My Favorite Bit: Michael Livingston talks about THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN

My Favorite Bit iconMichael Livingston is joining us today with his novel The Shards of Heaven.  For those of you who have read Shades of Milk and Honey, Captain Livingston is named after Michael. He is one of my oldest writing friends, and has helped me work out fight sequences on more than one occasion. I read The Shards of Heaven in an early draft and it was fantastic. It’s even better now.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

Julius Caesar is dead, assassinated on the senate floor, and the glory that is Rome has been torn in two. Octavian, Caesar’s ambitious great-nephew and adopted son, vies with Marc Antony and Cleopatra for control of Caesar’s legacy.

But as civil war rages from Rome to Alexandria, and vast armies and navies battle for supremacy, a secret conflict may truly shape the course of history: two sons of Caesar have set out on a ruthless quest to find and control the Shards of Heaven, legendary artifacts said to possess the very power of the gods — or of the one God.

Caught up in these cataclysmic events, and the hunt for the Shards, are a pair of exiled Roman legionnaires, a Greek librarian of uncertain loyalties, assassins, spies, slaves . . . and the ten-year-old daughter of Cleopatra herself.

The Shards of Heaven reveals the hidden magic behind the history we know, and commences a war greater than any mere mortal battle.

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

Shards Cover 2


To read my favorite bit of The Shards of Heaven, you don’t even need to open the book. But you do need to have the book.

So go ahead and pick yours up.  I’ll wait.


Okay. Got it?

Good. Now turn it over. Look at the back. It’s really swell cover copy, I think, but that’s not what I’m after. Nope. See that blurb from Mary Robinette Kowal?

The Shards of Heaven has everything I want. Accurate history, magic, a diverse cast, intrigue and action, all set in ancient Rome. And Egypt. And did I mention the legionnaires?” – Mary Robinette Kowal

Yep. That’s it right there. That is my favorite bit.

I’m not saying that I don’t like what’s in the book, because nothing could be further from the truth. I love this book. I’m deeply proud of it. There are moments in it that still have the power to take my breath away even though I wrote them — and that’s a really phenomenal feeling. Like the early scene when Juba, realizing he now possesses the Trident of Poseidon, looks out over the sea and perhaps for the first time in his life ponders the existence of the gods. Or that moment that one of my characters, falling unconscious after a brutal fight, is aware that his friend is reaching out to catch him. Or maybe that really big Roman battle scene in the middle, where I can’t wait to see the next action, the next quip, though of course I know what’s going to happen.

I know I’m biased, but I think the adventure in Shards makes for a really good book.

Yet I don’t think it would be this good of a book — and it very certainly wouldn’t be the one you’re holding in your hands — if it wasn’t for Mary. She has, you see, been with this book for a long time indeed.

And that makes her blurb my favorite bit of the whole thing.

Mary’s ancestral home in Tennessee is a place of charm and touching beauty. And her parents are two of the most wonderful and amazing people I’ve met. They’re also incredibly patient: on many occasions they’ve opened their home to a band of writers who’ve come on Mary’s invitation for a writer’s retreat. I first met her (and them) at one of these retreats. And it was there that she first read The Shards of Heaven.

I remember sitting in the warm country comfort of her living room while she retreated downstairs to read my pages. I remember how I tried working on my laptop like the other writers in attendance. Truth was I could only manage to flail blindly at the words because, well, Mary is reading my book right now and what if she hates it?

Mary was already Somebody at that point, you see, and I deeply admired her formidable skills as a writer. I knew she was one of the best — still today I teach several of her stories in my creative writing classes — and this was one of the first times I’d let someone read this book I was writing. I really wanted her to like it.

Eventually she came up the stairs. She was in the middle of chapter four, I think. She looked me dead in the eye. She smiled. “This is good,” she said. “This is really, really good.”

Harlan Ellison once said that you know you’re a writer when a writer says you’re a writer. If so, that was my moment of truth. Mary Robinette Kowal, a terrifically talented writer, said I was a writer.

She went on to read the whole thing. She made some very wise suggestions for improvement, but more than anything she told me she loved it. She encouraged me not to give up.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself attending JordanCon as a special guest lecturer — the very same year that Mary was the Guest of Honor. It was a great time. Mary and I shared several meals and laughs. On the last night there was a dance, which was lovely, and partway through it I received a urgent email from a student traveling abroad who was contemplating self-harm. I immediately retreated to the lobby and sat down to compose several emergency emails. Just after I had hit “send” on the last one I looked up to see Mary, smiling, introducing me to Paul Stevens, the fiction editor at Tor who a couple years later would — because of a chain of events initiated in that moment — buy my book.

And then those years later, after the ink on the deal was dry, Paul said we really ought to send the book to Mary, to see if she would blurb it. He asked me if I wanted to do it or if I wanted him to do it. Not wanting her to feel the pressure of our friendship in the decision, I suggested that he do it.

Less than one hour later, Mary had sent in her marvelous blurb.

And now she has given me this: an opportunity to use her sizable social media presence to boost the awareness of that book.

I’m sure somewhere a publicist is cringing that I spent that opportunity talking about my friend rather than my novel, but the truth is that they do not exist apart from one another. Write what you know, the old adage goes, and of course that only goes so far. I’ve never been the nine-year-old daughter of Cleopatra, smuggling the asp that will end her mother’s life. I’ve never stood on the heaving deck of a Roman trireme and commanded the sea to rise. I’ve never done so many of the things my characters do in The Shards of Heaven. But that’s not really what “write what you know” means to me.

For me it means instead the deeper truths of our lives, the deeper connections that make up who we are. Even apart from her encouragement and kindness in helping me get to this point, Mary’s friendship is a part of who I am. It’s a part of this book.

