Journal

My Favorite Bit: Renee Patrick talks about DESIGN FOR DYING

My Favorite BitRenee Patrick is joining us today with their novel Design for Dying. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Los Angeles, 1937. Lillian Frost has traded dreams of stardom for security as a department store salesgirl . . . until she discovers she’s a suspect in the murder of her former roommate, Ruby Carroll. Party girl Ruby died wearing a gown she stole from the wardrobe department at Paramount Pictures, domain of Edith Head.

Edith has yet to win the first of her eight Academy Awards; right now she’s barely hanging on to her job, and a scandal is the last thing she needs. To clear Lillian’s name and save Edith’s career, the two women join forces.

Unraveling the mystery pits them against a Hungarian princess on the lam, a hotshot director on the make, and a private investigator who’s not on the level. All they have going for them are dogged determination, assists from the likes of Bob Hope and Barbara Stanwyck, and a killer sense of style. In show business, that just might be enough.

The first in a series of riveting behind-the-scenes mysteries, Renee Patrick’s Design for Dying is a delightful romp through Hollywood’s Golden Age.

What’s Renee’s favorite bit?

Design for Dying cover

RENEE PATRICK

One half of the detective duo in Design for Dying, our mystery set during Hollywood’s Golden Age, is Edith Head. The real-life costume designer had a remarkable career spanning six decades, over five hundred films, and thirty-five Academy Award nominations. She inspired Edna Mode in Pixar’s The Incredibles. She was on a postage stamp.

The other half? Lillian Frost, a good Catholic girl from Queens, New York, who ventured west to become a star, quickly realized fame wasn’t in the cards, and settled for security as a clerk in Los Angeles’ second-best department store.

What these unlikely allies have in common is our favorite bit. Namely, they understand that each movie has a secret history, hidden in plain sight.

Edith came by this knowledge through her position at Paramount Pictures. Lillian learned it through family. Here, she describes what she brought with her to California:

What I did have was a love of the movies and an appreciation for the labor it took to make them. Both came courtesy of my uncle Danny, who toiled for years as a set painter at the Paramount Studios in Astoria. He’d bring me to work with him occasionally, telling me to church mouse in a corner. I’d drink in the hubbub behind the scenes then marvel at the transformation that occurred when the cameras rolled. Actors would take their places, and the flats that Uncle Danny and his boisterous pals had erected and painted would become a banker’s office or a police station before my eyes. In the soft flicker of light at the Prospect Theater in Flushing, I’d thrill whenever Danny leaned over and whispered, I did that bit there, pet. Thanks to Danny, hard work and magic were indistinguishable for me.

The stories told by people who work on films are seldom about the finished product. They’re about punching the clock. The day we shot that scene, it was only seventeen degrees. The dog in that movie hated me for some reason. I could hardly breathe in that dress. Their experiences, understandably, will be colored by purely practical concerns. They were doing a job.

Creating timeless glamour takes true effort. Edith Head knew this all too well. She collaborated with scores of directors and producers to render their visions in fabric and thread. Actors speak of “going from the outside in,” using external signifiers like wardrobe to help them discover their characters. Edith would be at their side when these performers were at their most vulnerable: stripped of their handlers and retainers, before they’d selected the necessary tools, fearful of how their decisions would play out on towering silver screens around the world.

There are no secrets in a dressing room. What better place for an amateur sleuth?

The story being told onscreen isn’t the only one. It may not even be the best one. That conundrum lies at the heart of every backstage drama from 42nd Street to The Larry Sanders Show. Critic Gene Siskel would apply a simple yardstick: “I always ask myself, ‘Is the movie that I am watching as interesting as a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?’”

We were intrigued by the notion of spinning new stories from these secret histories, of isolating elements from movies and constructing a fictional narrative around them. A gown from a forgotten 1936 crime drama, The Return of Sophie Lang. A set built for College Swing, a gossamer 1938 musical-comedy. Even famous faces like actress Barbara Stanwyck and Edith herself. We wanted to fold reality in on itself and produce something familiar, but different.

With a lot of jokes in it.

LINKS:

Website

Read an excerpt

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

Goodreads

Twitter

Facebook

Edith Head’s postage stamp

BIO:

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.

Want to take a writing workshop? In the Caribbean? With me?

So, last year, the Writing Excuses gang put together this writing workshop and we held it on a cruise ship. Why? Because it turns out that when we were pricing venues this was the best deal. No, seriously. We’d been doing them at my parents’ house and people were staying at a Best Western a half mile away. For the same price as staying in a roadside motel, we could take them to the Caribbean AND all the food was included.

Yeah…The meeting to decide to do the cruise instead of Mom and Dad’s was really, really short.

What’s also great about it is that, previously, we had to cap it at 24 people. Last year, we had a 110 students. In order to keep the student/teacher ratio small, we bring guest instructors with us. This year, we’ve gone from 4 teachers to 10.

So in addition to Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Taylor, and me, you also get writers Steven Barnes, Desiree Burch, Tananarive Due, Claudia Gray, agent DongWon Song, and editors Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, and Navah Wolfe.

We have lectures, critique sessions, small group breakouts, and writing exercises.

And it’s in the Caribbean. Bahamas, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas.

The other thing that we’re doing is we have a family track. One of the hardest things about being a writer is balancing your art and your family. We try to make that easier by having a family rate and also teaching classes like, “So…You Have a Writer in the Family.”

Oh… the ship we’re on? It has child care.

And it’s accessible. Which is the other reason we moved to the ship. My parents’ place? Built by my grandfather so it is seriously not handicap accessible.

The cruise is September 17-24. For more information, hop on over to the registration site.

