Journal

My Favorite Bit: Steven S. Drachman talks about WATT O’HUGH AND THE INNOCENT DEAD

My Favorite BitSteven S. Drachman is joining us today to talk about his novel Watt O’Hugh and the Innocent Dead. Here’s the publisher’s description:

On the morning of Wednesday, September 24, 1879, I awoke in a prison in Montana. I did not imagine that evening might find me sprawled beneath a great and ferocious sand crab on a rancid beach, deep in the Hell of the Innocent Dead. But that is indeed where I wound up. The moral, if there is one: never plan your day too inflexibly.

THE WAIT IS OVER: THE CLASSIC ADVENTURE CONCLUDES….

In this, the final book of the trilogy, Watt O’Hugh, the dead/not-dead, Time Roaming Western gunman, travels the length and breadth of the sixth level of Hell, recruiting a shadowy army that might storm the borders of the Underworld, free humanity and the inscapes from the clutches of the Falsturm and his Sidonian hordes, and stave off the Coming Storm.

He’ll need a little luck.

What’s Steven’s favorite bit?

Watt O'Hugh and the Innocent Dead

STEVEN S. DRACHMAN

In my new novel, Watt O’Hugh and the Innocent Dead, my eponymous 19th century Western gunslinger and time roamer battles a demon army in a Hell out of ancient Chinese myth.

He also battles a band of escaped convicts in Yuma alongside his old friend Oscar Wilde. (“While I understand him to have been skilled with your ‘comedy of manners,’ ” Watt notes, “the guy was also pretty tough when he wanted to be.”)

A huge and ferocious sand crab nearly swallows him whole.

Watt shadows the faux-Utopian American secessionist movement known as the Sidonians, who are responsible for much of the pain in Watt’s life, led by one Allen Jerome, mathematician, former financier, outlaw and false messianic cult leader.

He visits the Sharon Springs resort town in New York, where he takes the cure in their magical waters. Watt is still a youngish man, but he’s lived a distinctly unhealthy life, and, on the best of days, he probably suffers from about half the ailments the Sharon Springs waters were said to cure.

Sharon Springs, a once-glamorous and once-renowned former-resort, where my grandfather vacationed every summer as a little boy, as the 20th century just dawned, is a place I’ve always wanted to go. I wish I could visit it in its former glory, and I am envious that Watt does.

But as fond as I am of Watt — I pretty much agree with everything he says, after all — I wanted to call the second book in the series, A Princess of Sidonia (with apologies to Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose A Princess of Mars began the John Carter series). That was not a particularly popular choice around the office, and we went with Watt O’Hugh Underground instead. Still, I suggested it again as the title for Book 3.

I guess these are not really “princess books,” but you can see that there is something on my mind.

In Underground, the evil Allen Jerome muses that his movement would benefit from a strong and fearsome princess, with red hair, long legs, a terrifying battle cry and a hawk on her right shoulder, whom the people “might yearn for, to love from afar.”

And, Allen Jerome adds, “she must of course be beautiful.”

A queen, he explains, can be loved; but a princess can be loved in an entirely different fashion.

“You are allowed to gaze upon your princess,” he says, “and wish that you could marry her, and to think about what such a thing might be like. That is what drives your loyalty in battle.”

Soon Sidonia has its princess.

She is not precisely real; she is a simulacrum, or “skimmy” for short. It’s not so hard to conjure a skimmy if you have a heart and head full of evil and greed, as well the assistance of an Otherworld Fabricator, both of which Allen Jerome has.

At first, she is content to incite her troops to battle, and to be fearsome, as advertised. But by the start of the most recent novel, she has begun to change, and to wonder.

“You cannot know,” she tells Watt, “what it was like for me to awaken one day, filled with a personality that someone else had created for me, but no memory. No memory, just someone else’s purpose.”

As she and Watt sit down to a game of chess in a little shop in the Grey City, a looming future-metropolis that portends the world’s demise, she says, “I know that I will win. And I have never played this before. I don’t even know what this is. I won’t even think about it while I am doing it. It will be like yawning, like blinking. It will just happen. And I will win.”

Like Allen Jerome, I imagined her one way, I set her up just so, a visually interesting figure with brutal and violent exhortations to battle. And then she became something else. And she wishes to become something else again, something entirely unlike the creature that Allen Jerome, and I, imagined her to be.

I wanted to name the book after this villain, a killer skimmy with so much death behind her, who suddenly awakens and wonders whether it is even possible to understand what she is, and what she could be.

At one point, she says to Watt, “Did you know that an octopus has three hearts, and that its blood is blue-green?”

Watt knows just why she thinks that this is important to know.

She is saying, Like an octopus, I am different, yet alive.

LINKS:

Watt O’Hugh and the Innocent Dead Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

STEVEN S. DRACHMAN is a writer and critic whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice and The Chicago Sun-Times. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two daughters.

My Favorite Bit: Tyler Hayes talks about THE IMAGINARY CORPSE

My Favorite BitTyler Hayes is joining us with his debut novel The Imaginary Corpse. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A dinosaur detective in the land of unwanted ideas battles trauma, anxiety, and the first serial killer of imaginary friends.

Most ideas fade away when we’re done with them. Some we love enough to become Real. But what about the ones we love, and walk away from?

Tippy the triceratops was once a little girl’s imaginary friend, a dinosaur detective who could help her make sense of the world. But when her father died, Tippy fell into the Stillreal, the underbelly of the Imagination, where discarded ideas go when they’re too Real to disappear. Now, he passes time doing detective work for other unwanted ideas – until Tippy runs into The Man in the Coat, a nightmare monster who can do the impossible: kill an idea permanently. Now Tippy must overcome his own trauma and solve the case, before there’s nothing left but imaginary corpses.

What’s Tyler’s favorite bit?

The Imaginary Corpse cover image

TYLER HAYES

My Favorite Bit is Wrrbrr, space-knight of the Space Kingdom.

Wrrbrr, like several of the characters in The Imaginary Corpse, is an imaginary friend who was beloved by the person who created her, but rejected after said person experienced a traumatic event that would be spoileriffic to discuss here.

What makes Wrrbrr stand out for me is the age group she’s from. Unlike Detective Tippy, whose creator spent several years with him before the death of her father, or Miss Mighty, whose creator turned away from her in high school, Wrrbrr’s creator was extremely young, not even out of kindergarten. Because of that, Wrrbrr was by far the hardest character to write. I knew she needed to feel unfinished: strange, oversimplified, recognizably sentient but also operating on a logic that is entirely internal to her, just like so many things little kids have tried to explain to their parents. (Thank you, Twitter, for giving me access to so many bizarre and unsettling declarations by children!) But at the same time, she needed to feel like she was unfinished on purpose, not like I just didn’t try very hard to finish her.

Part of my answer was making her literally mutable: a morphing pink jelly, not a solid, developed body. Something a little kid could easily scrawl with one or two crayons in the corner of a coloring book. The name “Wrrbrr” jumped right out at me, something that could be pronounced but is also itself an incomplete word, the kind of nonsense syllables someone still figuring out language might utter when asked to name their creation. I picture the name being written somewhere in half-incoherent crayon that’s mostly invented letters.

When the time came to fill in the details, I went stream of consciousness. I dug back into games of Let’s Pretend and cartoons I watched pre-first grade, and just sort of doodled them all together and boiled them down without worrying too much about how much sense they made when combined. It resulted in a mix of disconnected elements: Wrrbrr’s status as a “space knight,” protecting the “Space Kingdom” (which, spoilers, has very little connection to space). Her “Star Power,” which allows her to summon up various implements of defense and destruction, and which puts her near the top of the charts in terms of most powerful characters in the Stillreal — little kids so often lack a sense of scale that of course she’s been invested with enormous power, the same way kids playfighting on the playground might just off-the-cuff declare that a character can fire a magical star cannon that can bust through their friend’s invincible force field.

Wrrbrr’s personality was the easiest part. I tried to marry “incomplete” and “young” and got “questioning.” Wrrbrr is full of uncertainty about the world around her, big and scary and unknown, but she’s also perfectly willing to admit her ignorance and ask questions without any self-consciousness, unmarred by the bullying and insults that silence too many older children. She’s also exceedingly polite, dropping “please” into her sentences seemingly at random, because that’s the kind of word that gets taught to children as something magical and important. Any word over two syllables I write her as sounding out, unless I know she’d had cause to use it a lot. And because of the trauma in her background, I made her soft-spoken, tentative in conversations with strangers.