So it is a special kind of symbol to me that this fact is cemented — branded, one might say — onto the cover itself.

And that, dear readers, is why it is My Favorite Bit.




Read an excerpt


Barnes & Noble



An award-winning writer and professor, Michael Livingston holds degrees in History, Medieval Studies, and English. Shards of Heaven, the first in a trilogy of historical fantasy novels, will be published by Tor Books in November 2015. In his academic life, he teaches at The Citadel, specializing in the Middle Ages.

My Favorite Bit: Michael R. Underwood talks about THE SHOOTOUT SOLUTION

My Favorite Bit iconMichael R. Underwood is joining us today with his novella The Shootout Solution. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Leah Tang just died on stage. Well, not literally. Not yet.

Leah’s stand-up career isn’t going well. But she understands the power of fiction, and when she’s offered employment with the mysterious Genrenauts Foundation, she soon discovers that literally dying on stage is a hazard of the job!

Her first assignment takes her to a Western world. When a cowboy tale slips off its rails, and the outlaws start to win, it’s up to Leah – and the Genrenauts team – to nudge the story back on track and prevent a catastrophe on Earth.

But the story’s hero isn’t interested in winning, and the safety of Earth hangs in the balance…

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?



It’s almost inevitable that I’d end up writing something like Genrenauts. Starting my career with the Ree Reyes books, where fandom and love of SF/F culture is its own magic system, making the jump from that to a more general series about genre and storytelling was a natural extension. Genrenauts is a more general idea, letting me apply my love of self-aware genre-mashing to a broader canvas.

Genrenauts started the same way as many of my projects – with a question I asked myself: What if you threw a genre-aware character directly into the world of a story? That seed of an idea quickly grew as I added in influences and fleshed out the idea so that it was something new, something specific, more than just a Frankenstein-pastiche of Planetary, Leverage, and The Last Action Hero.

Now fully-developed, Genrenauts is a science fiction series in novellas, where a group of storytellers (the titular Genrenauts) travel between dimensions – each the home of a narrative genre, from Crime to Westerns to Romance and so on, where tale types play out again and again – to find and fix broken stories. If they don’t, those broken stories will ripple back to the Genrenauts’ home world and re-write reality to disastrous results. In The Shootout Solution, the first episode, the head of the Genrenauts recruits struggling stand-up comic Leah Tang to join the team as they try to fix a broken story in the Western world.

And there, My Favorite Bit was getting to lampshade the heck out of the Western genre. The tropes and archetypes of Westerns are very well established, to the point that for many, they’ve gone past Archetype into Stereotype, become rigid and inflexible. There are new Westerns playing with the genre and creating new interpretations, and I hope The Shootout Solution will be one of them.

Early in Act Two of The Shootout Solution, Leah and the Genrenauts walk into a town straight out of a movie studio back-lot, with a saloon, a bank, and a half-dozen other stores. It’s a one-street town plagued by bandits, with saloon girls, a friendly but firm madam, and a chatty bartender. Leah marvels in the generic excess of the world, the energetic oddity of stepping into a situation where everything is in place, where you know exactly what to expect.

Except she doesn’t. Because the story there is broken, and beyond that, even in the midst of the most stereotypical Western setting, there are elements reacting against stereotype. The characters we meet in this town aren’t all who they appear to be, and much of the story focuses on what it takes to be a hero in the Western genre, and who gets to put on the gun belt and rise to the occasion. I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers, but rest assured that The Shootout Solution doesn’t just present Western stereotypes to celebrate them, doesn’t leave questions unasked. And if there are some Blazing Saddles shout-outs and self-aware jokes about the Western genre along the way? Even better.

My Favorite Bit in Genrenauts is getting to re-examine the ways that genre sets expectations and frames stories, to poke fun but also send out some love for the stories which brought me to where I am today, telling stories about stories to a readership which has spent years surfing the waters of narrative. If you liked the Ree Reyes books (often narrated by our marvelous hostess herself), then I think you’ll like Genrenauts, as well, especially if you’ve ever wanted to jump into a story and push it toward your own version of a happily ever after.


Genrenauts series

Author website



Michael R. Underwood is the author the several series: the comedic fantasy Ree Reyes series (GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, ATTACK THE GEEK, HEXOMANCY), fantasy superhero novel SHIELD AND CROCUS, supernatural thriller THE YOUNGER GODS, and Genrenauts, a science fiction series in novellas. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife and their ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he plays video games, geeks out on TV, and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show.

SF/F Convention Accessibility Pledge

Over the last few years, there have been numerous instances of SF/F conventions failing to provide an accessible experience for their members with disabilities. Though accessibility is the right thing to do, and there are legal reasons for providing it in the US thanks to the 25-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act, many conventions continue to have no trained accessibility staff, policies, contact information, or procedures for accommodating their members with disabilities. As Congress said in the opening of the ADA, these “forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem.”

All members of a convention should be treated with dignity. These are people– friends, fans, and colleagues– who have the same right to an inclusive experience at these events as any of the other paying members, volunteers, or guests. If conventions build this into their planning and budgeting from day one, this can and should happen. Though many conrunners have been working towards this, others have not– and even have resisted making these changes.

We the undersigned are making a pledge. Starting in 2017, to give conventions time to fit this into their planning, the following will be required for us to be participants, panelists, or Guests of Honor at a convention:

  1. The convention has an accessibility statement posted on the website and in the written programs offering specifics about the convention’s disability access.
  2. The convention has at least one trained accessibility staff member with easy to find contact information. (There are numerous local and national organizations that will help with training.)
  3. The convention is willing and able to make accommodations for its members as it tries to be as accessible as possible. (We recommend that the convention uses the Accessibility Checklist for SFWA Spaces as a beginning guideline. Other resources include Fans for Accessible Cons, A Guide for Accessible Conferences, and the ADA rules for places of public accommodation, which apply to US conventions.)