Eventbrite - The 2016 Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat

My Favorite Bit: Deborah Biancotti talks about WAKING IN WINTER

Favorite Bit iconDeborah Biancotti is joining us today to talk about her novella Waking in Winter. Here’s the publisher’s description:

On a far, frozen desert world, Muir the pilot discovers an ancient artefact in the ice. She sees a mermaid at first, but later comes to wonder if it is Ningyo, a fish god from her homeland in Japan. A god that brings misfortune and storm. A god that—by all means possible—should be returned to the sea. The rest of Base Station Un see something else. Bayoumi the lab rat sees Sekhmet the lioness goddess, daughter of the sun god. Partholon the creep finds in its shape a ‘good, old-fashioned cruxifix’. But all of them want to possess it. All of them want it for themselves.

What’s Deborah’s favorite bit?

Waking in Winter cover

DEBORAH BIANCOTTI

The thing I geeked out about most when I was writing Waking in Winter was ice.

Yeah, I know. Doesn’t sound fascinating. But for many of us in the Southern Hemisphere, ice is pretty exotic. That’s partly why I’ve had such an obsession with stories set in icy, snowy landscapes. From John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? to Alistair Maclean’s 1963 novel Ice Station Zebra. From John Carpenter’s 1982 movie The Thing to . . . well, how do you follow up The Thing?

So when I wrote my own ice-loving story, I read up on polar exploration. I discovered that in 1897, three Swedish men died after trying to circumnavigate the Arctic—in a balloon. I found out that in 2008, NASA dropped ninety rubber ducks into a glacier in Greenland. They’re still looking for them. (Ninety! That’s like the number of Tupperware lids I’ve lost.)

I learned that scientists in the Antarctic carry pee bottles, and transport frozen human waste back with them to their own countries for sewerage treatment. (Solids are burned, in case you were wondering, and the ash is also taken home.) Waste management was so out of control on our initial forays into the Antarctic that countries are still undertaking remediation treatments of sites where oil drums and old vehicles have been dumped, contaminating the ice.

I read a fabulously cynical cult classic called Big Dead Place by Nicholas Johnson. The London Times called it “M*A*S*H on ice”. Johnson was a contract worker at McMurdo Station, an American Antarctic research station. From drunk clowns to frozen stalagmites of excrement, Johnson had seen it all, done it all and described it all “to a repetitious soundtrack of Foreigner and The Eagles”.

From Johnson’s book I borrowed the idea of expedition classism and station decoration. Johnson reported on plastic trees and fake houseplants. I used a deflating palm tree. Either way, there’s something stubbornly human about the desire to decorate the icy landscape like the world ‘back home’.

Turning to other ice research, I read about Frederick Tudor, the young nineteenth century entrepreneur who invented the ice trade and became a millionaire. I learned that Antarctica is a desert, because so little rain or snow falls there. I looked into the frozen underground ocean on Mars. I realized my main character, Fuyuko Muir, has been trying to get by with a frozen sea inside her, a kind of emotional desert that she thinks she skim across in her twin-seater plane.

I barely scraped the surface of life in polar climates. But it all helped to shape the world of my story: an icy, unnamed planet with remote scientific outposts and an unknowable alien presence. Sometimes the research helped in very small ways, and sometimes in bigger ways (like the ducks. I used the ducks).

I admit some sadness came from writing this article, though. As I searched for updates to my research, I discovered that Alberto Behar—the NASA scientist who created the rubber duck experiment—died in a light plane crash in LA in 2015. I found that Nicholas Johnson’s book Big Dead Place was set to be made into an HBO series by James Gandolfini—until the actor/producer died in 2013. (The TV show is potentially still moving towards development.)

And Nicholas Johnson himself died by his own hand in 2012, after having been blacklisted from returning to the Antarctic outpost he’d described with such unabashed bittersweetness. I tried to visit his Big Dead Place website and found a server error that rendered the whole thing a pure, blank, white space.

There’s something about those icy, dangerous landscapes, some kind of longing or awe, that keeps us coming back for more. I raise my glass and tip my hat to those explorers and storytellers who have gone before me, the ones who have shared my fascination. And all the explorers and storytellers to come.

LINKS:

PS Publishing Waking in Winter order page

Blog

Amazon

Read an excerpt

Learn more at these links:

S. A. Andrée’s Arctic Balloon Expedition of 1897

The Sober Science of Migrating Rubber Duckies

Waste Handling in the Antarctic:

http://www.usap.gov/travelAndDeployment/documents/FieldManual-Chapt15WasteHandling.pdf

http://classroom.antarctica.gov.au/stewardship/waste-management-in-antarctica

http://icestories.exploratorium.edu/dispatches/greywater-and-waste/

Human impacts: prevention, mitigation and remediation (in Antarctica)

The Man Who Shipped New England Ice Around the World

Water on Mars: Exploration & Evidence

What Is Antarctica?

Alberto Behar, Who Used Robots and Rubber Ducks to Probe Icy Secrets

James Gandolfini’s ‘Big Dead Place’ Revived at HBO with ‘Sopranos’ Alum Timothy Van Patten Attached

The Fascinating Life and Death of Nick Johnson

Big Dead Place website

List of suicide crisis lines

BIO:

Deborah Biancotti is the author of A Book of Endings and BadPower, and co-author of the New York Times bestselling novel, Zeroes. She has been shortlisted for the Shirley Jackson Award and the William L. Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Book. Her new novella, Waking in Winter, is available from PS Publishing. Deborah lives in Sydney, Australia. You can find her online at deborahbiancotti.com and on Twitter @deborah_b.

 

Submission opportunity: FutureScapes Writing Contest

I’m judging the FutureScapes Writing contest, which has a goal that I’m really excited about.  It’s the idea that art can change the world, and so it invites submissions for stories with the goal of changing the future.

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”          -Oscar Wilde

Looking at his words from across a century, we might as well declare Mr. Wilde a prophet. Since his time our lives have been fundamentally changed by a long sequence of technologies that were first envisioned in fiction. We can thank (at least in part) Star Trek for our mobile phones, tablets, and, yes, even transparent aluminum. We should tip our hat to H.G. Wells for the invention of liquid-fueled rockets, lasers, and myriad other inventions (sadly, no time machine yet with which to thank him in person). And it appears that, along with so much else of the future, Arthur C. Clarke had the internet growing in some corner of his capacious brain (note, Al Gore was studying for a law school midterm at the time).

