’re the people that people don’t see. They’re also great listeners. All these things make them excellent spies, scouts, assassins, and thieves. As a result, freebooting korvas are illegal. They need an affiliation or a patron. Otherwise, they’re executed—if caught. There are exceptions, mind you, but if a korva is caught and is given a second chance, they’re marked with an obvious facial scar. In any case, Viktor has no scar. He has a patron, Suvi, Nels’s twin sister. She pays him to work for Nels.
As it happens, Nels and Viktor get off to a rocky start. Nels, unsure whether or not to trust Viktor, makes the classic mistake of not delegating. Instead of leaving Viktor to steal an illegal weapons cache—one that Nels has already paid for but the dealer hasn’t delivered—Nels decides to accompany Viktor. For the record, Nels isn’t very good at sneaking.
Entering the cave, Nels paused until his eyes adjusted to the dim light. Water dripped somewhere ahead, echoing off the smooth, rippled walls. He’d edged a hundred feet down the tunnel before the moonlight gave out, and he was forced to feel his way along the wall. He had ordered Reini to wait with the lantern a discrete distance from the entrance. Judging by the absence of light, it was clear they had differing opinions on what that meant.
“You’re doing better, even if you do breathe louder than a stampeding herd of elk,” Lieutenant Reini whispered. He was close enough that Nels could feel Reini’s breath on his ear.
Damn it. This isn’t going to work out, is it? Nels thought and then reconsidered his frustration. As if you can get through a day without arguing with Major Lindström, you hypocrite. It was a sign of Reini’s great magical talent that Nels hadn’t even sensed the use of magic. “Just open the damn lantern before I kill myself.”
“Yes, sir, Captain-Highness, sir.”
“Cut the crap, Lieutenant, if you plan on retaining the little braid you’ve got.”
Light inundated the passage with a tiny squeak from the hooded lantern, revealing the passage ahead. Nels could now see Lieutenant Reini—-an unremarkable six foot tall kainen with light brown hair bound into a soldier’s club. Shadows cast on Reini’s face did not mask the twinkle of humor in his black eyes. If Nels had met Reini under other circumstances, he was certain he’d have liked Reini at once. They shared a similar attitude toward authority, after all.
“The crates are this way,” Reini said. “This is going to be like stealing milk from a sleeping cow.”
Nels followed Reini, skirting the edge of an underground stream. Shadows cowered from the light. At last, the blackness faded. The lantern’s hood was shut, emitting a second squeak. Ahead, a bright circle of moonlight marked the water well behind Almari’s house. The curved stone walls of the well were set with a series of iron rings leading to the surface. Looking up, limestone and old mortar framed a stormy moonlit sky. Flickers of lightening danced in the gathering clouds.
“I understand Almari does the bulk of his business in smuggled Ytlainen port,” Reini whispered. “We should acquire a few casks while we’re here.”
“Only the muskets, Lieutenant,” Nels said. “Anything else is stealing.”
“You take the fun out of everything, sir.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Nels said. “We’re here, aren’t we?”
Lieutenant Reini paused. “I must say, you aren’t entirely what I expected.”
“And what did you expect?”
Reini glanced over his shoulder with a sly grin. “A spoiled autocrat with no sense of humor and even less common sense.”
“I’d say you’re a fair judge of character,” Nels whispered. “I’m somewhat short on common sense in particular.”
“Ah. I’m right swived, then.”
I love that Viktor uses “stealing from a sleeping cow” because one of the real world legends about fairies — well, Irish fairies, anyway — is that they steal milk from farmers’ cows. Of course, things go bad for Nels and Viktor. They walk into a trap, they’re outnumbered, and there’s no retreat. This leads Nels to say…
“I thought you said this would be easy.”
“Never said that. I believe my exact words were that this was going to be like milking a sleeping cow.”
“Exactly,” Nels said.
“You don’t know much about cows, do you, sir?”
That was the moment I knew I was on to something. From that point forward, I had a wonderful time with Nels and Viktor. Hopefully, everyone else does too. And now here’s your chance to see for yourself. My publisher, Saga Press, is giving away a copy of Cold Iron today. If interested, just write a comment below, and you’re entered in the giveaway. One entry per person. I’ll announce the winner in the comments and on Twitter. Good luck!
Stina Leicht is a two time Campbell Award nominee for Best New Writer and a Crawford Award finalist. The first novel in her new Flintlock Epic Fantasy series, Cold Iron, debuted July 2015 with Simon and Schuster’s Saga imprint.
I’ve seen conversations about how the Hugos are “just a rocketship” and that people shouldn’t be so invested in getting an award. And while that might be true on an individual basis, the Hugo awards themselves are a reflection of our society. I’m not just talking about science-fiction and fantasy fandom, but our larger society. Now, since the Hugos are dominated by English speaking North Americans, I’m mostly going to be using US-centric examples, but these general trends are true in other places as well.
