WICOMICON 2018, a one-day pop-up arts and comics convention is coming to Baltimore this Saturday, April 28.This brand new festival, housed at the historic building at 1100 Wicomico Street, will feature an all-star roster of guests from the worlds of television, comic books, and entertainment!
Just days after the announcement of WICOMICON 2018, Black Heroes Matter, The Nerds of Color, Carbon-Fibre Media, New Release Wednesday, theblerdgurl, and the Be A Boss App are pleased to announce the following guests:
CHEO HODARI COKER, creator and showrunner of Netflix’s Luke Cage; APRIL REIGN, creator of #OscarsSoWhite and founder of AKUAREL; GREG PAK, writer of Mech Cadet Yu (BOOM!)and Totally Awesome Hulk (Marvel); LEAH WILLIAMS, author of The Alchemy of Being Fourteen and writer of X-Men: Gold (Marvel); BRYAN TILLMAN, artist of Creative Character Design;JADE TAILOR, RIZWAN MANJI, SERGIO OSUNA, and HANNAH LEVIENfrom SYFY’s THE MAGICIANS; and TAMSEN MCDONOUGH and SEAN BAEK from SYFY’s KILLJOYS.
Come meet your favorite celebrity guests for signings, panels, and photo opportunities on Saturday, April 28, beginning at 10:00 am. Visit WICOMICON’s exhibit hall to peruse artwork and merchandise from over50 vendors; experience cosplay contests, tabletop gaming, music performances, kid’s entertainment, prizes, and more! See the constantly updated list of exhibitors online at hardnocmedia.com/exhibitors.
Featuring some of the most acclaimed names in the comic book, arts, and entertainment industries, WICOMICON 2018 will open its doors starting at 10:00 am on Saturday, April 28 and run until 7:00 pm. In addition to dozens of exhibitors, this unique pop-up convention will also feature panels, cosplay contests, special guests, and a wide variety of food options. Admission at the door will be only $10 for everyone ($5 for FanCon ticket holders) and free for children under 12 years old.
William C. Tracy is joining us today to talk about his two novellas currently in Kickstarter: The Society of Two Houses and Journey to the Top of the Nether. As of April 24, the Kickstarter is 107% funded, and going toward stretch goals! Here is the description of each:
The Society of Two Houses:
Mandamon Feldo is scheduled to meet with a high-profile diplomat to present his newest invention, but he finds the diplomat dead in a pool of blood on the floor of his office. Even worse, the diplomat, until recently, was holding a list of all the members of The Society of Two Houses—a secret organization existing inside the maji, and one to which Mandamon belongs.
If the list gets out, the Society—which brings innovation and new technology to the Nether—may crumble under the weight of the secrets it holds. Often, the ends are seen to justify the means when developing new ideas, and the Society has done its share of cleaning up ‘accidents.’ Before the murderer can release the information, Mandamon must figure out who would kill the diplomat and betray The Society of Two Houses.
Journey to the Top of the Nether:
Natina grew up studying the artifacts found by her mother, the famous explorer Morvu Francita Januti. Now, her mother has discovered an ancient machine able to drill into the impenetrable mineral of the Nether, and is leading an expedition to climb its incredibly high walls for the very first time. She wants Natina to be part of the expedition, but Natina is more comfortable helping her parents research at home—if only her mother were home more often.
The Nether’s walls are smooth like crystal, any fall will mean certain death, and no one knows what, or who, may lurk above the clouds. There are even rumors of another team of explorers following them, trying to steal their glory. It could be the chance of a lifetime for Natina, and a good way to learn how her mother became the most famous explorer of the ten species—if they survive.
What’s William’s favorite bit?
WILLIAM C. TRACY
Before I get to my actual favorite bit, here is my next favorite: this is my second Kickstarter, and this time I’m putting out two novellas, instead of one novel. The first novella is a mystery, and the other is a mid-grade adventure. I’m hoping the diverse genres will attract more readers, including parents who want to share a book series with their children.
I’ve always loved the steampunk genre, as well as books from when science fiction and fantasy were just beginning to take off. With these two novellas, I decided to incorporate the adventure stories from the Victorian era into my Dissolutionverse. Thus, The Society of Two Houses emulates a Sherlock Holmes story, and Journey to the Top of the Nether hearkens back to the adventure and discovery one sees in a Jules Verne novel. The mix of these two things—steampunk and old adventure stories—led to my favorite bit about both these books: the mechanical companions.
The Society of Two Houses is partially concerned with the main character’s new inventions, called System Beasts. They are magically assisted automatons, created to be nearly self-aware, or at least with animal intelligence. They exist in my novel too—set about fifty years later—but as mechanical beasts. One of the little side mysteries is why this happens. It’s not a big part of the plot, but something I really enjoy because it ties into the Dissolutionverse as a whole.
In Journey to the Top of the Nether, I get to turn one of my worldbuilding cornerstones on its head. The unbreakable crystal that makes up the surroundings of the Nether (a planet-sized box that serves as the nexus for ten alien species) has kept anyone from climbing all the way to the ceiling. It’s sort of a “here there be dragons” place, because no one knows what’s up that far. Enter the Crystal Beetle Drill, as Natina has dubbed it. This is a relic of long past, not quite a System Beast, but a very old machine able to drill into the crystal of the Nether. It allows the party to begin their climb.
Here are both mechanical companions in action:
The Society of Two Houses:
Kratitha held the lenses in front of her multifaceted eyes once more, then gave them absently to the Festuour before peering into the interior of our one life-size prototype System Beast, created in the shape of a proud Kirian Ethulina pullbeast. The mane of crested feathers were slivers of crystal that reflected light, and the claw-hooves were of solid steel, etched with filigree. Kratitha and Gompt had spent a good ten-day attaching and painting wooden representations of the scales along its body, covering the places where we had installed service hatches—one of which the Pixie had open now.
The creature was starting to look as impressive as we first imagined, and its mannerisms were almost entirely lifelike, with the latest adjustments to the gearing ratios. The model I was to show the Speaker was a toy compared with our masterpiece.
Journey to the Top of the Nether:
“I still like ‘crystal beetle thing’ better,” I muttered and crossed my arms. It does look like a beetle, all hunched over like that. Especially with the black shell and those jointed legs. It even has crystal mandibles. I took in the two shimmering spikes that stuck out of the ‘head’ attached to the metal shell. They look like melted glass. The device was pretty amazing, even if I thought the plan to kill ourselves climbing a sheer, slippery, indestructible wall was kind of terrible.
“Come on,” my mother said again. “We can debate all you want on the balloon ride, while you still have the energy to do it.”
And sometime later, when they have to depend on the Beetle to keep them from falling…
The beetle shifted, tipping out from the wall. I yelled, and Wailimani yelled with me. We’re going to fall!
But then she pulled herself back straight, putting her jointed legs in different holes. She reached out to drill the next set of holes, and her legs creaked forward, pulling us along, each step tipping us out over nothingness until the jointed leg found a hole and gripped it. We hung there while she began to drill, and walk, drill and walk.
Like last time, the Kickstarter is meant to bring in more art to make the experience better for readers. I love finding illustrations in the novels I read, and I like to do the same with my books. I’m really excited to show off both the System Beast and the Beetle. This time, I am working with three different artists, and I hope to have full-page interior illustrations in the mystery, and small section header illustrations in the mid-grade novella.