Yes, fiction has paved the way for the life we now know, but it has also, likely, prevented us from suffering through futures we’d rather not experience.

Don’t believe me? Then start listening. Listen to the news. Listen for the sound of a news pundit asking her guest, “Tell me professor, should we be worried? Are we headed towards 1984?” When they ask that sort of question they’re not wondering whether  Walter Mondale will run for president again. They’re highlighting a cultural touchstone we all share thanks to the genius of George Orwell. We even named these specters of possible dystopia after him, these Orwelian Futures.

FutureScapes is about both of these things. It’s about futures we want and don’t want. Things to be pursued and things to be avoided like the plague. FutureScapes is about harnessing the genius of art to chart a better life for humanity.

FutureScapes is an annual writing competition that asks writers to envision a particular sort of world, and tell us a story about it. We could run projections and publish reports, but there’s a reason why Wilde didn’t say, “Life imitates empirical studies.” We want to help writers of excellent potential find their voice while shaping  tomorrow.

You can read the full details of the contest at FutureScapes Writing Contest – Write your story, change the world

 

My Favorite Bit: William C. Tracy talks about TUNING THE SYMPHONY

Favorite Bit iconWilliam C. Tracy is joining us today with his novella Tuning the Symphony. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Change one note and the universe changes with the Symphony.

One apprentice will become a full majus today. The other will wait months for another suitable challenger. Rilan Ayama is skilled in using her song to change the Grand Symphony of the universe, but her opponent, Vethis, is crafty, and not above a little simple bribery. Though Rilan is counting on the support of her closest friend Origon, he remains absent. She has only a cryptic note saying important matters of his family take precedence, and he needs her help. The mystery pulls Rilan’s attention away from the most important test of her life.

Maji create portals between the far flung planets of the Great Assembly of Species, but many places still remain out of easy reach. A search for Origon’s brother leads Rilan and her friend across the wilds of one of the ten homeworlds. There, Rilan’s fledgling skills are pushed to their limits as they investigate a secret that could bring down all six houses of the maji.

What’s William’s favorite bit?

Tuning the Symphony cover

WILLIAM C. TRACY

I’ll get right to the point.  I love the potential of Tuning the Symphony.  Oh, there are a lot of little moments in the story I adore, from bears in fancy hats, to a magical sparring match, to walls higher than you can see, to a few surprises I won’t spoil.  But my favorite bit is being able to lay this universe before you.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the characters, too.  Rilan and Origon will feature in at least five other works that are partially written or bouncing around in my brain.  But that’s the point.  This story can spiral off into so many more possibilities.  I have been writing in this universe for about twenty years now, from the first noodlings when I was a teenager.  This novella, the first published, is actually a story I started wondering about when writing a longer work: what was Rilan and Origon’s first adventure?

So I explored the idea, and had a lot of fun rolling back the characters I was familiar with to when Rilan was just beginning her career.  The chance to strip out a lot of her confidence and roughen up the edges smoothed by time made her almost a new character.  Origon is less changed in this novella, because he’s a bit older than Rilan, but the dynamic between them is raw here, more fragile and quite different than in later times.

Then my mind began to wander off on different paths.  How does this society—made of ten planets hopelessly separated by vast swaths of space, yet tied to each other economically and physically by magical portals—deal with interspecies attraction?  You’ll see a few hints of that question in Tuning the Symphony, but I also have plans for a story between star (heh) crossed lovers.  Next, there is that pesky question of how these worlds interact with each other politically.  Do they war?  Can they, when they only touch through person-sized portals?  I have two shorter stories coming out later this year, dealing with parts of that question from both the maji’s point of view, as well as from the regular inhabitants making up the Great Assembly of Species.

Oh, and that longer work I mentioned?  It ties in bits and pieces of all these ideas, and gives me a chance to explore the larger, universe-endangering questions.  I hope to put that novel out sometime next year.  It features Rilan and Origon, older and wiser, as well as some of the other characters later on in life.  And since I already know what’s coming, I could write my own little jokes and foreshadowing in this novella that no one will get until the later works come out…

I have always loved huge series that happen in different times and places, where friendly faces pop up all over.  Stories like Moorcock’s Eternal Champion Saga, Feist’s Riftwar Cycle, Sanderson’s Cosmere, Niven’s Known Space, and Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  Comic books have been doing this for ages, and I’m in awe of the fantastic connected stories taking place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Even one of the main questions this story addresses got me thinking of another story I plan to write.  Here is a quote from later in the book, discussing how the six houses of the maji work:

“You’ve never heard of someone belonging to three houses, have you?” Rilan asked. It was a silly question. Everyone knew the answer.

But Origon took it seriously, pacing through shavings on the forest floor. “There are schools of thought among the houses—especially with those who are members of more than one—postulating why there are to be maji who can hear two Symphonies. There has never been any recorded case where a majus has heard more than two. The prevailing thought is to be that the strain on the mind is too great. Those who would hear more than two aspects of the Grand Symphony die before they are born.”

Visions of secret societies and meetings in the dark flitted through Rilan’s imagination. She was only beginning her path to become a majus, and there were still many secrets to unlock in the houses.

Those secret societies and dark meetings begged me to be realized.  It’s further down the stack of stories in my head, but not too far, especially because it will feature one of my favorite characters when he was a lot younger.  The potential for more adventures, cool characters, and intriguing ideas means my favorite bit of Tuning the Symphony is being able to continue writing about all those other awesome concepts hiding in the background of this story.

LINKS:

Tuning the Symphony is available in book form from Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, and the author’s website.  It is also available as an ebook from Kindle, Smashwords, and Kobo.  You can follow the author on Goodreads.

BIO:

William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. In no particular order, he is a mechanical engineer for a large construction equipment company, a Wado-Ryu Karate instructor, a video and board gamer, a gardener, a reader, and a writer. In his spare time, he wrangles three cats and somewhere between one and six guinea pigs, and his wife wrangles him (not an easy task). Both of them both enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes and then taking pictures of them repeatedly.