(Thanks to Michael Damian Thomas, Lynne M Thomas, and others for crafting the language for this. And here are my own thoughts about why accessibility is important.)

Edited to add: There’s a twitter hashtag for discussions about this. #AccessibleCons

If you want to pledge with us, you can just respond below with “co-sign.”

My Favorite Bit: Karina Sumner-Smith about TOWERS FALL

My Favorite Bit iconKarina Sumner-Smith is joining us today with her novel Towers Fall. Here’s the publisher’s description:

War. Fire. Destruction. Xhea believed that the Lower City had weathered the worst of its troubles—that their only remaining fight would be the struggle to rebuild before winter. She was wrong.

Now her home is under attack from an unexpected source. The Central Spire, the City’s greatest power, is intent on destroying the heart of the magical entity that resides beneath the Lower City’s streets. The people on the ground have three days to evacuate—or else.

With nowhere to go and time running out, Xhea and the Radiant ghost Shai attempt to rally a defense. Yet with the Spire’s wrath upon them, nothing—not their combined magic, nor their unexpected allies—may be strong enough to protect them from the power of the City.

From Nebula Award–nominated author Karina Sumner-Smith, Towers Fall is a fantastic climax to this amazing and thought-provoking trilogy.

What’s Karina’s favorite bit?

Towers Fall Cover FINAL-small


There is so much riding on the third book in a trilogy. It’s a book that has to be a whole story in and of itself, while simultaneously connecting to and creating resonances from the earlier books. It has to tie up all those loose ends. It has to justify all the words that have come before.

Writing Towers Fall, the third and final book in my Towers Trilogy, was an exhilarating, stressful, chaotic experience, one that I loved and loathed in equal measure. I was in love with the story, with finally reaching the conclusion that I’d been working toward for so very long—and was absolutely terrified that I was going to mess it up.

And yet my favorite moment in that whole writing process wasn’t actually finishing the story (glorious as that was), nor turning it in, but a moment of sudden understanding that occurred when I was in the middle of writing the first draft. Obvious as it seems in retrospect, there was a moment where I suddenly realized: I had been wrong about these books from the start. For all my protestations that the Towers Trilogy books do not, will not include a romance … they do. It was there the whole time.

While these books aren’t about a romantic relationship in the traditional sense, they are very much a love story.

No one questions the sacrifices one would make for a lover or spouse; it does not seem strange for a character to fight and struggle to the ends of the earth to help or save their child or a sibling. But to go to such lengths for someone who is “only” a friend? Hardly.

It seems to me that relationships that are not bound by blood or sex are seen as somehow lesser. We say that someone is “only” a friend; there is the (frustrating, awful) talk of the “friend zone,” as if a friendship is an undesirable consolation prize. And the idea that friendship alone would be enough to motivate someone to great and terrible lengths seems foreign to some individuals.

Yet that mindset is so opposite to my own life experience, feelings, and understanding of friendship. I have friends who are best described as my family-of-choice; my spouse is also my dearest friend. (And yes, my strange, prickly main character takes after me more than some realize. If one of my close friends needs the world burned down? Darling, hand me the matches.)

So it’s no wonder that the heart of these books for me has always been the relationship between Xhea and Shai, two young women from opposite ends of their society who develop a deep connection despite their many differences. Yet, even knowing that their friendship was the heart of the story, only in writing Towers Fall was it clear that, though there is no traditional romantic plotline, no sex or even kissing, these two women love each other.

That love, that connection, that devotion, not only drives the books, but it changes their world around them. Everything that happens, good and bad, is because they found each other. Because they save each other, time and again.

There is one scene in Towers Fall that dives right into the core of their relationship, and is perhaps my favorite scene in the whole trilogy. As it comes in the book’s last third, I hesitate to say too much lest I ruin the scene for new readers; but it’s about the worst thing that could happen to these two characters, both physically and emotionally—and it leads to a moment of perfect joy and catharsis.

Writing that scene felt like tearing my heart open and healing the same wound in the span of a chapter. For those readers who have joined me on this journey—three whole books!—I think you’ll know the scene when you reach it.

For these characters to find joy and togetherness after everything they’ve been through—all the sacrifices they made, all the trust they’ve built, all the things they’ve lost, all the love they found—well, I’ll admit it. Writing it, I cried, and they were tears of joy.





Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Indiebound


Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of the Towers Trilogy from Talos Press: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (Nov 2015). In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives in Ontario near the shores of Lake Huron with her husband, a small dog, and a large cat. Visit her online at

Paris, Beirut, and thinking how to responsibly signal boost

I am painfully aware that until the Paris attacks happened, I was unaware of the bombing in Beirut a mere two days prior. It didn’t trend on twitter. No one on Facebook mentioned it. There wasn’t an option to set my avatar to the colors of the Lebanese flag. And yet the same group organized both attacks, with the same goals.

I want you to take a moment to watch this video, which has nothing to do with Paris or Beirut, and then think about the pictures you see and the coverage each tragedy receives.

The way in which we present things to the world matters. When you think about what you can do, one of the things is to make sure that you are being responsible with how you share information. Don’t blindly retweet things. Actually read the articles, not just the headlines. Look at the pictures. And, most importantly, look for the stories from people who are being marginalized.

What can you do? You can boost the signal. You can be part of making sure the full story is heard.

Please feel free to share good sources in the comments below.

