I wrote this essay in a moving van as we were relocating from Portland to Chicago. It appeared in Smart Pop Book’s Ender’s World which was a series of essays looking at the novel Ender’s Game from different perspectives. Here’s a teaser.
In 2005, I was fortunate enough to attend Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. I had read his books Characters and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, but his boot camp itself was a transformative experience. Before boot camp, I felt as though I could write a good story by accident, and afterward, as though I could write one on purpose.
Card explained the rules and how fiction worked so clearly that it had gone from being a mysterious process to being something repeatable. After the camp, I pulled out my battered copy of Ender’s Game and re-read it because I wanted to see how he applied the rules that he just taught us.
I was stunned. Card breaks the rules all over the place. Pretty much every piece of wisdom I’d received in his boot camp, he took and inverted at least once in the book.
Today Sally Kilpatrick joins us to talk about her new novel, The Happy Hour Choir. Here is the publisher’s description:
From debut author Sally Kilpatrick comes a hopeful tale of love and redemption in a quiet Southern town where a lost soul finds her way with the help of an unlikely circle of friends. . .
Life has dealt Beulah Land a tough hand to play, least of all being named after a hymn. A teenage pregnancy estranged her from her family, and a tragedy caused her to lose what little faith remained. The wayward daughter of a Baptist deacon, she spends her nights playing the piano at The Fountain, a honky-tonk located just across the road from County Line Methodist. But when she learns that a dear friend’s dying wish is for her to take over as the church’s piano player, she realizes it may be time to face the music. . .
Beulah butts heads with Luke Daniels, the new pastor at County Line, who is determined to cling to tradition even though he needs to attract more congregants to the aging church. But the choir also isn’t enthusiastic about Beulah’s contemporary take on the old songs and refuse to perform. Undaunted, Beulah assembles a ragtag group of patrons from The Fountain to form the Happy Hour Choir. And as the unexpected gig helps her let go of her painful past–and accept the love she didn’t think she deserved–she just may be able to prove to Luke that she can toe the line between sinner and saint. . .
So what is Sally’s favorite bit?
Let me set the scene a bit: My contemporary southern fiction, The Happy Hour Choir, revolves around Beulah Land, a fallen from grace honky-tonk piano player. Beulah was kicked out of her mother’s house when she was sixteen and has been living ever since with her octogenarian piano teacher, Ginger Belmont. Ginger has also taken in Tiffany, a waitress at the bar where Beulah works. At this point in the story, she and the minister she’s fallen for are about to go out on their first real date, a double date with Tiffany and her beau. Ginger has been imparting wisdom to the younger ladies. Beulah is your narrator.
… I was still trying to wrap my mind around [what was said to Tiffany] when Ginger pressed a stack of crinkly packets into my palm. “You’re not too old to have fun, either. You have my permission to make a sinner out of that saint.”
My eyes widened to match my mouth. “Ginger Belmont!”
At the sound of Tiffany’s sensible shoes clunking on the stairs, Ginger pointed upward, and I stuffed my “gift” into my purse.
The doorbell rang. Ginger hugged Tiffany then pulled me into an embrace.
“Life is short,” she whispered. “Life is awful damn short.”
This is my favorite bit for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s where I first got the idea to play around with the concept of sinners and saints. Ginger Belmont has seen some things in this old world. She understands human nature better than most of us, knowing that not one person is all sinner or all saint. Life isn’t perfect; it’s still precious. She’s urging Beulah to romantically consider Luke, but she does it in a responsible and surprisingly modern way. I like to think of Ginger as the voice of reason in the book.
I also chose this selection because it proves plotting a novel doesn’t mean you get rid of all of the surprises. I, like Beulah, had absolutely no idea that Ginger was going to hand her a wad of condoms. I remember audibly gasping when I wrote the scene because prim and proper Ginger did the exact opposite of what I would’ve expected. I may have plotted the entire novel before I wrote it, but there were surprises aplenty, this one chief among them.
Finally, I had to do some interesting research for this portion of the novel. Did you know that Methodist ministers vow to be celibate while single? Did you further know that there’s more than one definition of “celibate”? I must’ve wasted an entire day trying to figure out how many bases my poor minister could reach without breaking his vows. I guess you’ll have to read the book to read that particular box score!
Thanks so much for letting me participate with My Favorite Bit! I knew I loved this scene more than the average bear, but writing about it gave me the chance to delve into the why.
Unable to decide between literature and writing, Sally Kilpatrick received a B.A. in both from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After eight years of teaching Spanish (because that’s what you do with an English major), she earned her MAPW from Kennesaw State University. She has since sold three books to Kensington. The first of these, The Happy Hour Choir is out. . . now! She serves as President of Georgia Romance Writers and lives with her husband/trusty manservant, two precocious kids, and two mischievous cats in Marietta, GA. You can often find her at www.sallykilpatrick.com or on Twitter under the handle @SuperWriterMom.