One of the things about fiction in general, and even more so with SFF, is that it tends to reflect the zeitgeist of the culture. For instance, during the “golden age” of SF, the United States, and much of the world, was focused on space. When you look at fiction of that era, it tends to be dominated by space exploration. During the Cold War, we saw a lot of post-apocalyptic worlds that were nuclear wastelands. Now? When we see post-apocalyptic worlds it’s because of a climate disaster.
In addition to reflecting environmental concerns, the awards also reflect what is important to the voters. Not just in the books that they vote for, but also in the books that they choose to read. In recent years, people have become aware of the imbalance in representation in SFF and are seeking to address it. This is happening in other fields as well — science, gaming, film, politics… but we are always most aware of an issue in our own community. So when people are seeking out books by underrepresented populations they are doing so because it’s important to their close community and also in the larger society.
Historically, every time there’s an advance in the rights of a disenfranchised group, whether that’s women’s lib or desegregation, there’s a corresponding pushback by the dominant group because it feels like it is losing power.
What we’re seeing with the Hugo awards is that readers & writers who have not been represented in SFF (women, PoC, LGBT) are becoming prominent because of a larger zeitgeist that is trying to redress historic imbalances. Again, we see this in other communities as well. The pushback by the various Puppy contingents matches other historical pushbacks. On their side, they think that fiction is being dominated by “checkboxes” rather than quality, which is the same reaction people had to hiring women during women’s lib or minorities during the civil rights movement.
The reason that the Hugos are more important than just a rocket ship, is that the Puppies also reflect the larger societal pushbacks that we’re seeing against women, PoC, and LGBT. So the Hugos represent a battle in a much bigger fight.
That’s why not just a rocket ship. The Hugos are a reflection of our culture. So the battle that we’re seeing isn’t about “what fiction is best” but rather “what future do we want to live in?”
David Nabhan is joining us today with his novel The Pilots of Borealis. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Top Gun heads to outer space in this throwback to the classic science fiction of Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein.
Strapped in to artificial wings spanning twenty-five feet across, your arms push a tenth of your body weight with each pump as you propel yourself at frightening speeds through the air. Inside a pressurized dome on the Moon, subject to one-sixth Earth’s gravity, there are swarms of chiseled, fearless, superbly trained flyers all around you, jostling for air space like peregrine falcons racing for the prize. This was the sport of piloting, and after Helium-3, piloting was one of the first things that entered anyone’s mind when Borealis was mentioned.
It was Helium-3 that powered humanity’s far-flung civilization expansion, feeding fusion reactors from the Alliances on Earth to the Terran Ring, Mars, the Jovian colonies, and all the way out to distant Titan. The supply, taken from the surface of the Moon, had once seemed endless. But that was long ago. Borealis, the glittering, fabulously rich city stretched out across the lunar North Pole, had amassed centuries of unimaginable wealth harvesting it, and as such was the first to realize that its supplies were running out.
The distant memories of the horrific planetwide devastation spawned by the petroleum wars were not enough to quell the rising energy and political crises. A new war to rival no other appeared imminent, but the solar system’s competing powers would discover something more powerful than Helium-3: the indomitable spirit of an Earth-born, war-weary mercenary and pilot extraordinaire.
What’s David’s favorite bit?
It’s difficult to single out a favored theme, topic or scene from The Pilots of Borealis. Borealis, built astride the lunar North Pole, is the richest, most extravagant city in existence. It’s grown powerful and arrogant after centuries of harvesting the helium-3 infused into the lunar surface and shipped to every port-of-call in Creation. Helium-3 feeds the fusion reactors that power humanity’s vast and complex society. It’s a city created to explore the limits of what the human eye might find too spectacular for comfort and endurance, and then exponentially exceeded. Such a paradise requires angels, and Borealis has the most chiseled, dangerous, superbly-trained, fearless seraphim in the Solar System: her pilots.
Piloting can only be found and accomplished on the Moon under Borealis’ dome, the gentle gravity and titanium-hard physiques and regimen of the athletes combining to bring one of mankind’s oldest dreams to fruition—winged, muscle-powered flight. They are a breed unto themselves, even among the quarter trillion human beings strung throughout civilization’s far-flung domain, spanning the distance all the way out to lonely Titan at the edge of humanity’s grasp.
But even Borealis and piloting—and the impending do-or-die struggle among the great powers, now that the supply of helium-3 is finally running out—can’t hold center stage for long. It is the characters that inhabit Borealis, the Terran Ring, and the roiling Alliances on Earth that hold sway in this story.
