When starting a new project, there’s always that concern that it’ll fail. So, getting a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly is huge. Here’s my favorite part of the review of Ghost Talkers:
Kowal’s depiction of spiritualism is richly imagined, and its complications and consequences are thoughtfully considered. Her depiction of the Western Front includes diverse characters often neglected in wartime stories: the many people who help Ginger include women young and old, people of color, and disabled veterans, all of whom are dismissed by the British men in charge. The well-drawn characters and the story’s gripping action and deep emotion will captivate readers. (
Read the full review (spoiler free) of Ghost Talkers at Publisher’s Weekly.
After a hiatus, Lee the Puppet is back to answer your questions. In Episode Three, Lee answers these questions.
Josh Storey – When an audio book is being recorded, how much does the author collaborate with the director and/or narrator on the way dialog is read?
Jonathan Boynton – How do you figure out character motivations? Do you stop at something simple like ‘greed’ or ‘loyalty’, or do you continue on to the reasons behind those words? And does it change depending on whether you’re dealing with a short story or a novel?
Alexander Verbeek – What are your opinions on the author Mary Robinette Kowal?
Branson Roskelley – Is academic writing (e.g. writing with award nominations) something that one should put in their query letter, or are agents/publishers just looking for fiction?
Many thanks to Alex Cox, who filmed this for me, and the Cards Against Humanities offices for the use of the space.
Got questions? Ask here in the comments. I might see them on other platforms, but not for certain.
It’s now two weeks after my nasal airway surgery and most of the healing has happened at this point. So far? Breathing is amazing. AMAZING. I’ve still got some swelling and stitches (inside my nose!) It’ll apparently take about two months for everything to finish settling, but from here on the changes will be subtle.
Recovery has been smooth but I’ve been grateful for having twenty years of live theater experience, which I deployed for this week for the covering of bruises. Here’s me one week after surgery, without and with makeup.
One week after surgery
One week after surgery, with makeup
I’ve been very pleased that I still look like myself. The swelling will keep going down, albeit more slowly. The big qqestion though is… what do I sound like? As an audiobook narrator, this was one of the things I was worried about since mucking about with the nose and sinuses can change resonance.
So, here, for your amusement, are four recordings of me reading the same piece of text.
Before surgery, as a baseline.
While I’m the hospital with the “rhino rockets” completely clogging my nose.
The day after surgery. In this one, my voice is significantly higher. I think this is from two things.
My throat was still a little sore from the breathing tube they used during surgery. I think I pitched higher to get out of that range.
I recorded this earlier in the day than the others, and the voice is typically higher at the start of the day.
Three days after surgery. I’m back to pretty much normal, with maybe a tiny, tiny bit more of a rounded sound.
Two weeks later, where I notice it most is at the extremes of my range. For instance, the deep chest voice that I use for Tybalt in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series is significantly easier. I usually have to fight a certain nasality there. Likewise, my upper end is way clearer and stupidly high. Blending is easier as I go from chest to head, which is a nice bonus.
Adding nasality back in for character voices might a little bit more work, but that might also be my imagination. It’s still totally there.
So, my overall verdict is:
Medically, the surgery was fantastic. I love breathing. It’s really neat. (oh, and smells are more vivid, too.)
Aesthetically, there’s been no change.
Vocally, I seem to have a better instrument than I did before.
Christopher Husberg is joining us today with his novel Duskfall. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Pulled from a frozen sea, pierced by arrows and close to death, Knot has no memory of who he was. But his dreams are dark, filled with violence and unknown faces. Winter, a tiellan woman whose people have long been oppressed by humans, is married to and abandoned by Knot on the same day. In her search for him, she will discover her control of magic, but risk losing herself utterly. And Cinzia, priestess and true believer, returns home to discover her family at the heart of a heretical rebellion. A rebellion that only the Inquisition can crush…
Their fates and those of others will intertwine, in a land where magic and daemons are believed dead, but dark forces still vie for power.
What’s Christopher’s favorite bit?
It’s a both an exciting and somewhat terrifying thing when a side character comes out of nowhere and threatens to take over your novel. When that happens to me, I generally see myself having a few options: (1) remove the character entirely and refocus on the central characters, (2) let the character’s magnetism do its thing and see where she takes the novel, or (3) seek a balance in the hopes of keeping the awesomeness that drew me to the side character in the first place while still maintaining the integrity and structure of the story. I think that last option is the hardest one, but one of my favorite characters (and favorite bits of Duskfall in general)—Astrid—developed from my attempt to achieve that balance.
Astrid is a 300-year-old vampire in the body of a nine-year-old girl, and she is awesome. She’s sarcastic, she’s horrifyingly fun in a fight, and from her first appearance in the novel her deep, complicated backstory bled onto the page, gushing to be told. I was tempted to just keep writing about her and see where she took me, but as much as part of me wanted to do that, I knew it wasn’t the right decision for the story. It would’ve created a very different novel from the one I was trying to write with Duskfall, and while Astrid came in as a fresh, exciting character, I was still very attached to and invested in the stories of Winter, Knot, and Cinzia (the three central characters of the novel).