Let me start by asking bluntly, and then I’ll give details. My friend Nora and her husband Bob were in a horrific car accident. Horrific. As in, there seems to be an actual miracle involved in the fact that they are alive.
This is the link to a fundraiser to help cover their medical expenses beyond what insurance will cover.
Please, please, if you have anything to spare, please help them.
Nora, on the right, at Powell’s books. She made both of those dresses.
Now let me tell you about Nora and Bob. People who’ve followed me for any length of time have met Nora, at least virtually. She’s one of the leaders of the Oregon Regency Society. When Marie Brennan and I were on book tour, we spent a weekend in Coos Bay — a weekend with the ORS that Nora helped arrange. We had lunch in full Regency regalia with her and she listened to us read. When we got to Portland, a couple of days later, she still came out, in costume, to support us even though she’d already heard the stories we were reading.
The accident was two days after that.
Nora’s pelvis was crushed. She has broken both legs. Multiple surgeries. Even after she’s released, it will be months before she will be able to work again. They are going to run through insurance money long before that.
She is funny, and opinionated, a gifted seamstress, and one of the warmest, most generous people I know. And she loves her husbad dearly.
Bob was in that car with her. I don’t know him as well, but Nora speaks about him the way I talk about my own Robert. He’s a talented musician. He enjoys riding motorcycles. And he loves Nora.
They have only seen each other once since the accident because they are both in ICU.
Over the next couple of weeks, you’ll see me post Acts of Whimsy. These serve two purposes. First, I’m hoping it will amuse Nora and Bob. Second, honestly, I’m going to be bribing y’all to look at that link for their fundraiser.
What’s an Act of Whimsy? Things like:
Me, reading Jane Austen in my phone sex voice.
Marie Brennan performing karate in full Victorian dress, including bustle
Keith Baker, making Pride and Prejudice cards for his Gloom game
Lynne and Michael Thomas acting out P&P using Doctor Who action figures
While on book tour (you are coming out to see me at Borderlands tonight, if you’re in SF, right?) I finished a short story. It’s 6700 words and I’m on a sort of tight turnaround on it. If you have time to read it tonight, will you drop your name in the comments and I’ll send you the password?
Here’s the teaser.
The Nameless Queen sipped her port, rolling the blood-dark liquid in her mouth. Night rain pattered against the tall leaded glass windows of her sitting room in a gentle sussuration. The clock on the mantle ticked the minutes until midnight.
The door burst open, bouncing against the paneled wall. “…must be planted in winter so that they can grow snow. You see? Grow snow. It is so delightfully simple that I am not certain why no one has thought of it. Grow snow. Then we shall have relief in the heat of the summer.” Her husband strode into the room with his hands tucked behind his back and his brow knit in concentration. Beneath his dark green robe, King Lennart of Stromhold’s broad shoulders presented the picture of a man of action. “Who is next, well? We have not got all day. Unless we stop the clocks, then we would of course, but meals would never come and one should get frightfully hungry. Yes? Who is next?”
One of the ministers who trailed him leaped forward. “What should we do about the ambassador from Itedia? Prince Volis has brought favorable trade terms for the everwood but wants to meet with you directly. We have not given the details of your infirmary, of course, but he has heard the rumors.”
Today Chrysoula Tzavelas joins us to talk about her new novel, Citadel of the Sky. Here is the publisher’s description:
A Dark Lord is rising. Again. But hey, that’s what the royal family is for, right? Kicking butt in nice dresses: a new epic tradition.
Her (not very) Serene Highness Princess Tiana tries her best not to think about the dark lords ravaging her country or how the magic in her bloodline makes her family go mad. The descendant of a legendary hero, she prefers bringing the myths of old to life on the theater stage, not on the battlefield.
Then a rash of suspicious deaths strikes the Regents—trusted advisors, friends, and guides to her troubled royal family—and the Noble’s Council tries to cover it all up. Tiana is determined to get to the bottom of the murders and the conspiracy, even if that means making a dangerous pact with a telepathic demon trapped in a magical sword. But he may just be the edge she needs to save the people she loves.
Cursed sword in hand, Tiana and her friends prepare to face the encroaching darkness—and the ultimate truth about her and her family.
So what’s Chrysoula’s favorite bit?
The magic. It’s one of my favorite bits–or perhaps I should say it’s a few of my favorite bits. I love that the world of Citadel of the Sky has multiple forms of magic, some of which are completely unconnected but all of which draw on my geek experiences.
The first family of magic is the Royal Blood magic, and it has three components: the phantasmagory, the emanations, and the eidolons.
The phantasmagory is communication magic. The Royal Blood can touch each others’ minds and share their dreams and when they’re gone, those dreams linger. Where? How? A mystery of the setting! But I can say that I was definitely inspired by elements of the Internet in crafting this fantasy world. It distracts them away from real life, provides a distancing filter on near events, lets them talk to others far away, and, like the Internet, it has a history that lingers, waiting to be discovered.