Yet, none of them rise above my favorite bit in Pilots of Borealis: Clinton Rittener.
A reviewer is as conflicted with him as I’d hoped. “I’ll not call him a hero, because nothing could be further from the truth,” she says, referring to Clinton’s stint as the most celebrated—and ruthless—mercenary of the age, a condotierro whose forces cut a swath of death and destruction across Asia not seen since the days of Tamerlane. At the same time though she “enjoyed . . . Clinton,” and wanted to know more about him. Clinton Rittener will grab the reader, sink in some very sharp teeth, and shake like a tiger. He will not, in the end, come to be understood; his character is meant to leave one asking questions.
This scarred, battle-hardened protagonist is indeed part monster, but to his credit, not one of his own making. Clinton started out as something else, like all of us, yet with unexpected and unavoidable forays into various purgatories, surrounded by the denizens of those cruel precincts, was turned into something he never intended to be. His saving grace is a simple one: through everything, he never forgets who the man inside him used to be. So the reader, I hope, will wind up rooting for Clinton Rittener, bizarrely cheering for someone with more blood on his hands than just the average warlord.
But that’s not how Clinton Rittener would want to be seen, as a former yuan shuai, high marshal, of the coalition of Jiangsu, Shanxi and Fujian during the Great Eastern War. Nor would he point to his intelligence work in the Underground on Mars. He wouldn’t regale his exploits in the Outer Solar System, cruising over volcanic rings the size of Germany exploding on the Jovian moon Io, or about traversing frozen methane floes drifting in Titan’s hydrocarbon seas.
Clinton Rittener would introduce himself, and will to the reader, in the only way he fully and truly sees himself: as a pilot.
David Nabhan was a certificated bilingual public school teacher for nineteen years in South Central Los Angeles. Nabhan is now retired from teaching and has relocated to the Northeast, where he travels, writes, and tutors Spanish.
Aliette de Bodard is joining us today with her novel The House of Shattered Wings. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.
Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.
What’s Aliette’s favorite bit?
ALIETTE DE BODARD
My favourite bit of The House of Shattered Wings is Lucifer Morningstar.
The House of Shattered Wings is set in an alternate version of Paris which was devastated by a magical war in 1914, and where magic is the province of Fallen angels and their favourites. Naturally, any such book would need their own version of Lucifer!
The proto-version of The House of Shattered Wings was a novelette set in the fictional city of Silverspires, and had a first version of Morningstar as an elderly angel sitting in a former church and seldom moving from it (owing, I suspect, a big debt to the angel Islington in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a villain with whom I’ve long been fascinated). He was also rich, knowledgeable, and desperate to return to Heaven, or to catch any glimpse of it–and would pay any price for that.
When the novelette became a novel, I was… not entirely satisfied with this version of Morningstar, which seemed to me to be lacking both in sulphurous seductiveness and in badass levels–we are talking about someone who led a rebellion in Heaven, so he had to be memorable. I drew on other things I’d read and watched with Lucifer and/or Fallen angels in them (the Devils in Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series, Lucifer the Sandman, Akio in Utena), and completely rethought the character.
The ruined church stayed, and became the ruins of Notre-Dame–for, if you’re the oldest and most powerful Fallen in existence, where else are you going to make your home, but at the religious centre of Paris, on an island close to the very centre of the city? I ditched the “seldom moving from it” because it made my plot needlessly complicated. My new Morningstar was the founder of Silverspires, the oldest House in Paris: a powerful magical faction and a place of safety for hundreds of souls. He was fair-haired, arrogant and possessed of an effortless magical aura that drew people to him.
And, to materialise this arrogance, I gave him wings.
I really love the wings–they’re my favourite bit of this favourite bit. In this universe, Fallen angels lose their wings when they fall from Heaven (or rather, the wings are burnt away and mangled irretrievably when they hit the ground). But Morningstar made himself metal, serrated wings: both a matter-of-fact statement that he didn’t care where he stood with regards to Heaven, and a wickedly efficient weapon that he wielded in battle.
Naturally, a character like that is going to distort the plot whenever he runs close to it. And, having set most of my action and most of my characters in House Silverspires, I needed them to be vulnerable if I wanted a plot. This required me to either give them a threat that would be stronger than Morningstar; or to do something a little different.
Yeah, that’s right. Having made this wonderful, powerful, arrogant character, I proceeded to get rid of him.