My Favorite Bit: Josh Vogt talks about THE MAIDS OF WRATH

My Favorite BitJosh Vogt is joining us today with his novel The Maids of Wrath. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After surviving employee orientation without destroying the city with her new powers, Dani is finally a bonafide Cleaner. Raring to get to work and save the world from Corruption, she’s given the critical assignment of…full-time tools training. After all, what good are magic mops or squeegees if she doesn’t know how to properly wield them against Scum? For now, she’s stuck in sparring matches where her pride is getting as bruised as her body.

Ben, her janitor friend and mentor, is also struggling with being sidelined as a “consultant” after the loss of his powers. His only consolation is having gained information that could help solve the mystery of his wife’s death on a Sewer run gone horribly wrong—the same event that temporarily trashed his sanity.

But when a maid goes berserk during a training session and tries to slaughter everyone with a feather duster, something is clearly afoul within the ranks of the Cleaners themselves.

Company procedure brooks no compromise: Identify and quarantine the source of the Corruption at all costs. But who cleans the Cleaners? Especially when further enraged outbreaks seem to occur at random?

As bodies begin to create quite the messy heap, it’s only a matter of time before the whole company is consumed by the madness—taking Dani and Ben down the drain with it.

What’s Josh’s favorite bit?

Maids of Wrath cover

JOSH VOGT

Maintaining a Clean Image…

When I first came up with the idea of a corporation dedicated to upholding the virtues of Purity while defying Corruption, I tried to imagine just how far the company managers would take that policy.

If your company employs magically empowered janitors, maids, plumbers, and other sorts of sanitation workers, exactly how do you enforce a clean image? After all, they’re already devoted to cleaning up the messes nobody else wants to touch. What else can you do to ensure they don’t give the company a bad name? If their cleanliness is supernatural, what could they possibly do to befoul the corporate image?

Well, there’s a difference between having a clean body and a dirty mind. So what keeps a Cleaner from expressing themselves in ways that wouldn’t quite be agreeable to company policy?

A foul-filter.

That is the term I came up with for how the Cleaners censors its employees. Whenever anyone tries to say a “dirty” word, they are bleeped. They open their mouth and nothing comes out but static, in essence. And that list of dirty words is being updated on a daily basis. For instance, “picklehead” got added in Enter the Janitor, merely because it was used with ill intent. Hint: Never call your boss a picklehead.

The fun part is when new readers flip through the books (either Enter the Janitor or The Maids of Wrath) and point out the gobbledygook when someone tries to curse. I get to explain it’s on purpose and, for some reason, their eyes invariably light up. At the same time, several characters within the story aren’t exactly pleased by their inability to curse. So they are forever trying to find loopholes in order to properly express themselves.

And as a bit of a tease, in the third novel (The Dustpan Cometh) one main character, Ben, resorts to Shakespeare. When he is unable to use even the most common curses in the modern day, why not go back a bit? And wow, was Shakespeare creative with his insults and cures. Want a few examples?

Onion-eyed moldwarp?

Fool-born measle?

Earth-vexing flap-dragon?

There are whole websites devoted to Shakespeare’s curses. I would never have guessed, but am quite glad I found out. So one of my favorite elements in continuing this series is figuring out unique ways for characters to curse.

It’s just their way of asserting a bit of free will despite management oversight.

LINKS:

Website

Amazon

Goodreads

BIO:

Author and editor Josh Vogt’s work covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel is Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, published alongside his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor and The Maids of Wrath. He’s an editor at Paizo, a Scribe Award finalist, and a member of both SFWA and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt.

Typewritten stories for fundraisers. A pricing conundrum.

typewritten story I’d like your opinion. I do this thing, sometimes, where I take a typewriter and write one page flash fiction on demand. At the opening of Volumes BookCafe, I wrote five during the course of the evening. They’re fun, light, and take me about fifteen minutes. That’s a photo of one of them. (I’ll post a transcript down below, minus the typos.)

Here’s how it works.

  1. I ask the person to give me a genre. Like SF, or romance, or murder mystery
  2. I ask for a character job/role.  For instance “IT guy” or “piano student”
  3. I ask for a location like, kitchen, the Philippines, or the boudoir.
  4. If they want to give me a character name, then I’ll use it, but no pressure.
  5. Fifteen minutes later, I give them an original typewritten story. (I keep the carbon copy. And yes, actual carbon paper.)

So… if I were to offer this as a fundraiser at a convention, what seems like a reasonable suggested price per story?

On the one hand, it’s 250-ish words, so at minimum pro-rates, that’d be $15. On the other hand, it’s a one-of-a-kind thing AND for charity.

Which good cause? Depends. I just figured this might be more fun than offering an ARC or a manuscript critique. You know, watch Mary sweat as she tries to make your suggestion into a story and all that. Anyway, point being, I have no idea at all what to suggest for pricing.

And, as promised, here’s the transcription of this goofy little story.

The cable for his BrainBuddy had jammed in the socket. Normally, Tom just used the wireless to upload content to his in-brain interface, but he hadn’t wanted to wait. He was already running late and a wired upload always went faster with big files. His own damn fault for wanting to impress his date with French.

He pulled on the cable, trying to wiggle it free from the socket. The skin around it twinged with the movement. He accessed the time. Damn it. He should have left five minutes ago. Okay. He could tuck it into his shirt. Or something. Tom pulled the collar of his shirt away, and threaded the cable down. He glanced in the mirror. The bright red cable gleamed like a thread of blood. Perfect.  Okay. A turtleneck. But even as he reached for it, he knew that the cable would still show. Tom licked his lips, thinking. Okay. His dad always said that if force didn’t work, you weren’t using enough.

He went into the kitchen and pulled a pair of pliers from the drawer. Setting his jaw, he placed the jaws of the pliers around the socket and yanked.

Light flared in his eyes, across his brain and seemed to pour out his ears. He dropped to his knees, pliers clattering to the floor. A drop of blood spattered on the linoleum next to his hand.

