Megan E. O’Keefe is joining us today to talk about her novel Velocity Weapon. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Dazzling space battles, intergalactic politics, and rogue AI collide in Velocity Weapon, the first book in this epic space opera by award-winning author Megan O’Keefe.
Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction.
However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later on a deserted enemy warship controlled by an AI who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe.
Now, separated by time and space, Sanda and Biran must fight to put things right.
What’s Megan’s favorite bit?
MEGAN E. O’KEEFE
Picking the favorite bit of any story is usually tough but, in the instance of Velocity Weapon, I confess the answer came to me right away: Grippy the robot.
When Sanda finds herself marooned on a state-of-the-art, AI piloted ship thousands of light years from rescue, she also finds the smartship’s maintenance bot, who she quickly renames Grippy due to his sturdy, grasping “hands.” He’s about the size of a large dog, if a dog had tank treads for paws and cameras for eyes. I imagined him as a hybrid of Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog and Number 5 from Short Circuit, with a few more grasping hands thrown in for maintenance purposes.
Grippy quickly makes himself useful by helping Sanda get around. She has recently had part of her leg traumatically amputated, and while the medical facilities on the ship saved her life, there’re no doctors around to help her get accustomed to her new mobility – just Grippy and her own sense of determination to figure things out.
She’s no engineer, though, and when her attempts at fashioning prosthetics don’t always work, Grippy is ready to lend a metallic hand. He even plays a small role at the end. When everything’s gone sideways and Sanda is overwhelmed, he helps her see what she needs to do. Because his job, his programming, is to fix things. To help.
He also helps me, the writer, out a little as he shows us just how quickly Sanda can anthropomorphize, and serves as an interesting thematic parallel to Sanda’s relationship with the smartship, Bero.
Grippy isn’t the AI spaceship that drives the narrative, he’s not even really a central character. He’s got a tiny little brain when compared to the other intelligences in the universe and is pretty limited in what he can understand and do. But while things are steadily advancing toward chaos (hello, narrative entropy) Grippy is always there to help. Also, he’s just plain adorable.
Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and has won Writers of the Future and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Megan lives in the Bay Area of California.
Ferrett Steinmetz is joining us today to talk about his novel The Sol Majestic. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Sol Majestic is a big-hearted and delightful intergalactic adventure for fans of Becky Chambers and The Good Place
Kenna, an aspirational teen guru, wanders destitute across the stars as he tries to achieve his parents’ ambition to advise the celestial elite.
Everything changes when Kenna wins a free dinner at The Sol Majestic, the galaxy’s most renowned restaurant, giving him access to the cosmos’s one-percent. His dream is jeopardized, however, when he learns his highly-publicized “free meal” risks putting The Sol Majestic into financial ruin. Kenna and a motley gang of newfound friends—including a teleporting celebrity chef, a trust-fund adrenaline junkie, an inept apprentice, and a brilliant mistress of disguise—must concoct an extravagant scheme to save everything they cherish. In doing so, Kenna may sacrifice his ideals—or learn even greater lessons about wisdom, friendship, and love.
Utterly charming and out of this world, Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Sol Majestic will satisfy the appetites of sci-fi aficionados and newcomers alike.
What’s Ferrett’s favorite bit?
When I was seventeen, my Uncle Tommy was my only relative who was brave enough to take me into New York City. Which was strange, given that his doctors advised him not to leave the house.
My Uncle Tommy was a hemophiliac, you see. If you’re not familiar with the disease, it means your blood takes much longer to clot than baseline people – so my Uncle Tommy could bleed to death from injuries that other people might have fixed with a few stitches. His skin was continually bruised, because he never fully healed, and the blood leaked into his joints and eroded his cartilage. By the time he was in his mid-thirties, he walked unsteadily with a cane.
But my Uncle Tommy was unstoppable.
He had decided that yes, he was mortal, and maybe he only had eight months to live – the doctors had expected that he’d perish within a year since the day he’d been born – but he would live his life as fully as possible.
And if that involved driving into New York so his metalhead nephew could spend the day with his girlfriend from Canada, then by God he’d drive me in. Because he loved the city, and he loved adventures, and he loved me.
He loved me even though I was trying far too hard for a teenager, and everybody knew it but me. See, I had latched on to the identity of “metalhead” despite the fact that I didn’t quite understand the concept. So I had big poofy hair and wore a jean jacket emblazoned with an album cover featuring a demon hurling a chain-wrapped priest into a lake, and wore pleather stompy boots because I could not afford leather. My girlfriend was also a gum-chewin’ metal girl in a cut-off T-shirt and ripped jeans.
We looked like extras in a movie about heavy metal that hadn’t quite bothered to get the details right.
But it was time for dinner, and though New York City was filled with restaurants, we had three picky eaters. Tommy refused to eat at crappy restaurants when he was in a nice place like New York. I did not eat vegetables. And my girlfriend loathed seafood.
So we ambled down the streets of New York for two straight hours, stopping and perusing, one of us vetoing every menu. Which was not, I should add, an inconsequential expenditure of effort for Tommy – with his bad hip and his eroded knees, walking must have been like treading on knives. So when Tommy finally exploded with, “All right! This! Is! It! I don’t care what the next restaurant is, we are eating there! If they serve fried cockroaches, we are chowing down on insects! Got it?”
We got it. So when we saw the next restaurant, we pushed past the menu posted by the door to walk in without looking.
Which is why we were all taken aback by the maitre’d in a spotless tuxedo, standing behind a podium.
The restaurant was all gold and white – gold chandeliers, snow-white tableclothes, set off by the blurs of busboys in crisp gold-and-red uniforms. We could peer around the maitre’d to see New York’s finest ordering bottles of champage – fatcat bankers supping $200 bottles of wine, beautiful socialites in gowns perusing menus, old men in tailor-made suits cozily eating richly marbled steaks.
And there I was.
In my jean jacket.
With a demon throwing a priest into a lake of fire.
The heads turned to stare at us – my girlfriend chewing her gum, my Uncle in his worn jeans and button-down plaid workshirt. I’d already taken a step back towards the door when the maitre’d took a peremptory glance down into his reservation book before fixing Tommy with his cold eyes and asked, “…does sir have a reservation?”
And Tommy – God bless Tommy – cracked his neck, retreating for no man, and said three words that transformed my life:
“No. Whatcha got?”