But I really didn’t want to remove her from the story, either. Astrid had a role to play, and I wanted her, and no one else, to play it—and I’m glad I let her! Now that Duskfall is a finished product, I can’t imagine the story without her.
So why do I like Astrid so much? I think her status as a child vampire was the source of a lot of her initial appeal. The child-vampire trope isn’t a new thing, of course; Anne Rice did it brilliantly with Claudia, but I think my favorite iteration is Eli from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In. A child with access to immortality and all of the horrifying traits of a classic vampire—while still retaining a childlike disposition and sense of wonder as much as possible—was too interesting an idea to pass up. Astrid is physically a child, but she never quite develops into a normal adult mentally, either. Her views of what we might term “adult” concepts—sex and romantic love, among others—has a sarcastic overtone that masks her confusion, jealousy, and general cluelessness about those topics.
She was a breath of fresh air, too, mainly through that sarcasm and her sense of humor. The other main characters, especially in the first draft, were pretty serious. And rightly so; they had some pretty serious things going on, after all. But from her first appearance on the page, Astrid was immediately sarcastic, embracing a childishly sardonic view of the world. After hundreds of years of living in it, she had to start finding the humor in things!
And, of course, I love her fight scenes. It was so fun to write Astrid’s fight scenes. Having a nine-year-old go to town on a dozen or so warriors twice her size was a blast. I took influence from Hit-Girl’s scenes in Kick-Ass, as well as the film version of Let the Right One In. And while Tomorrowland came out after I’d written the first few drafts of Duskfall, I loved Athena’s fight scenes too because they reminded me very much of Astrid’s.
But sarcasm, humor, and her propensity towards violence aside, what drew me most to Astrid’s character was what draws me to any character—sympathy, and a strong back story. Astrid’s back-story (which I unfortunately can’t talk much about here as it’s still being revealed in the books) was one of those things that seemed to sort of write itself—and having 300 years to work with meant Astrid had a lot of room for development. I think that’s the ultimate key to Astrid’s appeal, at least to me—she was fun to read, fun to write, fun to develop, because I felt for her. For brief periods of time she became real to me, and that’s one of the best parts of being a writer, that schizophrenic state in which my characters slowly become real, where I start having conversations with them in my head. It’s delightful, and Astrid represented the epitome of that for Duskfall.
In book 2 of the Chaos Queen Quintet, which I’m currently revising, Astrid has already seized a larger role in the story, and almost more than any other character, I see her arc clearly in my mind over the remaining four books. I can’t wait to take her through all that, and to take some of you with us.
Christopher Husberg grew up in Eagle River, Alaska. He now lives in Utah, and spends his time writing, reading, hiking, and playing video games, but mostly hanging out with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Buffy. He received an MFA in creative writing from Brigham Young University, and an honorary PhD in Buffy the Vampire Slayer from himself. Duskfall is his first novel. The next installment in the Chaos Queen Quintet, Dark Immolation, will be published by Titan Books in June 2017.
Curtis C. Chen is joining us today with his novel Waypoint Kangaroo. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Kangaroo isn’t your typical spy. Sure, he has extensive agency training, access to bleeding-edge technology, and a ready supply of clever (to him) quips and retorts. But what sets him apart is “the pocket.” It’s a portal that opens into an empty, seemingly infinite, parallel universe, and Kangaroo is the only person in the world who can use it. But he’s pretty sure the agency only keeps him around to exploit his superpower.
After he bungles yet another mission, Kangaroo gets sent away on a mandatory “vacation:” an interplanetary cruise to Mars. While he tries to make the most of his exile, two passengers are found dead, and Kangaroo has to risk blowing his cover. It turns out he isn’t the only spy on the ship–and he’s just starting to unravel a massive conspiracy which threatens the entire Solar System.
Now, Kangaroo has to stop a disaster which would shatter the delicate peace that’s existed between Earth and Mars ever since the brutal Martian Independence War. A new interplanetary conflict would be devastating for both sides. Millions of lives are at stake.
Weren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?
With Waypoint Kangaroo, Chen makes his debut with this outer space thriller. Chen has an extensive network of connections to prominent science fiction authors, and has studied under John Scalzi, James Patrick Kelly, and Ursula K. LeGuin.
What’s Curtis’s favorite bit?
CURTIS C. CHEN
My favorite bit in Waypoint Kangaroo is a dumb joke. (I know what you’re thinking: “Which one? There are so many dumb jokes in your novel!” Thanks, Mom.)
Dumb jokes and bad puns are especially apt for my protagonist, KANGAROO. That’s his spy agency code name, because he has a superpower: the ability to open portals into a pocket universe that only he can access. The pocket allows Kangaroo to smuggle pretty much anything anywhere, and it makes him both special and useful, but he’s otherwise not terribly well suited to be a secret agent. I had fun playing with that dichotomy.