Looking back, Wrrbrr feels as real as the rest of the cast of The Imaginary Corpse, but I am more aware of the process involved in dreaming her up because she has such a specific and hard-to-produce feel. She only plays a small (but very important) part in the book, but she looms large for me because of everything that went into those couple scenes. And that’s what makes her my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Imaginary Corpses Universal Book Link

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

BIO:

Tyler Hayes is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Northern California. He writes stories he hopes will show people that not only are they not alone in this terrifying world, but we might just make things better. His fiction has appeared online in Anotherealm, Nossa Morte, and The Edge of Propinquity, and in print in anthologies from Alliteration Ink, Graveside Tales, and Aetherwatch. Tyler’s debut novel, The Imaginary Corpse, is coming from Angry Robot Books in fall 2019.

Tyler is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and is represented by Lisa Abellera of Kimberley Cameron and Associates.

Tyler would also love to play Sentinels of the Multiverse with you if you’re interested.

My Favorite Bit: Alexandra Rowland talks about A CHOIR OF LIES

My Favorite BitAlexandra Rowland is joining us today to talk about their novel A Choir of Lies. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A young storyteller must embrace his own skills—and the power of stories—to save a nation from economic ruin, in the standalone sequel to A Conspiracy of Truths.

Three years ago, Ylfing watched his master-Chant tear a nation apart with nothing but the words on his tongue. Now Ylfing is all alone in a new realm, brokenhearted and grieving—but a Chant in his own right, employed as a translator to a wealthy merchant of luxury goods, Sterre de Waeyer. But Ylfing has been struggling to come to terms with what his master did, with the audiences he’s been alienated from, and with the stories he can no longer trust himself to tell.

That is, until Ylfing’s employer finds out what he is, what he does, and what he knows. At Sterre’s command, Ylfing begins telling stories once more, fanning the city into a mania for a few shipments of an exotic flower. The prices skyrocket, but when disaster looms, Ylfing must face what he has done and decide who he wants to be: a man who walks away and lets the city shatter, as his master did? Or will he embrace the power of story to save ten thousand lives?

With a memorable cast of characters, starring a fan-favorite from A Conspiracy of Truths, and a timely message, Choir of Lies reminds us that the words we wield can bring destruction—or salvation.

What is Alexandra’s favorite bit?

A Choir of Lies cover image

ALEXANDRA ROWLAND

The world kind of sucks right now. So many of us—millions of us—feel left behind by our society, our communities, even our families. We see governments prioritizing the vanity of the few and the wealthy over the basic welfare of the many and the poor. We see corporations exploiting their workers and their customers for the sake of profit.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I wrote my favorite bit of A CHOIR OF LIES, and because of spoilers I’m going to have to describe it vaguely:

There is a character. They have the opportunity to choose between supporting their community (at great personal cost) or turning away and protecting themselves and what they have already gained. It is not an easy choice. They are very, very afraid.

I was afraid too, writing that scene. I knew what choice I wanted the character to make—of course I wanted them to choose in favor of their community. But I had dreadful fantasies of people reading that scene and telling me it wasn’t realistic. After all, why would anyone choose sacrifice?

“But,” I said, stomping my feet like a child in a tantrum, “I WANT them to make the right and moral choice, even though it’s hard. I want to live in a world where more people do that. But they won’t unless someone shows them that it’s possible, and what else are stories FOR but to show us extraordinary possibility?”

We are told, in ways sometimes fear-mongering and sometimes well-meaning, to put on our own oxygen masks before helping the person next to us. In many contexts, this is a prudent and sensible way to sort out our priorities. We can take care of other people better if we have taken care of ourselves first—making sure our basic needs are met, making sure that we have the emotional and physical energy to do the work, and so on.

But sometimes we encounter a terrifying version of the Trolley Problem. You know the basic one, of course: Pick whether the trolley runs over one person tied up on Track A, or five people tied up on Track B. The logical choice is, of course, to sacrifice one life to save five. But what if you’re the one person on Track A? What do you choose then? Save your own life or save five strangers?

Fortunately, real life doesn’t work like an ethics homework problem most of the time. Being kind and helping the person next to you doesn’t usually have an impossibly-high price tag on it. The thing about kindness is that it pays for itself—if you do enough of it, eventually it starts coming back to you. As it turns out, you can save the five people on Track B, and then there’s a chance that they’ll turn around and save you too. It doesn’t have to come at a high cost to one person. Quite the opposite—sometimes it can enrich everyone.

A CHOIR OF LIES has a theme running through it of the “one little thing”—the thing you do for someone that is utterly inconsequential to you but which, to them, means the world. It is the hand offered to help them up when they’ve tripped, or a moment of love and commiseration on a day when they were sad and lonely, or the loud belly-laugh at a joke they thought no one would notice. Opportunities to make big, costly sacrifices for the greater good might come along once in a lifetime, and I guarantee you that if you ever face one, it is going to seem like an impossible choice. You might turn away. You might have to put on your own oxygen mask first. But in between all those rare, earth-shattering opportunities for choice are the hundreds and thousands of moments of the one-little-thing.

So maybe my favorite bit of this book—this character’s moment of uncertainty, teetering on the cusp of possibility—is unrealistic. Maybe no one in real life is good or strong enough to face the Trolley Problem when they’re the one on the tracks.

But… if it’s unrealistic, I’m okay with it. Kindness doesn’t always come easily or naturally to me. It’s something that I have to work at, an active choice that I have to make when the prospect of being catty or dismissive or mean is sitting right in front of me like a big slice of chocolate cake. But with every story I hear of someone doing a great act of kindness, and every time I see someone holding firm to their honor and goodness because it matters more to them than their stupid pride, it gets a little easier for me to do the same. Witnessing the extraordinary, even in fiction, brings the ordinary into much easier reach. That’s what I tried to do with my favorite bit of CHOIR OF LIES. That scene was as much to save my own soul as it was for any other purpose. I needed it. Maybe you need it too.

LINKS:

A Choir of Lies Universal Book Link

A Choir of Lies fanfic tags

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Alexandra Rowland grew up on a sailboat in the Bahamas and then in a house in Florida. Sick to death of the tropics, they attended Truman State University in northern Missouri, where they studied world literature, mythology, and folklore. They now live in western Massachusetts where they work as an (occasional) bespoke seamstress and writer under the stern supervision of their feline quality control manager. They can be found on Twitter as @_alexrowland.

They are represented by Britt Siess of Martin Literary Management.

My Favorite Bit: Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga talk about THE RESURRECTIONIST OF CALIGO

My Favorite BitWendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga are joining us to talk about their novel The Resurrectionist of Caligo. Here’s the publisher’s description:

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart.

What is Alicia’s favorite bit?

The Resurrectionist of Caligo cover image

ALICIA ZALOGA

As coauthors of a book, it’s difficult to pinpoint the utmost favorite bit. Wendy’s favorite bit is not necessarily my favorite bit and vice versa. However, during the whirlwind creation phase of throwing everything and anything into The Resurrectionist of Caligo and then some, there is one scene that sticks out as magic—a synergistic place in book time when two authors, with two competing headspaces, had to deal with the natural fall out of a slow burn relationship between our two main characters taking place on a stairwell.

At the start of our novel, Sibylla the Wayward Princess and Roger the Vagabond Resurrectionist have already had their youthful love affair, and to say it did not end well would be an understatement. Many books begin with two characters and their fated meeting with one another. We wanted to begin ours with two characters who’d already been through the relationship cycle—cute childhood meeting, kissing beneath the boughs in adolescence, and inevitable painful teenage breakup. Feelings one has for an ex are complicated. Between Roger and Sibylla, there are two broken hearts (one of which has mostly moved on) made worse by differing worldviews, past misunderstandings, and a murder or three. There’s pining and anger and the crossover of both these emotions. Now as adults, they want to see one another again, but there’s also a desire to give the other person a dressing down while they’re at it.

The fruition of this thorny emotional landscape between former friends turned paramours turned exes takes place in a dark and dingy—one of the two might even say rancid—stairwell that leads to the garret where Roger resides above the butcher’s shop, barely scraping together his back rent. Their meeting is a long time coming. It became a favorite because of the variety of logistical and emotional complexities inherent to the scene, including an interested onlooker, the tiredness that comes from the end of a long workday, and all the past and present fuzzy and not-so-fuzzy emotions they have for one another.

I should probably explain here that our writing process is sometimes incredibly, ridiculously, collaborative. On occasion, sentences can be minutely examined, rewritten (and rewritten and rewritten), and comments given until the narration becomes a torn apart and glued, sewed, and duct taped back together again monster of collective thought and choice. A sample sentence might read: Three words Wendy wrote followed by two words I wrote, another Wendy verb, and finally four words I chose before that punctuating period. Despite this process, the one thing we agreed on in the revision partnership stage was that we had to respect the other person’s final say on whether or not our main characters would, or would not, say or do something.

That’s why a scene, such as that which takes place in the stairwell of the building where Roger lives, is so impactful, not only for the characters but for us as co-creators. While I’m “the” Sibylla authority, Wendy is “the” Roger authority. When our main characters share the page, so too do we authors. This one little scene went in a direction neither of us had originally intended.