They had, unbelievably, a table for three. A table far at the back where nobody could see us, a table right by the kitchen door, but a legitimate table. And as we settled in, I began to panic: how much money would this place cost? We weren’t that rich. And we were out of place, we were poor trash, we didn’t even dress up for this, how could we –
My Uncle Tommy gripped my shoulder:
“Hey,” he said. “I said we’d do the next restaurant no matter what, and I don’t lie. And yeah, it woulda been nice if we’d dressed up, but a place like this is about the food; if you appreciate, truly appreciate, what they give you, you’ll be all right. So settle in. And enjoy.”
Enjoy we did.
I do not remember what we ate at that meal. But I remember how it felt; I remember how kind the waiters were, how they never once judged us once they realized how excited we were to eat here. I remember how thrilling it was when they came by to sweep the crumbs off between courses with little brass sticks. I remember being delighted when they brought us tiny dishes of sherbert between courses – “To cleanse your palates,” the waiter said.
I remember feeling like there was a higher society, and that I was part of it, and that Tommy was the most wonderful man alive.
And in the end, my uncle demanded that we try the sweetness of amaretto coffee. They served it to all three of us, possibly because they assumed if we were bold enough to set foot here then we must have been of drinking age – or possibly because the waiters saw how our faces lit up at every course and decided to bend the rules just this once.
“Every fine meal,” Tommy told me, tipping the cup towards me, “Ends with a good coffee.”
The meal was, I later found out, the cost of a month’s rent. Tommy tossed his credit card on the table with nonchalance.
A nice story, you say. But how does this story relate to my book?
Well, the answer is that The Sol Majestic is about a beautiful restaurant in space. It’s light-years from nowhere, a hidden jewel where only those with the love of cuisine make the journey to it. It has miraculous meals made possible by science-fictional technologies, and a kindness to strangers, and it is a haven to anyone who truly learns to love food.
It is that restaurant, as best I can remember it. And it might well be where that restaurant’s moved to, for all we know; despite hunting through New York for years afterwards, we never found that restaurant again. But in my book, I moved it into a space station, preserving all the best bits.
And the owner of the Sol Majestic, Paulius, is my Uncle Tommy.
Tommy’s dead now; ironically, he survived the hemophilia, survived getting HIV from a bad blood transfusion, survived getting hepatitis from another bad blood transfusion, but pancreatic cancer took him from me over a decade ago.
But he’s in this book – an old man with a cane, a wounded man who creates a paradise for you to come on wild adventures, a man of indeterminate temper but loving nonetheless. And I recreated an imaginary place to bring you all to, and put the best of my Uncle in there to show you.
The Sol Majestic is about food. But it’s also about love. And it’s about my Uncle Tommy, and how understanding that food helps you know when you’re home.
That’s my favorite bit. That I exhumed a little part of my Uncle Tommy’s glorious magic to share with you.
And I hope my novel nourishes you half as much as he nourished me.
Ferrett Steinmetz is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and Viable Paradise. He was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2012 for his novelette Sauerkraut Station, and for the Compton Crook Award in 2015. He is the author of The Sol Majestic for Tor Books, as well as the ‘Mancer trilogy and The Uploaded. He has written for Asimov’s Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, and Shimmer, among many others. Ferrett lives in Cleveland with his very clever wife, a small black dog of indeterminate origin, and a friendly ghost.
Elizabeth Crowens is joining us today to talk about her novel The Time Traveler Professor, Book One: Silent Meridian. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is obsessed with a legendary red book. Its peculiar stories have come to life, and rumors claim that it has rewritten its own endings. Convinced that possessing this book will help him write his ever-popular Sherlock Holmes stories, he takes on an unlikely partner, John Patrick Scott, known to most as a concert pianist, but a paranormal investigator and a time traveler professor to a select few.
Like Holmes and Watson trying to solve a mystery, together they explore lost worlds and their friendship is tested to the limits when they go back in time to find it. Both discover that karmic ties and unconscionable crimes have followed them like ghosts from the past, wreaking havoc on the present and possibly the future.
The Time Traveler Professor, Book One: SILENT MERIDIAN reveals the alternate histories of Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Houdini, Jung and other luminaries in the secret diaries of John Patrick Scott, in an X Files for the 19th century.
What’s Elizabeth’s favorite bit?
Hands down, my favorite bit about creating The Time Traveler Professor, Book One: Silent Meridian was the research which entailed several trips overseas from my home base in New York to Edinburgh, Scotland, London, Vienna, Prague and six cities in Germany. When it comes to writing, despite the ease of having so much information available on the internet, I tend to be more like a method actor in the way that I have to be physically somewhere to glean the full, immersive experience of it.
Case in point, in Book One I visualized the University of Edinburgh Library completely wrong and was lucky that the original library from the nineteenth century still existed as an event hall, and I was allowed to go up there and take a look. Most photos on the internet pictured the current library which, by its architectural design, appears to have been built during the 1960s.
Another “happy accident” I stumbled upon also happened in Edinburgh. I knew it was unlikely that I’d find a Victorian Scottish slang or dialect dictionary in the U.S. or on Amazon and something that niche would probably turn up somewhere in Scotland. Since I’m an antiquarian book collector, it’s impossible for me to resist going into used and collectibles bookstores, and one day while I was in an antique store I discovered they had books in the basement. Most were junk, but I managed to find what I was looking for from 1878 costing only £30.00. At first when I noticed the penciled in cost, I thought I had misinterpreted it and it was really £300.00. The shopkeeper said they were fairly hard to find, but the price was correct and it was my lucky day.
Once again being in the right place at the right time, I had another occurrence where I stumbled upon a tiny blue door that had a plaque for a Scottish Genealogical Society. Although they were only open to the public two or three days a week, I happened to pick one of the days they were open and walked in. I introduced myself and told them I was trying to find more information on some of the real people my characters were based upon. Somehow the conversation steered in the direction that my protagonist’s real person inspiration had served in British intelligence during WWI, but I couldn’t seem to find any war records. Then one of the volunteers told me about a British intelligence museum in England that also had a library. With all the research I had done online, I had never come across this and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t discovered this other place in Edinburgh. Overall, everyone was very helpful and enjoyed assisting a writer, not caring whether it was for fiction or non-fiction.