So if you like steampunk, or mystery, or adventure, or just want to get a book for you along with one for your kids, check out the Kickstarter for Mystery, Magic, and Adventure: Two Dissolutionverse Novellas. There are a lot of great backer rewards, and an extra short story. There are also chances to buy original artwork or even become a part of the story! See you around the Dissolutionverse!
William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has two novellas and one novel in his Dissolutionverse: Tuning the Symphony, Merchants and Maji, and the newest addition, The Seeds of Dissolution.
He also has a master’s in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003, and runs his own dojo. He is an avid video and board gamer, a reader, and of course, a writer. He and his wife also cosplay, and he has appeared as Tenzin, Jafar, and in several steampunk outfits. They both enjoy putting their three cats in cute little costumes and making them cosplay for the annual Christmas card.
Mary will be a keynote speaker at the Pike’s Peak Writer Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado this weekend. You can see her full schedule here.
Of note is the open-to-the-public Book Signing on Saturday April 28, from 5:30-7:30pm Mountain Time. It will be in the Aspen Leaf Room at the Colorado Springs Marriott – 5580 Tech Center Drive
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80919.
Patrice Sarath is joining us today with her novel The Sisters Mederos. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Two sisters fight with manners, magic, and mayhem to reclaim their family’s name, in this captivating historical fantasy adventure.
House Mederos was once the wealthiest merchant family in Port Saint Frey. Now the family is disgraced, impoverished, and humbled by the powerful Merchants Guild. Daughters Yvienne and Tesara Mederos are determined to uncover who was behind their family’s downfall and get revenge. But Tesara has a secret – could it have been her wild magic that caused the storm that destroyed the family’s merchant fleet? The sisters’ schemes quickly get out of hand – gambling is one thing, but robbing people is another…
Together the sisters must trust each another to keep their secrets and save their family.
What’s Patrice’s favorite bit?
At its heart, The Sisters Mederos is about family relationships and about the roles that everyone in a family gets assigned, whether they want to or not. My favorite parts are those scenes where the family interacts, each according to their own interests. Many of these scenes take place during mealtimes. I loved writing the repartee, including (and maybe especially) the bickering that even the happiest families fall into.
Here is a snippet of one of these breakfast table scenes:
“Well?” Alinesse, Brevart, and Samwell demanded. Yvienne took a breath. The moment of truth had come.
“[The letter’s] from Mastrini’s. I didn’t tell you in case nothing came of it, but I gave them my vitae to see if they could find a governess position for me.”
“WHAT?!” It seemed her family was to be surprised by everything that morning. She waited for them to calm down. She could hardly shout over their demands for an explanation.
“It makes the most sense, you all know that. I am well able to teach, especially older girls. It would be foolish for my education to go unused.”
Especially the actual education, the one before she wasted six years at Madam Callier’s.
“Yvienne, my dear — you can’t be serious,” Brevart said. Her father set down the paper and peered at her, his spectacles perched on the top of his head as usual. His eyes were unblinking and wet. She felt a pang. Where was the long-range thinking merchant of her youth? Her father had grown old.
“I am serious, Father. It’s the best way to help the family. I can earn a wage and add it to our small annuity. It’s not much, but we can begin to get ahead at last.”
Such a poor ambition. And her plan to trade information with Treacher had turned to cold ashes. But that doesn’t matter, she thought. Because a governess is in a position to hear things and see things, and she fully intended to take advantage of her new position.
Uncle Samwell grunted. “Not sure that I approve. Governesses have a reputation.”
“Nonsense. No one would treat Yvienne that way,” Brevart said. Samwell just raised his eyebrows at his brother-in-law’s naiveté and went back to his coffee.
“Which House is it?” Mother asked.
“It’s the TreMondis. They have two daughters, ages twelve and eight, and a son, age six.” Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Even as a cover, she would have to take care to do a respectable job as a governess.
“The TreMondis,” Alinesse said. She tsked. “Small, but I suppose it could be worse.” Yvienne hid her exasperation. So like Alinesse, first to take umbrage at Yvienne’s position, and then look down her nose at the House that hired her. She glanced at Brevart.
He grunted. “Not very steady, is he? Married that foreign woman? A bit more money than business sense; not sure what they’re doing with expeditions East across the Chahoki wastelands.”
“Word at AEther’s is they did quite well with the last one,” Samwell pointed out, grabbing the last biscuit and slathering on butter. “Maybe this is a good thing. The girl can get us in on the next venture. Do your best, Vivi. Talk business with Alve TreMondi. Impress him. Men like a smart girl.”
“The sea I understand,” Brevart objected. “The desert — no. Chahoki horse soldiers, for one thing. Bandits, for another. Don’t listen to him, Yvienne. Your Uncle’s head is full of dreams.”
Samwell rolled his eyes and Yvienne gave him a rueful look. Too bad her parents never listened to Uncle. He was impulsive, a liar, and completely full of himself, but he thought like a merchant. They underestimated him, just the way they did Tesara. She glanced over at her sister, who had opened her letter and was reading it with a curious expression. Interesting, she thought. What was Tesara up to? With no expression, Tesara laid the letter down next to her plate, as if to draw no attention to it.
“What’s that there?” Uncle Samwell demanded, loud and intrusively. “What do you have, Monkey?”
Alinesse and Brevart turned their attention to their second daughter. With all eyes on her, Tesara said, “It’s quite amusing, actually. It’s an invitation to a salon, for Saint Gerare’s Day. From the Idercis.”
This time the parents and Samwell were struck dumb with astonishment. Alinesse leaned over and snatched the letter from her daughter.
“Let me see that.” She scanned the letter, a wrinkle appearing between her eyebrows. “What on earth? Why on earth? The Idercis! You don’t even know the Idercis! We don’t even know the Idercis! This must be some kind of joke.”
“Maybe it’s an olive branch,” Tesara suggested. “I can’t remember if Mrs Iderci gave me the cut direct on the Mile, but if she did, perhaps she’s feeling bad about it.”
“Well, you can’t go. That’s final. That’s absurd. They must have you mistaken for someone else. You aren’t even out, not that that is a possibility right now, but…”
“Mama,” Tesara interrupted. “It’s all right. I don’t intend to go.”
Alinesse settled her ruffled feathers. “Of course you won’t.”
Uncle reached for the invitation, snapping his thick fingers. “Well, if she won’t have it, I’ll take it, Alinesse. I keep telling you two, business isn’t anything except relationships. And the Idercis’ salon will be full of beautiful, profitable relationships. Hiding in here won’t get you back in the game.”
Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy books The Sisters Mederos (Book I of the Tales of Port Saint Frey), the Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Weird Tales, Black Gate, Realms of Fantasy, and many other magazines and anthologies.
Jerry Gordon is joining us today to talk about his novel Breaking the World. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In 1993, David Koresh predicted the end of the world.
What if he was right?
Cyrus doesn’t believe in David’s predictions, and he’s not interested in being part of a cult. But after the sudden death of his brother, his parents split up and his mom drags him to Waco, Texas against his will. At least he’s not alone. His friends, Marshal and Rachel, have equally sad stories that end with them being dumped at the Branch Davidian Church.
Together, they’re the trinity of nonbelievers, atheist teens caught between a soon to be infamous cult leader, an erratic FBI, and an epidemic that may confirm the worst of the church’s apocalyptic prophecies. With tanks surrounding the Branch Davidians and tear gas in the air, Cyrus and his friends know one thing for certain: They can’t count on the adults to save them.
In his debut novel, Jerry Gordon takes readers deep inside the longest standoff in law enforcement history for an apocalyptic thriller that challenges the news media’s reporting of the event, the wisdom of militarizing domestic law enforcement, and the blurry line between religion and cult.