In the very original draft, it ended rather comically with Sibylla saying something to the effect of, “I’ve got things to do, ta-ta.” Of course, this was never going to be enough, but at the time neither of us had fully discovered the emotional weight of this encounter. When we finally did, it became, in many ways, a scene of personal declarations for our main characters, one that explored how their respective pasts and presents collided to terrific and horrible result. Sibylla ended up saying a bit more than “ta-ta” and so did Roger. No matter how many drafts, no matter how many nuances were added or changes to the story made, the stairwell scene always remained this crystallized moment between Roger and Sibylla, and by extension between us as their creators.

It may only encompass a few pages of the whole book, but it is representative of that time our characters provoked one another into saying and doing things they never would have said or done had we not been co-authors. For Wendy and me, it was the perfect example of what we could accomplish when we allowed each other the freedom to express our characters on the page, and I can’t think of a better favorite bit to act as our creative beacon.

LINKS:

The Resurrectionist of Caligo Universal Book Link

Wendy and Alicia’s website

Alicia’s Instagram

Alicia’s Twitter

Wendy’s Twitter

BIOS:

ALICIA ZALOGA grew up in Virginia Beach not liking the beach, and now moves every few years, sometimes to places near beaches. She has a writing degree from Columbia College Chicago, and when she’s not dealing with life’s chores, she collects hobbies: plucking the E string on the bass, producing an alarming number of artistic doodles, and French beading floral bouquets

WENDY TRIMBOLI grew up in England, Germany and the United States, and learned to speak two languages well enough that most people can understand her. Determined to ignore her preference for liberal arts, she attended the US Air Force Academy then worked as an intelligence officer, which was less exciting than it sounds. These days she has a creative writing MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and lives in Colorado with her family, border collie, and far too many books.

 

My Favorite Bit: Grant Price talks about BY THE FEET OF MEN

My Favorite BitGrant Price is joining us to talk about his novel By the Feet of Men. Here’s the publisher’s description:

WANTED: Men and women willing to drive through the valley of the shadow of death.

The world’s population has been decimated by the Change, a chain reaction of events triggered by global warming. In Europe, governments have fallen, cities have crumbled and the wheels of production have ground to a halt. The Alps region, containing most of the continent’s remaining fresh water, has become a closed state with heavily fortified borders. Survivors cling on by trading through the Runners, truck drivers who deliver cargo and take a percentage.

Amid the ruins of central Germany, two Runners, Cassady and Ghazi, are called on to deliver medical supplies to a research base deep in the Italian desert, where scientists claim to be building a machine that could reverse the effects of the Change. Joining the pair are a ragtag collection of drivers, all of whom have something to prove. Standing in their way are starving nomads, crumbling cities, hostile weather and a rogue state hell-bent on the convoy’s destruction. And there’s another problem: Cassady is close to losing his nerve.

What’s Grant’s favorite bit?

BY THE FEET OF MEN cover image

GRANT PRICE

Flashbacks are a risky tool to use in any novel, let alone one as relentlessly linear as By the Feet of Men. I generally see it as cheating: they’re a way to flesh out a character or build a world without doing the heavy lifting in the narrative in which we’re spending the majority of our time. The worst are the ones involving a ham-fisted segue: “The radio. Green Bakelite, just like the one she had in her box room near the Champs-Élysées. So many years ago now…”. After that, we’re treated to an entire chapter about a girl with a green Bakelite radio who won’t appear in the novel again, all so we can learn the protagonist is a hopeless romantic. Not especially efficient, and a test of patience for the reader.

Recently, I struggled through The Night Manager by John Le Carré, the first few chapters of which are spent introducing the undersexed protagonist, Jonathan Pine. Instead of learning who he is in the present, though, the reader is treated to flashback after flashback of Pine’s time in Cairo and a certain *no spoilers* incident that establishes a shaky motive for him to go gallivanting around the Caribbean in pursuit of a shady businessmen. Now, as everybody loves Le Carré and he’s light-years ahead of me in terms of ability, this is both sacrilegious and cheeky, but I couldn’t help viewing his use of flashbacks in the novel as lazy. The first third of a book should be reserved for setting the scene, building the world, establishing subtext, developing the characters, making them consistent, and encouraging the reader to love, tolerate or despise them. By contrast, the flashbacks in The Night Manager tell us immediately who Pine is and exactly who we can expect him to be over the next 400-odd pages. No reveal, no build-up, no effort to earn the reader’s affection.

All this to say that when I wrote my own barely-three-page flashback chapter, I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. As I said, By the Feet of Men is nothing if not linear. A to B, start to finish, no side quests or tangents or baggage to slow things down. I wanted it to be high octane like Neuromancer or The Death of Grass, flying from devastated location to devastated location, fresh horror to fresh horror, a dystopian road novel right down to the book binding. Even so, at the point in the story where the flashback appears, I felt like everybody needed a breather—me, the reader and the characters. After all, ecological collapse takes its toll on everyone. And seeing as I’d already had the drivers of the convoy sit around in drosscapes and dust bowls waxing lyrical about how nature had finally turned its back on humanity, I needed something different. Like, for example, the bleakest flashback I could think of.

Without getting into specifics, my flashback fills in a bit of backstory, in this case about how the ‘Change’ instigated widespread civil unrest, mass migration, lawlessness and a breakdown of basic human values, leading people to do despicable things to one another in the name of survival. So far, so standard. But here’s the twist (if you can call it that): it’s written from the perspective of a character who is already dead. Their story is being remembered by another driver in a moment of monotony out on the road, just as we might find ourselves thinking of something a loved one told us before they passed away. What I like about the flashback’s appearance at this point in the narrative is that we’ve already learned—over the course of half the book—who that character was and what they represented. We formed a bond with them and we felt something when they perished. Afterwards, we think that’s it. The character is gone, the narrative pushes on and the sense of loss starts to fade into the background. My idea, though, was to use the flashback as a kind of aftershock of misery. Just as we have readied ourselves to move on, that sense of loss is sprung on us again and the wound is forced open once more.

How often do we experience a traumatic event and then squirrel it away in the back of our mind, never to be touched again? Rarely-to-never, would be my guess. We can be reminded of it at any time. The most banal sight, sound or smell can trigger a fresh wave of emotion that overwhelms us before we have the chance to get a grip on it. It’s something we can never truly prepare for. I wanted to capture that feeling through the flashback and, in doing so, bring the reader closer to the surviving drivers and hopefully make the world they inhabit slightly more real.

As far as actual readers’ responses to the flashback is concerned, the jury is still out. One reviewer told me that it doesn’t work at all and that the editor should have wielded her red pen like a rapier and slashed it to ribbons. Fair enough. But another said the flashback resonated with them, all the more so because of how unexpected it was. I appreciate both responses. Whether it works or not, it’s something that—for me, at least—is a little different and takes a bit of a risk. It allowed me, just for a moment, to step away from the convoy as it races into the heart of darkness and view the story from a new angle. At the same time, it maintains enough of a link between ‘past’ and ‘present’ to land an emotional sucker punch.

LINKS:
By the Feet of Men Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

In social situations, Grant Price introduces himself as “Grant, like Hugh Grant, only it’s my first name”. As well as writing novels and short stories, he is a translator of German and Dutch and does the kind of copywriting that Bill Hicks would have hated him for. By the Feet of Men is his first published novel.

My Favorite Bit: Marie Brennan talks about TURNING DARKNESS INTO LIGHT

My Favorite BitMarie Brennan is joining us today to talk about her novel Turning Darkness Into Light. Here’s the publishers description:

Marie Brennan’s Turning Darkness Into Light is a delightful fantasy of manners, the heir to the award-winning Natural History of Dragons series, a perfect stepping stone into an alternate Victorian-esque fantasy landscape.

As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, Audrey must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.

What’s Marie’s favorite bit?

Turning Darkness into light cover image

MARIE BRENNAN

My favorite bit of this novel is a character I don’t like very much.

Which is a reminder to me that a likeable character and an interesting character are not the same thing. I forget that sometimes — because as a reader, I tend to check out of stories where I don’t like the main characters, even if I know the author intended it to be that way. I almost always need somebody whose company I enjoy; hanging out with a bunch of bastards is not my idea of a good time.

This guy is kind of a bastard . . . but when he walked onstage in this novel, utterly without me having planned for him, he brought a whole new dimension of the story to life. I knew, going into Turning Darkness Into Light, that the main character Audrey would be struggling in a lot of ways to establish herself in her chosen field, the study of the ancient Draconean language. She’s smart, but also young; she’s done some meaningful work, but she’s the granddaughter of Lady Trent, whose exploits were the subject of my previous five novels. Her grandfather, father, and mother are all well-respected scholars of one sort or another, and so I knew Audrey would be wrestling with the weight of her family’s reputation and the general public’s expectation that she ought to have done something amazing already.