Elizabeth Crowens has worked in the film and television for over twenty years and as a journalist and a photographer. She’s a regular contributor of author interviews to an award-winning online speculative fiction magazine, Black Gate. Short stories of hers have been published in the Bram Stoker Awards nominated anthology, A New York State of Fright and Hell’s Heart. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Horror Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, the Authors Guild, Broad Universe, Sisters in Crime and a member of several Sherlockian societies. She is also writing a Hollywood suspense series.
Kendra Merritt is joining us today to talk about her novel Skin Deep. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The only one who can free him is the girl he’s hurt the most.
Cursed for a youthful accident which maimed a young woman, Léon Beauregard roams his mountain as a bear, clinging to the scraps of his humanity. Too bad it’s not working. Every day he loses a little more of himself to the bear and his stupid fuzzy tail. But when Léon comes across Anwen, an enchanter scarred from an accident she doesn’t remember, she promises to free him, because she believes no one deserves this sort of punishment, no matter their crime.
As the graceful enchanter tries to free him, Léon begins to realize Anwen is much more than just a passing enchanter. She’s the one he’s falling in love with. And she is the one whose life he ruined. He knows he must hide his part in Anwen’s past if he wants to keep her, but when bodies show up mauled by a large animal, even she begins to doubt his ability to be redeemed. With his heart, soul, and humanity in the balance, Léon has more to hide and everything to lose if Anwen ever learns the truth about the monster inside him.
NOTE: The Mark of the Least is a series of related stories designed to be read in any order.
What’s Kendra’s favorite bit?
I consider it a good sign when I finish writing a book and it’s still one I’ll enjoy reading again. Especially when it has those moments that make me laugh or get my heart going even though I know what’s going to happen. Luckily, Skin Deep is full of those moments.
So, I had a hard time deciding what my favorite bit actually is. Surely it had to be that really awful poem I—I mean Léon—wrote for Fanny. Or maybe it was the snarky snow leopard with a penchant for poking the bear.
Normally, I write fairytales featuring main characters with disabilities; Maid Marion kicks butt from a wheelchair, Cinderella has Polio, Little Red Riding Hood lives with Lupus.
And in Skin Deep, Beauty is scarred.
I really wanted to talk about writing a Beauty who isn’t in fact beautiful. But while I was agonizing over how to do that, I realized the part that I go back to over-and-over again, the part that I still love to read as if I didn’t write the whole dang thing, is the worst part of the book.
We all know it. There’s one in every story. It’s that moment where everything falls apart.
Skin Deep starts with a secret, a lie between two people that changes everything.
Léon is cursed for his involvement in an accident that leaves Anwen disfigured and disabled. But when she shows up on his doorstep offering to free him, he realizes she doesn’t recognize him. And in that moment of realization he makes a choice not to tell her.
Of course, you know this is going to come back to bite him.
Because by the time he wants to tell her, the truth will destroy them. And meanwhile all the awkward flirting and cutesy romantic gestures are all built atop that festering untruth, waiting for the moment it blows up in Léon’s face.
That’s the moment I love. Because you know it’s coming. You know it’s going to be horrible. But there’s no way forward without it.
As I tell my three-year-old, who keeps ruining movie night with the refrain, “I don’t like this part,” you have to get through the bad in order for the good to mean anything. (At least it’s better than saying “conflict is part of life, deal with it.”)
The secret is out. The consequences are inescapable. I love this moment because Léon chooses his redemption and destruction in one go, balancing his original mistake with the glorious ruination of truth. And it was Anwen’s grace and mercy all wrapped up in scars and pain that got him to that decision.
I choose my characters’ disabilities very carefully based on their backstory and personality but also based on the fairytale they’re living out. What could possibly make the story mean something deeper? For Maid Marion I really wanted to see an active heroine not only navigate but dominate the adventure in a wheelchair. Cinderella has a hard time walking and as a result has very interesting shoes.
So, I chose my Beauty to be scarred. She’s disfigured. She walks with a limp. And in no way can she be called a conventional beauty.
She’s exactly the way I imagined her from the beginning. I wanted to tell a story about a girl who is gracious and patient and strong on the inside and is perfect for someone who struggles with only seeing the outside. Léon, who is a little obsessed with physical beauty, takes a while to see Anwen for everything she is instead of everything she’s not. But therein lies his redemption.
And that’s my favorite bit. The moment he loses it all in order to gain what he doesn’t deserve. Cause I’m a glutton for punishment.
Books have been Kendra Merritt’s escape for as long as she can remember. She used to hide fantasy novels behind her government textbook in high school, and she wrote most of her first novel during a semester of college algebra.
Older and wiser now (but just as nerdy) Kendra writes retellings of fairytales with main characters who have disabilities. If she isn’t writing, she’s reading, and if she isn’t reading, she’s playing video games. Her first book, By Wingéd Chair, is a retelling of Robin Hood where Maid Marion kicks butt from a wheelchair.
Kendra lives in Denver with her very tall husband, their book loving progeny, and a lazy black monster masquerading as a service dog.
Tracy Townsend is joining us today to talk about her novel The Fall, sequel to The Nine. Here’s the publisher’s description:
An apothecary clerk and her ex-mercenary allies travel across the world to discover a computing engine that leads to secrets she wasn’t meant to know–secrets that could destroy humanity.
Eight months ago, Rowena Downshire was a half-starved black market courier darting through the shadows of Corma’s underside. Today, she’s a (mostly) respectable clerk in the Alchemist’s infamous apothecary shop, the Stone Scales, and certainly the last girl one would think qualified to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders a second time. Looks can be deceiving.
When Anselm Meteron and the Alchemist receive an invitation to an old acquaintance’s ball–the Greatduke who financed their final, disastrous mercenary mission fourteen years earlier–they’re expecting blackmail, graft, or veiled threats related to the plot to steal the secrets of the Creator’s Grand Experiment. They aren’t expecting a job offer they can’t refuse or a trip halfway across the world to rendezvous with the scholar whose research threw their lives into tumult: the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers.
Escorting Chalmers to the Grand Library of Nippon with her mismatched mercenary family is just a grand adventure to Rowena until she discovers a powerful algebraic engine called the Aggregator. The Aggregator leads Rowena to questions about the Grand Experiment she was never meant to ask and answers she cannot be allowed to possess. With her reunited friends, Rowena must find a way to use the truths hidden in the Grand Library to disarm those who would hunt down the nine subjects of the Creator’s Grand Experiment, threatening to close the book on this world.