What’s Jerry’s favorite bit?
I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder when it comes to how women are portrayed in genre fiction. My parents divorced young. So I didn’t get a lot of time around my dad. The women in my family raised me, and it definitely affected my relationship with books.
Early on, I noticed a distinct lack of strong women in the stories I read. The few I did find were always supercharged in some way, as if they needed an extra boost to hold their own in the story. I remember wondering why all the women in my books needed superpowers, noble backgrounds, or ancient prophecies to compete.
Admittedly, I didn’t spend my childhood seeking out books written from the perspective of determined young women. I just picked up the science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels that looked cool to me. I didn’t have the self-awareness to recognize that the female characters fell flat because they were poorly written props or trophies, and I certainly didn’t understand the concept of a story trope or a manic pixie dream girl. To me, they just felt like hollow placeholders, pale caricatures of the women in my life.
So when I sat down to write Breaking the World, a dark survival story about three atheist teenagers trapped in an apocalyptic standoff, I knew exactly the type of female I wanted to write.
Rachel isn’t the main character of this story, but she doesn’t know that. She’s a pissed off teenager that’s been dragged halfway around the world by her born-again father. She traded her native Scotland for India and then Jerusalem–all before being forced to live in the armpit of Texas.
One of my favorite bits comes about forty pages into the novel. Trapped in a life threatening situation, the main character, Cyrus, has devised a risky escape plan. He meets Rachel in secret to convince her to join his plot (and maybe reveal his hidden feelings for her).
Much to his surprise, she hasn’t been waiting for him to save her. She’s been putting her own plan in motion, and it’s better than his. By the end of their conversation, she’s not only convinced Cyrus to follow her lead, she’s initiated the relationship he’s too scared to start.
Throughout the novel, Rachel asserts herself in this way, unwilling to accept the idea that she needs to play a secondary role in someone else’s story. When even the adults are tenuous and uncertain, she musters the courage to act. She’s as likely to save her friends as be saved by them, and her relationships and goals are not adjacent to or in service of another character’s development.
Looking back on the novel, I see her imprint on every major character. She not only dictated her independence in the story, she insisted I carve out a similar space for the rest of her found family. She’s not a princess, superhero, or chosen one. She’s a capable young woman trapped in a terrifying situation and wrestling with the first steps of adulthood.
Rachel is brash, awkward, courageous, scared, and in my experience, all too real. I didn’t write her as a role model or to satisfy some empowerment argument. I wrote her as an honest reflection of the women in my life, the ones I know and love that are still too few and far between in genre fiction.
Jerry Gordon is the author of the apocalyptic thriller, Breaking the World. He is also the Bram Stoker and Black Quill Award-nominated co-editor of the Dark Faith, Invocations, and Streets of Shadows anthologies. His short fiction and essays have appeared in numerous venues, including Apex Magazine and Shroud. When he’s not writing and editing, he runs a software company, teaches, and longs for a good night’s sleep.
Bryan Camp is joining us today to talk about his novel The City of Lost Fortunes. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The fate of New Orleans rests in the hands of a wayward grifter in this novel of gods, games, and monsters.
The post–Katrina New Orleans of The City of Lost Fortunes is a place haunted by its history and by the hurricane’s destruction, a place that is hoping to survive the rebuilding of its present long enough to ensure that it has a future. Street magician Jude Dubuisson is likewise burdened by his past and by the consequences of the storm, because he has a secret: the magical ability to find lost things, a gift passed down to him by the father he has never known—a father who just happens to be more than human.
Jude has been lying low since the storm, which caused so many things to be lost that it played havoc with his magic, and he is hiding from his own power, his divine former employer, and a debt owed to the Fortune god of New Orleans. But his six-year retirement ends abruptly when the Fortune god is murdered and Jude is drawn back into the world he tried so desperately to leave behind. A world full of magic, monsters, and miracles. A world where he must find out who is responsible for the Fortune god’s death, uncover the plot that threatens the city’s soul, and discover what his talent for lost things has always been trying to show him: what it means to be his father’s son.
What’s Bryan’s favorite bit?
There’s a scene toward the end of THE CITY OF LOST FORTUNES, where the main characters need to regroup and figure out their next step, and so they stop in at a greasy spoon style diner named The Camelia Grill for a meal. This place is a New Orleans landmark; sometimes it’s empty except for you and a couple of locals, sometimes there’s a line of tourists stretching out the door and onto the sidewalk outside. There’s not a whole lot of seating, just a line of stools in front of a counter that contorts itself to fill as much of the space as possible, but whether you can walk right in or have to wait, the food is worth the trip: breakfast no matter what time of day or night it is, thick, dark chicory coffee, giant sandwiches, chili cheese fries that contain your caloric intake for the week, “freezes” which are like the Platonic ideal of milkshakes, and slices of pie that the cooks will griddle for you on the flat top right before you eat it.
I’ve, uhh, I’ve been there a time or two.
When my main characters first walk in to the diner, I take about a page to describe the place and the cooks behind the counter and the other patrons. In that description, there’s a throw-away line that most readers will likely skim right past, but which is, in its own small way, my favorite bit of the whole book. It says: “The only other customers were a handful of tourists—who advertised themselves by wearing Mardi Gras beads in the middle of summer—and a younger white couple sharing an order of fries and laughing over whatever they were showing each other on their phones.”
That line is my favorite bit because, quietly, secretly, and without fanfare, I snuck myself and my wife into the magical, deity-filled version of New Orleans in my novel.
My delight is two-fold, the inclusion part and the secret part. In terms of the inclusion, knowing that the world I was writing was the world that I lived in (even if no one else did) made it easier for me to do that writerly thing of stealing those bizarre moments and snippets of conversation and random connections from my own life. After all, if you’ve already shared your favorite diner with a demigod, a psychopomp, and a girl fresh from her own resurrection, why not your favorite bar, or the park, or the grocery store around the corner?
In terms of it being secret, I found a surprising amount of pleasure in this single line. Nothing about that handful of words would identify us, not even to our closest friends or family. It was a connection that existed from draft to draft and revision to revision only in my own mind. In fact, I didn’t even tell my wife that it was us until I was sure that the line or the scene wouldn’t get edited out of the final book (as one of her favorite scenes was, sadly, lost to the Island of Forgotten Pages). I never pointed it out to my agent, never explained to any of the editors why I wanted to keep that scene, that line. It was as though I had buried treasure without making a map or marking the spot with an X. Just left the jewels there, hidden and precious and secret. To keep a little smoldering ember of that secret joy, I vow that this will be the only time I share this little detail about the novel, online or in person or in writing, unless I’m specifically asked about it.
So that’s my favorite bit, a brief and subtle cameo appearance known only to me, and to my wife, and now you, reader of this blog. If you read my novel, I hope you get a little spark of joy when you find yourself in this scene. For just a moment, the three of us will be there together along with Jude and his supernatural friends and problems. And if you don’t tell anyone else, they’ll never know.
Bryan Camp is a graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop and the University of New Orleans’ Low-Residency MFA program. He started his first novel, The City of Lost Fortunes, in the backseat of his parents’ car as they evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. He has been, at various points in his life: a security guard at a stockcar race track, a printer in a flag factory, an office worker in an oil refinery, and a high school English teacher. He lives in New Orleans with his wife and their three cats, one of whom is named after a superhero
Ilana C. Myer is joining us today to talk about her novel Fire Dance. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Palace intrigue, dark magic, and terrifying secrets drive the beautifully written standalone novel Fire Dance, set in the world of Last Song Before Night.