But that’s mostly an internal thing. Which is why, partway into drafting the novel, I thought to myself, Audrey needs a rival. Lady Trent never really had one; apart from a short-story length spat with somebody who barely deserved the name of “scholar,” her challenges were of a different sort. So okay, I would give Audrey a rival.

Hard on the heels of that came a second thought: Audrey should have a romantic history with that rival.

Enter Aaron Mornett.

Some characters get built. Others spring fully-formed out of my imagination like Athena from the head of Zeus. The moment he appeared, Mornett was handsome, brilliant, hailed for his achievements from a young age . . . and, in the most scathing condemnation Lady Trent is capable of delivering, not a reputable scholar. He’s Belloq to Audrey’s Indiana Jones.

Their romance is a thing of the past; it shows up in one of the novel’s three flashbacks. But oh, has it left its mark. Audrey has incredibly complicated feelings toward Mornett: respect for his intelligence, disgust for the ends to which he puts it, regret over his wasted potential, fury over what he did to her. She’s not over him, though she tries to pretend she is. She spends quite a bit of time and energy on trying to figure out what he’s up to — with regards to both the plot and herself personally.

We have so many stories that either focus on a romantic relationship or work one in alongside the rest of the plot. But we have relatively few about this kind of thing: a romance that failed, and the process of dealing with its aftermath (where “dealing” doesn’t mean “finding Mr. Right and being happy with him instead”). The ambiguity of it was fascinating to explore, and took the story in directions I had not planned for at all when I set out.

And in the end . . . I empathize with Aaron Mornett. That’s not the same thing as sympathizing; while I see where he’s coming from, ultimately I want to smack him for it. But I can understand why Audrey fell for him, and why it’s so hard for her to come to terms with having fallen out with him. I want to write the AU fanfic where things went differently.

Which is why he’s my favorite bit. He hooked my emotions from a completely unexpected angle, and brought fascinating kinds of tension to some of the novel’s key scenes — all without me having planned for him at all.

LINKS:

Turning Darkness Into Light Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Patreon

BIO:

Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material. She recently misapplied her professors’ hard work to Turning Darkness Into Light, a sequel to the Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent. She is the author of the Doppelganger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasies Lies and Prophecy and Chains and Memory, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, the Varekai novellas, and nearly sixty short stories, as well as the New Worlds series of worldbuilding guides.

Calculating Stars won the Hugo!

On Sunday, my novel The Calculating Stars won the Hugo award for best novel. I have been told that this is only the 17th book to win the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo awards. I had to sit down for a bit when I realized that.

I was so fortunate to be nominated in a year when the finalists were all amazing. I was rooting for every one of them because the books were solid and the writers are delightful people. I encourage you to pick up one of the other finalists for your next read. They are all worthy of a Hugo.

Thank you all for sharing this nomination with me and being wonderful, supportive people.

Here’s the text of my speech, although there was some ad-libbing at the beginning because Dr. Jeannette Epps, who is an actual lady astronaut, was the presenter for my category and handed me the award. I was a little overwhelmed and don’t actually remember what I said except that I was a wee bit excited.

There are so many people to thank, that I won’t be able to thank them all in the detail that they deserve. I know how many words that takes because the acknowledgments of my books are looooooong. But I do want to recognize Alyshondra Meacham, Liz Gorinsky, Seth Fishman, Robert Kowal, Mom and Dad, my niece Katherine Harrison who is here with me tonight, Andrew Twiss (my amazing audio engineer), Kjell Lindgren and Cady Coleman (who are actual astronauts), Chanie Beckman, Sheyna Gifford, Derek Benkoski, Stephen Grenade and all my beta readers. Writing Excuses gang.

Over 500 people have been in space. 64 of them have been women. 

One of the things that I do when I start writing is that I look in history for the women, People of color, LGBTQ, people with disabilities…  I assume that they were present and erased from the narrative. These are stories that aren’t told and are often more interesting than the ones that have been focused on over the years.

Woman in overalls standing in front of an early bi-planeFor instance, knowing that I was coming here to Dublin, I was curious about who the first Irish woman pilot was. Lilian Bland. Not only was she the first Irish woman pilot, but she was also the first woman in the world to design, build and fly an airplane. In 1910.

She’s amazing. I’d never heard of her. And I’d be willing to bet that most of the people in this room have never heard her name.

I try to bring the people who were actually there back into focus.

Calculating Stars led me to the FLATS. The First Lady Astronaut Trainees also known as the Mercury 13. These were women who went through the same testing as the Mercury astronauts and in most cases scored better than the men. The program was started by Dr. Lovelace, who was interested in women in space because if we were going to have a long term presence in space, we would need…secretaries and receptionists. 

No.

We are so much more. We are pilots and scientists and writers and authors and astronauts.

This award is for the FLATs Jerrie Cobb, Bernice Steadman, Janey Hart, Jerri Truhill, Rhea Woltman, Sarah Ratley, Jan and Marion Dietrich, Myrtle Cagle, Irene Leverton, Gene Nora Jessen, Jean Hixson, and Wally Funk

And everyone who has been pushed to the margins.

I promise you that I know you were there. I know you still are. I see you. I promise that you will have a place in my fiction and in my life.

Thank you.

(And I just want to say that receptionists and secretaries rule the world, and I realized afterward that my “No” could be read to put those jobs down, when what I meant was that relegating us to a tiny box was objectionable.)

After the ceremony, I took some of the new Hugo recipients with me to the convention bar so we could let the people who voted for us see the Hugos and hold them. I learned to do this from Jay Lake and John Scalzi when I won the Campbell award. It is a joyful evening because they are as happy for you as you are.

My niece, Katherine, and me right after the Hugo awards ceremony.

May I tell you a thing about my gown? It was designed by Tadashi Shoji, who had a collection that was all space themed. This dress is called the “Whitson” and named after Peggy Whitson, the American astronaut who holds the record for the most number of days. So this is a literal lady astronaut dress. Also, it’s made of knit and basically feels like wearing a nightgown with sequins.

I need to thank Sarah and Colleen who helped me with the hem after I got here!

There are so many people that I need to thank that I could write about the people who supported me for days. I told you my acknowledgments are long. So thank you. Thank you all.

My Favorite Bit: Keren Landsman talks about THE HEART OF THE CIRCLE

My Favorite BitKeren Landsman is joining us today to talk about her novel The Heart of the Circle. Here is the publisher’s description:

Sorcerers fight for the right to exist and fall in love, in this extraordinary alternate world fantasy thriller by award-winning Israeli author Keren Landsman.

Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolized and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?

What’s Keren’s favorite bit?

The Heart of the Circle cover image

KEREN LANDSMAN

Choosing my favorite bit from THE HEART OF THE CIRCLE feels a little like choosing my favorite child. Of course I love all of you! It’s just that the thing that jumps to my mind when asked is not the sorcerers fights, the romance or the powers but the relationships. Specifically, the relationships between Reed and his family.

It’s quite common to give the hero a terrible family. A distant father, a neglecting mother, an obnoxious brother, and when the hero has a normal family, someone has to die. It’s usually done to give a motive for the hero. Without the dead parents, Stark would have never gone into the avenging business, Harry Potter would never have become the center of attention, Elsa would never have run away and discovered her true powers, and don’t even get me started about Superman whose entire planet had to be destroyed in order to give him his life’s mission.

I have a great family, and It’s hard for me to find myself in those books. Most of my friends have a somewhat functioning family. Just a normal, living, loving family with frictions sometimes, where anger is another expression to love, and caring sometimes manifests as prying.

I used my mother to model Reed’s mom: over-protectiive even though her son left home ten years earlier, pouring her worries into cooking and trying really really hard to respect his privacy whilst failing miserably. I might have also used some of my experiences as a mother to create her. Specifically, the first time my son brought his “not girlfriend” home and I had to keep my mouth shut even though I had SO MANY QUESTIONS!

Reed’s brother is based more on my kids’ relationships than my own. They are extremely close, closed than I was to my brother and sister at their age, and they care so much for one another. I know they fight, but whenever I’m mad at one of them they cover for each other and sometimes even provide fake alibis for each other. I love that about them and I tried to catch that feeling when I wrote Reed and Mathew.

The last part of Reed’s family is, of course, the non-genetic one. From Daphne, his best friend and roommate, to Aurora, who is the reason for his volunteering, his non-genetic family is freely based on mine. You can find their real names in the acknowledgement part of the book. Just imagine many sparkling hearts floating over the words.

LINKS:

The Heart of the Circle Universal Book Link

Twitter

Website

BIO:

KEREN LANDSMAN is a mother, a writer, a medical doctor who specializes in Epidemiology and Public health, and a blogger. She is one of the founders of Mida’at, an NGO dedicated to promoting public health in Israel. She works in the Levinski clinic in Tel Aviv. She has won the Geffen Award three times, most recently for the short story collection Broken Skies.