As the book opens, Morningstar has been missing for more than twenty years. The House he founded has attempted to go on as best as they can, but they have been steadily losing power and influence, and even the magical protections Morningstar left them have been slowly ebbing away. This would not be a great place to be even in the best circumstances; but you can always rely on a character to accidentally set off a major curse on the House…
Of course, missing doesn’t mean completely absent from the narration–he looms large in the life of some characters: Selene, his successor as head of House Silverspires, was his student and is still trying to fill in for him; and Philippe, a Vietnamese immigrant with magical abilities of his own, is able to see him in visions. In both cases they’re very interesting scenes to write, where I can play on the intersection of awe and terror that such a character would generate, and show off the contrast between my characters and Morningstar.
All in all, I’m really glad I redesigned the character–he made for such a fun experience writing him!
Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a System Engineer. In her increasingly rare spare time (between the day job and wrangling a young toddler), she writes speculative fiction. She has won two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. Her novel, The House of Shattered Wings, is set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war and features Fallen angels, alchemists, witches, a Vietnamese ex-Immortal with a grudge, and entirely too many dead bodies! It’s out August 18th from Roc Books in the US and August 20thfrom Gollancz in the UK. Visit http://www.aliettedebodard.com for more information.
Stephen Moore is joining us today with his novel Graynelore. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Rodrig Wishard is a killer, a thief and a liar. He’s a fighting man who prefers to solve his problems with his sword.
In a world without government or law, where a man’s only loyalty is to his family and faerie tales are strictly for children, Rodrig Wishard is not happy to discover that he’s carrying faerie blood. Something his family neglected to tell him. Not only that but he’s started to see faeries for real.
If he’s going to make any sense of it he’s going to have to go right to the source – the faeries themselves. But that’s easier said than done when the only information he has to go on is from bards and myth.
What’s Stephen’s favorite bit?
A few years ago I had a conversation with my mother about her historical family roots and she reminded me that I am, in fact, directly descended from notorious Sixteenth Century Border Reivers. Who? Family groups from the English/Scottish borderlands that looked upon theft, kidnap, blackmail, murder and blood-feud as all part of normal daily life. What author worth their salt wouldn’t want to write about that? I couldn’t resist, and after travelling a long and winding road of research and creative adventure I was eventually to arrive at my fantasy novel, GRAYNELORE. And how might I best describe GRAYNELORE? If it’s an epic fantasy, it’s also a tale of divided loyalty. It’s a blood-soaked mystery, a grown-up faerie-tale and, in its own twisted way, a kind of love story.
Which begs the question: out of all those amazing possibilities, do I have a favourite bit? It’s my book… of course I do! I have lots of favourite bits! But if I must pick out just one then I must.
After much thought, I’m going to choose the very first scene I wrote when I began Graynelore. It came to me fully formed and almost word perfect first time. (Believe me, an extremely unusual event for a writer who composes piecemeal and as inspiration hits; an author who can easily re-write a scene a dozen times or more in an attempt to get it just right.) Originally this scene did not belong anywhere in particular, only eventually becoming the start of Chapter Six: The Killing Field, and pivotal to the plot.
Why do I love it? Well… It very much set the tone and nature of the story I went on to tell. Also, I’m a very visual author. I see the actions, the events and the landscapes of my tales clearly laid out before me. And I’m a lover of beautiful words. The way they read off the page; indeed, the way they visually appear in print. It’s all important, and not to be rushed! This particular scene begins with the description of a face, a beautiful, enticing, seductive image. However, as the scene unfolds, it quickly becomes apparent that all is not what it first appears to be…
Her eyes, they were a blue that startled, invited, demanded. They caught hold of me, drew me to her like a lover. Still wet, they glistened. Not with tears. Nor fear. There was no stain on her cheeks. Her white cheeks… White skin… She was a beauty yet. The wind was playing lightly across her face, moving a single frond of auburn hair. She had caught it upon her tongue at the edge of her mouth. Open mouth. Red mouth… Surely she was teasing me, smiling, whispering. No… yes.
I tried to put Notyet’s face in the way of hers, only I could not seem to find it. Vague, hidden as if veiled, its image would not come to me.
‘Rogrig,’ she said.
Did she really speak my name, then? No… yes. No. It was only the voice of the wind.
But this last was not a woman’s voice, nor the wind.
‘Watch this, Rogrig!’ It was a clumsy youth who had spoken: Edbur, my elder-cousin Wolfrid’s whelp, his laughing cry was thin with a disguised fear.
Then there was violence, the sweet scent of fresh blood spilled, the kicking.
I was suddenly released from my stupor and the woman’s spell was broken. Instinctively I gripped the hilt of my sword, but let it rest at my side. There was no threat here. I recognised the boy’s smell. Edbur, Edbur-the-Widdle… It was a fitting nick-name. He was old enough, and big enough to fight, but the whelp soiled himself at every skirmish. Still, there had been killings made here, and if wounded pride was the worst of his injuries he had served his surname, his grayne, better than many. The fortunes would soon forgive him for it. And if they did not, well, then I would forgive him in their stead.