Down she went, through layers of the phantasmagory. It was like before, like after Tomas’s funeral: she was descending through history. Its strata passed her by, each one made of layered memories and dreams. Sometimes they could merge into something new and cohesive, something almost alive.
The next two magics are closely intermingled. Emanations are, simply, telekinesis with a sense of touch. My protagonist uses emanations to move things, sense things and levitate. I spent a fair amount of time watching Magneto in X-Men when writing her magic use. I love Magneto.
She extended her hand like a blade, and this time the emanation that she sent out was not pressure, but an edge, sharp and fast, biting through ancient stone, the warped metal, and the clots of mortar. By the time she was on the final side, eating through one of the hinges, she could tell that the door was sagging towards her, though it wasn’t yet visible to the eye. “Back up, back up,” she muttered, trying not to lose her focus. “Get out of the way!” The phantasmagory yawned beneath her, eager to pull her down and change her perspective.
The final side of the Royal Blood magical triad is the eidolons. The eidolons are an advanced form of emanations, although most of the inhabitants of Citadel’s world think of them as distinct. Take a burst of telekinetic force and tie part of your psyche to it so that it acquires an animal’s intelligence and senses. You can use it as a spy or a guardian… if you can create them at all.
She and Shanasee crowded through the door and put Kiar on the couch. One of Yithiere’s eidolons trotted in behind them and joined the moon-glow wolf. Jant’s fox eidolon followed and scooted under a chair. Shanasee didn’t have eidolons now either, though she’d manifested them before Benjen had died. Like Tiana, she was dependent on her relatives to protect her Regent from whatever stalked them.
Kiar wondered if a wolf eidolon was still protecting Lisette as well. How many eidolons was Yithiere maintaining? Again, she was struck to tears. He tried to be so tireless. But the more eidolons one projected, the less resources one had for one’s self.
The Royal Blood triad is a rare magic, though: limited to those of a specific bloodline. Why? Plot mysteries! But there’s another magic that is much more common, despite the activation ritual’s lethality. This is the Logos magic, which I’ve described to friends as the ability to speak the programming language of the world. When a wizard (or Logosworker) activates their Sight, they’re basically seeing the Matrix. They’re learning how to recode the world, using an occult language where the words themselves hurt to say. Some cultures are a lot better at it than others.
Slowly, she pulled the special Logos-vision over her eyes, being careful not to go too far. It was usually easy to get halfway there, to start perceiving the basic component nature of the universe. The problem was resisting going further than halfway. If she didn’t hold it back, it would dominate her vision, turning everything she looked at into an incomprehensible jumble of passive linguistic noise.
While I love the characters and the plot of Citadel of the Sky, it isn’t an exaggeration that exploring the interactions between the different types of magic is definitely one of my favorite bits. I like rich worlds and complex systems. I really love thinking about how familiar concepts can be reimagined in other worlds.
Chrysoula Tzavelas went to twelve schools in twelve years while growing up as an Air Force brat, and she never met a library she didn’t like. She now lives near Seattle with cats, dogs, adults and children. They graciously allow her a couple of hours to write everyday and one day she’ll have time to do other things again, too. She likes combed wool, bread dough, and gardens, but she also likes technology, games and space. This probably goes hand in hand with liking Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett and Iain Banks.
I was supposed to have done this weeks ago, but I am a slothful and distracted person. I appreciate her patience and the opportunity to share the opening stage of this painting with her readers. So slothful and distracted am I that I still have yet to read one of her books! Historical fiction is my favorite type of fiction, so I truly do not know what my problem is. Not to worry though, Shades Of Milk And Honey is on my desk as I write this and I am cracking it open once this post is finished. Truth be told, I am more excited for Ghost Talkers though, as World War I is a favorite subject of mine.
When discussing with friends at a party that I was planning on painting a portrait of her in regency attire, with humility Mary mentioned that she had yet to understand why I would. The reasons are quite self-evident to me. Mary is charming and elegant, talented and accomplished, intelligent, and beautiful. I have had few chances to make such a statement on canvas, concerning a subject who is known to me, in fabulous adornment. In my estimation, the reasons to paint her in her finery are manifold and clear.
For me, this painting is an experiment. Nearly all the art I make is an experiment; once I have convinced myself I have mastered something, I lose interest in it. To date, I have only mastered charcoal drawing and shooting missiles in the original Twisted Metal. This being an experiment means it might fail and that only a vague course of action or plan can be followed. I had to summon the help of my friend Rodger because I was not up to the task of the photo-reference for something this formal. This is the largest canvas I have ever stretched (it does not fit my easel) and is only the second time I have attempted a full-length portrait. The first attempt was easily half this size or smaller and, like so many projects I begin, was left unfinished.