My Favorite Bit: Reese Hogan talks about SHROUDED LOYALTIES

Favorite Bit iconReese Hogan is joining us today to talk about her novel Shrouded Loyalties. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A soldier returns home with a dangerous secret from an alternate realm, unaware that she is surrounded by spies and collaborators, in this intense military science fiction novel.

Naval officer Mila Blackwood is determined to keep her country’s most powerful secret – shrouding, the ability to traverse their planet in seconds through an alternate realm – out of enemy hands. But spies are everywhere: her submarine has been infiltrated by a Dhavnak agent, and her teenage brother has been seduced by an enemy soldier. When Blackwood’s submarine is attacked by a monster, she and fellow sailor, Holland, are marked with special abilities, whose manifestations could end the war – but in whose favor? Forced to submit to military scientists in her paranoid and war-torn home, Blackwood soon learns that the only people she can trust might also be the enemy.

What’s Reese’s favorite bit?

Shrouded Loyalties cover image

REESE HOGAN

The very first line of my biography reads, “Reese Hogan loves nothing more than creating broken relationships in broken worlds.” No matter how many explosions or monsters or worldbuilding thrills I put in my books, it’s the massively screwed-up relationships that I really thrive on. That’s why my favorite bit in Shrouded Loyalties was giving points of view to three very different protagonists who not only didn’t get along, but were actively working against one another during wartime.

This is a distinctly different process than writing from the point of view of a villain. We’ve all read those books—the ones with antagonists who are so well-rounded that we know exactly why they’re doing their evil deeds. Maybe we even sympathize with them. But it’s not often that we root for them. It’s not normal for us to prefer the villain’s point of view, or for them to actively cross the line into becoming our favorite character.

There are exceptions. Of course there are exceptions. But the key word here is protagonist, usually defined as the leading character or point of view in a literary work. No matter how well-rounded that villain is, you’re not likely to walk away confused about who should have triumphed. However, when the antagonist of your novel is not only a point of view, but a protagonist with their own antagonist and involved character arc, suddenly it’s not so easy anymore.

You won’t see these intricate pairings written as a hero and a complex villain. That would be too simple. You’ll see them in the flawed relationships of intimate acquaintances. College roommates Victor and Eli in Vicious. Tamas and his son Taniel in A Promise of Blood. Siblings Mokoya and Akeha in The Black Tides of Heaven. They oftentimes both have fully developed points of view, and in many cases, you can’t definitively say one or the other is the villain – but there is no question that they are antagonists actively working against each other’s agendas.

I approach this by coming up with the most broken relationships I can think of, then writing both sides. I wasn’t just interested in why Blackwood needed so badly to keep her secrets safe; I wanted to know that the spy taking those secrets had just as much at stake for completely different reasons. I wanted the success of one character to be the dismal downfall of the other, and I wanted either of those failures to bite equally deeply to the reader. I wanted to show why Blackwood’s relationship with her brother was so difficult, and for the reader to see how impossible it was to fix from either end. It’s these places in relationships – these all too-human judgments we pass, these assumptions we make, these conclusions we jump to, and these wedges that our lack of communication drives between us – that I’m most interested in exploring. You don’t need some distant planet or fancy magic system to know what I’m talking about. Whether a story leaves you satisfied by the time you read the last word depends more on what those characters went through with each other and where they ended up than on how big the explosion was at the end. And I should know. I have yet to write a book without a big explosion at the end.

Broken relationships filled with betrayal, guilt, resentment, and lies are not just part of Shrouded Loyalties; they are the framework that built the book. So which of my three points of view are protagonists and which are antagonists? Well, when my first three readers each chose a different character as their favorite, I knew that was as easy to answer as it is in real life. They are all protagonists. And they are all antagonists. Just like the rest of us.

LINKS:

Shrouded Loyalties Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Where to Find Mary Robinette at Dublin WorldCon

Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon event image

 

Mary Robinette will be at Dublin WorldCon and the Hugo Awards from Aug 15 to 18, 2019, in Dublin, Ireland. The Calculating Stars has also been nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novel. Get memberships here.

 

Here’s where to find Mary Robinette at the con:

Thursday, August 15
Dragons and Debutantes: Fantasy Set in the Regency
2:00pm
Wicklow Room – 1 (CCD)

The Regency period in the UK, the time of the Napoleonic wars in most of Europe, has long been a rich source of inspiration for fantasy novels – including Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. How has the Regency been used as an inspiration for fantasy writing? Why does this period in particular have such an abiding appeal?

Heather Rose Jones, Zen Cho, Susan de Guardiola, David D. Levine, Mary Robinette Kowal (M) 

 

What is SFWA and What Can It Do For You?
4:30pm
Stratocaster BC (Point Square Dublin)

Join past and present SFWA volunteers, board members, and staff to learn about the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and what it has to offer genre writers – including model contracts, its grants programme, its Emergency Medical Fund, the Writer Beware website, the Nebula Awards Conference, the SFWA blog, and more.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Kate Baker (SFWA, Inc. & Clarkesworld Magazine) (M),, Jeffe Kennedy (SFWA, Kelly Robson (SFWA)

 

Friday August 16

 

Apollo at 50
10:00am
Stage (Liffey B) (CCD)

Getting men on the Moon was certainly an achievement, but it is nearly 50 years since anyone was there and the Apollo launchers, unlike Soyuz, have been abandoned for years. Beyond the obvious spectacle, was Apollo all for nothing? Was the spectacle itself enough? Panelists consider the legacy of Apollo.

Jeanette Epps (NASA), Ian Sales (M), Dr David Stephenson, Geoffrey A. Landis, Mary Robinette Kowal 

 

Autographs
11:00am
Level 4 Foyer (CCD)

Mary Robinette Kowal, Juliet E McKenna, Kelly Robson, P C Hodgell, David Demchuk, Laura Lam 

 

Kaffeeklatsch
4:00pm
Level 3 Foyer (CCD)

Mary Robinette Kowal

 

Saturday, August 17

Creating from Different Disciplines
10:00am
Wicklow Room – 1 (CCD)

ow creatives from different disciplines take a common concept and explain how they would approach from their respective fields.

Afua Richardson, Jim Fitzpatrick, Mary Robinette Kowal (M), Taiyo Fujii, Ben Hennessy 

 

Authors and Their Pets
3:00pm
Wicklow Hall – 2B (CCD)

Join our panel of authors to discuss the ups and downs of writing with an animal companion. Do dogs or cats make better familiars for authors? What do you do when your pet is more popular on social media than you are? There will be pet pictures!

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Mary Robinette Kowal (M), Elizabeth Bear, Melissa Caruso 

 

Masquerade – PowerPoint Karaoke
8:00-10:00pm
Auditorium (CCD) 

Watch Mary Robinette ad lib to a set of slides she has never seen before!

Sunday, August 18

What I Read When I Was Young (Panel)
10:00am
Second Stage (Liffey B) (CCD)

The books we read in childhood often have a lasting influence. In this panel, finalists for the Hugo Award for Best Novel discuss the books that had a profound effect on the people they became. How did these works change them? Was this influence a good or a bad one? Is there a book they think everyone should read at least once in their life?

Mur Lafferty (M), Mary Robinette Kowal, Catherynne Valente (catherynne@gmail.com), Rebecca Roanhorse, Becky Chambers, Naomi Novik, Yoon Ha Lee 

 

Hugo Awards Ceremony
8:00-10:00pm
Auditorium (CCD)

The Hugo Awards are the most prestigious award in the science fiction genre, honouring literature and media as well as fan activities. Dublin 2019 administers the 2019 Hugo Awards and the 1944 Retro Hugos. This also includes the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Mary Robinette’s The Calculating Stars (Tor) has been nominated for Best Novel. 

 

Monday, August 19

Reading
10:00am
Liffey – 2 (CCD)

Mary Robinette Kowal

 

Producing Puppetry
1:30pm
Odeon 2 (Point Square) 

Puppetry crosses genres and media, bringing together physical art, storytelling, and live action from a small cardboard production stage to the silver screen. So, what are the nuts and bolts of puppetry production? From original concept to final performance,our panel of experts share their advice, experiences, and stories about bringing puppetry to life – no strings attached.

>Mary Robinette Kowal, Maeve Clanc, Ian McDonald

 

 

My Favorite Bit: Susan Forest talks about BURSTS OF FIRE

My Favorite BitSusan Forest is joining us today to talk about her novel Bursts of Fire. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Bursts of Fire begins an epic political fantasy of revenge, addictions, and redemption. In an empire where magic has become suspect, love and loyalty–for one’s lover, one’s family, one’s country–are tested. If Heaven desires the very earth be burned, what place can those below hope for, when the flames come for them?