Kangaroo is an American, and at some point I decided that English would be the only language he was fluent in, because it went against the fiction trope of a hyper-competent super-spy–see if you can spot other James Bond 007 references in the book!–and that setup also gave me the opportunity to reproduce a bit that my wife and I improv every so often:
She’ll ask me how to say a word in Mandarin.
I’ll tell her.
She’ll say the word back to me but not get the precise sound right.
I’ll say the word again.
She’ll say it again but still not quite right.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
(Basically imagine Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s on First?” Sort of. And I’m Lou, just to be clear.)
This comedy gold is possible because Mandarin is a tone language, and non-native speakers often have difficulty distinguishing the tones that affect the meaning of spoken words. It’s like music: you can train yourself to hear different pitches and tell when a note is “sharp” or “flat,” but it doesn’t come naturally to most people.
In Waypoint Kangaroo, our hero gets tripped up when reading a stranger’s name tag. My publisher is producing an audiobook edition of the novel, and I included these notes for the narrator:
There is a comedy bit at the start of Chapter 18 involving the Chinese name “Xiao”…
If you do NOT speak Mandarin, just ensure the two characters are making different sounds when they each say “Xiao” in the back-and-forth dialogue.
If you DO speak Mandarin, the correct inflection of “xiao” is a homophone for “small”; Kangaroo’s mispronunciations should be all of the three other inflections (with the homophone for “laugh” being last, if you please).
And here’s the bit in question:
“Thank you . . . Xiao?” I’m not quite sure how to pronounce that name. “Xiao,” he says. “Xiao,” I do my best to repeat. “Xiao.” “Xiao?” “Close enough, sir.” His expression tells me I should just drop it. “How may I help you?”
Trust me, this would kill in Taiwan.
My obsessive stage direction for what is an inconsequential throwaway joke is just one symptom of a long-running fascination with the craft of writing for performance–especially television–but that, as they say, is another story. I hope my dumb jokes will not interfere with anyone’s enjoyment of Waypoint Kangaroo. Especially you, Mom.
Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016. Curtis’ short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology MISSION: TOMORROW, and THE 2016 YOUNG EXPLORER’S ADVENTURE GUIDE. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers’ workshops. You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of most months. Visit him online at: http://curtiscchen.com
Laura Lam is joining us today with her novel False Hearts. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Laura Lam’s adult sci-fi debut False Hearts: Two formerly conjoined sisters are ensnared in a murderous plot involving psychoactive drugs, shared dreaming, organized crime, and a sinister cult.
Raised in the closed cult of Mana’s Hearth and denied access to modern technology, conjoined sisters Taema and Tila dream of a life beyond the walls of the compound. When the heart they share begins to fail, the twins escape to San Francisco, where they are surgically separated and given new artificial hearts. From then on they pursue lives beyond anything they could have previously imagined.
Ten years later, Tila returns one night to the twins’ home in the city, terrified and covered in blood, just before the police arrive and arrest her for murder–the first homicide by a civilian in decades. Tila is suspected of involvement with the Ratel, a powerful crime syndicate that deals in the flow of Zeal, a drug that allows violent minds to enact their darkest desires in a terrifying dreamscape. Taema is given a proposition: go undercover as her sister and perhaps save her twin’s life. But during her investigation Taema discovers disturbing links between the twins’ past and their present. Once unable to keep anything from each other, the sisters now discover the true cost of secrets.
What’s Laura’s favorite bit?
So far my process in writing books seems to be smooshing together my favorite things and seeing what comes out. In my Micah Grey gaslight fantasy series (Pantomime, Shadowplay & Masquerade), I mashed together gender and sexuality, the circus, Victorian magic, court intrigue, long-vanished civilisations, and the line between magic and technology. False Hearts, on the other hand, swirls together conjoined twins, cults, the mob, near-future San Fransisco, brain hacking, and dream drugs.
The setup of False Hearts is this: Taema and Tila were born as conjoined twins, joined at the chest, in a reclusive cult in the redwoods across the San Francisco bay known as Mana’s Hearth. There, everything is frozen in 1969 technology, and to change yourself in any way is considered sacrilege. When the twins’ shared heart starts to fail, it’s expected they’ll bow to the will of the Creator and let nature takes its course. Instead, they escape, but it’s not as easy as they’d hoped. Once they’re in San Francisco, the twins are separated and fitted with mechanical hearts. Ten years later, Tila is accused of murder in a world where crime is almost eradicated. SFPD give Taema a chance to save her sister: go undercover and assume her sister’s identity, and help break up the underground mob called the Ratel and their distribution of a new, dangerous dream drug called Verve.
These dream drug sequences are some of my favourite bits of the book, as I can end up bending reality and adding in some very creepy visuals. There are two strains of drugs: Zeal, which is licensed by the government and anyone can take. You plug in, work out your darkest nightmares, and it’s cathartic. When you come out, it has a soporific effect and makes you less violent in reality. Those that society think are high risk of becoming chronic criminals find the drug addictive. Verve is what the Ratel have created, and it makes you more violent after you take it, which is understandably going to be a problem for Pacifica if it becomes widespread. I’ll leave you with a small snippet of Taema going into a Zealscape dream sequence to ask a woman named Mia about what her sister might have been up to:
I hear the screams first.