“Shit.”

Well. At least he had a damn good reason to be late.

PS You should click on the photo to look at the type. It’s a sans serif from the 1930s and is really gorgeous and Deco.

My Favorite Bit: Stephanie Burgis talks about MASKS AND SHADOWS

My Favorite BitStephanie Buris is joining us today to talk about her novel Masks and Shadows. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s carriage, ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus’s mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband’s death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace’s golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress–a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet.

What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?

Masks and Shadows cover

STEPHANIE BURGIS

I still remember the first opera I ever saw. I was a teenager, and I was a musician-in-training, so when a touring opera company came to town to perform Tosca, my mom thought it would be a good experience for me to attend. She warned me that while some people love opera, others really hate it, but she thought I probably ought to give it a try.

I was curious, and a little bit skeptical, but I thought it might be fun…and I hoped at least it wouldn’t be too boring. I sat in the rustling, waiting audience as people took off their coats, chatted and read their programs, and the orchestral musicians in the opera pit tuned their instruments. As usual, I craned my neck to see whether there were any women musicians in the brass section (because I was a French horn player, getting ready to head off to music conservatory in a few years).

Then the lights went out. The overture began. The singers came onstage…

And ohhhhhh. I didn’t just love opera. I LOVED opera! As I sat there, unmoving, barely breathing for the next few hours, I was swept out of myself into a heightened state of sensation.

I had found a new obsession!

The drama. The wildly over-the-top romance. The heartbreakingly gorgeous music that intensified every single moment of the story. The whole concept of music AND story, so seamlessly joined together, without a single break for spoken words!

I was someone who’d known ever since I was seven that I wanted to be a writer, but I’d also been planning since I was thirteen to be an orchestral musician as my day job. (I never claimed to be a practical person!)

Opera took everything I loved most and put it all together into something bigger. Something amazing.

I came home from that first performance feeling as if I were floating. If I had had a decent singing voice, I would have dreamed of being an opera singer, but that wasn’t an option for me. Instead, I went on to music conservatory to study French horn performance and music history, and I was happy whenever I got the chance to play in the orchestra pit for any opera. Then – because I’d figured out that an orchestral job wasn’t my dream after all – I went to grad school to study opera history, which felt at least closer to what might really make me happy…and then, three years into my PhD degree, I saw a job opening at my local opera company.

Perfect!

Well…as it turned out, it wasn’t a perfect job. Not really. But for those couple of years, I got to live and breathe opera as a living, creative force, as part of the company that made it.

And every single one of those experiences came together as I was writing Masks and Shadows.

There’s dark alchemy in Masks and Shadows. Forbidden romance. Political scheming. An assassination plot. Masquerades of all types.

But every single plot is centered around the famous opera house in the glittering, luxuriant eighteenth-century palace of Eszterháza, where Joseph Haydn was busily creating his own operas (which I’d studied in detail, all those years ago, in my PhD work on the opera and politics of eighteenth-century Vienna and Eszterháza).

And I wrote this novel itself as an opera. It’s divided into acts, not into parts. The characters’ plots weave together in just the same way that they would in an eighteenth-century opera, complete with dramatic finales at the end of the different acts. The romantic hero is a castrato, one of the superstar singers of the century. The romantic heroine’s maid, in a moment of crisis, gets transplanted from her former working life to become a professional singer in Haydn’s opera troupe – and finds that shift exactly as hard and as transformative as you might imagine!

Villains come up with ruthless schemes; people fall in love when they absolutely shouldn’t; dark magic swirls through the shadows of the palace; and betrayals and redemption take place while the most astonishingly beautiful music is created behind it all…

And that is my very favorite bit of the novel: my own attempt, using words alone, to summon that shimmering sense of something bigger – something amazing – that I experienced for the first time when I was a teenager, at my very first opera performance.

LINKS:

Author Website

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

Twitter

BIO:

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops. She has published over thirty short stories in various f/sf magazines and anthologies, including Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She is also the author of the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy of MG Regency fantasy adventures (known in the UK as The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson), and is a graduate of the Clarion West writing workshop.

So, what’s deductible as an author?

So, I know the answer to this, but my husband, who is doing our taxes*, would like a second opinion.

  • As a writer, the books that I buy are a business expense because they are necessary for staying current with my field.
  • As an audiobook narrator, the audiobooks I listen to are a business expense because they are necessary for staying current in my field.

Anyone want to flash their credentials and explain that it’s totally okay?

For early-career writers who might not be thinking about this stuff yet, remember that writing is a business. You can deduct office supplies, research tools, home electronics, website creation and maintenance costs, promotional materials, travel, food, gifts, fees for services, self-publishing and print-on-demand costs, trademarks and copyrights, domain name expenses, costs of book-launch or book-signing events, advertising, marketing and promotion, vehicle expenses, postage, bank charges and outside services.

I mean, definitely talk to an accountant, instead of just asking for advice on the internet, the way I’m doing. Just don’t assume that because you enjoy something, it is somehow not part of your job.

*Best part of marital agreement. I don’t have to touch the taxes.

My Favorite Bit: Patrick S. Tomlinson talks about TRIDENT’S FORGE

My Favorite BitPatrick S. Tomlinson is joining us today to talk about his novel Trident’s Forge. Here’s the publisher’s description:

They’ve made it this far. If only that increased humanity’s chances on this new planet…

Against all odds, the Ark and her thirty-thousand survivors have reached Tau Ceti G to begin the long, arduous task of rebuilding human civilization. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world,
Tau Ceti G’s natives, the G’tel, are coming to grips with the sudden appearance of what many believe are their long-lost Gods.

But first contact between humans and g’tel goes catastrophically wrong, visiting death on both sides. Rumors swirl that the massacre was no accident. The Ark’s greatest hero, Bryan Benson, takes on the mystery.

Partnered with native ‘truth-digger’ Kexx, against both of their better judgment, Benson is thrust into the heart of an alien culture with no idea how to tell who wants to worship him from who wants him dead.