When this painting is complete, if I do not totally muck it up, observers might draw a comparison to Sargent—but only because it is a full length portrait of a lady in a gown done with a semi-impressionist attitude about what constitutes an edge or line. I am half the painter Sargent was, and moreover Mary’s dress is wrong for his time and the current year is 2015 and I will not be doing this alla prima. All of this is to say emulation is not my goal. I am not winking here. This is to be a full portrait of Mary Robinette Kowal done in 2015 in the best way I know how. I did not inherit a tradition. I am just a guy who took a few classes at art school who likes to paint portraits of women. As you can see there is a grid. I like to think I have the likeness down—which is the trickiest part. I will make a basic grisaille and, from there, try not to ruin it.
Some time in the future perhaps you will receive an update or two about my progress. Perhaps then I can weave in knowing remarks about Jane and Vincent if Mary lets me come back or shares the progress herself. When it is done, she will have a 66 inch tall painting to do with whatever she pleases.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Dillon now makes his home in Chicago, IL. He’s the son of an artist and the brother of an artist. His passion for the visual arts is a lifelong pursuit of creative expression and curiosity.
Eli K.P. William is joining us today with his novel Cash Crash Jubilee. Here’s the publisher’s description.
In a near-future Tokyo, every action—from blinking to sexual intercourse—is intellectual property owned by corporations, who take it upon themselves to charge licensing fees for your existence.
Amon Kenzaki is a Liquidator for the Global Action Transaction Authority. If you go bankrupt and can no longer pay to live, Amon is sent to hunt you down and rip the BodyBank from your flesh. So what if you’re sent to the BankDeath Camps after, forever isolated from a life of information and transaction? Amon is just happy to do his job as long as he’s climbing the corporate ladder.
But the higher you climb, the farther you fall. Amon is tasked with a simple mission, one he’s done hundreds of times. Except he awakes the next morning having no memory of the assignment, and finds his bank account nearly depleted, having been accused of an action known as “jubilee.”
To restore balance to his account, Amon must work to unravel the meaning behind jubilee. But as he digs himself deeper toward bankruptcy, Amon begins to ask questions of the ironclad system he’s served his whole life and finds it may cost him more than his job to get to the truth of things.
What’s Eli’s favorite bit?
Without any hesitation, I would say that my favorite part of Cash Crash Jubilee is the ending. It’s where all the emotional, mythological and narrative currents culminate in one last surge of action.
Obviously, I’m not going to tell you what happens at the end. I hate when people ruin the ending of stories for me. Instead, let me take a step back, and tell you about a little detail that may not seem like much, but is actually insanely cool!
First, a few things about Amon Kenzaki, the main character of Cash Crash Jubilee. So, in this near future Tokyo where all actions are intellectual properties owned by corporations and everyone has to pay licensing fees for everything they do, Amon works for the Global Action Transaction Authority or GATA. They’re basically the government except all they do is make sure everyone’s paying the correct amount to the right corporation, so they can, y’know, exist. Being a Liquidator, Amon’s job is to apprehend people who go bankrupt, so that GATA can remove their implanted computer system (called a BodyBank) banish them to Bankdeath Camps.
Like it says on the back of the book, right?
Except, almost every night, a mysterious forest appears in Amon’s dreams and he would do anything to go there. But, like any action, travelling to this place is sure to cost lots of money, so he becomes obsessed with frugality and job promotion in order to increase his savings. His obsession grows so extreme that he even starts taking seminars to reduce the frequency of his breaths and blinks (which are just barely considered volitional actions because they can be controlled consciously).
Fast-forward to chapter eight. Amon has just been informed that he must cash-crash the Chief Executive Minister of GATA, an almost supernaturally eloquent man named Lawrence Barrow who Amon has idolized for most of his life. His best friend and liquidation partner, Rick Ferro, didn’t show up for work that day and refuses to answer Amon’s messages for some reason, so it looks like Amon will have to go in on the mission alone.
Feeling ambivalent and confused about the situation, Amon finds himself wandering around Ginza, an area of Tokyo where the latest high-class fashions transform on the bodies of streetwalkers literally every second. Lost in thought, he is at the back of a crowd waiting for the light to turn green, when a woman approaches him from behind a stall displaying various green teas. She proffers a tray of paper cups filled with tea and then:
“Care to try some gyokuro from Uji?” she asked, holding out the tray. Amon ignored her. He was a bit parched, but didn’t want to pay the company that owned accept free samples.
This little episode performs multiple roles. The two Japanese words help to develop the Japan setting; Uji is a place in Kyoto famous for producing green tea and gyokuro is a premium variety that is shaded from the sun at least two weeks before harvesting it to create a particular intense flavor. Amon’s refusal of the sample helps to develop his character; he is so concerned about saving money he won’t even pay a small fee to drink tea despite being thirsty. I could go on, but I didn’t choose this part to elaborate on any of these roles. Rather, I chose it because the irony of a supposedly free sample that nonetheless costs money provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of “freedom” and how this concept relates to Cash Crash Jubilee.
The word “free” has many overlapping and sometimes contradictory meanings, but in this post it’s worth mentioning three. First, something can be free in the sense of being “complimentary.” In this case the word is usually applied to a product, service or activity that does not require payment of money to own, borrow or use it. Second, free can mean something like “unhindered” or “untrammeled”. There are no physical, psychological or social obstacles blocking some particular course of action. Finally, it can have a more proactive meaning. We are free when we have the potential to realize our desires and ambitions.