What’s Tracy’s favorite bit?
When I was small, my parents went on vacation to Mexico. They brought back a hand-crafted wooden top as one of my many souvenirs. It came in three pieces: the top itself, some kind of handle-thing I don’t know the name of into which it slotted, and a length of string. Once you spindled the top’s mast through the handle-thing, you’d thread the string through a hole in the mast, wrap it tight, grab the free end, and hold the whole contraption just barely touching the floor.
And then, you’d pull. It looked a lot like this:
There was a lot that could go wrong before you’d ever get the top whirling away in a blur of color. You could pull the cord too fast or too slow. You could drop it from too great a height and send it caroming off uselessly. And inevitably, no matter how perfectly you set it up, it would always, eventually, fall.
In the language of physics, a top at the end of its journey doesn’t fall. It precesses. Precession is what happens when, unable to fall straight down (gravity has already forced its tip into contact with the ground vertically), the top falls sideways, collapsing in a way unique to how the object itself once moved.
Tops precess. So do stories.
Every story is acted upon by the forces its author puts in motion. Those forces are designed to reach this point of precession, the narrative torque collapsing the characters and their actions toward some calamity they have to face.
Stories are about what happens when things fall down.
That’s my favorite bit about The Fall: being the sequel to my debut novel, it has the benefit of building on narrative forces already in play, compounding its momentum. My trio of character — Rowena, the Alchemist, and Anselm — are off making trouble again, though in different places, and finding themselves more out of their depth than they’d ever imagined. On the other side of the world, another trio of forces, human, lanyani (sentient, murderous tree-beings), and aigamuxa (ogres with eyes in their feet), vie for control of a dying city and the power it represents. And all at once, the right things are discovered at the wrong time — or the wrong things at the right time — and you can see the story tilt toward its inevitable precession.
Authors are architects, true, but at least half the time, we are architects of destruction. We have to build things up knowing they will be broken, torn, imploded. Defeated, at least for a time. And as much as I love my characters (you have to love these people to spend so much time with them), my favorite work is the subtle physics of making a system hurtle along, all its forces acting together just so, knowing that I’ve already applied the torque that will make it inevitably fall. It’s like a magic trick. Now-you-see-it, now-it’s-gone.
I recall writing The Fall’s climax, angling characters’ choices toward the calamities that would consume the rest of their story. It was very much like staring at that little wooden top my parents gave me, watching the blur of colors slow and slip into separate bands, feeling the certainty of collapse edging ever closer.
Dreading it. Loving it. Knowing that, once it happened, it was up to me to pick up the three pieces I had started with and wind them together again.
Tracy Townsend is the author of The Nine andThe Fall (books 1 and 2 in the Thieves of Fate series), a monthly columnist for the feminist sf magazine Luna Station Quarterly, and an essayist for Uncanny Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is the former chair of the English department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband. You can find her at Twitter @TracyATownsend, and online at www.tracytownsend.net.
Fran Wilde is joining us today to talk about her novella The Fire Opal Mechanism. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Fire Opal Mechanism is the fast-paced and lively sequel to Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and Her Lapidary
Jewels and their lapidaries and have all but passed into myth.
Jorit, broke and branded a thief, just wants to escape the Far Reaches for something better. Ania, a rumpled librarian, is trying to protect her books from the Pressmen, who value knowledge but none of the humanity that generates it.
When they stumble upon a mysterious clock powered by an ancient jewel, they may discover secrets in the past that will change the future forever.
What’s Fran’s favorite bit?
On Permanence and Evolution in Text
“Books are measures of time. They are made to grow old. To grow, occasionally, wrong.”
– Ania Dem, Librarian, The Fire Opal Mechanism
Books have always been my refuge. I disappear into them when reading. I built fortresses of them as a child. And what room full of books isn’t, when you think about it, basically a shelter constructed of words?
So when I set out to write Ania, my librarian, and Xachar, a handler of the very particular printing press in The Fire Opal Mechanism, I gave a lot of thought to the books within the story, those characters who loved them, and those characters who thought that certain kinds of books were a way of hoarding knowledge, and were out of date.
And so, many of my favorite bits of The Fire Opal Mechansim are when Ania, the time-traveling librarian, is thinking about her relationship to books. Her wish to save them all. Her fear that if books are lost, then debate will also be forfeit. And her understanding that books are snapshots in time.
Books feel permanent. The act of committing word to page, especially in print, feels eternal in some ways (especially if one finds a typo — don’t get me started). But they pass in and out of the world in so many ways: they become old, moth eaten, out of date. They are superseded by later knowledge. They are read in the bathtub until they are twice their size and have lost their back cover — ok, that’s probably too much information.
Meantime, digital texts can be overwritten without anyone the wiser. Wikipedia changes constantly; our inboxes seem to have a mind of their own. And while many more pieces of information are at our fingertips, this information feels gossamer-made, fleeting, and sometimes completely insubstantial.
Ania loves books, like I do. She likes their spines, their sturdiness and uniqueness, and all the stories they contain.
She’d loved books since she was a child… loved how each volume felt different in the hand… loved that they had to be handled carefully, like people. But, that they were constant, finished — unlike people.
And one more thing. Ania loves the independence of books. That they span time as individual objects, and objects in conversation. That they can contain and refer to one another. Perhaps most of all, she values that that they do not have a central source. I think Ania imagines, as I do, that in the darkness of a sleeping library, books mutter and argue together like old scholars.
Books aren’t perfect, any more than anything else is. But collected together, they allow us to do a magic thing: we can travel through time to see snapshots of ourselves and how we (or the portion of us that has lasted) once thought, in comparison to all other ways of thinking.
As Ania says to her inquisitors at one point: “All Librarians travel in time, Commissioner. Some more thoroughly than others.”