Together, Benson and Kexx will have to find enough common ground and trust to uncover a plot that threatens to plunge both of their peoples into an apocalyptic war that neither side can afford to fight.

What’s Patrick’s favorite bit?

Trident's Forge cover

PATRICK S. TOMLINSON

TRIDENT’S FORGE came as a surprise. I’d written the first book in the series, THE ARK, as a stand-alone, self-contained novel. There had been no plans at the time for a sequel, much less a series. But when your agent emails you and says “I need a précis for the next two book by Friday so we can pitch it as a trilogy,” well, you don’t argue. A hurried rewrite of the closing chapters of the THE ARK and some furious brainstorming later, and boom, we have a trilogy. Or more, depending on how many copies y’all buy.

So my favorite bit about TRIDENT’S FORGE might be the fact I was given the opportunity to write it at all. But, that’s not a very compelling blog post, so if you’re really going to twist my arm about it, my favorite bit about the book has definitely got to be designing and writing the Atlantians.

For me as a reader, one of the most satisfying experiences I have while digging through a new book is discovering a new alien species. And not just “Nose-job of the week,” type of aliens like we used to get in Star Trek, but realistic, fully-realized aliens who work not only from an evolutionary standpoint and fit into their environment, but live within a culture and system of morality that is equally alien, yet believable.

Some of my favorites over the years have included the Pierson’s Puppeteers of Larry Niven’s RINGWORLD series, the Pequeninos of Orson Scott Card’s SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, the Tines of Vernor Vinges A FIRE UPON THE DEEP and CHILDREN OF THE SKY, and, most recently and perhaps most impressively, the double whammy of the Ilmatarans and Sholen in James L. Cambias’s excellent debut, A DARKLING SEA.

So, when the time came for me to build my own alien race from the ground up, I jumped in with both feet. The Atlantians, and their civilization, are a product of the world on which they developed. Tau Ceti G, their fictional homeworld set in a very real star system, is an old planet of rolling hills, prairies, an deep canyons carved from an extra billion and a half years of erosion. It’s also located in the middle of a shooting gallery. In the real world, the Tau Ceti system has ten times the planetary dust density of our own solar system. Ten times the leftover protoplanetary matter means ten times the comets, asteroids, and meteorites flying around the system looking for a nice juicy planet to impact.

It was assumed by the human colonists that, with a dinosaur-ending-impact happening every six or eight million years on average, that nothing much more complex than plankton would be floating around the planet, to say nothing about an entire stone-aged civilization. So to make them plausible, I had to find ways to make the Atlantians tough, smart, and immensely resilient, without crossing into hand-waving territory.

As a result, I picked cuttlefish as the model for their ancient ancestors, instead of bony fish. Smarter than most any fish, and with impressive regenerative powers, they seemed an ideal starting point for the sort of rugged and adaptable creatures that could plausibly flourish on such a violent planet. Being of cooler blood than their human counterparts meant they burned fewer calories and could survive on the scraps of food to be found in between periods of bombardment.

However, it was a further realization of what an old, worn down world would really look like that really cemented not only their physiology, but their culture and myths for me. Tau Ceti G has few mountains. They’ve all been worn down by many hundreds of millions of years of wind, rain, and freeze/thaw cycles. But what it lacks in vertical spectacles is more than made up for in its river valleys, canyons, and most especially, cave systems. The limestone areas of the planet’s crust are simply lousy with cave networks which themselves sport complex ecosystems fueled by fungus and anaerobic bacterial colonies feeding on vented gasses, hot springs, and even on the rocks themselves.

A whole separate underground biome existed, ready made for the Atlantians to retreat into during the worst periods of nuclear winter on the surface. Here, in the dark and damp caves, their society could limp along, hibernating in the safety of the deep, until things returned to normal above ground.

This thought informed much about them, from their bioluminescence, to their inverted spiritual views of the sky being home to fire and death, and salvation awaiting far below. I had an immense amount of fun building not only their bodies, but their minds. And while I’m not going to claim that the Atlantians are destined for inclusion in future conversations among sci-fi fans alongside the great examples listed above, I do hope readers enjoy my first shot at crafting a race. Hopefully enough to keep reading. I have big plans for the Atlantians and their human partners in the coming years.

LINKS:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

BIO:

Patrick S. Tomlinson lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a menagerie of houseplants in varying levels of health, a Mustang, and a Triumph motorcycle bought specifically to embarrass and infuriate Harley riders. When not writing sci-fi and fantasy novels and short stories, Patrick is busy developing his other passion for writing and performing stand-up comedy in the Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago scenes.

My Favorite Bit: Martha Wells talks about THE EDGE OF WORLDS

Favorite Bit iconMartha Wells is joining us today with her novel The Edge of Worlds. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An expedition of groundlings from the Empire of Kish have traveled through the Three Worlds to the Indigo Cloud court of the Raksura, shape-shifting creatures of flight that live in large family groups. The groundlings have found a sealed ancient city at the edge of the shallow seas, near the deeps of the impassable Ocean. They believe it to be the last home of their ancestors and ask for help getting inside. But the Raksura fear it was built by their own distant ancestors, the Forerunners, and the last sealed Forerunner city they encountered was a prison for an unstoppable evil.

Prior to the groundlings’ arrival, the Indigo Cloud court had been plagued by visions of a disaster that could destroy all the courts in the Reaches. Now, the court’s mentors believe the ancient city is connected to the foretold danger. A small group of warriors, including consort Moon, an orphan new to the colony and the Raksura’s idea of family, and sister queen Jade, agree to go with the groundling expedition to investigate. But the predatory Fell have found the city too, and in the race to keep the danger contained, the Raksura may be the ones who inadvertently release it.

The Edge of Worlds, from celebrated fantasy author Martha Wells, returns to the fascinating world of The Cloud Roads for the first book in a new series of strange lands, uncanny beings, dead cities, and ancient danger.

What’s Martha’s favorite bit?