In the excerpt above, all of these different meanings are implied and conflated. Considering in what sense Amon might be free to take the sample illustrates this point. Is the sample complimentary? Are there no obstacles to his choosing it? Does he have the potential to realize his desires in this moment? I don’t like analyzing my own novel, but I think these questions are important because they apply just as well to actions in our daily lives. You might be tempted to answer “no” to all three questions, but I think this amounts to denying that anyone in the present world is free, because, if you think honestly and carefully about your actions, you’ll realize that it’s rare for us to be free in all three senses of the word.
Perhaps you are willing to give three definitive nos anyway because you’re already convinced that we are never free. Perhaps you think we are all pre-determined in our choices or are all political and economic slaves with no hope of emancipation.
Whatever you believe about freedom, many details in Cash Crash Jubilee provide an opportunity to reflect on it. And this passage is particularly useful in this regard since in just a few short sentences it gestures to the discord between the different notions of freedom that resonates through the entire Jubilee Cycle series.
Eli K. P. William, a native of Toronto, currently works in Toyko as a Japanese-English translator. Commissioned by one of Japan’s largest publishers (Shueisha). William is currently translating a bestselling novel by Naoki Prize–winning author Ryo Asai. Cash Crash Jubilee is his first novel.
Friday, May 22 Celebrating a Woman of Wonder: Jane Austen at 240, 4:30-6pm, San Tomas Jane Austen’s millions of fans will be celebrating her 240th birthday this December. How much influence does she have on the current generation of readers and writers? What tropes in science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance can be traced back to her books, or to domestic life in the Regency Period? Join fans of Jane Austen’s work in connecting dots between her books and recent works of science fiction and fantasy.
Saturday, May 23 Traveling with Costumes and Props, 11:30am-1pm, Winchester Do you need TARDIS powers for your suitcase? This is a costumer’s guide to packing for conventions and other adventures.
Themed Reading: Historical Fantasy, 4-5:30pm, Sarasota It’s our world, in the past, and yet it’s not. Hear authors read from stories set in Earth’s history, but spiced with an extra element of the fantastic. (with Marie Brennan)
Sunday, May 24 “And the Nominees Are…” An Overview of the 2015 Hugo Nominees, 1-2:30pm, San Tomas You’ve seen book covers with the statement “Hugo Award Winner” blazoned on the front. The 2015 Hugos will be awarded at the Worldcon in Spokane this August. Don’t have the time to read all the nominated works yourself? The panelists will discuss their favorites among the nominees in various categories. Find out which of the nominees matches what you like in a good read.
Regency Dances, 2:30-5:30pm, Lafayette The English Regency was just over a decade, but it has had a broad influence on everything from literature to music and dance. Don’t worry if you don’t know the steps — expert Alan Winston will teach you as he calls the dances.
Three Dimensional Women in Science Fiction, 4-5:30, Lawrence How well do Heinlein’s depictions of women (or those of other major male or female sci-fi writers) hold up in the 21st century?
Today Kelley Grant joins us to talk about her new novel, Desert Rising. Here is the publisher’s description:
“It frightens me, knowing the One has called up two such strong individuals. It means that there are troubled times in our future, and you must prepare yourselves.”
The Temple at Illian is the crown jewel of life in the Northern Territory. There, pledges are paired with feli, the giant sacred cats of the One god, and are instructed to serve the One’s four capricious deities. Yet Sulis, a young woman from the Southern Desert, has a different perspective – one that just might be considered heresy…
Sulis’s twin Kadar, meanwhile, is part of a different revolution. When Kadar falls in love with a woman from a Forsaken caste, he finds he’s willing to risk anything to get her people to freedom. But with Sulis drawing a dangerous level of attention from the deities, and war about to break out on two fronts, change may not come as easily as either twin had hoped.
So what is Kelley’s favorite bit?
I grew up running wild in the hills of Ohio’s Amish country. Animals were always an important part of my life; both our family pets, and the wild creatures who co-inhabited the old farmhouse we lived in. We had bees in the attic, flying squirrels peering at us from the walls and snakes in the dirt cellar. We also took in stray dogs, hamsters and even a very angry goat who felt called to trample me at every opportunity.
And there were always cats. It was seldom I went to sleep without a purring cat curled somewhere on the bed. I realized recently that I have been owned by 18 felines from childhood until now. So of course somewhere in those years of ownership they brainwashed me into creating the feli of my novel Desert Rising. The feli are large felines who claim magically talented people for the Temple in the Northern Territory. They are my favorite bit.
In Desert Rising, it was fun playing with a world that wasn’t human centered. The feli were created first, as companions to The One – who is the supreme creator. Humans were created to be companions to the feli because the giant cats were bored. Only then were the four deities created in the image of humans to rule over them. Because cats have no interest in governing wayward humans! And the feli of my world are truly cats – not humans in the form of cats, not talking animals – but cats in their purest persnickety felineness. They want scratches behind the ears, the best food, and their chosen human to provide a soft lap to purr on.