Anna Kashina is joining us today to talk about her novel Shadowblade. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A young sword prodigy must impersonate a lost princess and throw her life into a deadly political game, in this kinetic epic fantasy novel by the author of the award-winning Majat Code series
Naia dreams of becoming a Jaihar Blademaster, but after assaulting a teacher, her future seems ruined. The timely intervention of a powerful stranger suddenly elevates her into elite Upper Grounds training. She has no idea that the stranger is Dal Gassan, head of the Daljeer Circle. Seventeen years ago he witnessed the massacre of Challimar’s court and rescued its sole survivor, a baby girl. Gassan plans to thrust a blade into the machinations of imperial succession: Naia. Disguised as the legendary Princess Xarimet of Challimar, Naia must challenge the imperial family, and win. Naia is no princess, but with her desert-kissed eyes and sword skills she might be close enough…
What’s Anna’s favorite bit?
My favorite fantasy always comes with romantic elements and fancy blade fights. Highly competent warriors, whose sword skill is so breathtaking one can only gape when seeing them in action, make irresistible characters. Such warriors have been central to several of my recent books, and have definitely been my favorite bit in writing Shadowblade.
In Shadowblade, a lot of the story centers around the elite Jaihar Order that trains the best blademasters in the empire. The top-ranked Jaihar warriors are Shadowblades, deadly fighters whose ranking regalia – shadow-gray cloaks and black blades — help them blend into the background and make them even more dangerous. Unmatched in battle, they move like no other, graceful, fluid and fast, are highly technical with their weapons, and are also very controlled. In other words, they’re the whole package, aren’t they?
Before Shadowblade, I’ve tended to focus on the weapon skill itself, rather than delving deeply into the kind of training it takes to develop this kind of a warrior. What sort of talents and traits are needed to achieve the top Jaihar rank, or even to convince your superiors to set you on a path that can lead you to this possibility? What happens at every step of the training? How are the decisions driven to discount a trainee as a failure, or to allow them to go all the way to the top? And, importantly for my main character, Naia – how can a young girl, hard-working and talented, but too headstrong for her own good, go about achieving it?
Naia starts off as an outcast among the Jaihar. Despite her exceptional promise with weapons, she is about to be expelled for a carefully hushed-up case of insubordination. A timely interference of a powerful stranger, an outsider to the Jaihar but a highly influential official in the empire, plunges her into a series of tests of increasing difficulty that would enable her superiors to decide on her true potential. She doesn’t learn until much later that her mysterious benefactor, who’s very likely prevented her from being expelled, has done this because of a serious ulterior motive.
Developing a story centered around Naia’s training has been a fully immersive experience, where I had to submerge pretty deeply into the behind-the-scene world of elite blademaster training. It was so much fun to work out the blade and staff techniques, approaches to a variety of street weapons, and complex combination fights which I had to work through firsthand. A lot of this background work has been about technique, but applying this knowledge to my character enabled me to also understand the depth of the character development that must go into raising a warrior. The self-control, discipline, and balance that comes with the top Jaihar ranking isn’t easy to achieve. This aspect of the training tends to take far more work than weapon technique. Throughout the book, peeking into the mysteries of the Jaihar elite training has been my favorite bit.
Since Shadowblade pre-publication copies went out for reviews, I’ve seen a lot of comments out there that made me feel so good about choosing to write the book this way. One reviewer (clearly a kindred spirit) mentioned that they would have liked to have seen more of this behind-the-scene training, that glimpsing the challenges Naia has gone through made them want to see a whole book devoted entirely to that. This comment hit the spot for me. Writing about Naia’s Jaihar training, and then sending her into action to apply everything she’s learned, not only felt like the right balance for Shadowblade, but it also made me realize that I have so much more to tell. I’ve learned a lot while writing this novel. Stemming from my own experience and all the background research, the Jaihar have become a new class of warriors that combine the best of many cultures and many techniques into a truly enjoyable and wholesome blend.
Anna Kashina writes historical adventure fantasy, featuring exotic settings, martial arts, assassins, and elements of romance. Her “Majat Code” series, published by Angry Robot Books, UK, received two Prism Awards in 2015. She is a Russian by origin, and a scientist in her day job, and she freely draws on these backgrounds in her writing. Her newest novel, Shadowblade, is upcoming from Angry Robot Books on May 7, 2019.
You can learn more about Anna at her blog: https://annakashinablog.wordpress.com/
T.D. Walker is joining us today to talk about Small Waiting Objects, her collection of science fiction poems. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the near future, kitchen appliances question, console, and bewilder their owners. Extraterrestrials leave behind sub-dermal implants and complicated daughters. A second moon settles into orbit around Earth, a moon which challenges those beneath it to see it, to name it, to explore it. And crew members aboard starships turn to fine and pulp art as consolation. The lyric poems in Small Waiting Objects reach back to feminist utopias and onward toward possible futures in which we find ourselves resisting the technologies—and their human implications—that we most desire.
What is T.D.’s favorite bit?
Catherine Helen Spence’s A Week in the Future (1889) spans both a week and a century: for Emily Bethel, a middle-aged, active, inquisitive woman who never married, who is struck ill, it’s a waking week. Her doctor tells her that she must live quietly from now on or else her heart will become too weak to sustain her. But she refuses to live as such:
“I know what that means,” said I, bitterly. “I must give up all the things that make life worth living, all the outside interests that are the very bread of life to a solitary spinster, all the larger objects which the best and noblest of my brothers and sisters are striving to accomplish and absorb myself in the one idea of self-preservation.”
Refusing the entreaties of her doctor and of her beloved niece Florrie, she puts forth her own proposition:
“I would give the year or two of life you promise me for ONE WEEK IN THE FUTURE. A solid week I mean. Not a glance like a momentary vision, but one week — seven days and nights to live with the generations who are to come, to see all their doings, and to breathe in their atmosphere, so as to imbibe their real spirit.”
Her doctor obliges, and he gives her a drink that will allow her to sleep for a hundred years so that she can live for a single week in 1988.
Emily Bethel wakes in London, still clutching her valise, and her relatives’ descendants show her the fruits that the social reformers in her own time had sown a century before. She is pleased with what she has seen, and she passes away on that final day of the week happy to have traded the years of forced tranquility for a week of excitement and knowledge of the future.
As a reader almost 130 years in the future, I allowed myself to believe the utopia Spence imagined for the duration of the book, but given what I know about how events unfolded in the now past–achievements, yes, but also atrocities–I wondered what might happen if Emily Bethel could see into multiple instances of 1988?