The door opens for me into a barren room as long as the building. The concrete floor is cracked, the paint on the walls peeling off in layers. Exposed wires hang from the ceiling, and flickering overhead light casts a harsh light on the two figures before me.
One is Mia. She’s strong here as she no longer is in real life. Her bare arms ripple with muscle, the fitted jumpsuit hugging her full breasts and thighs. Her hair is long, like it was in Mana’s Hearth before she left when Tila and I were eight. But she is a long way away from the gentle woman in soft dresses that I recall. This Mia’s face is twisted in rage and bloodlust, and she’s wielding a scalpel stained with blood.
I shudder, my hand involuntarily going to the scar beneath my dress. Mia’s tool falls, and she bends over. My eyes finally rest on the other figure.
Our former leader has collapsed to the ground. She’s alive, breathing hoarsely. The black robe she wears is heavy with blood. On her back, she gapes at the cracked ceiling, her mouth opening and closing. Mia has cut out her tongue. It lies next to her like a dead fish.
I cry out, stumbling away.
Mia pauses in her terrible work, her eyes meeting mine. Her face goes slack in surprise.
I’m dressed as Tila. I have her face, and her tattoo snaking down my thigh. Despite this, Mia still recognizes me.
‘Why are you here?’ she asks. ‘You’ve never been in my dreams before.’
That’s a comfort, I guess. She’s never wanted to kill me. Mia’s covered in blood, and the broken shell of a replica of the woman who leads Mana’s Hearth cowers beneath her.
‘Mia. Something’s happened to Tila. I need your help.’
‘You’re…not part of the dream?’ Mia seems confused.
Mana-ma gives a strangled gasp, more of a high wheeze. Without batting an eyelid, Mia brings down the scalpel into Mana-ma’s neck. The colors of the warehouse grow brighter, sharper, until they’re hypersaturated. I step back, horrified.
Without realizing what I’m doing, I focus on that mental state I found while in Mediation at the Hearth. The clear, calm stillness. ‘Stop,’ I say. Mia’s eyes widen, but her hand jerks back, taking the scalpel with her.
‘You don’t tell me what to do! Don’t make me do what I don’t want to!’ she shrieks.
Did I make her do that?
Blood spurts out of Mana-ma, and once the blood—the reddest blood I’ve ever seen—leaves her body, it turns from scarlet to black. The dark oil rises, covering Mana-ma’s corpse, and then the figure collapses into a puddle. It reminds me uncomfortably of the spread of blood of the crime scene recreation.
The scalpel is still in Mia’s hands. I hold up my own, spread wide, to look unthreatening. ‘No, I’m not part of the Zeal,’ I say. ‘They couldn’t pull you out, so I took a small dose and came in.’
Mia shakes her head. ‘I don’t know if I can believe that. They all say they’re real when they’re not. Either way, you shouldn’t have come. You’re too innocent for the Zealscape. Especially mine.’ Her face creases in a grin, and I take another step away. She is utterly transformed from the woman who took us in just after the surgery, when we were weak as kittens and just as innocent in the ways of the world. I remember the way she pushed my hair back from my face, kissed my forehead goodnight. She took us to museums on weekends, patiently explaining so many things to us that we didn’t understand. Mia, my second mother in many ways, is looking at me like she wants nothing more than to stick the scalpel in my eye.
She shakes her head again, mystified. ‘Can’t believe a girl who escaped the Hearth would ever step foot somewhere where they mess with your brain. Didn’t you have enough?’
‘Didn’t you?’ I counter.
That same sly grin. A gesture at Mana-ma. ‘Do you really think I actually escaped the Hearth? It’s always here.’ She taps her temple, and then considers me. ‘Maybe it’s still in you, too.’
Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.
See, our government representatives still respond more to letters than the do to emails, Facebook, or Twitter hashtags. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do those, too, but there’s this other thing you can do. You can write a letter.
Over at Month of Letters, I’ve put together a set of resources to make it easy for you to do this. There’s stationery, a template, a list of addresses… heck, I’ve even got a discount on postage for you. Just please… please write a letter.
Your thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. We have work to do. Can you write a letter?
Shannon Page is joining us today with her book The Usual Path to Publication. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A collection of essays about the UNusual, amusing, heartbreaking, random, and quite perfectly crazy ways writers got their words out there.