The Falkyn sisters bear a burden and a legacy. Their mother, the imperial magiel of the kingdom of Orumon, protects her people from the horrors of the afterlife by calling upon the Gods with a precious Prayer Stone. But war among the kingdoms has brought fire and destruction to their sheltered world. When a mad king’s desire to destroy the Prayer Stones shatters their family, the three girls are scattered to the wilderness, relying on their wits and powers they don’t yet master.

Assassin. Battle tactician. Magic wielder. Driven by different ambitions, Meg, Janat, and Rennika are destined to become all these and more. To reclaim their birth right, they must overcome doubtful loyalties within a rising rebellion; more, they must challenge a dogma-driven chancellor’s influence on the prince raised to inherit his father’s war: a prince struggling to unravel the mystery of his brother’s addiction to Heaven.

To survive. To fight. To restore balance.

What’s Susan’s favorite bit?

Bursts of Fire cover image

SUSAN FOREST

One of many impetuses I had for creating the world of Shangril came from my roots growing up in the Rocky Mountains of Western Canada. I was only a city kid by geography; on weekends, my father took my sisters, my brother, and me trekking through forests and across scree slopes and glaciers, tenting or staying in back country huts (I even slept in an ice cave), watching long summer twilights from high alpine meadows, or taking a midnight ski by moonlight.

My dad, though an engineer by profession, was at heart a mountain man. He grew up fishing, tramping the woods of northern Saskatchewan, and hunting partridge for dinner, on his family’s farm during the Depression. So, years later, when my older sister brought home a permission slip from school to join the Alpine Club of Canada, mountaineering was a natural outgrowth of his passions. He found his true love: before he died at the age of eighty-three, my father had become the first person to scale all the peaks in the Canadian Rockies over 11,000 feet (53 peaks), and the oldest person to climb Canada’s highest mountain, Mt. Logan. But more than an explorer, my father was a family man who included his kids on his adventures. It meant everything to him to pass on the legacy of outdoor survival and backwoods camaraderie to his children.

And so it was that my siblings and I spent a great deal of time absorbing the skills of outdoor living and developing a love of the wilds.

But the interrelationships of sisterhood are complex and deeply rooted (my brother moved north in his twenties). My older sister was a strong, self-assured woman who didn’t necessarily have time for her younger siblings. She began duck hunting at an early age and skiing with members of the National Ski Team in her teens (and was, therefore, an excellent downhill skier in her own right). In her twenties, she became the first female National Park Warden in Canada. She was on the first all-women’s team to attempt Mt. Logan.

My younger sister, always one to work her heart out to keep up to the rest of us, was a cross-country skier, climber, chainsaw wielder, and horsewoman. She also became a National Park Warden (Rescue Specialist), and she was one of only a handful of women in Canada to earn her full Mountain Guide’s License. Today she is a heli-ski guide, mountain guide, and horse outfitter. Five-foot-two and a hundred and ten pounds, and my best friend.

There were times, growing up, when we did a variety of outdoor activities together, but because of the age spread, my older sister had moved on to activities with her friends before I took up climbing and skiing, and my younger sister was riding in a backpack or getting towed on her skis behind my dad. So, some of our shared experiences took the form of conversations around the dinner table, and the recounting of close encounters (but nothing that would worry my mom) or funny situations. Today we do still hike, ski, and ride horses together, but often just two of us at a time.

Nevertheless, the experiences I have had pursuing outdoor sports have given me a wonderful launch point for writing fantasy adventure. In a still-unpublished work, I’ve written scenes taking place in a cave that draw on my experience being in the third or fourth party to explore Rats Nest Cave on Goat Mountain. Early in Bursts of Fire, the three sisters are caught out on a mountain above tree line, and must negotiate its scree and fragmented rock ribs, in the cold of late September. I know what the wind on mountain tops is like; what it’s like to down-climb cliff bands to safety; what it’s like to tramp endlessly through trackless woods, not quite certain of the path. I’ve chopped wood, drawn water from a rushing river, washed my dishes with moss in an icy stream. The primitive stone and log huts in the series are modeled on places I’ve stayed.

An example of capturing the essence of harsh mountain weather is illustrated in these few lines:

She lifted thin arms to the wind, pitilessly small beneath the swirling gray sky. “We’ve done everything…everything you demanded…”

Rennika’s grief turned to lead in her limbs.

The wind rushed over them, drenching them with rain, speared their faces with icy needles, its endless lonely breath in their ears.

So, yes. Writing fantasy adventure in Bursts of Fire takes me back—at least in my mind—to the places I’ve been, the people I’ve known, the sensations I’ve felt. And that is definitely my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Bursts of Fire Universal Book Link

Read an Excerpt

Book Website

Author Website

Twitter

BIO:

Susan Forest grew up in a family of mountaineers and skiers, and she loves adventure. She also loves the big ideas found in SF/F, and finds fast-paced adventure stories a great place to explore how individuals grapple with complex moral decisions. Bursts of Fire, first book in her Addicted to Heaven series (to be followed by Flights of Marigolds in 2020), confronts issues of addiction in an epic fantasy world of intrigue and betrayal. Susan is also an award-winning fiction editor, has published over 25 short stories (Analog, Asimov’s, BCS, & more), and has appeared at many international writing conventions. She loves travel and has been known to dictate novels from the back of her husband’s motorcycle.

My Favorite Bit: Spencer Ellsworth talks about THE GREAT FAERIE STRIKE

My Favorite BitSpencer Ellsworth is joining us today to talk about his novel The Great Faerie Strike. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A revolution in Faerie!

Ridley Enterprises has brought industry to the Otherworld, churning out magical goods for profit. But when they fire Charles the gnome, well, they’ve gone too far. And against a gnome’s respectable nature, he takes to the streets, fighting for workers’ rights.

The Otherworld’s first investigative reporter, Jane, is looking for a story. And she finds it, witnessing a murder and getting sucked into a conspiracy within werewolf high society.

Jane and Charles team up to unite the workers and bring the Ridleys to justice. But a budding romance complicates everything. Can they bring change to Faerie or will dark powers consume both worlds?

What’s Spencer’s favorite bit?

The Great Faerie Strike cover image

SPENCER ELLSWORTH

Whenever I am asked for “my favorite bit” in a book, I feel a little bit like a parent asked to pick their favorite child.

I love all of them, even the weird ones who test my patience!

But, with apologies to the weird ones, in The Great Faerie Strike, I immediately knew what my favorite part was. It was built into the book’s conception from the beginning—the main character Charles, a cantankerous and hotheaded gnome, laid off from his factory job, would have to find the inspiration to start a strike.

Charles is unusual for a gnome already. They’re typically known for steadiness, reliability, and a tendency to go along with authority and never be the nail that sticks up.

Charles has been trying to reform his unreliable ways, despite the layoffs. He… doesn’t do so well. He gets laid off again, this time from a butler job. He then gets in a fight and gets himself captured by vampires and thrown in a larder, waiting to be eaten.

Our heroine, Jane, an investigative reporter, is determined to save Charles from the vampires, since he has a lead on her best story. While he’s in there, she gives him a random pamphlet to read, something that she grabbed because it looked interesting.

That pamphlet is The Communist Manifesto.

I’ve never more had more fun as a writer than this: taking a hotheaded, stodgy little gnome and turning him into a revolutionary. Charles immediately sees how Marx’s philosophy applies to the Otherworld, and starts babbling on about Marx like an excited college sophomore, and determines to bring the bourgeoisie down.

I squeed with joy, just a little, as I wrote that bit. I love it when a character really, really, REALLY believes in something, especially when it puts them in conflict with their world, family and friends. And I may have been a bit like Charles myself, in college… and a bit like him still. In that way, he’s always been my favorite bit.

LINKS:

The Great Faerie Strike Universal Book Link

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Spencer Ellsworth has been writing since he learned how. He is the author of The Great Faerie Strike, out in August 2019 from Broken Eye Books, and the Starfire Trilogy of space opera novels from Tor. He lives in Bellingham, WA, with his wife and three children, writes, edits and works at a small tribal college, and would really like a war mammoth if you’ve got one lying around.

My Favorite Bit: Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone talk about THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR

Favorite Bit iconAmal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone are joining us today to talk about their novella This Is How You Lose the Time War. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. 

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

What are Amal and Max’s favorite part?

This is how you lose the time war cover image

AMAL EL-MOHTAR AND MAX GLADSTONE

Dearest Max,

My favourite bit of this novella—besides remembering its creation, the moments where our eyes met in mingled shock and grief at what we were doing to these characters, and how well we were doing it—is the point of no return.

This actually happens multiple times. One would think a time travel story to be built of infinite points of return, the ability to cross strands of time like lines of Regency letters—but in such a story, the points of divergence, of commitment, of irreversible impact are the ones that stay with me the most, and that I most enjoyed writing.