The feli are my favorite bit, not just because they are awesome, large cats, but because the feli Djinn, who claims my heroine Sulis, is a tribute to a particular cat who claimed me, just after college. Djinn, however is cheetah-sized, so he can really enforce his feline desires on Sulis.
“Unlike the other feli, who remained sitting tall, just barely touching their paired, Djinn sprawled beside her and laid his big head in the lap she created with her crossed legs. When she didn’t immediately stroke him behind the ears, he reached a long leg out and touched her knee with his paw, claws barely sheathed. She sighed in irritation and caressed him, so he would not put a hole in her shift. His answering purr filled the meditation area, and the other pledges looked over at them in surprise. Lasha met her eyes, and Sulis rolled hers. Lasha looked away quickly, hiding a smile.”
The cat who claimed my heart was Chester, an extraordinary cat who loved me through six moves, through college, job changes and marriage. Chester would drape himself across me when I read and if the petting stopped, the warning paw would go out as he touched me on the knee or face. The claw was next, if I did not pay attention. Chester assessed every human who came through his house. If they were judged worthy, he would bestow his presence on their laps. If unworthy, they dared not touch him or be slashed. And Chester owned every bit of me.
We lost Chester at age 19 to kidney failure. He lives on in Desert Rising. But as I write this, Willow is stretched out beside me, occasionally sticking a paw on the keyboard to put in her word. Our evil flamepoint Siamese Ember jealously eyes her from a bookshelf – Ember stars in the second book of the series, The Obsidian Temple, which comes out in July. With their gazes upon me, I feel a certain compulsion to put even more feli in book 3. After all, where would Sulis be, without her Djinn? How could my life be complete without a cat on the lap and a good book in hand?
Kelley Grant grew up in the hills of Ohio’s Amish country. Her best friends were the books she read, stories she created and the forest and fields that inspired her. She first told stories to her cats, then her teachers, then expanded her audience at Otterbein college, where she earned her degree in writing. She and her husband live on a wooded hilltop and are owned by five cats, a dog and numerous uninvited critters. Besides writing, Kelley teaches yoga and meditation, sings kirtan with her husband, and designs brochures and media.
Today Brooke Johnson joins us to talk about her novel, The Brass Giant: A Chroniker City Story.Here is the publisher’s description:
Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world
Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.
When Emmerich Goss–handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild–needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.
Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council … and their automaton is just the beginning.
So what is Brooke’s favorite bit?
When I first sat down to write The Brass Giant, I never could have expected that this simple idea that popped into my head one late night of insomnia would somehow develop into this vivid alternate universe, sprawling with characters and stories. All I knew was that I needed to tell this one story, about a young girl who wants something impossible for her time—and how she makes that dream possible. I never imagined that Chroniker City, the fictional city in which The Brass Giant takes place, would grow so far beyond my original idea.
The city sits twenty miles off the southern coast of Wales, built onto a small island of rock eight miles west of Grassholm. In our world, a remote lighthouse stands there, built in the late 1850s. However, in my alternate timeline, a wealthy German engineer by the name of Gumarich Chroniker instead chose the location in the early 1830s for his greatest engineering project—a mechanical, self-sustaining city that would eventually become the technological hub of the modern world.
What I didn’t realize was that in the course of writing the novel, the city would evolve beyond that original world-building. As I delved deeper into the setting, the city gained history and layers and several different dynamics that I did not expect.
And I love that the world came alive like that. I love that this city started as nothing more than a simple what if… and then became this multifaceted world—from the subterranean levels of engines and boilers beneath the city to the leading polytechnical university of the modern world.
But one aspect of the setting stands out from the rest: the subcity. In The Brass Giant, I spend a good number of pages beneath the streets of the city proper. My main character navigates the dangerous service tunnels and networks of pipes to sneak into a restricted workshop, she visits her brother in the subcity boilers, and even uses her knowledge of the subcity layout to escape prison and go into hiding when she’s accused of espionage by the Guild.
Here’s a quick description from the novel:
Petra led Emmerich down the brass spiral staircase and stepped onto a catwalk, suspended high over the rows of furnaces and boilers. Steam hissed through the latticework of pipes along the walls and sweat glistened on the underbellies of the boiling tubs. Below, lines of workers rhythmically thrust shovels into coal carts and fed the furnace fires, the light of the glowing coals gleaming off their soot-covered skin. The air was hot with the tang of metal.
From the boilers, they traveled the tiers of catwalks, descending deeper into the subcity—vast chambers of enormous gear trains and spinning turbines laid out neatly below, hundreds of floor engineers, foremen, operators, and technicians attending to the chief tasks that kept the city alive and running. The droning roar of the massive machines filled the air with a deafening hum, infused with the sound of clanking pistons, the oscillating whir of spinning wheels and gears, the groan of overburdened pipes, and the gratifying hiss of steam as pressure was released.