Espionage, diplomacy, conspiracy, passion, and power are the sensuously choreographed steps of the soaring new high fantasy novel by Ilana C. Myer, one woman’s epic mission to stop a magical conflagration.
Lin, newly initiated in the art of otherwordly enchantments, is sent to aid her homeland’s allies against vicious attacks from the Fire Dancers: mysterious practitioners of strange and deadly magic. Forced to step into a dangerous waltz of tradition, treachery, and palace secrets, Lin must also race the ticking clock of her own rapidly dwindling life to learn the truth of the Fire Dancers’ war, and how she might prevent death on a scale too terrifying to contemplate.
Myer’s novel is a symphony of secret towers, desert winds, burning sands, blood and dust. Her prose soars, and fluid movements of the politically charged plot carry the reader toward a shocking crescendo.
What’s Ilana’s favorite bit?
ILANA C. MYER
The title of a book can evolve in a variety of ways. The title for Fire Dance works on multiple levels—in terms of a mysterious form of magic, revealed in the course of the plot; in terms of the passions that fuel the protagonists. And there is another way.
Two settings, extremely different from one another, are the focal points of Fire Dance. One is the court of the Zahra, a place of luxury, political sophistication, and lush imperial gardens. The sort of place visited by ambassadors, scholars, and physicians from around the world. It is a mix of inspirations, from Andalusia to medieval Baghdad; in constructing it, I had immersed myself in historical sources, Middle Eastern mythology and cosmology of the period, and Andalusian poetry.
Magic in the Zahra is integral to royal politics: The palace houses a magical observatory, tended by seven court Magicians who see prophecies in the stars.
The other major stage of Fire Dance is Academy Isle, a lonely, windy place on the edge of things. A place where for centuries, people study to become poets; where mysterious enchantments have been lately introduced. My previous novel set in this world, Last Song Before Night, is infused with Celtic myth and geographic similarities to the British Isles; these are the elements that permeate the Academy Isle.
Unlike the Zahra, the Academy is not accustomed to magic; how the poets handle their new powers—for good or evil—is one of the emerging conflicts in Fire Dance.
These two settings could hardly be more different, but are very much connected by means which are revealed with time. Weaving together these two settings, moving back and forth between them, came to feel like a delicate dance; their inevitable, complex intertwining, its culmination. Sometimes, to get in the mood for a certain scene, I would read poems with the kind of atmosphere I was looking to convey. For scenes in the Academy, I often found myself reaching for Seamus Heaney’s Sweeney Astray; for the Zahra, I read a range of Andalusian poetry.
In my first novel, Last Song Before Night, the characters move from the elegance of the capital to the deep woods, where they discover horrors and—at times—themselves. In contrast, Fire Dance follows a spiral structure, from grandeur to the lonely dark and back, again and again until they meet. Such a meeting can only have explosive consequences—for the characters, for the places they love.
Ilana C. Myer has worked as a journalist in Jerusalem and a cultural critic for various publications. As Ilana Teitelbaum she has written book reviews and critical essays for The Globe and Mail, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and the Huffington Post. Last Song Before Night was her first novel, followed by Fire Dance. She lives in New York.
Kay Kenyon is joining us today to talk about her novel Serpent in the Heather. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Now officially working for the Secret Intelligence Service, Kim Tavistock is back to solve another mystery—this time a serial killer with deep Nazi ties—in the sequel to At the Table of Wolves.
Summer, 1936. In England, an assassin is loose. Someone is killing young people who possess Talents. As terror overtakes Britain, Kim Tavistock, now officially employed by England’s Secret Intelligence Service, is sent on her first mission: to the remote Sulcliffe Castle in Wales, to use her cover as a journalist to infiltrate a spiritualist cult that may have ties to the murders. Meanwhile, Kim’s father, trained spy Julian Tavistock runs his own parallel investigation—and discovers the terrifying Nazi plot behind the serial killings.
Cut off from civilization, Sulcliffe Castle is perched on a forbidding headland above a circle of standing stones only visible at low tide. There, Kim shadows a ruthless baroness and her enigmatic son, plying her skills of deception and hearing the truths people most wish to hide. But as her cover disguise unravels, Kim learns that the serial killer is closing in on a person she has grown to love. Now, Kim must race against the clock not just to prevent the final ritual killing—but to turn the tide of the looming war.
What’s Kay’s favorite bit?
When I started writing my Dark Talents series, I knew that my protagonist, Kim Tavistock, at age 10 had experienced a traumatic event that shattered her family. Thus, “She had seen how easily the world could spin out of control.” So when Kim is shaken or gripped with excitement, she has a telling mannerism: she straightens things or turns to lists. In other words, she attempts to put things in order.
Living in England, where she is a stranger, notable among her possessions is a train timetable, a little orange tract.
She couldn’t make sense of it right now. Adjourning to her room, she took out her well-worn copy of the London and North Eastern Railway timetable and traced the columns of arrivals and departures. The stops and connections to other lines. There was no secret to the British railway system. In fact, it embodied an elegant, systematic plan. She had always found the little LNER booklet a comfort, framing the world in an orderly way, which was very important, given the sorts of things that could happen.
In the following snippet, Kim is traveling from Yorkshire to Wales, and as usual she has her London and Northeastern Railway timetable with her. But it’s not the one she needs for this trip.
“I say, you’ve got the wrong timetable there, you know.”
In the first-class compartment, a rotund, amiable man sitting next to Kim and wearing ill-fitting tweeds offered her the timetable to Chester.
Kim smiled at him. “Oh, yes, I know. But I do prefer this one.”
He blinked in confusion and, murmuring an apology, tucked the timetable into a breast pocket.
At some level, Kim is aware that it’s a talisman. At other times she believes she’s just being practical. As she says,
“One could hardly get lost in England if one knew the railway system, and as a kind of newcomer—born in England, yet a stranger—she had long depended on the railway system maps to make sense of things.”
In this next moment, Kim has just heard of another murder of a teenager, the latest in a string of murders.
Kim wandered over to the mantel, adjusting the spacing of the Royal Dalton figurines, and then the four candlesticks, all in a row. That done, she turned to the architectural drawings and began aligning the sheets.
Kim carries a gun, and hopes she never has to use it. In this scene she realizes it is likely to come to that, and soon.
At the tea table in her room, Kim sat before the box of cartridges and her snub-nosed Colt revolver. She could hardly remember the drive across the headland to the castle, so hard had she been concentrating on acting naturally. . . . She removed six cartridges from the ammunition box and lined them up in a row.
At the castle, she has been served her supper in her room. She is shaken by the surmise that she had come to a few hours ago: the identity of the assassin.
Kim’s dinner sat on a tray at the table: squab and mash, the servant had declared. There would be no formal dinner tonight. She tried to remember what squab was and feared it was dove. She gazed at the food, straightening the tableware just so, lining up the fork with the knife, the napkin, and plate.
As an author, I find it so interesting that it’s not just the big decisions and actions we take that reflect our deeper selves. Small moments, showing surface tendencies and habits can help to frame the character’s world. I loved reminding myself of Kim’s need for order with habitual mannerisms and patterns of thought. These examples from Serpent in the Heather illustrate how small things can have big import, and that’s why it’s my favorite bit.