Cherie Priest, “How I Skidded Sideways Into Publishing”
Alma Alexander, “Don’t Try This At Home”
Mark Teppo, “Mapping Uncharted Terrain”
Laura Anne Gilman, “Two Paths”
Jim C. Hines, “The Goblin’s Curse”
Katharine Kerr, “That Long Winding Road”
David D. Levine, “How to Sell a Novel in Only Fifteen Years”
K. Tempest Bradford, “It All Happened Because of Netscape Navigator”
Ada Palmer, “The Key to the Kingdom”
Ken Scholes, “My Path to Publication, and My Other Path to Publication”
Nancy Jane Moore, “The Meandering Path”
Jennifer Brozek, “No One True Way”
Rhiannon Held, “Timeline Key Points”
Jo Walton, “Not Deluded: How I Sold My First Novel”
Chris Dolley, “First Sale”
Brenda Cooper, “With a Little Help from a Poet”
Chaz Brenchley, “My First Book”
Tina Connolly, “Going from Short Stories to Novels in 60,000 Easy Words”
Randy Henderson, “My Finn Fancy Adventure in Publishing”
Elizabeth Bourne, “The Gypsy Curse”
John A. Pitts, “My Path to Publication”
Mindy Klasky, “April Is the Cruelest Month”
Amy Sterling Casil, “I Was Rejected, Then Sold the Same Story to the Same Editor!”
Deborah J. Ross, “The Magic Phone Call”
Phyllis Irene Radford, “My Road to Publishing, or, Tiptoeing Through Mine Fields”
Sara Stamey, “How I Became a ‘Real Author'”
Trisha Leigh/Lyla Payne, “Making It”
Afterword (Your Editor’s Story)
What’s Shannon’s favorite bit?
Now I understand what’s so hard about that “Who is your favorite child” question. I don’t have children, but I do have a couple of brothers, so I always thought the answer was obvious: me, naturally. (Sorry, bros.)
Being an editor is not at all like having children. Of course not. Except for the tender affection I feel for each and every one of my authors, for each and every one of their stories. And except for the fierce protectiveness I feel for my edited books. The desire to see them succeed out there in the world. The fear that they will be misunderstood, or ignored, or bullied on the playground. But other than that: nope, not at all.
Preparing to write this piece, I have just read through The Usual Path to Publication once again, looking for that one special, favorite quote, the one I can point to and say, “This, this! Here are the words that epitomize this little book. This is my favorite bit.”
I found one in every essay.
It would be cheating to say that my favorite bit about this book is the entire book. So I won’t say that. No, after much consideration, I’ve realized that my favorite bit about this book is the commonality it so wonderfully illustrates. Each author’s story is different in its particulars; yet every author in this book tells a tale of flexibility, of patience, of not giving up. There are moments of despair, frustrating reversals, much random accident. But every author believed that their words mattered. And so they kept at it. For as long as it took.
This, I think, is what binds all authors together—along with anyone else in this crazy industry we call publishing. Every time I opened my email last winter to find another submission for this book, I felt that touch of community, and took joy in it. Writing can feel like such a lonely endeavor. Who knows if your words are ever going to reach an audience, ever going to touch someone? Who knows if you are ever going to “succeed”—whatever you take that to mean?
Twenty-seven authors generously shared their stories of how they broke in—and, often, what happened next. These tales are filled with coincidence and luck and timing and the random forces of nature; of those who helped along the way, lessons learned, mistakes to be avoided. And, most of all, a rugged persistence. A belief that they had words and thoughts and emotions to share with the world at large, despite the many barriers that world tosses in the path.
Because there is no “usual path to publication.” Every writer finds their own way. And then, so very often, those authors then turn back to shine a flashlight on their particular pathway—to light the way for others, to inspire them, or maybe just to amuse them.
Okay, I’ll admit it: my favorite bit about this book is that it exists at all. So sue me.
Shannon Page is a Portland, Oregon-based author and editor. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static, Tor.com, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Our Lady was named one of the Best Books of 2014 by Publishers Weekly and was a finalist for the Endeavour Award. Edited books include the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches and the essay collection The Usual Path to Publication. She is a longtime yoga practitioner and an avid gardener, and has no tattoos. Visit her at www.shannonpage.net.
I’m losing most of my saving throws against napping, and I’m fine with that. Smells are more vivid, which will be great when I’m cooking, but less exciting around the cats’ litter box.
That chair, by the way, is what I’ll be sleeping in for most of this week as I recover from surgery. I’m supposed to keep my head elevated. Pillows would do that but… the chair keeps me from accidentally rolling over during the night. When I’m just sitting around, there’s no pain at all. I’ve gone out with Rob for walks around the block, and my footfalls send up a dull ache.
One of the fascinating things about the walks is that at a certain point, I’ll have the urge to open my mouth, even though I can breathe adequately through my nose now. I guess that I had to do that for so long, that it’s become an automatic response to a certain heartrate. It’ll be interesting to see how much that changes when I acclimate to the restructured airway.
Laughing, smiling, and yawning are all no fun. I’ve also learned how often I wrinkle my nose in response to things.
I had surgery on Friday to correct a deviated septum, turbinate hypertrophy, and collapsed nasal valves. I’ve been posting pictures of myself in the recovery process, because I think medicine is neat.
But you — you decided that it would be funny to make a joke that I had black eyes because my husband hit me. Or the milder form, that people would think he’d hit me. This is more than one of you. Some of you know me. Some of you are strangers. I want you to stop and think about that “joke.”