In which I break Patrick Rothfuss with a story about Catherine the Great and Anubis

At NerdCon (which was fantastic and you should go), Patrick Rothfuss invited me, Hank Green, Maureen Johnson, Paul Sabourin, and Joseph Fink to play The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I have learned that when Pat invites me to do something, I should just say yes, because it will be fun.

Edited to add: I’ve since learned that this was based on an actual published game, by James Wallis, that is available for purchase.

So — here is the introduction and my story. If you want to skip the set-up, which is funny, I start talking around 5:30.

Sometimes Writers Block is really Depression

Last year, I stopped writing.

Previously, I’ve always looked at Writers Block as a way of diagnosing that something has gone wrong with my story. I found that I could examine my reactions to sitting down and that they broke down into a couple of specific areas.

  1. Drowsy — Two sentences in and I’m totally falling asleep
  2. Staring — How long can I look at a blank screen without putting any words down?
  3. Restless — Why am I suddenly in the kitchen doing dishes?
  4. Dithering — There are only so many times I can rewrite the same opening.

With each of those, what’s really going on is that my reader brain is trying to tell my writer brain about its responses to the thing I’m writing. When you think about your favorite book, the one you’ve read multiple times, you still have an emotional reaction to the story, even though you know what is going to happen next. The same thing is happening with your own writing. Even though you know what is going to happen next, you are still telling yourself a story.

Drowsy — Sorry, this means your story is dull. You are boring yourself. Back up to the last point that you were excited about and try to think of a more dynamic choice to make for the plot. What would be cool and excite you as a reader?

Staring — You don’t know what is supposed to happen next. So think about the situation that your character is in. What do they want? What is the smartest thing they can do with the materials they have on hand to achieve that goal? Now how does it go horribly, horribly wrong?

Restless — The next scene is hard and you are trying to escape writing it. By “hard” I mean, you are approaching a tense scene. It’s a scene that will be difficult for your character and/or difficult to write well. This one, you just have to power through. Remember, you can always go back and fix it later. Set a timer for fifteen minutes, start writing, and don’t let your fingers stop while the timer is running. Most of the time, you’ll get out of the hole.

Dithering — You don’t believe the scene that you are about to write. This is probably related to your character’s internal motivation, or possibly just that a planned scene no longer fits in the novel. Much like “staring,” pause and think about what your character wants and how they can try to achieve that. Then be awful to them.

But there’s a fifth form of writer’s block. And that’s when the urge to go to the chair isn’t even present. When you go, you hate writing. The joy is totally gone when you do write.

This is depression.

I had been slowing down and struggling to even care about writing for most of the previous year. And then, I just stopped.

And after that, I stopped getting out of bed, except right before my husband came home. I’d get up and get dressed, because I was ashamed of the fact that I was in bed and had gotten nothing done. I could hear the gate open as he headed to the back yard with his bike, so I’d be in the kitchen washing dishes when he came home. I looked totally productive.

The cover of Altered PerceptionsFinally, as I was writing a forward for my excerpt in Altered Perceptions, I realized that I was masking. No– wait. I admitted to myself that I was masking. I already knew it. I already knew that it was depression. I just didn’t want to admit it, because that would mean admitting being broken.

I knew what depression looked like. I had tons of friends who dealt with it and who are open about it. So, I called my doctor to make an appointment. My internalization of the stigma of mental illness was so ingrained, that I made the appointment to have a mole on my back looked at.

When I got into the office, I told my doctor why I was really there. “I think I’m dealing with depression, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

She said, “That’s what I’m here for.”

Cue burst of tears.

I’m on Zoloft and seeing a counselor. I’ve started writing again. It’s still slow, but the desire is back.

In hindsight, I’ve probably dealt with this off and on for my entire life, but last year, I tried to push past it and pretend I was fine. And it became crippling. Now I have tools to handle it. I’m better about self-care, so that I don’t let things become crippling again. I am trying to treat it like having a broken arm and be very matter-of-fact about it. Though, really, it’s more like having dysentery, because it traps you at home and no one wants to hear about it.

But I digress.

Now… I’ve given you strategies for handling the other types of writer’s block. Let me tell you the things that work for me with writing. I want to be clear, that everyone’s brain is wired differently. If you are like me, and respond well to challenges and ticky-boxes, these might work for you.

  • Habitica — This gamifies my to-do list. I have a mix of things on there from “Take medication” to “Leave House” to “Write 3 sentences.” The big thing is that I can see that, yes, I actually AM achieving something.
  • Small goals — I used to have a 2000 word per day goal. Now, I aim for 3 sentences. This almost always turns into more, but having a small goal is achievable, even on the rough days.
  • Headspace — This is a meditation app. I was toooootally skeptical about this when my counselor suggested it. It took me awhile to get comfortable with the idea, but it makes a difference.
  • Yoga in the morning — So, apparently, 20 minutes of physical activity in the morning can totally change your entire day. I have found this to be appallingly true for me. The days that I skip it to do later, I am much more scattered. It doesn’t have to be yoga, but physical activity is huge. (I use DailyYoga since I travel a ton.)
  • I stopped lying — I was lying to myself and to my husband. Now, when he asks me how I’m doing, I answer him. And I’m honest. And he can help. Putting up a front took a lot of energy. Now I can use that energy for other things.
  • Buffers — Self-care involves turning things down, even things I want to do sometimes. I build quiet space into my convention schedule. I have buffers on my calendar to keep me from over-booking myself. (Yes, I know what my travel looked like this year. Recall that my mom was becoming bionic, which added a lot of unplanned travel to the list. I dropped a ton of stuff, too.)
  • Timers — I use a sand timer to help me get started. It’s 15 minutes. The beautiful thing is that it doesn’t make a sound when the time runs out, so if I’m a roll, I keep going.
  • Written? Kitten! — Look. Kittens make the world go around. This gives you a new picture of a kitten for every 100 words you write. Yes, my brain is that easily hacked.
  • The Email Game — It turns answering email into a game! Again, my brain is that easily hacked. This doesn’t help with writing, per se, but it does help keep me from becoming isolated by making answering email less daunting.