Kay Kenyon is the author of fourteen science fiction and fantasy novels, including The Entire and The Rose quartet. Her latest work is the Dark Talents trilogy from Saga Press, historical fantasies of dark powers, Nazi conspiracies, and espionage set in 1936 England. It began with At the Table of Wolves, praised by Publishers Weekly in a starred review as “A superb adventure, worthy to launch a distinguished historical fantasy series.” Book two, Serpent in the Heather, garnered a Kirkus Review that called the book, “A unique concept that is superbly executed.” The final book of the trilogy, Nest of the Monarch, will be published in 2019.
Elizabeth Forest is joining us today to talk about her novel The Third Kind of Magic. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Can one twelve-year-old girl fight a witch?
Exiled from her village for accidentally using advanced magic, Suli must either become a wise woman or be shunned as a witch.
She’s apprenticed to the wise woman Tala, but Suli’s magical education is cut short when a witch kidnaps her teacher to learn the secret of shape-shifting.
Suli discovers she too has inherited the shape-shifting ability. and even without her teacher, learns to fly and to talk to animals.
Then the witch asks Suli to make a terrible choice: Suli must live with the witch as her apprentice, or she’ll never see Tala again.
But if she agrees, she’ll be called a witch for the rest of her life.
What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?
I am going to use a quote from another writer to talk about what I love most about my middle-grade fantasy novel, The Third Kind of Magic, for two reasons. The first is that Ms. LeGuin’s essays, in an anthology called Cheek by Jowl, had a direct influence on my ability to revise and finish the book. The second is that her words are more eloquent than mine, and I need to hear her voice again after losing her so recently.
The quote is from an essay entitled “The Critics, the Monsters and the Fantasists”:
Animals were once more to us than meat, pests or pets: they were fellow-creatures, colleagues, dangerous equals. We might eat them: but then, they might eat us. That is at least part of the truth of my dragons. They remind us that the human is not universal.
What fantasy does that the realistic novel generally cannot do is include the nonhuman as essential.
The vigilant reader will recognize the title of Le Guin’s essay is based on Tolkien’s essay “The Monster and the Critics,” and she amplifies his ideas in “explaining” fantasy to those who need such explanations. Reading these essays, I recognized that “the human is not universal” is the most important theme in my book. I suspect it’s a basic insight of childhood too – that the culture we are being socialized into is not the only reality, or even the best way to organize life. That’s probably one reason why books with animal characters are so appealing to us when we’re younger; children, like animals, are outside of civilization.
In The Third Kind of Magic, there are talking animals. Predictably, agents rolled their eyes hearing that. But I wanted to directly convey that the animal characters are interested in, but detached from, human definitions and uses of magic. The animal communities have their own opinions and lore about it, and although they make alliances with humans sometimes, they are not subordinate to them. The one exception is when a rogue human’s use of magic endangers everyone: when dealing with a witch, in fact. Then it’s up to the humans to solve the problem they caused.
Suli, the main character, is an untried apprentice in magic. She loses her human teacher early on, and is mentored in magic by a crow teacher. His guidance is vitally important when Suli finally decides how she will deal with the witch who not only kidnapped her teacher, but turned her in to the witch-hunting authorities.
In the end, Suli is able to restore the human and animal communities, and to set right what the witch has damaged, without killing her opponent, or “defeating” some essentialist evil. The witch herself is recognized as still being part of the wider community. Killing the offender is not the way this culture solves its problems. Those are the ways of the Outsiders, who have witch trials and hangings. That’s my second favorite thing about the book: There is no final battle between good and evil – rather a family secret that is finally addressed and resolved.
So if you’re willing to give up your anthropocentrism for a while, and imagine yourself part of the animal community, you might enjoy The Third Kind of Magic.
Elizabeth Forest writes historical and speculative fiction for readers of all ages. She’s drawn to other cultures, alternate worlds, and the lives of those outside the mainstream. She blogs at https://www.elizabethsforest.com/blog, and can be found on twitter @elizasforest. Join her VIP Readers’ group athttps://www.elizabethsforest.com/newsletter to hear about new books and special bonus features for members.
Catherynne M. Valente is here today with her novel Space Opera. Here is the publisher’s description:
A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented—something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.
Once every cycle, the great galactic civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix—part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Species far and wide compete in feats of song, dance and/or whatever facsimile of these can be performed by various creatures who may or may not possess, in the traditional sense, feet, mouths, larynxes, or faces. And if a new species should wish to be counted among the high and the mighty, if a new planet has produced some savage group of animals, machines, or algae that claim to be, against all odds, sentient?
Well, then they will have to compete. And if they fail? Sudden extermination for their entire species.
This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick, and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny—they must sing.
Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes have been chosen to represent their planet on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of Earth lies in their ability to rock
What’s Catherynne’s favorite bit?
CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE
It was so hard to pick a bit for this piece! Space Opera was so much fun to write, so far out of my comfort zone that I was constantly on my toes and dancing on the edge of disaster or awesomeness, (and I rarely knew which), that most of the bits are my favorite bits. I got to write about all the parts of Eurovision that I love, mushed together with all the alien species I could think of and a few more on top of that, along with poking a bit of fun at a lot of tropes in alien invasion and military SF and wrap it all up in my love of pop music and glam rock. Choosing one part out of everything I got to do in one relatively short book is torture!
But there’s this one part near the beginning of the third act. I hadn’t planned it this way. It was one of those things that pops into your head and you think: “Uh oh. This is either the funniest thing I’ve ever written or incredibly, deeply stupid.”
Our heroes, two members of the former chart-topping band Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes, have made it all the way across the known galaxy to a tiny planet called Litost, where they will have to compete musically in the Metagalactic Grand Prix in order to prove that humanity is, despite all appearances, sentient and worthy of not being blown up in order to protect the rest of spacefaring civilization from our worse instincts. But before the big performance, they have to make it through the universe’s most dangerous meet-and-greet, in which almost every representative of every species is trying to undermine and/or possibly assassinate everyone else with a smile on their faces and a cocktail in their hands or various other appendages.
A species of intelligent computer programs called the 321 takes corporeal form every year into order to rock out at the Grand Prix, and this year decided to scan Earth’s archives for a physical representation of cooperative, harmless, friendly technology. Something that won’t freak out the newbies, something that will make them feel comfortable and at home and positively disposed toward a civilization very unlike the many other organic creatures milling and swilling around Litost. And they found something. Something so subservient and cheerful and helpful that it could never make anyone feel the least bit afraid or nervous or even irritated.
They found Clippy.
So I got to write an extended bar fight scene which includes a seven-foot tall shimmering silver googly-eyed version of Clippy the Word Processing Assistant yelling about galactic domination and bellowing at our hapless humans that they look like they’re trying to get themselves killed and would they like some help with that, while red pandas, zombies, living mountains, and telepathic sea squirts wreck the place all around them. It’s completely absurd and completely delightful, and I’m absurdly delighted with it. It is one of the funniest things I’ve ever written, and it is incredibly, deeply stupid, and I’m not sorry about either.
Coming up with about a hundred alien rock band and interstellar pop song names was pretty great, too. I finally justified the number of times I’ve said “New band name!” in conversation.
Catherynne M. Valente is the acclaimed author of The Glass Town Game, and a New York Times bestselling author of fantasy and science fiction novels, short stories, and poetry. She has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards, and has won the Locus and Andre Norton award. She lives on a small island off the coast of Maine with her partner, two dogs, one enormous cat, a less enormous cat, six chickens, a red accordion, an uncompleted master’s degree, a roomful of yarn, a spinning wheel with ulterior motives, a cupboard of jam and pickles, a bookshelf full of folktales, an industrial torch, and an Oxford English Dictionary. Visit her at CatherynneMValente.com.