I’ll single out three from my own writing, because to attempt to single out favourites of yours is literally just to unspool the story from start to finish. I shall describe them as cards in a tarot spread, in order not to spoil anything for readers still discovering the book, confident that you’ll recognize them instantly.

Here they are: the wolf; the bee; the berried thorn.

Those are my favourite bits.

What are yours?

Love,

Amal

PS: if divinatory obfuscation isn’t to your taste, please, do not feel limited by my choices! “Apophenic as a haruspex” is, after all, one of my many favourite bits of yours!

***

Dearest Amal,

I love that you single out points of no return. Before I received your letter I’d planned my sole contribution to be your line, in Blue’s voice: “Tell me something true, or tell me nothing at all.” For me, our early draft up until that point had been an exuberance of play—dancing from strand to strand, enjoying the taunts and the grand concepts and above all else the speed our format permitted. But that letter of Blue’s, and that line in specific, shook me. And I think they shook Red, too. Somewhere a submarine commander shouted out: Dive, dive!

And we dove.

It came at just the right moment. We’d described a world, and I think that left to my own normal gears I would have settled myself down to particulars and complications. But we had to go deeper, out of safe and sunlit waters.

Did you know there’s a depth in the ocean beyond which the pressure will squeeze a human body until it becomes denser than the surrounding water? Past that point, you won’t float back toward the surface. You’ll fall, endlessly, to the ocean floor.

A terrifying, exhilarating thought—the moment when the pressure of character becomes destiny. But who knows what you find at the bottom?

As for favorite bits of my own writing, to match yours, I’ll stay just as e/allusive: Atlantis, surely. Do you smile, ice? And, perhaps: a simple wax seal.

Love,
Max

 

LINKS:

This Is How You Lose the Time War Universal Book Link

Max’s Website

Amal’s Website

Max’s Twitter

Amal’s Twitter

 

BIOS:

Amal El-Mohtar is an award-winning author, academic, and critic. Her short story “Seasons of Glass and Iron” won a Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award and was a finalist for the World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Aurora, and Eugie Awards in the same year. She is the author of The Honey Month, a collection of poetry and prose written to the taste of twenty-eight different kinds of honey, and is the science fiction and fantasy columnist for the New York Times Book Review. Her fiction has appeared on Tor.com and in magazines such as Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Fireside Magazine, and the Rubin Museum of Art’s Spiral, as well as in anthologies such as The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories and The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. She is pursuing a PhD at Carleton University and teaches creative writing at the University of Ottawa. Visit her at amalelmohtar.com

Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the Hugo, John W Campbell, and Lambda Awards. A narrative designer, writer, and consultant, Max is the author of the Hugo-nominated Craft Sequence (starting with THREE PARTS DEAD and most recently continuing with RUIN OF ANGELS). His short fiction has appeared on Tor.com and in Uncanny Magazine. He has written games, comics, and interactive television, and is the lead writer of the fantasy procedural series BOOKBURNERS. Max’s most recent projects are the intergalactic adventure EMPRESS OF FOREVER, and, with Amal El-Mohtar, the time travel epistolary spy-vs-spy novella THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR.

My Favorite Bit: Michi Trota talks about Uncanny Magazine Year Six

My Favorite BitMichi Trota is joining us today to talk about Uncanny Magazine’s Year Six, which currently has a Kickstarter running until August 14. Here’s information about the Kickstarter:

Over the last few years, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas ran Kickstarters for the three-time Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine Years One, Two, Three, Four, and Five. 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 award-winning podcast featuring exclusive content. Through the hard work of our exceptional staff and contributors, Uncanny Magazine delivered on that promise every single year. Stories from Uncanny Magazine have been finalists or winners of Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards!

The Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, our name for the Uncanny Magazine community, made it possible for our remarkable staff and contributors to create this wonderful art for all of our readers via the web or as eBooks. THANK YOU, SPACE UNICORNS FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to join or re-up with the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, now’s your chance! We need your help to continue this mission for another year. This is your magazine, Space Unicorns! Let’s make Year Six happen!

This year, we’re also back with a new mission for the ranger corps: RAISING OUR PAY RATES! We’ve been running Uncanny Magazine for five years with basically the exact same pay rates for all of our creators and staff. We think it’s time to pay all of these fabulous people a little bit more for their amazing creations.

Though Uncanny continues to have multiple ways to support us, we still need the help of the Space Unicorn Kickstarter community to keep bringing you this amazing content. YOUR support specifically makes it possible for us to make our fiction freely available on our website.

We have put together a fabulous lineup of solicited contributors for Year Six for short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry! There will also be slots for unsolicited submissions (we will reopen for short fiction submissions on August 1, 2019). 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. 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 first Tuesday of the second month at uncannymagazine.com.

We at Uncanny think we’re doing important work, and we’d like to continue. Please consider supporting Uncanny Magazine Year Six!

What’s Michi’s favorite bit?

Uncanny Magazine Year 6

MICHI TROTA

I’ve been with Uncanny Magazine since the beginning, way back in 2014, and while the last five years have just flown by, it also feels like this magazine and the many wonderful people involved have always been a part of my life. It’s been an honor learning from my teammates and being part of the passion, skill, and professionalism that everyone at Uncanny brings to the table at every turn; without a doubt, being Managing Editor, and later also Nonfiction Editor, has made a significant difference in my life, both professionally and personally. Thanks to my work with Uncanny, I became the first Filipina to win a Hugo Award, and now have three shiny rockets on my mantle. I’ve gotten to know writers and other creators in SF/F who I’ve admired for years and can now call colleagues and friends. I’ve even gotten to write the text for a museum exhibit about Asian Pacific American Science Fiction, and I’m excited to explore even more possibilities as both a writer and an editor as I prepare to move on to the next phase of my career.

And all of this was possible because one of Uncanny’s deepest held principles is the importance of supporting and encouraging an inclusive SF/F field that is filled with diverse voices, particularly those of new and emerging creators. Before I joined Uncanny, I had become increasingly active in my local Chicago nerd community, organizing events, speaking on panels, and blogging, but while I’d accumulated over a decade’s worth of experience in publishing and production, having managed different trade and association publications, I hadn’t yet edited anything professionally in SF/F. I was relatively unknown when I first met Lynne & Michael Thomas at various cons and through mutual acquaintances, and getting their offer to join Uncanny as its first managing editor was an unexpected and unlooked for dream opportunity.

I can’t overstate how vital it is for new and emerging creators to have the chance for their work published alongside writers who may be more familiar to audiences. For one, it’s incredibly exciting to see your name appear in the same table of contents or masthead as creators whose work you’ve looked up to. But more importantly, the inclusion of new and emerging creators is what keeps SF/F strong and growing. Those voices help push the boundaries of genre further, playing with new techniques and approaches, building on the visions and ideas that came before, and infusing our communities with fresh energy. I’m always humbled when writers express how excited they are to submit their work to Uncanny because it means that those writers thought enough of our magazine and our editors to take a chance on trusting us with their work. No matter where a writer is in their career — whether they’re just getting started or have been publishing in the genre for years — it’s exciting to see how their works inform, challenge, and illuminate each other. There’s always some new idea to find, or a different perspective on familiar tropes to interpret, and the more new writers our industry publishes, the better off we all are for their inclusion.

Having the chance to open doors for others and invite them through has been one of the best parts of my time with Uncanny. By being part of this team, I’ve gotten to learn how to do so with thoughtfulness, empathy, and a constant interrogation of my own biases, pushing myself beyond my own comfort zones. I’m grateful for being introduced to a bounty of creative insights and challenging perspectives, as well as more wonderful new colleagues and friends. And now that my time with the magazine closing at the end of this year, I can’t wait to see how Uncanny will continue to grow with the addition of some fantastically talented folks. Without a doubt, Uncanny is going to be all the stronger for the roles Chimedum Ohaegbu (Managing Editor), Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (Nonfiction Editor), Angel Cruz (Assistant Editor), and Joy Piedmont (Podcast Reader) will be taking on in Year 6. All of them bring unique skills and perspectives to the table, and I’m excited that I’ll get to watch their time with Uncanny unfold along with the rest of the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps.

The greatest gift I could ask for after my time with Uncanny is knowing that the magazine is in the best possible hands as I leave, and I’ve been given that in spades. New ideas, the willingness to take risks, amazing creative energy, passion, and kindness, and the chance for a fresh voices to shine. This will always be my favorite bit of Uncanny.