The boy’s swinging kick sent the severed head of the dead woman tumbling. Edbur-the-Widdle laughed outrageously as it thumped and thudded between grass and gulley, as it broke heavily upon stone, spilling teeth, spitting blood.
Not a woman now.
Is the scene a little gory? Perhaps, but it’s also honest and even beautiful (I hope). And if it was to become important to the story, it was also pivotal in another way. You see, up until this point all of my books had been written for older children (and I’ve been a published author for nineteen years!) With this one scene, I found myself standing at an unexpected crossroads. And I knew if I was going to write truthfully about Border Reivers, it might well be a faerie tale, but it was not going to be a children’s story. And so it turned out. GRAYNELORE is my very first fantasy novel for adults.
Stephen Moore is the author of the fantasy novel, GRAYNELORE. (Published by, HarperVoyager. 13th August 2015.)
A published author since the mid 1990’s he’s also written several well received fantasy books for older children (ages 9-14yrs/YA) including, TOOTH AND CLAW, SPILLING THE MAGIC and FAY. (Published by, Crossroad Press.)
Stephen hails from the North of England; a beautiful land he loves to explore; full of ancient Roman history, medieval castles and remnants of the infamous Border Reivers.
Long ago, before he discovered the magic of storytelling, he was an exhibition designer and he has fond memories of working in the strange old world of museums. Sometimes he can still be found in auction houses pawing over old relics!
He loves art and books, old and new. He’s into rock music, movies, history and RPG video games! But mostly, he likes to write, where he get to create his own worlds.
Tom Doyle is joining us today with his novel The Left-Hand Way. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Poe’s Red Death returns, more powerful than ever. Can anyone stop him before he summons an apocalyptic nightmare even worse than himself?
In The Left-Hand Way, the second book of Tom Doyle’s contemporary fantasy series, the American craftsmen are scattered like bait overseas. What starts as an ordinary liaison mission to London for Major Michael Endicott becomes a desperate chase across Europe, where Endicott is both hunted and hunter. Reluctantly joining him is his minder from MI13, Commander Grace Marlow, one of Her Majesty’s most lethal magician soldiers, whose family has centuries of justified hostility to the Endicotts.
Meanwhile, in Istanbul and Tokyo, Endicott’s comrades, Scherie Rezvani and Dale Morton, are caught in their own battles for survival against hired assassins and a ghost-powered doomsday machine. And in Kiev, Roderick Morton, the spider at the center of a global web, plots their destruction and his ultimate apotheosis. After centuries of imprisonment, nothing less than godlike power will satisfy Roderick, whatever the dreadful cost.
What’s Tom’s favorite bit?
Imagine that a single family of magician soldiers held the inspirations for Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Kipling’s Kim, Conrad’s Marlow, Buchan’s Hannay, Fleming’s Bond, and Moorcock’s Eternal Champion. Imagine further that this same interracial family descended from famous African, American, and English historical roots. What new stories would this open up within the British literary and spy traditions, and what would this background mean for the family’s fictional modern descendant?
Such a saga might fill several volumes, but as a backstory for one character it couldn’t easily fit into the narrative flow of a single book, particularly a fantasy thriller. A few of the details are in my story proper, but more of them went into an appendix. Therefore, and I’m almost ashamed to admit it, the appendix from The Left-Hand Way is my favorite bit. This seems so very wrong because, as in our bodies, the appendix is supposed to be an extra, useless bit that dangles from the end. For some readers, appendices even lead to a visceral conditioned response of loathing and aversion.
How did my delight in an appendix come about? In my first book, American Craftsmen, which also had a lot of historical and literary backstory, the publisher asked for a genealogical endnote to help sort out the characters in the protagonist’s family. I was naturally worried about doing this–images of Tolkien’s list of Númenórean kings haunted me. But it turned into a complete hoot. For narrative flow, I’d had to cut many of the neat little tales I’d imagined for my protag’s ancestors; now, I could briefly show off them and their factual and fictional allusions without impeding my main story.
In the sequel, I didn’t wait for the publisher to ask; I planned on an appendix. This time, it was for the family of the most interesting new character in the book: Grace Marlow (the woman on the cover above from the awesome Dominick Saponaro). I also had an agenda for this appendix: I was going to create a mini-cryptohistory of British literary and spy fiction that both highlighted and created interracial elements.
As noted in the publisher’s description, Royal Navy Commander Grace Marlow works with MI13, the equivalent of MI5 and MI6 for magician soldiers. From Grace’s last name, one might guess one of her early English ancestors: Christopher Marlowe (the “e” later gets dropped). Before his premature demise, he has a child with a daughter of Francis Walsingham (whom Elizabeth I called her “Moor”). A formerly enslaved person and a distant relative of Queen Charlotte marry into this line, and the eventual result is Edward Marlow (the secret basis for Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre).