R J Theodore is joining us today to talk about her novel Flotsam. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.
Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.
What’s R J’s favorite bit?
R J THEODORE
The writing process is full of pitfalls. Even after writers get a handle on structure and characterization and themes (and and and), there are other hidden traps to fall into. Becoming as surefooted as a sailor on an unforgiving sea is part of the process. But the lessons come with pain, and the topics aren’t all as objective as grammar and spelling.
In writing my first novel, FLOTSAM, I learned not to back down. That there’s enough fiction out there for heteronormative white dudes and in wanting to tell my story and get other people to love it, I am willing to sacrifice the classic genre audience if I am going to reach the people I want to connect with.
White males have dominated the genre, even if they don’t dominate the audience. There’s been an acceptable level of James Bond-esque machismo to Science Fiction and Fantasy and even in 2018, when we all know the world is broader, bigger, and better with many voices and perspectives, writers of commercial genre fiction tend to weave the truths of non-white, non-binary, non-male characters in between that traditional view of the world. To bury representation so it can’t be seen unless someone wants to. When an author steps out of line (GSM representation in Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars Aftermath trilogy comes to mind), they open themselves to a flood of unfiltered animosity and toxic masculinity. It could break a person. It could ruin a career.
We shouldn’t have to sneak it in, to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. As if representation needs forgiveness! As if there isn’t a crowd of readers looking for us to be brave and bold with such representation, as brave and bold as they are to live it every damned day. We haven’t even scratched the surface of voices that need to be heard.
As a writer, we know our characters represent real people, and yet there’s the tendency to mute them when they stand up to do the most good. Because our careers ride on it. Because the opinions of critics ride on it. Because Amazon algorithms reward numbers, not bravery. Because if the book doesn’t sell, we’re done. It’s also bullshit.
Add imposter syndrome to that. The feeling that nothing we do will be right or good or embraced, the desire to back off and play it safe, or to hide if we can’t please all the people all the time.
Heaps and heaps of bullshit to fall upon the shoulders of a timid, first-time writer.
So the advice to write broadly? To stay in line lest my career end before it begins? To be commercially viable, the next big thing, but not by taking risks or trying something different?
My new novel, FLOTSAM, is my first offering to the world. I wrote it with the usual dreams of seeing it on shelves in bookstores and of seeing a movie poster hang in a theater lobby someday. I wrote it with the dream of connecting with readers who would love it. But in my newness, I began to make missteps. I confused “my readers” with “all readers.” If I thought I could do something to make my audience wider, I was willing to do it. And when I didn’t know what to do, I looked for advice from people who said they knew.
And this was my mindset when I received counsel to remove my aliens’ non-binary, non-English pronouns to make the “broader” audience (read: heteronormative dudes) more comfortable. I argued against it, and my stand was dismissively waved off with “do what you want, but I’d stop reading a book whose author included them.” I couldn’t imagine a more horrible fate for my book. I imagined the mouths of my readers curling at the corners. A physical manifestation of distaste.
To my immediate shame, I took the advice.
The Yu’Nyun of FLOTSAM have no regard for gender. They do not have monogamous relationships, and love is not tied to reproductive systems. They breed in petri dishes and care far more about adherence to social structure and their own beliefs. In fear of alienating readers, who might put the book down when they reached their first xe or xist, I thought perhaps it would not be so bad to strip out those non-binary pronouns. It wasn’t about gender anyway, right? They were aliens, weren’t they? It was my creation, and I had a responsibility to do what I could to help my book succeed, didn’t I?
Based on how I managed the edits, though, I think my subconscious defied the revision. I didn’t erase their identities and cleanly break from the original intent I had for the Yu’Nyun. Instead I subconsciously wove in a breadcrumb trail that led this back to bite me later. I described the complex system of class-based pronouns from the aliens in my novel, in more detail than ever, cementing them into the story. I then exposited via the attitude of my protagonist that the identities were difficult, confusing, and uncomfortable – all the things I had been told they were – and should be disregarded in favor of choosing gender normative pronouns. Against their wishes. I wrote in thin, weak excuses for her behavior. The gender-assigning equivalent of “I’m not racist, but…”
I hated it. It felt wrong. It felt wrong to my character, too. It was not in her character, and the sentences I wrote to explain the decision away were shameful and unconvincing. My advance readers caught the disparity straight away, including Mary Robinette Kowal and a Netgalley reviewer named Abi, whose feedback drew our attention back to the issue. I am so eternally grateful for these readers who helped correct this issue by expressing deep reservations about it. As a writer, I am expected to express myself well, yet I cannot appropriately convey the roiling feeling in my head and gut that plagued me as a result of the identity suppression being uncovered and brought to light again. Not because my malfeasance was “exposed” but because we were so far down the path to publication that it might be too late to correct it. That the book might go to print as-is, and that I would have to live with knowing it could have been more and wasn’t, could have done more and didn’t.
Thankfully, Parvus Press stands by their authors. It was important to me, and so they stopped production to give the matter due attention. I was given not just their blessing, but their support to use my troublesome and uncomfortable pronouns throughout the text.
In a blog post looking back on Parvus’s second year in business, Colin Coyle wrote “[Saving money or doing the right thing] isn’t a choice. Always do the right thing. Always.”
Yeah, he was talking about FLOTSAM. I can’t express enough gratitude to Colin and the whole Parvus team for addressing this issue with decency and transparency. That roiling feeling in my gut evaporated when I explained where the problem originated, and he asked me, so matter of factly, “Do you really consider [heteronormative white dudes] to be your audience?”
No. No I do not. They’re welcome, of course. But I’ll not bend my pen nibs to their whims at the expense of people whose opinions do matter to me.
Always do the right thing. You know what that is. Represent it in your writing. Don’t sneak it in. Don’t wait until you’re successful and famous, safely assured your career will not be broken by your rebellious streak.
R J THEODORE is hellbent on keeping herself busy. Seriously folks, if she has two spare minutes to rub together at the end of the day, she invents a new project with which to occupy them.
She lives in New England with her family, enjoys design, illustration, podcasting, binging on many forms of visual and written media, napping with her cats, and cooking. She is passionate about art and coffee.
Book One of the Peridot Shift series (Parvus Press), FLOTSAM is Theodore’s debut science fiction novel and is available in print, digital, and audio from Parvus Press.
Rowenna Miller is joining us today to talk about her novel Torn. Here’s the publisher’s description:
TORN is the first book in an enchanting debut fantasy series featuring a seamstress who stitches magic into clothing, and the mounting political uprising that forces her to choose between her family and her ambitions, for fans of The Queen of the Tearling.
In a time of revolution, everyone must take a side.
Sophie, a dressmaker and charm caster, has lifted her family out of poverty with a hard-won reputation for beautiful ball gowns and discreetly embroidered spells. A commission from the royal family could secure her future — and thrust her into a dangerous new world.
Revolution is brewing. As Sophie’s brother, Kristos, rises to prominence in the growing anti-monarchist movement, it is only a matter of time before their fortunes collide.
When the unrest erupts into violence, she and Kristos are drawn into a deadly magical plot. Sophie is torn — between her family and her future.
What’s Rowenna’s favorite bit?
When we study history, we have both the benefit and the giant blind spot of knowing how it turned out. The choices historical people made end up cast in the light of the outcomes of conflict or change, and we often ascribe motivations to individuals and entire groups that only emerge as clear and discreet after the dust has settled. When it comes to revolution, we often face an even bigger blind spot—those who opposed change must have sided ethically and ideologically with “the establishment,” right?