Why did you think it was funny?
Why did a picture of a woman with black eyes immediately make you think of domestic violence?
Why did you think domestic violence would be a good subject for a joke?
Because clearly my husband would never do it, so it’s obviously meant to be funny, right?
Why the hell did you think domestic violence was funny?
And why did I laugh the first time I heard it?
That’s the thing that really kills me. I was laughing because Rob would so obviously not hit me that the juxtaposition was funny. But… but, that juxtaposition exists because of how common domestic violence is that we all have the image in our head of the battered woman. I’ve internalized domestic violence as such a part of our culture, that it didn’t even occur to me that I was laughing at something horrible until I’d already done it.
I want you to think about that.
I want you to think about what context the picture of a woman with black eyes is linked to in our society.
It’s not funny.
Not just the jokes. We need to stop the context that sets the jokes up.
My surgeon pulled the nasal tampons out and that is so much more accurate a name that rocket. Like… wow. I could immediately breathe better than I could before I went in and that was while I still have swelling and a brief nosebleed. (Totally normal.)
Meanwhile, on the audio front, I’ve recorded a Before, After Surgery, and Day After Surgery snippet using the same piece of text. I’m going to do one more in a week, after some of the swelling goes down, but my initial reaction is that I have more instrument to use. Plus, I called Mom and Dad and they say I sound like me.
I will do more in-depth stuff about the recordings when I do that post.
The big thing to know though is that I’m home, I’m not in any pain, and I have sorbet.
Yesterday’s surgery seems to have gone well. I still have bi-lateral rhino-rockets in my nose and am really, really looking forward to having them removed. I’ve been told that they are called nose-tampons. Having googled, yes. Yes, that’s a really good description of them.
That is, in fact, exactly what they are.
And I’m really looking forward to having them out of my nose. That sensation you’re imagining right now? Yeah. That’s pretty much exactly what it’s like. And if you’re not able to imagine that, just take the world’s worst sinus infection, blow up a balloon inside your nose, and then eat ice cream too fast. Now… try not to cough or sneeze.
The staff here has been fantastic. They are all fascinated by the audiobook narrator thing, so I played a bit of Glamour in Glass for them, because I figure that the ENT nurses never hear the “before” voice. Indeed, one of them said, “I would never have guessed, listening to this that it was you.”
Because, hello, rockets in my nose.
BUT that’s not a permanent state, so I’m not too worried. Also! The bump on my nose is still present. This pleases me. Food had flavor yesterday, which means that, even with the rockets in my nose, my sense of taste is intact.
So right now, I’m just waiting for the doctors. Rob is on his way back, to be a second set of ears listening to instructions and to take me home.
AND…I actually wrote fiction while I was here. Only 300 words, but I’m still darn proud of that. Well… of the effort. We’ll see how coherent it is later.
It sounds like a rocket part. It’s actually a thing that’s happening in my nose. Nose rocketry! Well… no.
It’s like this. My husband noticed that I was getting out of breath when we were walking. My heart rate wasn’t elevated, but I was breathing through my mouth. The right side of my nose just felt permanently stuffed up.
So I finally went to the doctor and she said, “Hm… I can’t see to the back of your nose. You probably have a polyp. Here’s a specialist. It’s easy to snip out and he’ll probably do it while you wait.”
So I went to the specialist and he stuck a probe up my nose, with a tiny little camera on the end, which was gross and cool all at the same time. He said, “It’s not a polyp, but you appear to have a collapsed nasal valve. This is an easy thing to fix, and we can do it in the office. Let’s do a CT scan just to be sure.”
So the CT scan comes back, and he sits me down and says. “Well… it is a collapsed nasal valve. And a deviated septum, that doesn’t look bad from the outside, but inside, it’s narrowing the channel quite a bit.” Even to my eye, that was painfully clear on the CT scan. “And you also have turbinate hypertrophy.”
“That sounds like part of a rocket ship.”
He laughed, thank heavens. “You have structures in the nose called turbinates, which cause the air to hit different surfaces to help with allergies and smells. Yours are enlarged, so instead of causing the air to swirl around, they’re blocking things.”
“I’m sensing this is no longer out patient surgery.”
“Technically, it is. But just for insurance reasons. You’ll be in the hospital for 23 hours.” And then he proceeded to detail what they were going to do to me. I’ll spare you that bit. “You can expect to need about a week of recovery time. What do you do for a living?”
“I’m an audiobook narrator.”
“Ah–” He swiveled toward me, and I could tell that we’d just gone off script. “Then let’s talk about resonance.”
Tomorrow’s surgery will fix the breathing problems. I’m apparently down to about 40% airflow on the right side of my nose. It may also change the way I sound.
It may not. He can’t tell me definitely either way, only warn me that it might be a consequence. The only thing that he can assure me of is that I won’t sound more nasal.