The biggest thing to say to you though, is that if you are having trouble writing take a look at what’s going on. Ask yourself if something is wrong with the story, or if the thing that is wrong is outside the story.

And if it is not the story, please ask someone for help. That’s what they are there for.

(PS Sometimes, not writing is also just being lazy. Sorry. The only solution for that one is to just STFU and write.)

Thoughts on accessibility at conventions

Caitlin Thomas in a wheelchair, wrapped in a Hogwarts scarfI went to three conventions in the past month and a half. I’ve realized a thing, which is going to require me telling this out of sequence.

At the last convention, GenreCon (which was amazing), in Brisbane Australia, I initially thought the hotel was sharing space with a medical convention, because I saw a higher percentage of wheelchair users than I’m used to seeing. It wasn’t until after the convention, when I was out in the city, and that same high percentage was there, that I realized what I was really seeing.

Brisbane is accessible.

There are Braille trails everywhere, which are bumpy guidelines in the pavement. Curb cuts are everywhere. Ramps. Elevators. Wide doors. What I was seeing wasn’t a higher percentage of wheelchair users than, say, Chicago has — what I was seeing was what the world looks like when people can actually access places equally.

Flash backwards to the Surrey International Writers Conference, which is my favorite conference. I’ve noticed a wheelchair users there, which I’d not given much thought to, honestly. In hindsight, I’m realizing that SiWC is an accessible convention. Wide aisles, elevators, level speaker spaces, microphones…

Flash backwards to NerdCon: Stories. This convention was amazing. Truly. I will go again, and again. One of the things that I noticed, right away, was that they had a sign language interpreter. In hindsight, again, I’m realizing that there’s a reason that I saw more than one group of fans conversing in ASL. Not because there are more in Minneapolis, but because this is what fandom looks like when it is accessible.

Most of the conventions I go to are fan run. They start as a big party and then grow. So, it’s understandable why a first year con might not think about being ADA compliant. But after the first year… there’s no reason why a panelist should have to address a room from the floor, while the other panelists are elevated on a platform. Simple things like, don’t registration in a space that’s not accessible by wheelchair users. Have websites that are accessible for the blind.

The thing about Brisbane that was eye-opening was that the wheelchair users weren’t disabled there. By which I mean that the city did not make them unable to experience it in equal measure with bi-pedal people.

It’s not that hard to do. At SFWA, the Nebula Awards Weekend has a disability coordinator whose whole job is just to make sure it’s compliant. And compliant sounds all legally and scary — but really, it just means being considerate and inclusive. It means making active choices to not disable the attendees. That’s what accessible means.

ADA compliance isn’t about not getting sued, folks.

This is about fans. This is about making SFF accessible. This is about all of us.


My Favorite Bit: Martin Rose talks about MY LOADED GUN, MY LONELY HEART

My Favorite Bit iconMartin Rose is joining us today to talk about his novel My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Vitus Adamson has a second chance at life now that he’s no longer a zombie. But after killing his brother Jamie, Vitus lands in prison on murder charges. Jamie’s death exposes secret government projects so deep in the black they cannot be seen—without Vitus, that is.

Sprung from jail, the government hires Vitus to clean up Jamie’s messes, but tracking down his brother’s homemade monsters gone rogue is easier said than done. The first of them is a convicted killer assumed to be safely behind bars. However, it appears he is still committing murder through his victim’s dreams. High on Atroxipine—the drug that once kept him functioning among the living—and lapsing into addiction, Vitus’s grip on reality takes a nasty turn when his own dreams begin slipping sideways.

Vitus’s problems multiply as he deals with his failed friendship with wheelchair-bound officer Geoff Lafferty, his wrecked romance with the town mortician Niko, government agents working for his father, sinister figures lurking in the shadows, and, least of all, the complications of learning how to be human again.

Secret agents, conspiracy theories, broken hearts and lonely souls, the siren song of prescription drugs . . . in My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart, readers are invited to discover life after undeath, where there are no happy endings.

What’s Martin’s favorite bit?

My Loaded Gun


Picking a favorite bit of a novel is tricky business; I’d love to wax rhapsodic about the character of Elvedina, or discuss in-depth my particular love of government conspiracy theories (think Jon Ronson’s The Men Who Stare At Goats) but I fear to reveal too much and take the pleasure of discovery away.

Instead, let me tell you about vultures.

Not the sort of animal people think of when they ponder a few of their favorite things, but for me, the vulture holds a special place in my life. When I first wrote Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell, it amused me to think that the natural pet of a sentient zombie would of course, be a scavenger bird. But by the time I found my stride while writing My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart, the much maligned turkey vulture had taken on a whole life of its own, insinuating itself into the scenes, from whimsical atmosphere builder to a critical force upon which plot would come to rely on.

Take the time to watch Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal to get the full flavor of Skeksis creepiness, and you have the turkey vulture on a smaller scale and with less robes – ugly, wrinkly head jutting like a periscope above a pile of feathers. Commonly spotted along roadsides attending its macabre road-kill buffet. However, this was not how I garnered my weird love for this hideous member of the avian family; it happened when I was twenty-two, doing security at a state park.