The other side of the family descends from Tituba of Salem, famous for her involvement in the witch trials. In history, she survives that horror, but her fate afterwards is unknown–the perfect opening for a cryptohistorian. In my version of events, her descendants fight for their freedom on the British side during the American Revolution. After the war, they go to England, where eventually Jane Howe, the inspiration for Jane Eyre, is born.
Because of the experience of her colonial American ancestors, Grace has no affection for the U.S., and as noted above in the book’s description, she and her family are particularly hostile to the Endicotts. Instead, she is completely devoted to the UK craft service. Like my other characters, Grace feels the weight of her family’s history–she is literally haunted by her ancestors. But this history is also an inspiration to heroic action.
Besides simple entertainment, one of the main points of my appendix material is that, as with stagings of Shakespeare and portrayals of famous TV and movie characters, it is fun and interesting to re-imagine character identities in classic novels. Perhaps the most visible examples of this I’ve seen on social media are the gender-flipped readings of classics, which seem to broaden interpretations and readership. Though I hope readers of The Left-Hand Way are caught up in the adventure story, I encourage you to look at the appendix at any time during your progress through the book, and please let me know what you think of its brief cryptohistorical outline (and also how many historical and literary references you spot there and elsewhere in the text).
Tom Doyle is the author of the American Craft fantasy series from Tor Books. Tom’s collection of short fiction, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes his WSFA Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award winners. He writes science fiction and fantasy in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.
This is a good writing exercise, so I’m going to recommend it to you. Heartily.
- Buy a magazine that you wouldn’t normally buy. Not something that you’ll hate but something that represents a different worldview from your own. Like Chickens, or OFFGRID, or Girls and Corpses.
- Read it cover to cover, including all the ads, the letters to the editor, and staff bios.
- Write a 150 word monologue that someone who subscribes to this magazine might deliver.
Here’s mine, with a puppet.
And if you want to read the transcript, here you go.
Thank you, West Calabasas Garden Club for inviting me to speak about preparing your garden for TEOTWAWKI. The end of the world as we know it. As a first line of defense, I recommend old fashioned English roses. These have tight interlocking brambles that will snare and shred any…um…two-legged predators. Paired with blackberries, they make a positively deadly barrier, loaded with vitamin C.
But what happens if the um Fit Hits the Shan and roving bandits do get through? Preparedness. Locate your tool shed on a rise or in a tree. Now. Elevation means good lines of sight, and better sunlight for seedlings.
As for tools themselves, I favor a pick mattock over a shovel, because the double head offers both chopping and stabbing. I’m also fond of the Ruger 10/22 Takedown semi-automatic rifle which, if called into action, can be fired with one hand. Plus, the bayonet attachment easily converts to hold a sharpened trowel.
Never garden without it.
My initial draft was 250 words, and then I cut it down to 150 to really focus it and get rid of the fluff.
(Thanks to Greg Ballora, for the use of the practice puppet.)
Ellen Datlow is joining us today with her book The Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A sin-eater plies the tools of her dangerous trade; a jealous husband takes his rival on a hunting trip; a student torments one of his teachers; a cheap grafter is selling artifacts form hell; something is haunting the departure lounge of an airport . . .
The Best Horror of the Year showcases the previous year’s best offerings in short fiction horror. This edition includes award-winning and critically acclaimed authors Laird Barron, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Nathan Ballingrud, Genevieve Valentine, and more.
For over three decades, award-winning editor and anthologist Ellen Datlow has had her finger on the pulse of the latest and most terrifying in horror writing. Night Shade Books is proud to present the seventh volume in this annual series, a new collection of stories to keep you up at night.
What’s Ellen’s favorite bit?
My Favorite Bit of editing The Best Horror of the Year, now in its seventh volume, is that it forces me to read so much short fiction every year and thus become aware of many new writers I’ve never heard of before.
Always, even after twenty-eight years of editing a best short horror fiction anthology, I’m surprised by how regularly I encounter this phenomenon. Sometimes, looking back, I notice that a writer I may have given an Honorable Mention to in an earlier volume, is someone whose work I’ve chosen to be in the most recent volume. To me, that means that they’re growing as writers and imposing on my consciousness-a very good thing. Paradoxically that’s also my least favorite part because I know I’ll never, ever finish as long as I’m doing the series!