I explored such questions through the poems in Small Waiting Objects (CW Books 2019). Several of the poems expand on questions raised by various feminist utopias, including those from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland and With Her in Ourland. My favorite of these is a response to Spence’s A Week in the Future: “In Which Miss Emily Bethel Wakes a Hundred Years Later in Every Possible Future,” a poem which was originally published in The Cascadia Subduction Zone.
A girl in suburban Houston and her sister witness the arrival of Emily Bethel, the great-great-aunt of their grandmother, a painter, into their present. As I imagine her, Emily Bethel has become circumspect but still deeply curious after her visits to thousands of futures from her point in 1888. She chooses to embrace joy, embrace what she can from each visit:
She’d dropped her coat on the floor and asked
whether my grandmother had a sprinkler and a swimsuit
she could borrow. Aunt Emily ran outside with us
girls, gripping the paper snowcone cups that leaked blue
raspberry syrup onto the sidewalk in front of our grandparents’
suburban home. Too far back again, she’d said, but we
didn’t ask what she meant, only pulled the dog and sprinkler
farther into the lawn. Later we’d see her pull
a small cracked mirror from the valise. She half
closed her eyes and slightly opened her blued mouth
and looked at herself. We’d spent the afternoon
running, she’d run harder than either of us girls,
and all of us, hair still damp and fingers sticky
sat on the porch swing watching the August sun
setting or resisting setting.
Emily leaves the valise and the journals in which she’d kept notes about each future with the girls’ grandmother. The grandmother later passes the valise to the girls, who, much older now, read the final entry in the journal:
She’d stopped writing down the future
after a year had passed, after she realized that she’d never
escape these possible futures. The houses, after all, were houses,
full of people or not. The schools taught what they taught.
Couples married, had children, grew apart. Some died
from diseases cured long ago in alternate worlds. The last
page of the diary recorded us:
Week 5,738: Suburban Houston.
This time, it’s Elizabeth again, or this instance of her, and her landscapes,
that little square of gray longing. Where is this home
she repeats? Her granddaughters staying with her for the summer.
I’ll leave the valise again. When I meet Elizabeth again,
a dozen or two dozen weeks from this one, I’ll tell her,
the her I find there, that the light is never true:
rising over the village, reflecting in those vast pools, catching
itself in the spray of fountains whose sources we
lose in the process of desire.
Poems, for me, are a way of breaking situations open to find deeper and more complex questions about them. Would Emily Bethel, driven as she is to know what happens next, ever tire of moving through possible worlds? I don’t know. But I do think she’d find a way to situate herself in each so that she could learn as much as she could before passing to the next. Sometimes that learning involves interviews and tours. And sometimes it involves writing poems. But I think it also involves sometimes leaving room to experience the world through joy. At least the kid I was in suburban Houston in 1988 certainly hopes that’s the case.
T.D. Walker is the author of Small Waiting Objects (CW Books, 2019). Her poems and stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Web Conjunctions, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Luna Station Quarterly, and elsewhere. She draws on both her grounding in literary studies and her experience as a computer programmer in writing her poetry and fiction.
Maurice Broaddus is joining us today to talk about his novel Pimp My Airship. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Warning: Don’t Believe the Hype!
All the poet called Sleepy wants to do is spit his verses, smoke chiba, and stay off the COP’s radar—all of which becomes impossible once he encounters a professional protestor known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of local authorities and have to elude the powers that be.
When young heiress Sophine Jefferson’s father is murdered, the careful life she’d been constructing for herself tumbles around her. She’s quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, politics and airships, joining with Sleepy and Knowledge Allah in a fight for their freedom. Chased from one end of a retro-fitted Indianapolis to the other, they encounter outlaws, the occasional circus, possibly a medium, and more outlaws. They find themselves in a battle much larger than they imagined: a battle for control of the country and the soul of their people.
The revolution will not be televised!
What’s Maurice’s favorite bit?
Narrowing down my favorite bit of Pimp My Airship was more of a struggle than I thought it would be. Even the project coming to life was fun. I was on Writing Excuses talking about the Hero’s Journey of one of the main characters in the story, forgetting that I write for me and this book wasn’t out. Or due to be published. Or even submitted anywhere. Well, WRX fans started reaching out to me about it. Since the book only existed as a draft, I wanted a second opinion on it. So I sent it to Jason Sizemore of Apex Books since he bought the original “Pimp My Airship” short story and was a huge fan. As a friend and a fellow writer, I asked for him to take a look at a sample of the manuscript. He got through the first three chapters and wrote back, “I’ll take it.” I told him that I wasn’t submitting it, I just wanted to know if I had something. He said “you do and I’ll take it.” Thus, how Pimp My Airship came to be.
“Pimp My Airship” is the reason I have a steamfunk (think “steampunk” except through a black cultural lens) universe. It’s the world of Buffalo Soldier, “Steppin’ Razor,” and nearly a dozen short stories. It’s a world where America lost the Revolutionary War, Albion still rules the world, and details the impact of all of this on the lives of black people in this society. Most importantly, Pimp My Airship is an assemblage of my favorite collection of characters.
So, back to the Hero’s Journey. One way to look at a character’s story arc is to give them a goal and then throw as many obstacles in front of them to keep them from attaining it. With that in mind…
Meet Sleepy. He’s a poet. He’s had a long, hard day at work scrubbing steam pipes. At the end of his shift, he sheds his work clothes for his evening wear as he hits his favorite club to spit a few verses. After his set, all he wants to do is smoke a little “chiba” and get high.
That’s it. My dude just wants to get high. #heroicgoals
Meet (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. Now astute readers of my work may remember him as a “throwaway” character from my debut novel, Kingmaker. He was in the book for one page but chewed the scenery so thoroughly he moved through space and time to this alternate reality. He’s a former member of the sect the Lost Nation. He sees something in Sleepy. A voice. A kindred spirit. A partner. He wants Sleepy to join him in The Cause. Knowledge Allah is what we’ll call the “prime obstacle.”
Subsequent obstacles include: the COPs, the criminal underworld, a(n accidental) riot, more COPs, and … you get the idea. The lengths I go through to keep Sleepy from attaining his goal is my penultimate favorite bit which builds to my ultimate favorite bit, the moment he … reaches his goal. The scene is a tribute to a classic issue of Grant Morrison’s run on the comic book, Animal Man, called “The Coyote Gospel.” Sure, only comic books geeks will get it, but I start smiling every time I think about it. #beepbeep.