I was fresh in the wake of a family tragedy and lurching from day to day in a state of numbness. In the mornings I’d hoist the flag in the gloaming before sunrise and then walk the grounds in the midst of hundreds of thousand acres of pristine pine forest and open up the lakeside buildings. I’d approach from a distance before I arrived at the sandy banks of the lake, with the sun cresting the edge of the forest trees.

Arrayed before me on the shore, a long, straggling line of turkey vultures. They stood abreast of each other and shook out their wings, holding them half-cocked, tip to tip, worshiping the sun at the water’s edge. They warmed themselves, leaving only at the first sign of human trespass. Massive and saturnine. If one lives a thousand lifetimes, few things measure up to the stillness and intensity of watching, unobserved, the secret ritual of these carrion eaters. I will carry it with me to my deathbed.

Before I reach that final destination, however, I suffice to carry it into story instead; I plucked a vulture from memory and resurrected it in My Loaded Gun, My Lonely Heart. Here, this vulture lives and breathes as one of my favorite bits, one of my favorite parts.







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Martin Rose’s fiction spans genres with work appearing in numerous venues, such as Penumbra and Murky Depths, and various anthologies: Urban Green Man, Handsome Devil, and Ominous Realities. Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell, is a horror novel published by Talos in 2014, and has been recognized as one of “Notable Novels of 2014” in Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 7.

My Favorite Bit: Emma Newman talks about PLANETFALL

My Favorite Bit iconEmma Newman is joining us today with her novel Planetfall. Here’s the publisher’s description:

From Emma Newman, the award-nominated author of Between Two Thorns, comes a novel of how one secret withheld to protect humanity’s future might be its undoing…

Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.

More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.

The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…

What’s Emma’s favorite bit?

Planetfall cover


All novels require world building, even if you’re writing a contemporary novel set in the real world with average people, you still have to construct their lives and embed the reader into them. When you write in SFF, world building goes to a whole new level and it’s one of the things I love most about writing it. My previous series (The Split Worlds) involved Fae and sorcerous magic and three different slices of reality, each with their own rules and characteristics.

My latest novel, Planetfall, is science-fiction and needed a whole set of new world building, both for the colony established on a distant planet in which the novel is set and also for the Earth left behind. As the novel centres on Ren, the 3-D printer engineer for the colony, I also needed to root the reader in a sense of her, her ability and the technology as early as possible.

The first chapter contains a memory of a conversation she had back on Earth with her mother. It’s in Ren’s old lab and her mother has come to visit. Ren has started a print so she can show her mother what she’s working on, and is hoping to impress her.

What I’m going to do now is share a snippet of this conversation and then break down what I hope it conveys in terms of world building and introducing the main character.

She went up to the plasglass and peered through, seeing nothing but a few millimeters of tissue. She turned to me with her nose slightly wrinkled. “What is it printing?”

“A new pancreas,” I said. “For Dad.”

“Oh.” She’d hoped I was making something she could hang up in the hallway of her inert home. “I didn’t realise you were involved in this sort of thing. I’ve seen it on the news.”

And that was the moment I knew I’d been stupid to hope for anything. “The gene therapy isn’t working out for him. There’s an unusual base pair sequence in the-”

“Renata,” she holds up her hand. “You know I don’t understand this kind of thing.” The hand lowers to rest over her heart. “I’m an artist.”

I wanted to say that my colleague had called me that when he saw the final model I’d compiled for the print. I wanted to ask her why she wasn’t even the tiniest bit worried about Dad’s cancer. They were married once, surely an echo of something remained? But all I said was “I’m making him a new pancreas with cells cultured from a cheek swab and it’s actually fucking cool. I’m going to save his life. And thousands of other people who can’t-”

“I don’t think it’s right.”

“How can it be wrong to save a life?”

“Where does it stop? Making a person? Making copies?”

“Actually, they’ve already locked down the ethics on that, after the guy over at Princeton-”

“It’s going too far, all this science. Where’s the beauty? Where is God in all of this?”

“Everywhere,” I whispered. “Especially here.”

At the start, the information about what is in the printer is designed to inform the reader that this is a world in which 3-D printing technology has advanced beyond what we have today. People are trying to develop this now, with some early successes, but by some estimates we’re still about twenty years away from being able to print a fully functional replacement organ. What I wanted to show here is that in Ren’s world, this memory of her past is definitely set in our future (or at least one I hope will come to pass!) in which cancer can be treated by techniques that are being researched now, and that printing organs has also advanced significantly too.

On a character level, it shows that Ren is skilled in these areas, but more than that; she has developed a solution to her father’s problem. She’s an engineer, a natural problem-solver. Her defence shows she is willing to stand up for her work but also hints that it is cutting edge.

Her mother’s reaction to it is about as far away from what my own would be in the same circumstances! She shuts down Ren’s enthusiastic explanation, bringing the conversation topic squarely back to her. I wanted this to show the poor communication and relationship between the two of them, the self-centredness of the mother and the gulf between their world-views. In the rest of this snippet, she fires off concerns about what her daughter is doing which are the over-simplified, scare-mongering headline content propagated by the press. I wanted to show the average knee-jerk reaction to new tech and the fact it hasn’t changed – nor the people who voice those kinds of concerns without looking into the issue themselves. When Ren reassures her that one of her worries is no longer relevant, her mother talks over her again, unwilling to listen to a reasonable voice. Her mother changes tack, attacking Ren’s work with more spiritual concerns. Ren’s response to this shows that she is a woman of faith, and that faith sits very comfortably alongside her scientific work. Considering the plot of Planetfall, this is a critical piece of information!