Part of the fun of this series is watching writers continue to level up, accruing Honorable Mentions in my anthologies during the early part of their career, and then, like I said above, something clicks, and they make the leap from Mention to selection. But it’s always the story that jumps out at me, not the author, per se. Once I choose a story by someone for the best of the year, I’ll keep an eye out for more work by them-sometimes I even begin to solicit original work from them for future anthologies or for whatever magazine or website I’m working on at the time. Sometimes, it’s a one-off. That is, I may take a story for the best of the year and never take another one by that writer. Being included once doesn’t give anyone a free pass, unfortunately! There are only a few writers whose short stories wow me every time. Also, since some of my favorite writers only occasionally write horror, I might not include their work for several years.
I can’t speak for other anthologists editing horror bests of the year, but I suspect my definitions of what I consider horror might be looser. There’s a fine line between horror and dark fantasy, and horror and weird fiction. I’ll occasionally include something that while I consider it horror, other editors might not. I’m more inclined toward the creepiness of a story than to its “scariness”-very few stories scare me. Real life scares me. Horror stories do not. In any case, I’m certain that we all believe we’re doing the best job possible in creating great overviews of the year in horror.
When it comes to the writers I’ve worked with, I can never pick a favorite story of mine over the years; no way can I answer that! But readers can tell the stories I love and that stay with me by seeing what I reprint in other anthologies over the years. And hopefully those same readers will stay with me, too, for all the anthologies still to come!
Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for almost thirty years. She was the fiction editor of Omni magazine and Sci Fiction and has edited more than fifty anthologies. She has also won many awards for her work, including the Bram Stoker Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Hugo Award, among others. She lives in New York City.
For reasons, I am oddly proud of the very end of this episode.
This month’s Master Class episodes focus on pacing, and we’re dividing the concept of pacing into two parts: the first is the sense of progress within the story, and the second is the sense of the passage of time. In this episode we tackle that first bit, and discuss how we communicate progress to the readers.We talk a bit about the concept of “promises made to the reader,” which we covered in more detail during episode 10.14. You may want to refer back to that at some point.
Listen to the full episode here: Writing Excuses 10.31: How Do I Control the Reader’s Sense of Progress? » Writing Excuses
While I’ve been visiting my parents, I’ve been making the occasional pie. The first night, I made a key lime pie and my youngest niece, who had never experienced one, fell in love with it. Not surprising. So, I made one the next week. It is one of the easiest pies to make, and people rave over it.
And then I spotted key limes at the grocery store.
I’d been using Key Lime juice and wondered how much of a difference using fresh limes would make. I knew it would be different, but would it be the sort of difference that only a foodie notices, or would it be apparent to everyone. So last night my dad and I juiced a pound of key limes. By hand.
At this point, I figured, if I were going to go to all that trouble, I should really make the pie from scratch and skip the sweetened condensed milk. I hit google to find out how people made key lime pie before sweetened condensed milk and… discovered that they didn’t. To my surprise, it’s been around since the 1850s. According to David L. Sloan, leading expert on key lime pies, “This pie was invented to use condensed milk. William Curry made his fortune in hardware. He provisioned ships. He brought the first condensed milk to the Keys not long after Gail Borden invented it in 1856.”
Huh. So! Without regret, I cracked open my sweetened condensed milk and got to work.
The first thing you notice about fresh key lime juice is that it has a floral character that the bottled stuff doesn’t have. Does that show up in the pie? Yes, it does. It is has fuller, more floral taste and even my dad noticed the difference. Next up? Lemon ice box pie, and I’ll be squeezing the lemons.
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup key lime or regular lime juice
2 whole large eggs
In a bowl, whisk the condensed milk, lime juice, and eggs. Pour into graham cracker pie shell. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. Chill for two or more hours.
Stephanie A. Cain is joining us today with her novel Stormseer. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The kingdoms of Tamnen and Strid have been at war for decades. Princess Azmei of Tamnen left her family for a treaty marriage to end that war–but an assassin’s blade destroyed her plans. Protected by her presumed death, Azmei hunts the person trying to destroy her family.
Commander Hawk of the Tamnese army was captured by the Strid after being left for dead on the battlefield. After years as a prisoner of war, he is finally ransomed–only to find he has no place left in the world. His parents are dead and his command has long since been given to another. At loose ends, he agrees to an undertaking for the crown–seek out the truth about Princess Azmei’s killer.
Yarro Perslyn has been captive to the Voices in his head for most of his short life. The only family who ever cared for him was his sister Orya, and she disappeared. Now the mysterious Voices in his head are saying something new. They are real, and they want Yarro to free them.
Princess, prisoner, and prophet collide in the embattled region between the two kingdoms. But will they be in time to prevent more death, or will the rising storm break them all?
What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?