The Edge of Worlds cover

MARTHA WELLS

I have a lot of favorite bits in the Books of the Raksura series.  I like writing non-human characters, and I love writing my matriarchal bisexual shapeshifting flying lizard people. But my favorite bit of The Edge of Worlds is what I call the Moon and Stone Show Goes on the Road.

The two characters have a close relationship despite their circumstances. Moon has been a loner and a survivor, and has trouble conforming and fitting into a society where he’s supposed to be a consort to a queen, where his only job in the court is not to fight or hunt, but to support the queen and be the social glue that holds all the different factions and castes together.  He has no idea how to do that.

Stone is a consort who has outlived his queen and become a line-grandfather.  He’s stepped outside the society he has lived in all his life, and is in danger of losing his ties to it.  Having to help Moon and the others in the court stay alive keeps him connected.

The Books of the Raksura have always been about what happens after you find what you think you’re looking for, after you find your family and place in the world, and how you deal with trying to fit in, and trying to keep that family together and survive.  Moon and Stone have more in common than not, though their relationship tends to be irascible.  All Moon’s relationships within the court are important, especially his relationship with Jade, his queen.  But Stone is the first one who felt like family.

And writing Moon and Stone is especially fun for me when the story takes the characters out of the Raksuran territory of the Reaches and out into the wider landscapes of the Three Worlds, so they can encounter lots of strange situations and other non-human people.

Excerpt:

Moon made his way through the sparse crowd, aware Kalam was sticking obediently close.  He sat next to Stone as the Coastal and the other groundlings left.  Kalam took a seat on the opposite side of the pool.

The sealing, a young female, stared at Moon in what was probably supposed to be a provocative way.  Moon was still irritated from the encounter with the maybe-Aventeran, and it just made him want to bite through someone’s neck artery.

Apparently this was obvious.  The sealing turned to Stone and said in Altanic, “What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s in a bad mood,” Stone explained, “he was born that way.  Does the one who’s down there with you want to talk too?”

The sealing sank into the water a little, swishing her fins in exasperation.  “I take it you’re not here for the usual.”

Stone said, “I don’t know what that is.  I want to know if you’ve had any news from the waters in the direction of the place the groundlings call sel-Selatra.”

Scaled brows drew down in thought.  “Towards the wind passage?  The land of the sea-mounts?”

“That’s it.”

“There was some–”  The sealing’s whole body jerked, as if something had grabbed her from below and tugged.  Moon’s instinct said predator and he almost shifted, catching himself just in time.  The sealing said, “Ah, someone else wants to talk to you,” and sank below the surface and out of sight.

Stone gritted his teeth and gazed up at the damp ceiling.  He said in Raksuran, “I hate talking to sealings.  Everything’s a damn bargain.”

“You hate talking to everybody,” Moon said, in the same language.  It didn’t help, but Moon felt he had to point it out.

“Shut up.  Why is he here?” Stone jerked his head toward Kalam.

Moon said, through gritted teeth, “So I don’t have to shift and kill everybody in this stupid stinking place.”

Stone sighed.  Another sealing broke the surface, and water lapped up over the edge of the pool. She studied them both thoughtfully, with an edge of contempt in her expression, then said in Altanic, “We sell isteen.  If you want to buy that, stay.  If you don’t, get out before you regret it.”  She bared fangs.  “We don’t sell information.”

Moon didn’t know what isteen was and he didn’t care.  Considering the other groundlings in here, it was probably a simple that made you stupid.  Stone just said, “That’s good, because I wasn’t planning to pay you.”

She swayed in the water, as if considering.  “Buy isteen, and perhaps I’ll give you the information you want.”

Stone said, “I don’t want isteen, and I’m not giving you anything.”

“If I give you information, I need to be paid.”  She nodded toward Moon.  “I’ll take that one.”

After having to rescue Kalam from drunken groundlings who couldn’t control their own genitals, this was too much.  Moon said, “Try.”

The sealing focused on him, really looking at him for the first time.  Whatever she saw made her scales ripple.  Whether it was aggressive or defensive, Moon didn’t know, but it nearly set off his prey reflex.  Stone tilted a sideways look at him and made a noise in his throat, just a faint growl, not enough to vibrate through the floor.  “Moon.  No.”

The message was clear.  Moon hissed at him, and laid down on the damp floor, head propped on his hand, as if prepared to wait as long as it took.

LINKS:

Web Site

Blog

Twitter

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Powell’s

Indiebound

BIO:

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Wizard Hunters, Wheel of the Infinite, the Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), and the nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer, as well as YA fantasies, short stories, and non-fiction. She has had stories in Black Gate, Realms of Fantasy, Stargate Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and in the anthologies Elemental, The Other Half of the Sky, The Gods of Lovecraft, and Mech: Age of Steel. She has also written the media-tie-ins, including Stargate Atlantis: Entanglement and Star Wars: Razor’s Edge.

The Anatomy of an April Fool’s Prank

I tend to think of April Fool’s Day as Alternate Reality Day. A well-constructed April Fool’s joke is one, which creates, for a moment, a really cool world to live in. But, there are rules. So, I thought I would post my rules for what makes a good prank and then walk you through my most recent one.

  1. It doesn’t scare anyone.
  2. It doesn’t raise false hopes.
  3. It doesn’t hurt.
  4. You have to fess up.

#1 It doesn’t scare anyone. An example that someone I know actually pulled. He faked his own death so that his girlfriend would come in to find him. That is seriously, seriously twisted. Not funny. Not even a little funny.

#2. It doesn’t raise false hopes. Calling someone to tell them their novel was going to be published would be evil.

#3. It doesn’t hurt. Hand buzzers, Kick Me signs, making people feel like an idiot. Physical and emotional pain are right out.

#4. You have to fess up. Oh come on… if I let you believe that I a prank and you told other people, that would just be mean.