The efficiency of dialogue

What I hoped to do here is show how a slice of conversation between two characters can convey a lot of information about both the people involved and the world. Of course, if the dialogue falls too much into “well John, as you know, the super-light-emitting-oojamaflip was only approved last summer so we haven’t tested it yet and anything could happen when I press this button” it causes its own problems! Getting the balance between introducing factual information, plot critical information, character details and general world building is tricky, but I hope these thoughts about what I tried to achieve in this scene snippet might be of interest to any fellow writers – and potential Planetfall readers too!


More information about Planetfall


Tea and Jeopardy podcast





Emma Newman writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels. ‘Between Two Thorns’, the first book in Emma’s Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the BFS Best Novel and Best Newcomer awards. Emma’s next book, Planetfall, will be a standalone science fiction novel published by Roc in November. Emma is a professional audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’ which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at and can be found on Twitter as @emapocalyptic .

My Favorite Bit: Lila Bowen (aka Delilah S. Dawson) talks about Wake of Vultures

My Favorite Bit iconLila Bowen (aka Delilah S. Dawson) is joining us today to talk about her novel Wake of Vultures. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A rich, dark fantasy of destiny, death, and the supernatural world hiding beneath the surface.

Nettie Lonesome lives in a land of hard people and hard ground dusted with sand. She’s a half-breed who dresses like a boy, raised by folks who don’t call her a slave but use her like one. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood, and he turns into black sand.

And just like that, Nettie can see.

But her newfound ability is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn’t understand what’s under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding — at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead to her true kin… if the monsters along the way don’t kill her first.

What’s Lila’s favorite bit?



So here’s my problem: I’ve never been punched in the face.

I studied muay thai for several years, and one thing always bothered me: The guys were too easy on me. Whether we were practicing kicks or punches or sparring, they always hit me too softly, hung back to let me attack first, and gave me patronizing smiles when I landed a bruising kick. And that just made me hit them all the harder as punishment.

In Wake of Vultures, I’m unusually cruel to Nettie Lonesome, the main character who begins as a slave girl and chooses to live as a man, a Texas Ranger, and a monster hunter. But I wanted to give her that moment of satisfaction I never had in all my sparring days.

All in one swift motion, Hennessy sat up and clocked her in the jaw with a brawny fist. Nettie fell over on her back, seeing stars, and he climbed to his feet to stare down at her, hands on his hips.

“What the Sam Hill was that for?” she asked, sitting up slowly and rubbing her aching jaw.

“Because if you’re going to play at being a boy, I’m damn well going to treat you like a man. A feller causes me this much trouble, I find that punching him in the face makes me feel a lot better.”

He held out a hand to pull her up, and when she stood, they eyed each other warily.

“I can live with that,” Nettie said with a nod.

Being punched in the face is the best thing that’s ever happened to Nettie. In my alternate 1800s Texas, called Durango, she was born half black and half native and found by folks who use her as a slave—while never telling her what a slave was. She’s been used, abused, and beaten, but never treated as a human being. For all the scars on her back, getting clocked in the jaw by Hennessy means she’s exactly what she wants to be, what she sees herself as: a capable equal. Not a weak girl to be pitied, not an attractive woman to be used, not a minority to be looked down upon, not a servant to be exploited.

A man.

Part of the beauty in writing an ignorant shut-in is that your character doesn’t have a full understanding of the prejudice and cultural standards rampant in their current society. Raised in seclusion on the frontier by people who didn’t see her as human, she’s never heard of homosexuality and therefore has no qualms about her own attraction to both men and women. She sees dressing as a man as a practical choice and considers the aesthetic trappings of women to be foolish. Her only role models for women are unhappy wives and the whores at the bordello, so putting on pants and a gun belt is a smart decision. Even though Nettie starts out far from free, her mind is oddly unfettered, which is what allows her to be herself in a world in which she would’ve faced derision and scorn.

Although I definitely don’t want to be punched in the face, it felt good to give Nettie that bruise. And don’t worry—she gives as good as she gets and immediately punches Hennessy for calling her a liar. “Kill what needs to die,” is a theme of the book, and so is, “Punch who needs to be punched.”


Wake of Vultures on

Amazon –

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Indiebound –

Signed copies available at FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA –


Delilah S. Dawson is the author of the Blud series, Servants of the Storm, Hit, Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon, a variety of short stories and comics, and Wake of Vultures, written as Lila Bowen. She teaches writing classes online at LitReactor and lives in the north Georgia mountains with her family, a floppy mutt named Merle, and a Tennessee Walker named Polly. Find her online at

My Favorite Bit: Cassandra Rose Clarke talks about OUR LADY OF THE ICE

My Favorite Bit iconCassandra Rose Clarke is joining us today with her novel Our Lady of the Ice. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union meets The Windup Girl when a female PI goes up against a ruthless gangster—just as both humans and robots agitate for independence in an Argentinian colony in Antarctica.

In Argentine Antarctica, Eliana Gomez is the only female PI in Hope City—a domed colony dependent on electricity (and maintenance robots) for heat, light, and survival in the icy deserts of the continent. At the center is an old amusement park—now home only to the androids once programmed to entertain—but Hope City’s days as a tourist destination are long over. Now the City produces atomic power for the mainland while local factions agitate for independence and a local mobster, Ignacio Cabrera, runs a brisk black-market trade in illegally imported food.