LINKS:

Uncanny Magazine Year 6 Kickstarter: Raise the Roof, Raise the Rates

Uncanny Magazine

Uncanny Twitter

Uncanny Instagram

Uncanny Facebook

BIO:

Michi Trota

Managing Editor/Nonfiction Editor Michi Trota is a three-time Hugo Award winner, and the first Filipina to win a Hugo Award. Michi is an editor and essayist who has been published in The Book Smugglers, The Learned Fangirl, Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F, and Uncanny. She was the exhibit text writer for Worlds Beyond Here: Asian Pacific Americans in Science Fiction at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle. She’s spoken at C2E2, the Chicago Humanities Festival, on NPR, and at universities and other organizations. Michi is a firespinner with the Raks Geek Fire+Bellydance troupe and lives in Chicago with her spouse and their two cats. Her secret mutant superpower is to make anyone hungry just by talking about food. Find her on Twitter @GeekMelange.

My Favorite Bit: Clark T. Carlton talks about THE PROPHET OF THE GHOST ANTS

My Favorite BitClark T. Carlton is joining us today with his novel The Prophet of the Ghost Ants. Here’s the publishers description:

Both familiar and fantastic, Clark T. Carlton’s Prophets of the Ghost Ants explores a world in which food, weapons, clothing, art—even religious beliefs—are derived from Humankind’s profound intertwining with the insect world.

In a savage landscape where humans have evolved to the size of insects, they cannot hope to dominate. Ceaselessly, humans are stalked by night wasps, lair spiders, and marauder fleas. And just as sinister, men are still men. Corrupt elites ruthlessly enforce a rigid caste system. Duplicitous clergymen and power-mongering royalty wage pointless wars for their own glory. Fantasies of a better life and a better world serve only to torment those who dare to dream.

One so tormented is a half-breed slave named Anand, a dung-collector who has known nothing but squalor and abuse. Anand wants to lead his people against a genocidal army who fight atop fearsome, translucent Ghost Ants. But to his horror, Anand learns this merciless enemy is led by someone from his own family: a religious zealot bent on the conversion of all non-believers . . . or their extermination.

A mix of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadow of the Apt,Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor,and Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass,this is a powerful new addition to the genre.

What’s Clark’s favorite bit?

The Prophet of the Ghost Ant cover image

CLARK THOMAS CARLTON

My favorite bit in my Antasy series is my Cockroach Tribe.

I may have lost a few of you already who think bugs are icky … and none are ickier than roaches.

I have no fondness for actual roaches. They were something I tried and failed to kill in the low rent apartments of my college days. I remember the nauseating stink of insecticides that failed to stop the cucarachas who only came out at night. While I was in bed I’d hear them as they crawled over the paper and plastics of the trash with that creepy rustling sound. When I flipped on the lights, they scrambled in a circular way to their home under the stove.

Ick.

Cockroaches need to be exterminated because they can transmit the kinds of bacteria that cause food poisoning and they can spread parasitic worms and other human pathogens. And as companions, well, they are not exactly cute and cuddly or likely to impress your dates. An embarrassing moment from the days-before-cell-phones was when I brought in my answering machine to be repaired and was told it was a “roach motel.” Its six-legged inhabitants were drawn to its heat and darkness and something within the machine was delicious and nourishing. And as for those actual Black Flag Roach Motels (roaches check in but they don’t check out), I remember an alcohol and pot-fueled party where one guest, an aspiring performance artist, created an impromptu piece when she gathered those boxes reeking of maple syrup. She carefully opened the Motels to reveal their victims stuck to ribbons of glue and then pinned these sheets to a wall facing the front door. Arriving guests encountered a kind of abstract art that was beautiful at first … until you got up closer.

Major ick.

So yes, death to the cockroaches, but in the world of my science-fantasy series, roaches have a beneficial relationship with at least one tribe of humans. In this distant future, men and women have shrunk to a tenth of an inch and they are the last of the Earth’s red blooded creatures. It’s an oxygen rich world where the insects have gotten as large as they were in the Carboniferous Period — some of the flying ones have wingspans of two feet or more. In order to survive, the tiny humans don’t battle bugs but infiltrate and live among them and their cultures are an outgrowth of the insect they adopt. The brown ant people hate the yellow ant people and they detest the beetle people. And everyone hates the cockroach people.

Yes, millions of years from now, roaches are still reviled, but for a different reason.

The ant peoples of this futurity confine their lives to the mounds where they cohabitate with their insects. In order to be accepted by ants (instead of torn apart and eaten by them) the humans have to disguise themselves. They wear antennae and clothing made from the eggshells of pupae or the moltings of larvae, but more importantly, they wear their ants’ colony scent. The ants of a colony recognize each other as kin not by appearance, but with sniffs of their antennae. If some brown ant people stumble into yellow territory, the yellow ants will destroy the browns because they wear the scent of an enemy ant. This makes for a world where tribal divides are absolute and the word “ambassador” does not exist. Men and women with different ants are not recognized as fellow humans but as lesser beings with inferior insects.

The exception in this world is the Britasyte roach people. They are the wanderers of these treacherous lands, something made possible by their roaches exuding a pheromone that repels other insects. The roach people are hated for their dark skin and the stink of their insects and they are resented for their wealth and the freedoms of the roaming life. Sometimes they are hired by the monarchs of the ant nations to pass critical messages, but mostly the Britasytes are show people as well as traders and craftsmen. Their elaborate spectacles feature the forbidden beauty of women dancing to a frenzied music. Before the show, seductive roach girls ply the audience with a drink laced with a hallucinogenic fungus. After the show, the roach men sell the drunken revelers their cloth, jewelry and exotic items from distant lands.

The Roach Tribe lives in constant danger — one of their four clans has been lost for years — but they cannot imagine a life more fulfilling than their own. They call the ant peoples ‘sedites’, a word that degrades them for their settled ways. The Britasytes are sure that no insect is better than the roach which provides them with protection as well as eggs both for eating and as leather for boots and shoes. The largest roaches are draped and bejeweled draft animals that haul sand sleds encrusted with thousands of gems.

My hero, Anand, like so many heroes, is a boy from a mixed marriage and he has a foot in two worlds.  Among the ant people, Anand is the lowest of the low — a halfbreed outcaste. Like his father, he was born to a life of salvaging and waste disposal. But his mother, Corra, is a Britasyte who married an outsider to give birth to a spanner: a high status male to serve as a link to a powerful ant nation. Anand will grow up to negotiate trade deals as well as the tribe’s safety — or so he hopes.

My favorite chapter in my first book is when Anand is brought to an annual gathering of the Roach Clans to celebrate something like his bar mitzvah. It is the most beautiful night of his life when his clan’s chieftain gives him his first suit of clothes: a cape that resembles the elytra, or forewings of a roach. Under the cape is a tight and colorful tunic that reveals the roach-greased muscles of his arms and legs. That night, Anand is allowed his first drink of the Holy Mildew, a potion that connects him to the tribe’s two-sexed deity, the Lord-Lady Roach of the Spirit World. And just when it can’t get more blissful, Anand sees Daveena, a large and intimidating beauty as she dances around a cage of lightning flies. The sight of her “wracks Anand with a painful yearning and a sickness that would forever infect him.”  When Daveena touches Anand’s hand, “he sees their future in an instant: their marriage, pregnancies and grandchildren. He saw her hair turn gray and her corpse fed to the roaches.”

The Britasyte Camp

Art by Mozchops

You may still not have warmed up to roaches, even these imagined ones, but I’ve learned recently that some of them, like mammals, care for their young and even provide them with something like milk. All that aside, the next time you see a cockroach in your own house, step on it.  And then call the exterminator.

LINKS:

The Prophet of the Ghost Ants Universal Book Link

Twitter

Website

BIO:

Clark T. Carlton is the son of a barefooted, Floridian cowboy and a beauty queen from the Land of Cotton who ventured North to raise their children in the long shadow of New York City. When he was a teenager, his family moved from a blue-collar melting pot to a segregated and conservative enclave of Southern California, an event which forever altered his world view. He studied English and Film at Boston University and UCLA and has worked as a screen and television writer, a journalist, and as a producer of reality television in addition to a thousand and one other professions. He has always had more blue than white in his collar.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants is his first original novel, a tale inspired during a trip to the Yucatan when he witnessed a battle for a Spanish peanut by two different kinds of ants. That night he dreamed of armies of tiny men on the backs of red and black ants. After doing years of research on insects and human social systems, the plot was revealed to him as a streaming, technicolor prophecy on the sixth night of Burning Man when the effigy goes up in flames.

Some of his favorite books are the classics of science fiction, all of which have an element of fantasy if they involve time travel or traveling faster than the speed of light (or through a wormhole) to another solar system. As a child, he had hopes of enlisting in Star Fleet Academy, but any physicist worth his neutrons will tell us that kind of space travel will never be possible. One of the greatest regrets of his life is that he cannot travel the galaxies to interact with alien societies- but it has opened him up to create his own imaginary world.

He lives with his family in Los Angeles where he enjoys tennis, volleyball, songwriting, and painting. A friend of his calls his paintings “Grandma Moses on acid”, which he takes as the highest compliment.