Petra and Emmerich drifted through the discordant rhythm, passing by the busy control deck and into the very heart of the subcity—the primary engine room, the source of all power to the city. They stood over the spinning driveshaft, surveying the grandest of machines from the narrow catwalk bridge that spanned the width of the chamber. It was here, deep in the thrum of the city itself, that Petra felt truly alive, truly inspired—her sanctuary.
She rested her arms against the railing, breathing in the rich scents of coal, gasoline, and oil, the pulse of the city singing through her body. Emmerich marveled at the whirling turbine, his eyes brighter than she had ever seen them, filled with an excitement she knew well. He no doubt felt the thrum of the machines in his chest, the whir of gears in his mind, the oscillations of linkages in his bones, the hiss of steam in his lungs. Here, he was one with the machines, one with the city, connected in the same way she was. In that moment, caught up in the movement of the machines, he understood her in a way that no one else ever could. It was why she had brought him here.
The subcity is what brings Chroniker City to life for me, transforming what could have been yet another ordinary London-esque setting into a fully mechanized city, a character in its own right, with many secrets hidden in its deep, dark hollows.
This city is alive, and I hope that some small hint of its depth and mystery reach readers as they read the novel, and that Chroniker City comes alive to them in the same way it exists in my head.
Brooke Johnson is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes to one day live somewhere more mountainous.
Andrea Phillips is joining us today with her novel Revision. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Mira is a trust fund baby playing at making it on her own as a Brooklyn barista. When Benji, her tech startup boyfriend, dumps her out of the blue, she decides a little revenge vandalism is in order. Mira updates his entry on Verity, Benji’s Wikipedia-style news aggregator, to say the two have become engaged. Hours later, he shows up at her place with an engagement ring. Chalk it up to coincidence, right?
Soon after, Benji’s long-vanished co-founder Chandra shows up asking for Mira’s help. She claims Verity can nudge unlikely events into really happening — even change someone’s mind. And Chandra insists that Verity — and Mira’s newly minted fiance — can’t be trusted.
So what is Andrea’s favorite bit?
My very favorite part of Revision is the relationship dynamic between two characters in the supporting cast: Joseph and Joey, who are the proprietors of Joes’ Buzz, the coffee shop where Our Heroine is employed. I love the Joes. They’re a joy to spend time with, and I think it comes through in the writing.
Joseph sauntered in early in the afternoon. Where Joey could have been the second coming of Jerry Garcia, Joseph looked like a Korean Ben Franklin, though I don’t think anybody would have been brave enough to say it right to his face. He had an adorable round belly, a balding pate with a little ponytail holding his graying hair back, and a tiny pair of half-moon reading glasses perched at the bottom of his nose.
“Our Mira’s getting married,” Joey called to him, right across the whole room.
“Is she pregnant?” Joseph called back. I must have turned about five different shades of crimson. I could tell from the heat of all that blood rushing to my face at once.
The couple of regulars in the place looked at each other and then studiously focused on their phones and lattes. You could practically see their ears grow three sizes, though. Sigh.
“She says no,” Joey said. “But I don’t know if we believe her.”
“I’m not pregnant,” I said.
Joseph strolled up and carefully inspected my reddened eyes, my sallow complexion, my filthy hair. “You look terrible,” he said. “I bet it’s going to be a girl.”
Fiction is riddled with bad relationships. Angst! Drama! Faithlessness! And that’s as it should be, because conflict is the heart of drama. Good relationships can be incredibly boring to read about. Static, or even entirely lifeless. Who wants to read that?
And so it’s not surprising that the primary relationships in Revision are troubled, too. Trust, communication, boundary issues: it’s all in there. In particular, Mira’s romantic relationship with Benji is reminiscent of the subtly bad relationships many of us have in our teens or 20s, before you learn how to do it right. (Or maybe that’s just me?)
But I think it’s important to show good relationships, too, so our mental template for what love looks like doesn’t only come in fifty shades of abusive or unhealthy.
And to take it a step further, I especially wanted to portray a good, stable, mature gay marriage, because they’re fairly hard to come by on screen or on the page, even now. (Though I should point out that I’m a straight woman myself, and I in no way mean to elevate myself as an authority on this topic!)
I find that when a gay relationship gets any attention at all in mainstream media, the plot often focuses on that gayness itself as a source for drama and characterization. Gay people in stories are defined by questions of who’s out and who isn’t; who is welcomed and supported by their family, and who isn’t. We tell that kind of story so much that we forget it’s not the only story there is. It becomes reductive; characters defined exclusively by their gayness lose the chance to be complete people.
So I try to do differently, and show more of the vastness of human experience. So: the Joes, who are defined by the warmth of their feelings for one another, not their relative position on the spectrum of sexuality. The Joes have one of the most delightful relationships I think I’ve ever written. They’re comfortable with one another, they have a great rapport, they’re loving and protective of each other and of the life they’ve built together. No matter what happens to them, there’s no question they’ll find a way through it together.
Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. She has worked on projects such as iOS fitness games Zombies, Run! and The Walk, The Maester’s Path for HBO’s Game of Thrones, human rights game America 2049, and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City. Her projects have variously won the Prix Jeunesse Interactivity Prize, a Broadband Digital award, a Canadian Screen Award, a BIMA, the Origins Vanguard Innovation Award, and others. Her book A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling is used to teach digital storytelling at universities around the world.
Her independent work includes the Kickstarted serial The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart and The McKinnon Account, a short story that unfolds in your email inbox. Her debut novel Revision is out on May 5 from Fireside Fiction Co. and her short fiction has been published in Escape Pod and the Jews vs. Aliens anthology.
You can find Andrea on Twitter at @andrhia. I mean, if you like that sort of thing.
Marie Brennan and I are off on book tour today. Here’s a quick recap of where we are going to be — in full costume, with puppets, dragon bones, and presents.
May 6 – Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA – 7:30pm
May 7 – Copperfield’s, Petaluma, CA – 7pm
May 8-10 – Topsails & Tea, Coos Bay, OR – 2pm, 9th
May 12 – Powell’s, Beaverton, OR – 7pm
May 14 – Weller’s, Salt Lake City, UT – 6pm
May 16 – Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ – 2pm
May 17 – Murder by the Book, Houston, TX – 2pm
May 18 – Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC – 7pm
May 19 – Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC – TBD
May 20 – Malaprop’s, Asheville, NC – 7pm
May 21 – Borderlands, San Francisco
Of note: Anyone who comes in costume to our readings, from either of our books, will get a small prize as well as a great deal of squeeing.
Yesterday was the official beginning of my book tour for Of Noble Family with Marie Brennan, so it seems appropriate to share some lovely photos from my book release party at the end of April, hosted by Tor Books and held at the Cards Against Humanity Theater.
Yes, that’s the dress I made for Of Noble Family‘s cover, being worn by my friend Karlyn Meyer, of the Chicago Nerd Social Club’s Board of Organizers.
Several guests joined me in wearing Regency gowns during the party. It was wonderful to see so many people having a great time.
I couldn’t have asked for a better send-off for my trip as Guest of Honor on the Steampunk Cruise. Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate with me, and I hope to see more of you in the coming weeks!
(All photos shared courtesy of opacity on flickr. The full album of opacity’s photos from the book release party can be seen here.)
Manners are such an amorphous term. They are often equated with etiquette and which fork you are using at the table. But in the Regency, manners had a different and distinct concept, which I find very useful.
Manners are an outward expression of your opinion of others.
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is described as, “his manners, though well bred, were not inviting.” What this means is that though he was correct on all the points of etiquette, the way he executed those points made it clear that he disdained the people to whom he was speaking.
I’ve been thinking about this distinction a fair bit recently, in regard to a number of conversations going around on the internet. I’ve been getting emails from people, or comments on my blog, thanking me for being “reasonable” and “classy” in my responses to various upsets, most recently around the Hugo awards. What disturbs me about these is that the people writing to me don’t seem to understand that I am angry.
Because I am not raising my voice, people are mistaking my manner.
When I appear calm, and collected, it is easy to discount my reaction because my manner tells you that I am calm. It reduces the urgency of the situation. My manner seems to suggest that I am not angry, when I very much am. I may begin quietly, trusting that the other person will respect my concerns. But when I am not listened to, when my words are discounted, then my manner must change. I must express my outward opinion by yelling.
Telling someone that they need to moderate their tone to be taken seriously, ignores the fact that they have likely been expressing their opinions in a moderate tone for quite some time and haven’t been taken seriously. For instance, women and people of colour have been feeling excluded from SFF for decades, and have felt unsafe for decades. This is not a new situation. What has changed is that people are at the point where they are yelling. Their manner is expressing their feelings and those feelings are full of rage.
The thing is… the reason that I can be “polite” and “reasonable” is because other people are expressing the anger for me. I have the privilege of being quiet only because other people are bearing the burden of our shared fury. Without the people willing to shout, the concerns would be dismissed. Look at the suffragette movement. Women had been talking about equality for hundreds of years before that, and it wasn’t until the early 1900s when women began breaking windows and chaining themselves to buildings in protest that the cause was taken seriously. Then the “reasonable” women were able to negotiate, because their sisters had borne the burden of shouting to create a space in which their words could be heard.
This is, I think, something that is really important to understand: Being quiet does not mean that one is any less angry. And if you want to deal with people who are “reasonable” it is important to listen to them the first time they express their concerns.
And when you do? Listen with respect, because that is the correct manner.
Forthcoming – April 28, 2015 The final book of the acclaimed Glamourist Histories is the magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen walked on the grimmer side of the Regency Jane and Vincent have finally gotten some much-needed rest after their adventures in Italy when Vincent receives word that his estranged father has passed away on […]
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