When I began writing Torn, I knew one thing pretty confidently about my protagonist, Sophie. Though she was sympathetic to the problems the revolutionaries in her community were responding to, she was also deeply (and understandably) averse to change, having sacrificed and fought to achieve her goals of owning a business. Revolution means change. So I found myself exploring an unfolding revolution through the lens of a protagonist whose motivations are far more nuanced than “pro” or “anti” revolt—she is motivated by her professional success, by her family, and by her community more than she is motivated by ideals. She isn’t willing to risk what she loves on a dodgy gamble.
And the revolution itself—more than a dodgy gamble, it’s a morally questionable endeavor to begin with. Some members, like Sophie’s brother Kristos, are ideologically motivated. Others are motivated by anger and seem out for a kind of reversal of status that could end with something like the French Revolution’s Terror. And the nobility they’re railing against isn’t entirely corrupt—the system, which, though grossly unjust, keeps the peace, and most of the individuals, though grossly privileged, care about their country and its people. As it becomes increasingly obvious to all involved that violence is very likely necessary in establishing a fairer system based on new ideology, the question of how much death (and whose) is a fair price for change nags Sophie…and doesn’t seem to bother some of the people it perhaps should.
This ambiguity was one of my favorite parts of the book, which led to writing characters who had to face these competing motivations and their own investment in their choices. Writing Sophie and Kristos and their not infrequent spats drew their fears and hopes and problematic plans into full relief. Neither had the monopoly on logical and empathetic arguments. Kristos was right that the nation needed change, but Sophie was also right that change meant serious risk for ordinary people like them. Other characters added more nuance—Theodor and Viola, nobles Sophie encounters in her expanding business, are not entirely unaware of their unjust privilege but truly believe they are using their wealth and power to benefit the country. Depending on one’s definition of benefit, perhaps they are—offering stability at the price of the common folks’ stagnation, but can a political system that doesn’t listen to or allow for participation by the majority of its citizens ever truly benefit them?
The complications on the simple goal of “doing what’s right” made writing these characters’ responses to revolutionary ideas, and eventually actions, one of my favorite parts of writing Torn.
Yet, running contrary to this ambiguity is the presence of the charm and curse magic Sophie utilizes. Present and visible only to practitioners like her, it’s quite literally light and dark, imbuing items she charms or curses with good or bad elements. This little twist challenges the idea of complete moral ambiguity—this is a world where good and bad literally exist in a physical sense, yet the people inhabiting the world, even those handling magic itself, are not any more capable than most of us in discerning it.
And that—the juxtaposition of real good and bad with people who make a wretched tangle of right and wrong—is my favorite bit!
RowennaMiller grew up in a log cabin in Indiana and still lives in the Midwest with her husband and daughters, where she teaches English composition, trespasses while hiking, and spends too much time researching and recreating historical textiles. TORN is her first novel.
A. E. Decker is joining us today to talk about her novel Into the Moonless Night, the third in the Moonfall Mayhem series. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Catch Starthorne has spent a lifetime running from the prophecy that names him as the one who will save the shifter race, but now that he has returned to his home in Clawcrags, he may have to face his destiny. Determined to slip through fate’s fingers, Catch sows confusion, making friends from foes, mixing up the occasional sleeping death potion, and matching wits with an overbearing lion-shifter, who appears to have plans of his own.
While Catch schemes, Ascot works to retrieve him with the help of a witch and a pair of madcap shifter rebels. But every attempt to reach him earns her fresh enemies and embroils her ever deeper in the conspiracies surrounding the prophecy. After five hundred years of repressed tension and social strife, the Clawcrags are ready to explode—and it sometimes seems someone’s working hard to see that they do!
What’s A. E. Decker’s favorite bit?
A. E. DECKER
A mist hung in the air. Through it, I could see a group of people gathered around a wharf by a canal. They talked animatedly amongst themselves as they unloaded crates. I approached, sensing some charged excitement about them, as if a longed-for event was finally about to unfold. One of the men turned around and spotted me. He was tall, with sharp features, wearing a long, faded red coat. “Hey,” he said. With a welcoming—if slightly devilish—smile, he embraced me.
And then I woke up.
Fortunately, this wasn’t the last scene of a novel, or I’d have thrown it against the wall. No, this was an actual dream. It was also my introduction to Starley Reftkin, who was to become my favorite bit of book three of the Moonfall Mayhem series, Into the Moonless Night.
I always knew Into the Moonless Night was going to involve a revolution. Its protagonist, Catch Starthorne, is a Smilodon-shifter who has labored his entire life under a prophecy that named him the savior of the shifter race. In his homeland of the Clawcrags, a person’s place in society is ordained by what type of animal one transforms into, with lion-shifters as leaders. Catch escaped the Clawcrags twenty-five years ago and has only now returned to confront the tensions threatening to tear his society apart.
So, Catch gets to play his part deconstructing the “Chosen One” trope. That’s well and good for him, but what about the shifters who actually had to live under their unjust system while he was away? What about the ones who decided to fight it?
That’s where Starley comes in. With panache.
With a small explosion of hay, a pale man vaulted from the barn loft, twisted mid-air, and caught the pulley one-handed. When he landed, it was on his feet, and with a second crossbow pointed directly at Savotte’s head. “Count the bolts again, leather-britches,” he called.
Cavall spun around. His shocked expression transformed into one of pure, distilled outrage. “Starley Reftkin!”
Grinning from ear-to-ear, the pale man bowed, sweeping back a tail of his faded red coat. Even his eyelashes were white, as were his arched brows. A somewhat long, pointed nose and a droll mouth gave a look of deviltry to his otherwise heart-shaped face. A red bandana kept his shoulder-length white hair out of his eyes.
Visibly grinding his teeth, Cavall cast a swift glare over his shoulder at Jolt. “I should’ve-”
Starley held up a finger in the most insolent gesture Ascot had ever seen. It stopped Cavall mid-sentence. Dipping into his pocket, crossbow never wavering, Starley came up with a small jar, undid the cork with his teeth, scooped up a finger-full of the salve inside, and rubbed it over his face.
“That’s better,” he said, recorking the jar. He squinted at the sun, murky gray eyes narrowing. “Brighter day than expected. I burn so easily. Right.” He tucked away the jar and waggled the crossbow. “Yes, Galen, yada, yada, you should’ve expected, whatsit. Doesn’t matter, now, does it? Because I twitch my finger, and Rainy has a fresh hole in her head. My comrade there can do likewise to you. So frankly, since we’re starting to look like some great whatsit-centipede-all lined up like this, why don’t you two step back and let us walk away with Starthorne?”
Starley is a fighter, and a revolutionary leader. But although I’m as big a fan of Les Miserables as the next person, I knew he was no Enjolras, even if he wore red. That devil-may-care grin I’d seen in my dream kept returning to me, even as other details faded. As I mused on him, pulling together the pieces of plot, it came to me that what made Starley different from your usual fearless rebel types was that he believed in his cause—justice, equal rights for shifters—enough not only to risk death for it, but also utter humiliation. I’d never seen that before. Revolutionary leaders are generally so serious and dignified.
“How much are you willing to risk?”
“Everything,” replied Starley instantly. “No joke. I don’t care if I die if it means getting a chance to live first. Hang it, all the ambitions, all the soddin’ dreams that die because of our system—the stupidity of it makes me want to bite my own arse.”
“Don’t challenge him to actually do that, because he will,” said Jolt.