This will be the first time I’ve had surgery (not counting wisdom teeth). Being a writer, I’m strangely excited about it, because there’s so much good material and it is a mostly elective surgery. I mean, I could continue on with mouth-breathing when I walk and things would be fine. So there’s no pressure or stress about that.
As a narrator, I’m a little terrified. Again, it’ll be fine, and I know that, but I am about to change my instrument. I’ve recorded a sample text of “before” and I’m going to record the same thing again in the “after” stage to see how much it changes. It might not be perceptible at all.
And then, as just me, I’m worried that when they straighten out the septum they’ll “fix” my nose and get rid of the bump. When I was a teen, I would have loooooooved that. But 47 year old me really likes my nose now. It took me a long time to be comfortable with it and it’s mine. I know it will look somewhat different, because, well, they are breaking it and moving things. But still… I don’t want to look like someone else. The doctor knows that.
All of which is to say that tomorrow will be fine, and yet I’m still a bundle of anxiety. So, if you have a funny story to share, or something adorable, tomorrow would be an excellent time.
Adam Rakunas is joining us today with his novel Like A Boss. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In this breathless and hilarious followup to Windswept, former labor organiser Padma Mehta’s worst nightmare comes true: she gets yanked out of early retirement.
After buying her favourite rum distillery and settling down, she thought she’d heard the last of her arch nemesis, Evanrute Saarien. But Saarien, fresh out of prison for his misdeeds in Windswept, has just fabricated a new religion, positioning himself as its holy leader. He’s telling his congregation to go on strike, to fight the system. And unfortunately, they’re listening to him.
Now Padma’s summoned by the Union president to help stop this strike from happening. The problem is, she’s out of practice. And, the more she digs, the more she realises this whole strike business is more complicated than the Union president let on…
What’s Adam’s favorite bit?
I hate PowerPoint.
This is not a radical statement. Its user interface is opaque, its effects are cloying, and its prevalence as the go-to tool for making dull, bloodless presentations even more soul-deadening means it’s inescapable. If anything, you might be nodding your head right now and saying, “Yeah, I hate PowerPoint, too!”
Which is why my favorite bit in Like A Boss is a PowerPoint presentation.
Well, kinda. Padma Mehta, the two-fisted labor organizer and heroine of the Occupied Space books, is a former executive go-getter. Once upon a time, she lived and breathed presentations about budgets, corporate governance, and entertainment logistics (ie making sure there are enough straws and napkins for every football stadium in the world). She walked away from all that to join the Union and make people’s lives better. No more PowerPoint (or its futuristic equivalent) ever again.
Until she has to talk a planet-wide angry mob into stopping its strike and getting back to work. Normally, she’d just go on the Public, the vast network that’s beamed right into everyone’s eyeballs. But when that gets shut down, what does she do? She grabs a bunch of markers, finds the nearest wall, and gets to drawing. She lays out all the connections between her planet’s stalled economy, the Union’s corrupt leadership, and what everyone watching can do. If she can turn one crowd to her side, then people can copy what they saw and tell a new bunch of people what’s going on. It’s file sharing the old-fashioned way: writing on the wall from memory.
As she talks, the crowd talks back to her. Some of them aren’t buying her argument. A few kids have hijacked the markers and are adding their own embellishments. Getting a bunch of angry people to listen is hard. Getting them to change their minds and come over to your side? That’s a heroine’s task. Padma is tough and fair-minded enough to listen, to challenge, to change her tactics while maintaining her course. Plus, she knows everything is riding on her getting this right.
The fact that she’s giving a presentation with lots of pretty graphics and bullet points is not lost on her. Granted, she’s scribbling boxes and lines on the side of a market stall, but it’s still a bloody presentation. The difference, both for her as the heroine and me as the writer, is that this slow-motion slide show means something. If she can’t make her case to this crowd, the strike will continue, people will get hurt, and the bad guys will win. Engaging in (or writing about) a pitched battle in the streets may be fun, but making a compelling presentation that will get people’s attention and motivate them? That’s a challenge.
I’ve joked how this is the closest I will get to a John Galt speech. Ayn Rand’s infamous seventy-page-long rambler is one of those hallmarks of speculative fiction that anyone who writes about politics has to measure up to at some point. Its sheer cultural weight is massive, and the speech’s word count only adds to its gravitational density. I’m glad Rand wasn’t alive in the era of PowerPoint, because turning the whole thing into a presentation would have created a literary singularity that would have crushed anything that got near it. The whole of Atlas Shrugged leads up to that point, just as most of Like A Boss leads up to Padma writing on a wall. The difference that is that Padma’s trying to get people to work together so they can make their lives better, and Galt wants to justify why it’s perfectly to be such a selfish dick. I like to think Padma would kick little Johnny’s ass even on her worst day.
Padma’s case to her fellow Union members might as well be mine for How To Make A Fair And Just Society. She and her compatriots have gotten complacent and inattentive. Running a Fair And Just society takes work, and work can be a pain in the ass. However, the alternative — chaos and bloodshed and near starvation — are much worse. Better to attend a weekly meeting, pester representatives to do a better job, and do the occasional gruntwork. Oh, and sit through presentations.