The thing about the Hero’s Journey is that many times, once the hero reaches the goal they think they wanted, it opens up new goals and purpose for them. It reveals desires they never thought they wanted. That’s the rest of the story for Pimp My Airship. A romp through a retrofuture version of Indianapolis, a place that I love, with characters that I love. I’m just glad readers pushed me to release it into the world. I’d call my readers my true favorite bit … but that would just sound weird.
Maurice Broaddus is a community organizer and teacher. His work has appeared in magazines like Lightspeed Magazine, Weird Tales, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Asimov’s, Cemetery Dance, Uncanny Magazine, with some of his stories having been collected in The Voices of Martyrs. His books include the urban fantasy trilogy, The Knights of Breton Court, the steampunk novella, Buffalo Soldier, the steampunk novel, Pimp My Airship, and the middle grade detective novel, The Usual Suspects. As an editor, he’s worked on Dark Faith, Dark Faith: Invocations, Streets of Shadows, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror, and Apex Magazine. Learn more at MauriceBroaddus.com.
Last night, The Calculating Stars won the Nebula Award.
We can send signals to Mars and back faster than I can process this. Let’s just pause to gaze at it for a minute, all right?
It’s pretty, right? Each Nebula award contains a unique selection of stones, representing planets. I love that this one is full of Mars.
I keep trying to write a pithy blog post capturing the feeling of having this gorgeous thing and my brain is stuck in a loop still trying to grasp the fact that I have a Nebula. So, I’m going to paste in the notes that were on my phone — Also, note: If you have your speech on your phone, texts from people congratulating you DURING YOUR SPEECH can make it hard to read the speech.
Here’s what was on my phone.
There are so many people to thank, that I won’t be able to thank them all in the detail that they deserve. I know how many words that takes because the acknowledgments of my books are looooooong. But I do want to recognize Alyshondra Meacham, Liz Gorinsky, Seth Fishman, Robert Kowal, Mom and Dad, Kjell Lindgren, Cady Coleman, Chanie Beckman, Sheyna Gifford, Derek Benkoski, Stephen Grenade and all my beta readers. Writing Excuses gang.
There is a scene in this book in which Elma, my main character, finally acknowledges that she has anxiety and goes to get help. My own journey is with depression but I did not get help until I was forty-five. That scene is a direct transcription of my conversation with my doctor. I had stopped writing. But I only went in because I had begun to recognize myself in descriptions in books and conversations with friends. So thank you to everyone who has been honest and open about their journey with mental health. This book would not exist without you. Thank you.
Oh– And this is the dress.
(That’s R. F. Kuang with me. She was nominated for her AMAZINGLY GOOD debut novel, The Poppy War, which you should go read.)
My gown from Anna Prom Dress which is a family-owned and operated bridal shop in China. I found it online and it looked like the cover of Calculating Stars, so, I kinda had to have it. AND IT HAS POCKETS.
The jewelry is on loan from my friend Eve Celsi and is estate jewelry from the same era as the novels.
I asked James Overstreet to give me a Grace Kelly makeup look, and he pulled it off flawlessly.
Also, I still can’t process that I have a Nebula. The ballot this year was incredibly strong and it could have gone home with any of us. Please go read my fellow finalists. I’ve read all of them and they are so, so good.
Mary Robinette will be attending the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Conference from May 16-19, in Los Angeles, California. The Calculating Stars is also a finalist for a Nebula award for Best Novel.
Here’s where you can find her there!
Thursday, May 16
It’s a Dog, Not a Robot: Service Dogs In Practice
Service dogs can make a life-changing difference for people living with disabilities. The idea that most people have is of the seeing-eye dog, but service dogs can do so much more. Stability dogs. PTSD dogs. Seizure dogs. These working dogs are astounding. At the same time, they are dogs, not robots. You probably know that you shouldn’t touch them. Did you know that you also should not make eye contact or speak to them. Our panelists all have direct experience with service dogs and will discuss what living and working with a dog is like.
Friday, May 17
SFWA Business Meeting
Snacks and a business meeting! Come hear what we are working toward with SFWA at the moment.
Makeup for Writers
Beverly Hills – 2nd floor
You’re at a con, you’re exhausted and have to look like you’re in top form. Learn tricks for femme, ace, masc, and everyone on the gender spectrum to spackle over the fatigue. This isn’t about conforming to media stereotypes but about using a tool to look like the best version of you.
And if you’re a nominee wanting a little extra sparkle… this is a hands-on workshop.
Nebula Nominee Presentation
Here is your chance to meet and congratulate this year’s Nebula Nominees before the mass autographing. As a way to celebrate the nominees’ work, we have partnered with SAG/AFTRA to have two professional audiobook narrators who will read excerpts from the nominated work.
Saturday, May 18
Failure State 10:00-11:00am
Failure State: From the Tacoma Narrows bridge to Challenger, failures are made of incremental steps. NASA talks about “lessons learned” as a way to examine failure states and then move forward. It acknowledges that when making strides, we also make missteps. Without learning from them, those same processes will continue to be tripping points. In this panel, we’ll talk about specific engineering failures and look at how the lessons learned from those can apply to other work.
Come meet Mary Robinette, get things signed, and pick up some swag!
Nebula Reception/Banquet/Awards 6:00-10:00pm
Mary Robinette is a finalist for the Nebula award for Best Novel for The Calculating Stars.
Sunday, May 19
Science Fiction is Set Dressing, Romance is Structure 2:00-3:00pm
Science fiction and romance are two genres that seem well defined and yet contain a wide variety of story types. Certainly, they combine well together. Is that, in part, because science-fiction does not have an inherent structure? Romance requires wooing and a Happily Ever After but can exist in any milieu. Looking at the core elements of these two genres, can we learn more about modes of storytelling?
Danielle L. Jensen is joining us today to talk about her new novel Dark Shores. Here’s the publisher’s description:
High seas adventure, blackmail, and meddling gods meet in Dark Shores, a thrilling first novel in a fast-paced new YA fantasy series by USA Today bestselling author Danielle L. Jensen.
In a world divided by meddlesome gods and treacherous oceans, only the Maarin possess the knowledge to cross the Endless Seas. But they have one mandate: East must never meet West.