My favorite ones are the ones that come with slow, dawning understanding. Do I get serious enjoyment from pulling the wool over your eyes until you get it? Yes, yes I do. I am twelve years old. However, I also enjoy it when you get me, too. A beautifully crafted prank can be as lovely as a beautifully crafted story, or at least for me it is. I told you a story and just for a moment, my fantasy existed in the real world.

So… Let’s look at this year’s prank in action in which I will now confess that I did not get cast in Farscape (see! Fessing up), in part because it gives you an understanding of how to build trust with an audience for fiction. With speculative fiction, in specific, you have to convince them that something obviously false is real. Glamour? Sorry. Not real.

Step one — Pick something grounded in reality. Like, the fact that I really am a professional puppeteer and really did audition for a speaking role on Sesame Street.

That’s plausible and sets people up to trust you. In fiction, this often takes the form of specific concrete details about environment or a character’s internal life. Now, you can start with the unreal thing and then build backwards, but it’s harder and has a different effect.

Step two — Raise a question. For this year’s prank, I raised the question of “Why was Mary Kermit-flailing?” What this does is create a sense of curiosity in your reader. More importantly, it sets them up for step 3.

Step three — Answer the question. Before you can get someone to swallow something unbelievable, you have to get them to trust you. And the easiest way to do that is to answer the question. It’s a question you created, sure, but still they now know that when they have a question, you’ll answer it. So with this one, I linked to an article about a reboot of Farscape.

Step four — Repeat two to three times. Building trust doesn’t come instantly. If you give your readers truth, followed by questions, then answers, then more truth they will come to believe that you are reliable. I referenced going to Australia. The fact that I have puppeteer friends. The fact that you have to keep secrets. All of which are true.

Step five — Lie to them. Because you’ve built a pattern of answering things, when you give them false information, they’ve got a pattern of believing the things you’ve said. In this case, it was that I had been asked to audition for Farscape. Nope. As far as I know, they haven’t gotten past the script phase. With fiction, it will be something like, “Jane pulled glamour out of the ether.”

So… With all that in mind, can you detail the steps that I took to make you believe that I did not write The Escapement of Blackledge?

 

Since people are asking about the Glamourist Histories erotic fanfic

Cover for the Escapement of BlackledgeSo if it were April 1 and a friend “noticed” that there was erotic Glamourist Histories fanfic on Amazon. And said friend had a history of writing fast and writing fan-fic, would you give them the side eye?

Yes.

Or if another friend has apparently been working on a secret project.

Would you also buy it and read the heck out of it?

Yes, you would.

On a more practical note:

  1. I love fanfiction
  2. This is actually really good. Whoever it is has nailed my voice, although — ahem– not used the Jane Austen spellchecker.
  3. Thank you “Melody Ellsworth” for the paypal infusion and holy crap, have that many copies sold? Already?
  4. And yes, I’m totally fine if you pick up a copy, just know that she doesn’t fade to black.

Edited to add: Since it is no longer April Fool’s Day, it only seems fair to tell you that this was a prank. Many thanks to Seanan McGuire, Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, the Uncanny Magazine team, Annalee Flower Horne and a ton of other people for helping with the gag.

Hypothetically, I might be in Australia for two months.

Some of you noticed that I was doing some Kermit flailing on Twitter a while back. That’s usually a good sign of secret good news.

And while I did get an invitation to audition for a speaking role on Sesame Street. I didn’t get the part, so that’s not what the flailing was about.

The flailing would be about this.

Weirdly, I hadn’t seen the show until this past summer. I know. I know. It baffles me, too. Suffice to say that I totally fell in love with it and had been eating it like candy. So when I was in Australia for GenreCon, which is where it was filmed, I took the opportunity to visit an old friend, who had worked on the original show and we talked shop.

My friend casually mentioned auditions.

I casually mentioned that I loved Australia.

The weird thing that happens with film and tv work is that there’s a TON of stuff that’s secret. But it’s also a tiny community.  Tiiiiiiny. So there’s a lot of chatter, with the understanding that all of it stays off the internet and away from the press. But everyone knows and there are a lot of hypothetical conversations. Like, my friend — who I’m keeping nameless just in case — never actually said the name of the show. And very definitely didn’t accidentally leave a box open.

So when you hear something like,  “Hypothetically… would you be willing to relocate to Australia for two months?”

Hypothetically, yes. Completely. 100%.

You may have also noticed a recent trip to NYC.

And…oddly, it looks like I need to research some Australian SF conventions. Just because. Hypothetically.

And you know, no one would believe me if I mentioned it today. Right? I mean, hypothetically speaking.

Edited to add: Since it is no longer April Fool’s Day, it only seems fair to tell you that this was a prank.

Paying the artist is important for supporting marginalized voices.

One of the ways that my privilege shows is that my parents paid for my college education. They also were able to fill in the financial gaps when I started working as a puppeteer so that I didn’t have to get a day job. While I tried not to lean on them, there were months that I wouldn’t have been able to keep going if not for them. I mean, even with them, there were the days of the discount Jiffy and day-old bread.

(Ask me why I won’t eat creamy peanut butter.)

The thing is that when I was breaking in, a lot of the reason that I was broke was that I had to take gigs that were paying “in-kind” or with “publicity.” You want to build a resume, right? So you take what you can get. But those don’t pay the rent.

(Ask me why I buy new writers meals at cons)

But if my parents hadn’t been there as a backup, I wouldn’t have been able to work for free. I had the privilege of not getting paid. As gross as that is to say, it’s true. Being able to work for free is a demonstration of privilege.

(Ask me why I never request the “friend rate.”)

Many people in marginalized communities are dealing with lower wages and, hence, have a more fragile support network. They often don’t have the privilege of working for free. Which means that they can’t take unpaid internships, or in-kind payment, or publicity, because they have to pay the rent. So it becomes even harder to break in, which means the pool of voices gets narrower.

(Ask me about living with a broken tooth.)

I think it’s always important to pay artists. If you have any interest in supporting marginalized voices, then understand that many don’t have the privilege of working for free.

I did. It still sucked. But it was a choice that I had the privilege to make.

Pay. The. Artists.