Granted, Padma gets to loosen up her audience first with tacos and rum punch. Maybe we all need more of that.
Adam Rakunas is the author of the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated WINDSWEPT and the forthcoming LIKE A BOSS. His short fiction has appeared in Futurismic.com and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He has had a long and varied career as a video game engineer, a triathlon race director, a parking lot attendant, an IT consultant, and a theater usher. He splits his copious spare time between writing, political rabble-rousing, and being a stay-at-home dad. A former Southern Californian, he and his family now live in the Pacific Northwest. Find him online at giro.org.
Anna Kashina is joining us today with her novel Assassin Queen. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Defeated by the Majat forces, Nimos and the other Kaddim Brothers retreat to their secret fortress in the southern mountains. Nimos knows that the Majat’s victory is only temporary: during the flight, he managed to place a mark on Kara, one of the top-ranked Diamond Majat. His mind magic would now allow him to use this mark to confer her fighting skill to the Kaddim warriors and turn her loyalties to their side.
The new Majat Guildmaster, Mai, is planning a march against the Kaddim. His key ally, Prince Kyth Dorn, is instrumental in these plans: Kyth’s magic gift can protect the Majat against the Kaddim mind control powers. But Mai and Kyth are having trouble getting over their rivalry for Kara’s affections–even after they realize that this rivalry is the least of their worries, at least for the moment. Something about Kara is not right…
What’s Anna’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit in writing “Assassin Queen” – and the whole “Majat Code” series — is the main character, Mai. It felt almost like a guilty pleasure to write about it. Is this even legitimate?
Mai is a Diamond-ranked warrior, so highly skilled that despite his young age he has become a legend in the Majat Guild. He first appeared in book 1 of the series, “Blades of the Old Empire”, where he was intended to appear only briefly, not that it ever worked out as planned. In that book, Kara, another Diamond-ranked Majat, violates her orders, triggering the Guild to send an assassin after her. Since up until that point Kara seems pretty much undefeatable, I needed this assassin to be dangerous enough to make the readers worry about the outcome. On the heels of that came the realization that this danger cannot be fully evoked unless this character is developed far beyond an ominous shadow figure wielding a blade. It took me a long time to come up with a person who would fit the bill.
Once I worked out the big picture, everything else started clicking into place, including his looks, personality – even his name. Opposite to the stereotypes, he looks slim and delicate, boyish. When he first appears, he is described as more fit to carry a lyre than a sword. Yet, he also emanates subtle threat, and the reason for it becomes obvious as soon as he starts fighting and we see both his competency and the brutal force he is capable of.
Mai is built through contrasts, and when all these contrasts formed in my head, his image popped out and immediately became dimensional. I could always see him in my mind, beyond the details I chose to describe. It became even more exciting when he started talking – and saying things I absolutely did not expect him to say. Any time a character wanted to have a conversation with Mai, all I needed to do was set up the situation and the topic and then let Mai do all the talking. Literally. By Book 2 in the series, “The Guild of Assassins” I began to think of writing as “watching” and I could not wait to get back to it. Now, having written the conclusion of the series, I think back on it with a mix of enjoyment and regret. I love the way the series turned out. And, I am sad I am not writing it any more.
In Book 1 Mai remained a secondary character, even if with a much bigger role in the story than I originally planned. By Book 2 he stepped decisively to the front – can you imagine my thrill when my publisher chose to feature him on the cover? Book 3 all revolves around him, and the choices he must make to save the world. I credit Mai with the way the story stayed so seamlessly together, integrating several major point of view characters into one fast-moving plot line. I also credit him for the fact book 2 won two Prism Awards last year, both the “Best in Fantasy” and the “Best of the Best” grand prize, both given for speculative fiction with elements of romance.
I found it curious that despite how focused on Mai I was, how much I was looking forward to seeing him every time I wrote the Majat Code series, I still found it unnatural to use his point of view. He is shown entirely through the eyes of others, who love and admire him–or on occasions hate him and find him annoying. This blend was fun too, reflecting all the contrasts and dimensions of his personality in a way that also makes perfect sense all around.
But the most rewarding of all was to see the same reaction to Mai in many of my readers and fans. Evoking this response, finding the like-minded people who enjoy the same things about my books that I do – this is really my favorite bit!
Anna Kashina grew up in Russia and moved to the United States after receiving her Ph.D. in cell biology from the Russian Academy of Sciences. She works as a biomedical researcher and combines career in science with her passion for writing.
Anna’s interests in ballroom dancing, world mythologies and folklore feed her high-level interest in martial arts of the Majat warriors. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
A new short story collection from Hugo Award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal, with an introduction by Patrick Rothfuss. “Kowal’s short works are difficult to classify, often poignant or tragic, and always spectacularly written . . . [sending] readers off on a breathless trip to the stars.” – Publishers Weekly (STARRED) Celebrated as the author of five […]