A PIRATE WITH A WILL OF IRON
Teriana is the second mate of the Quincense and heir to the Maarin Triumvirate. Her people are born of the seas and the keepers of its secrets, but when her closest friend is forced into an unwanted betrothal, Teriana breaks her people’s mandate so her friend might escape―a choice with devastating consequences.
A SOLDIER WITH A SECRET
Marcus is the commander of the Thirty-Seventh, the notorious legion that has led the Celendor Empire to conquer the entire East. The legion is his family, but even they don’t know the truth he’s been hiding since childhood. It’s a secret he’ll do anything to protect, no matter how much it costs him – and the world.
A DANGEROUS QUEST
When an Empire senator discovers the existence of the Dark Shores, he captures Teriana’s crew and threatens to reveal Marcus’s secret unless they sail in pursuit of conquest, forcing the two into an unlikely―and unwilling―alliance. They unite for the sake of their families, but both must decide how far they are willing to go, and how much they are willing to sacrifice.
What’s Danielle’s favorite bit?
DANIELLE L. JENSEN
There are fewer worldbuilding tropes more common to YA fantasy than kingdoms with evil kings or queens, their position and power granted to them by birthright. It’s a trope I’ve used more than once, and will definitely use again, but when it comes to evil rulers, Dark Shores is a significant departure from my other work. The novel begins in an Empire inspired by Ancient Rome, complete with soaring columns, senate houses, deadly legions, and democracy, albeit a flawed version of it. The antagonist is not a villainous king, but rather Lucius Cassius, a power-hungry senator running for the position of consul – the most influential elected position in the Celendor Empire.
The hero of Dark Shores is Marcus, a young legion commander who is being blackmailed into supporting Cassius by having his entire legion vote for him in the elections. There is a rather dramatic scene where Marcus, in full regalia, marches into the Forum at the head of the most feared legion in the Empire in the final hours of the election, knowing that he’s about to turn the vote in Cassius’s favor. Marcus is the first of them to vote and there are a couple paragraphs where he stands alone in the voting pavilion, still not quite committed to what he intends to do, that I absolutely love.
Marcus understands better than anyone that Cassius is a villain. That the Empire won’t thrive under Cassius’s leadership. But Marcus also understands that Cassius’s victory is better for him and for his legion. There are thousands of young men, plus most of the Senate, standing outside in the Forum waiting for him to exit the pavilion, but Marcus hesitates, token gripped in his sweating hand and his stomach in ropes, before casting his vote. For readers, it might seem like a small moment, but it’s actually the crossroads point where the plot of the novel either begins or is stopped in its tracks.
I love moments where characters must make choices, but I love this one in particular not just because the consequences are so catastrophic, but because it’s a moment readers can see themselves experiencing. None of us are likely to ascend a throne, but nearly all of us will have the opportunity to vote for a political leader, knowing that we have a hand in who comes out victorious. We understand the feeling of grappling with the choice we must make, weighing and measuring the options. A vote is a powerful thing, and like Marcus, we are all culpable for the actions of those we cast our vote for.
Danielle L. Jensen is the USA Today bestselling author of The Malediction Novels: Stolen Songbird, Hidden Huntress, Warrior Witch, and The Broken Ones, as well as The Bridge Kingdom (Audible Originals). Her latest novel, Dark Shores, was released by Tor Teen on May 7. She lives with her family in Calgary, Alberta.
Wendy Nikel is joining us today to talk about The Cassandra Complex, the third novella in the Place In Time series. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Cass is a 22nd century university student who – like most young adults – has always believed her parents were a bit stuck in the past. But on her eighteenth birthday she learns exactly how true this is: not only are her parents time travelers, living in an era different than either was born in, but now, to ensure that history plays out as it’s supposed to, she must travel to the year 1914 to live out her adult life.
Cass isn’t the type, though, to just sit back and watch while all the tragic events she’s learned about in her history courses play out in front of her. Not when she’s the only one in the world with the foreknowledge – and determination – to change it.
What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?
The Cassandra Complex is the third book in my Place in Time novella series. Throughout the first two books, The Continuum and The Grandmother Paradox, I’ve enjoyed sending my characters on adventures to various points in history through a time travel agency that specializes in vacations to the past. From the Titanic to the 1893 World’s Fair, this series has allowed me to spend a lot of time exploring the way people lived and things that were unique to those times. One particular piece of history I researched for this story were the thousands of young women who followed the railroad lines westward to take on positions of waitresses in the Fred Harvey Company.
With the rise of train travel in the late 19th century, Fred Harvey worked to fill a need for quality food and hospitality for travelers in the west. He opened his first roadhouse in Topeka, Kansas in 1876 and soon had a thriving franchise along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, providing travelers with fresh, wholesome meals, served within the time frame of a single train stop.
Harvey initially hired young men as waiters but found them too prone to drinking and fighting, so in 1883, he began hiring “white, young women, 18-30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent.” Thousands left their homes in the East and Midwest to answer his ads. The salary of $18.50 a month, plus room and board, was generous at the time, and many of these women were eager for adventure and a steady income.
The Harvey Girls were held to high standards to protect their reputations and that of the company. They wore uniforms of modest black dresses, tidy white aprons, and black stockings, and wore their hair in nets and white ribbons. Rules prohibited smoking, gum-chewing, or drinking.
In the 1890s, Fred Harvey was contracted to serve food in the dining cars of the Santa Fe Railway trains, and the Harvey Girls took to the rails. One of the trains they served on was the California Limited, which is featured in The Cassandra Complex.
I hadn’t initially intended to put Cass, my main character, on a westbound train, but when I began researching what jobs would have been available to single, young women in the year 1914, this quickly rose to the top of the list. It was truly a unique opportunity for women during that era, when the choices of young women (especially from poorer backgrounds) were extremely limited. Many women used their earnings to attend schooling which they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. Others went on to marry ranchers, miners, and other frontiersmen they met in West, thus playing an important role in the settlement and development of communities.
With the decline of railroad travel in the 20th century, the Fred Harvey Company also faded from existence, but even years later, many of the 100,000 women who served as Harvey Girls considered their years of service as an important part of their identity. And after her adventures on the rail line, I’m sure my main character, Cass, would agree.
Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and is forthcoming from Analog and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. For more info, visit wendynikel.com
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]