STEPHANIE A. CAIN
I actually can’t tell you my favorite favorite bit about Stormseer, because it would be a major spoiler–the truth of who/what the Voices actually are. So today I’m going to talk about my second favorite bit, instead. It’s closely tied to my favorite favorite bit, so don’t worry, I’m not cheating you!
My second favorite bit about Stormseer is the character of Yarro Perslyn. While Stormseer continues the story begun in Stormshadow about Princess Azmei of Tamnen, the character who undergoes the most transformation is Yarro. And it’s his fault I wrote this novel in the first place.
Yarro is mentioned a couple of times in Stormshadow by his sister, and from the first time I wrote his name, I knew I was going to need a whole book about him. He’s a young man trapped inside his own head, prisoner to mysterious Voices who provide commentary on the world they see through his eyes. The Voices have their own personalities, and Yarro is pretty sure they’re real, even though he knows “normal people” don’t hear Voices in their heads or lose hours to watching visions.
Yar’s family doesn’t understand him, but that’s not entirely bad. His grandfather is the Patriarch of a family of assassins, and if he knew about the Voices, he would make Yar use them to hurt people. One of Yar’s brothers, in a rare moment of honesty, admits that in a different family, Yar would have been given help dealing with the Voices.
The Voices like to have a part in Yar’s conversations, and I had a lot of fun writing their commentary. Sometimes they distract him, but sometimes they help him out with valuable advice. Here’s a conversation early in the book where they speak their opinions of the Patriarch:
“What are you thinking inside that locked up head of yours, I wonder,” his grandfather said. “I think your brothers underestimate you. Your sister never did.” Suddenly the old man’s face was very close to his, iron fingers seizing his chin in a vise-like grip. “What do you know of Orya’s plans, Yarro? Tell me! I am your Patriarch!” A fleck of spit hit Yarro’s lips.
EAT HIM. BLIND HIM. LICK HIS EYEBALLS. Yar shuddered. He didn’t really like that one. That Voice was always hungry, and if Rith brought out that Voice’s temper, Yar’s grandfather brought out its cruelty.
“Tell me!” His grandfather shook him so hard Yar’s neck ached. “What did she tell you before she left?”
LIE TO HIM, whispered another Voice. It was sly, more subtle than the first. THE PATRIARCH WILL USE YOU IF HE KNOWS THE TRUTH. Yar blinked up at his grandfather. His lips were mushed together by the old man’s grip, but he still said, “Goodbye.”
Evidently his grandfather understood, for he shoved Yar away, letting go of his chin and making Yar stumble backwards.
BE INNOCENT. BE FOOLISH, said the second Voice, and Yar let himself fall down.
Underestimate me, he thought at his grandfather. An image of a dove fighting a serpent flashed before his eyes. His jaw went slack as he stared, rapt, at it. That was what he wished to be. A dove.
“Fool. Worthless fool.” The old man’s voice dripped contempt. Yar didn’t care. He stared at the dove as it flapped its wings. Its beak was closed on the serpent’s head. Yar wondered if it would win. How could it? Doves were peaceful birds. But if they were attacked, they would fight back. Anything would fight back when it was attacked.
Yar knows he isn’t like other people, but then again, his destiny isn’t much like other people’s, either. The Voices are much, much more than Yar’s imaginary companions. And I can’t wait for readers to find out, along with Yar, who and what they actually are.
Stephanie A. Cain writes epic & urban fantasy. She is the author of Stormsinger, Stormshadow, Stormseer, and Sow the Wind. She grew up in Indiana, where much of her (so far unpublished) urban fantasy is set.
She works at a small museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana, doing historical research, giving tours of a Victorian man-cave, and serving as a one-woman IT department. A proud crazy cat lady, she is happily owned by Eowyn, Strider, and Eustace Clarence Scrubb.
In her free time, she enjoys hiking (except for the inevitable spider encounters), bird-watching, reading, and playing World of Warcraft and Skyrim. She enjoys organizing things and visits office supply stores for fun. She owns way more D20s, movie scores, and fountain pens than she can actually afford.
Hey Los Angeles! Here is a really rare opportunity to see me performing live puppetry. There’s a ton of brilliant puppeteers in LA and some of us are getting together for a Puppet Slam.
Ninja Puppet Productions presents the LA Puppet Slam Shenaniganza! What is a Puppet Slam you ask? Good freakin’ question! A puppet slam is a thousand year old tradition of puppeteers from all disciplines getting together and making puppets do dirty thing.It’s puppet sketch comedy at it’s finest. The show features professional puppeteers whose talent has been showcased on the stage and screen for all ages, but on this night, it’s adults only.Ticket prices are $8. Online ticketing purchase available so
Follow the slam on Facebook for more details: LA Puppet Slam Shenaniganza!