Eliana doesn’t care about politics. She doesn’t even care—much—that her boyfriend, Diego, works as muscle for Cabrera. She just wants to save enough money to escape Hope City. But when an aristocrat hires Eliana to protect an explosive personal secret, Eliana finds herself caught up in the political tensions threatening to tear Hope City apart. In the clash of backstabbing politicians, violent freedom fighters, a gangster who will stop at nothing to protect his interests, and a newly sentient robot underclass intent on a very different independence, Eliana finds her job coming into deadly conflict with Diego’s, just as the electricity that keeps Hope City from freezing begins to fail…

From the inner workings of the mob to the story of a revolution to the amazing settings, this story has got it all. Ultimately, however, Our Lady of the Ice questions what it means to be human, what it means to be free, and whether we’re ever able to transcend our pasts and our programming to find true independence.

What’s Cassandra’s favorite bit?



One of the most useful things for me to do when I’m in the throes of writing a novel is going for a walk. I can’t listen to music when I’m writing (it’s too distracting) but I will listen to it while I’m walking—often the same three or four songs that I most strongly associate with the characters and the story. I slip on my earbuds, put on my tennis shoes, and wander aimlessly around my neighborhood while my brain takes over, working out story wrinkles and coming up with new scenes and interactions for my characters.

Two years and eleven months ago, I did this exact thing while working on Our Lady of the Ice. It was November, and I was writing part of Our Lady for Nanowrimo. I went for my customary book-writing walk one evening, right at twilight.

It started to rain.

Now, I’ve always loved the rain, so this wasn’t a huge concern for me—and anyway, it wasn’t raining hard, more a soft mist in the failing light. And it was beautiful. At one point I passed under a streetlamp and the light illuminated each of the individual raindrops, creating this sense of static. And like that, I had an idea for a scene in Our Lady of the Ice.

That scene made it to the final draft of the novel, and even three years later, it’s still one of my favorites. It takes place towards the end of the book, but isn’t terribly spoilery in terms of plot. Luciano, a robot, links his “brain” to the mind of Eliana, a human, and shares his first memory with her. That memory is—you guessed it!—a rainstorm. That is signficant because Eliana, having grown up in the domed metropolis of Hope City, has never seen rain or thunder or lightning in her entire life:

And then there was a rustling, all around her, like the trees were trying to talk. She felt like she should hold her breath.

Water poured out of the sky.

It fell in raging, riotous sheets, soaking through her thin gray coveralls, plastering her short hair to her head. It dripped into her eyes. Little yellow lamps glowed at each of the houses, and their light caught the raindrops and made them shimmer like static. When the lightning flashed it turned the whole world white.

(Notice how the streetlamps and the static made it in there? That’s one of the things I love about writing.)

We go on to learn that Luciano should never have even had that memory—he wasn’t supposed to leave those houses, the place of his production. And yet this illicit memory is the perfect one for him to share with Eliana.

And I think that’s what I love the most about this scene: in a book about a major conflict between robots and humans, it’s a moment of connection, a literal shared history. I love the idea that something as small and ordinary as a rainstorm helped these two characters, with their two unimaginably different experiences, see each other for the first time.





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Cassandra Rose Clarke grew up in south Texas and currently lives in a suburb of Houston, where she writes and teaches composition at a pair of local colleges. She holds an M.A. in creative writing from The University of Texas at Austin, and in 2010 she attended the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. Her work has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her latest novel is Our Lady of the Ice, out from Saga Press now. You can find her online at

My Favorite Bit: Kelly Swails talks about THIS MAY GO ON YOUR PERMANENT RECORD

My Favorite Bit iconKelly Swails is joining us today with her novel This May Go On Your Permanent Record. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Sally Clark is curious about how technology works, which would be fine except her experiments tend to be illegal. She’s also a terrible liar, which is why she ends up in court for stealing groceries with nothing but a hacked smart phone. While the judge isn’t impressed that her alcoholic mother had traded the grocery money for booze, she is intrigued by Sally’s hacking skills. The judge offers Sally a deal to keep her out of Juvenile Detention. The only one caveat: if Sally fails, she’s going straight to Juvie. Sally accepts, and before the end of the day she’s enrolled in the School for Extraordinary Youth. She’s barely unpacked her bags when she discovers that SEY is a prep school for world domination.

What’s Kelly’s favorite bit?

Permanent Record-cover-900x1350


At the School for Extraordinary Youth, freshmen have to go through an Induction Ceremony before even school begins. This ceremony determines two things: a student’s suitability for the school and their initial class rank. Success means you live to fight another day. Failure means you’re packing your bags to try your luck at a regular school.

One of my favorite chapters in the whole book is Sally’s Induction Ceremony. Not only was it enormously fun to write, it also serves to introduce the reader to Sally’s world. Unlike most other students at SEY, Sally didn’t know the school existed before she arrived; she only had time to glance at a few brochures and her class schedule before she begins her Induction. We see Sally’s ingenuity when she listens to other student’s answers in the hopes that they will help her. We also watch Sally persevere wrong answers (it turns out she doesn’t know how to get a fake passport or the melting point of plutonium). We learn who founded the school, the radius of the quad, and an easy way to launder money.

Another reason I love this chapter: it introduces three people who will help shape the course of Sally’s life at SEY. We meet Cody, who will become Sally’s best friend; Mallory, the smartest girl in the class; and Justine, the mean girl who will become Sally’s mortal enemy. Sally and Cody have an easy friendship. Sally wants to like Mallory but isn’t sure she can be trusted. Justine is out to get Sally banished from SEY from the moment they meet. It was fun to discover the dynamic between each of the characters as they appeared on the page. It was as though Sally and her peers already existed and they were letting me transcribe their lives. For a writer, it doesn’t get much better than that.






Kelly Swails is an editor, author, recovering microbiologist, and crazy cat lady. Her work has appeared in several anthologies. This May Go on Your Permanent Record is her first published novel. She and her husband live in Chicago and spend their time enjoying everything the city has to offer.