He could do it, too. When I was still in the process of creating Starley, I realized that as a shifter rebel, I needed to assign him some kind of animal to transform into. I chose a weasel. One of the defining attributes of the Moonfall Mayhem series is that I try to bend standard tropes, and weasels have a dreadful reputation. Even the otherwise excellent Zootopia made its weasel character stereotypically sneaky and cowardly. In actual fact, weasels are tremendously brave little animals, devoted to their young, and possessing a number of clever tricks for catching prey. When I saw a YouTube video featuring a stoat doing a “weasel war dance” to mesmerize a rabbit, I knew I had to include the scene somehow.
But you’ll have to read Into the Moonless Night to find out exactly how I worked it in. Starley enters around page thirty-three. You can’t miss him. He’s the queer, albino, weasel-shifting revolutionary leader who just wants to help create a world where all people stand as equals.
Even if he has to bite his own arse to accomplish it.
He’s my favorite bit of Into the Moonless Night. I hope you enjoy making his acquaintance.
A. E. Decker studied both English and colonial American history. She has worked as an ESL tutor, a tai chi instructor, and a doll-maker before turning to writing. In addition to the Moonfall Mayhem series published by World Weaver Press, her work has appeared in such venues as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fireside Magazine, and numerous anthologies. She is a member of, and editor for, the Bethlehem Writers Group. Like all authors, she is owned by three cats.
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz joins us today to talk about her narrative poetry collection How to Love the Empty Earth. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Vulnerable, beautiful and ultimately life-affirming, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s work reaches new heights in her revelatory seventh collection of poetry. Continuing in her tradition of engaging autobiographical work, How to Love the Empty Air explores what happens when the impossible becomes real―for better and for worse. Aptowicz’s journey to find happiness and home in her ever-shifting world sees her struggling in cities throughout America. When her luck changes―in love and in life―she can’t help but “tell the sun / tell the fields / tell the huge Texas sky…. / tell myself again and again until I believe it.” However, the upward trajectory of this new life is rocked by the sudden death of the poet’s mother. In the year that follows, Aptowicz battles the silencing power of grief with intimate poems burnished by loss and a hard-won humor, capturing the dance that all newly grieving must do between everyday living and the desire “to elope with this grief, / who is not your enemy, / this grief who maybe now is your best friend. / This grief, who is your husband, / the thing you curl into every night, / falling asleep in its arms…” As in her award-winning The Year of No Mistakes, Aptowicz counts her losses and her blessings, knowing how despite it all, life “ripples boundless, like electricity, like joy / like… laughter, irresistible and bright, / an impossible thing to contain.”
What’s Cristin’s favorite bit?
CRISTIN O’KEEFE APTOWICZ
My mother—as the best mothers always are—was my biggest fan. As a writer, this would manifest in a many ways: she was my pushiest editor (“You mean you haven’t finished the book yet? What’s taking so long!?”), my most aggressive Amazon reviewer (always the first to review, and always under her Amazon pseudonym “S. McGoo” lest her review be stricken from the site for sharing my last name!), and the most ardent spokesperson for my projects (she literally walked around with totes bags with my book covers printed on them, and “MY DAUGHTER’S BOOK” emblazoned, all caps, underneath). And as a poet, she was also a rich source of writing inspiration: a hilarious, uncompromising Philly broad whose loving intrusions into her daughter’s life were endlessly quotable.
When my mother unexpectedly passed away in May of 2015, I was devastated. She was my north star, the light I guided my life by, and to move through life without her seemed impossible. Of my five member family, she and I were the only true book lovers, consistently recommending books to each other that we knew the other would love, or which could be useful in helping us get through life’s latest hurtle. One of my clearest thoughts I remember after my mother’s death was wishing she could recommend me some books to help me deal with her loss!
Luckily, my friends in the writing community filled in the gap, and gifted me the books I needed: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Dear Darkness by Kevin Young, the poetry anthology The Art of Losing edited by Kevin Young, and Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelson, among many, many others. Those books kept me afloat. And writing my own book about my experiences felt like giving back to the community of writers who held me together when it felt like my world was coming apart.
When I shared an early draft of my How to Love the Empty Air manuscript with one of my early editors, she gave me a note I wasn’t expecting: “I wish we had some more poems about your mother before she passed…”
The comment shocked me! Poems about my mother could be found throughout each of my previous six collections. The first poem in my first ever book was titled “Mother” even! But I knew what she meant. Readers coming to this book might never have read my previous collections, and before I talked about losing her, I needed to show them what made her so incredibly funny, and unique, and perfectly herself.
It was an interesting part of my grieving process to step away from my poems about her loss, and go back further in my writing, to the ones I had written before her death. My favorite of these is the poem “My Mother Wants to Know I’m Dead” (below) which was essentially a narrated transcription of an actual email my mother sent me shortly after I arrived at the Amy Clampitt House, a writing residency where I would be the soul occupant in snowy, rural Massachusetts.
The spirit of this poem feels so uniquely my mother: pushy, and blunt, and hilarious, but absolutely steeped in love. However, what I have learned in sharing this piece at readings is that this poem represents a lot of people’s mothers. Passive aggressive text messaging may in fact be the official preferred love language for 21st century mothers! And the joy this poem brings to people—who recognize themselves and their own mothers in it—warms my heart.
It also serves as proof that the joy that people bring to others doesn’t need to end with their deaths; as long as we remember them for how they truly, hilariously, and perfectly were, the joy they bring can be boundless.
My Mother Wants to Know if I’m Dead
ARE YOU DEAD? is the subject line of her email.
The text outlines the numerous ways she thinks
I could have died: slain by an axe-murderer, lifeless
on the side of a highway, choked to death by smoke
since I’m a city girl and likely didn’t realize you needed
to open the chimney flue before making a fire (and,
if I do happen to be alive, here’s a link to a YouTube
video on fireplace safety that I should watch). Mom
muses about the point of writing this email. If I am
already dead, which is what she suspects, I wouldn’t
be able to read it. And if I’m alive, what kind of daughter
am I not to write her own mother to let her know
that I’ve arrived at my fancy residency, safe and sound,
and then to immediately send pictures of everything,
like I promised her! If this was a crime show, she posits,
the detective might accuse her of sending this email
as a cover up for murder. How could she be the murderer,
if she wrote an email to her daughter asking if she was murdered?
her defense lawyers would argue at the trial. In fact,
now that she thinks of it, this email is the perfect alibi
for murdering me. And that is something I should
definitely keep in mind, if I don’t write her back
CRISTIN O’KEEFE APTOWICZ is the author of six previous books of poetry—Dear Future Boyfriend; Hot Teen Slut; Working Class Represent; Oh, Terrible Youth; Everything is Everything and The Year of No Mistakes— which are all currently available through Write Bloody Publishing. Her second collection of poetry, Hot Teen Slut, was recently optioned for a film adaption, and her sixth collection of poetry, The Year of No Mistakes, was named the Book of the Year for Poetry by the Writers’ League of Texas. Aptowicz is also the author of two nonfiction books: Words In Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam (Soft Skull Press), which U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins wrote “leaves no doubt that the slam poetry scene has achieved legitimacy and taken its rightful place on the map of contemporary literature”; and Dr Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine (Avery Books/Penguin), which spent three months on the New York Times Best Seller list. Recent awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature, the ArtsEDGE Writer-in-Residence position at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Amy Clampitt House Residency. When not on tour, Aptowicz lives and writes in Austin, TX, with her family.
Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps […]