My Favorite Bit: Dru Pagliassotti talks about CLOCKWORK SECRETS: HEAVY FIRE

My Favorite Bit iconDru Pagliassotti is joining us today with her novel Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The final book in the Clockwork Heart trilogy.

Framed for regicide and trapped on a ship crippled by enemy fire, Taya and Ondinium’s diplomatic contingent seem helpless to prevent the well-engineered war their enemies have put into motion. While Alzanan and Demican armies march across Ondinium’s borders, Taya and her husband fight airborne battles from the tropical islands of the Cabisi Thassalocracy to the war-ravaged mountains of Alzana. When Taya falls into her enemy’s hands, she fears that nobody will be able to save Ondinium from the devastating weapon about to be plunged into its mechanically ticking heart.

Books in the Trilogy:

Clockwork Heart
Clockwork Lies: Iron Wind
Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire

What’s Dru’s favorite bit?

Clockwork Secrets Cover


My contract for Clockwork Secrets: Heavy Fire limited me to 100,000-110,000 words, which I found very constraining. Since I had to cut some of the things I found most delightful, I’m glad to have this opportunity to write a little more about the Cabisi Thassalocracy, which main character Taya talks about in Clockwork Heart and finally visits in the new book, Clockwork Secrets. So here it is: more detail describing the new culture of the Cabisi Thassalocracy. These details are My Favorite Bit.

One thing readers may find interesting is that Cabisi speak in the present tense, which led to some rather oddly phrased sentences in the novel and many grammar-geeky internal debates (“would it be acceptable to use past-tense verbs to form present-tense conditional statements?”). I did my best to keep the Cabisi grammar consistent; please don’t tell me where I slipped up!

Which comes first, language or culture? I wanted to depict the Cabisi culture as accommodating and appreciating what it is and has now … as opposed to Ondinium (where Taya is from), which clings to its imperial past while constantly striving for a “better” (more controlled) future.

To that end, Cabiel is a sociocratie, with no heritable rank or caste. Communities nominate justiciars from their own membership to interpret the Code. What this means is that the Cabisi make decisions by consent, informed by an ancient code of law that includes rules for judicial dueling. On the other hand, Ondinium rules from the top down, and it values a level of efficiency, conformity, and uniformity impossible to attain under the Cabisi system. It’s a good thing Cabisi don’t travel to Ondinum very often; they’d find it oppressively restrictive.

Another image that I wanted to share with readers was that of the outer gallery of the Impeccable Justiciary’s meeting hall, which was inspired by Sanj?sangen-d? in Kyoto. It is a long hall containing a thousand statues of Kannon covered in gold leaf. The Cabisi deity portrayed by the statues, The Dancer, was inspired by the androgynous form of Ardhanarishvara, half Shiva and half Parvati, except that instead of being split neatly down the middle, the Dancer is depicted as either hermaphroditic or asexual. Like Shiva in his Nataraja aspect, the Dancer both creates and destroys. The Cabisi, living on tropical islands, accept the balance of the ebb and flow of life, whereas the Ondiniums and their deity, the Lady of the Forge, living in a chilly mountain range, constantly strive to construct better and stronger defenses against loss and danger.

The Cabisi consider aesthetics an important cultural value and, appreciating the bright flowers and birds around them, are especially fond of using color in their architecture and clothing. Taya’s husband, Cristof, argues that Cabisi artisanry isn’t cost-effective, but the Cabisi would never buy an unadorned rifle or bare-bones analytical engine. Taya’s own Ondinium is gray and bare by comparison

The kattaka’s whip sword is based on the urumi; if you want to see some thrilling martial arts, look up “urumi” or “kalarippayattu” on YouTube. I really, really, really wanted to write a scene in which Jinian uses the sword in combat, but for various reasons it never worked out; her nearly single-handed attack on the Indomitable occurred off-screen, although I promise it was epic.

Speaking of weapons, the Cabisi may live in a beautiful tropical setting, but an island nation faces many threats. The Cabisi believe that their culture of dueling keeps them independent; both as individuals and as a nation. Ondinium takes the opposite view, strictly controlling weapons to keep the peace.


The Cabisi Thalassocracy was intended to be an alternative to smoky, overbuilt Ondinium, that gritty urban setting so common in steampunk. My goal was to link its geography and climate with its people’s language and culture in a believable manner and show that although it faces many of the same problems as Ondinium, its very different situation has led it to solve those problems in very different ways. I’m glad I was given this chance to point that out more clearly here, and I hope you enjoy visiting Cabiel in Clockwork Secrets!






As a child I discovered that I was happier alone than with others. Words were my best friends, and the secluded laboratory-fortress in which I exercised my crazed imagination was constructed of typewriter keys, paper, and ink. Within its protective walls I created and destroyed individuals, civilizations, and entire worlds for my personal pleasure — a practice I’ve learned to share with others as a tabletop game master and a published writer. But on the whole, I’m afraid that I’m still more comfortable alone with the written word … and maybe a reptile or two.

I can be found on all those online places you’d expect (Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads) and can be emailed at my name at gmail dot com.

My Favorite Bit: Beth Cato talks about THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER

My Favorite Bit iconBeth Cato is joining us today with her novel The Clockwork Dagger. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.

Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.

What’s Beth’s favorite bit?



It’s hard to narrow down my favorite bit in The Clockwork Dagger. It’s my debut novel, so I’m ecstatic that the thing exists at all. I love that my protagonist is a healer, that my world tree is disgruntled, that my gremlins manage to be green, cute, and ugly all at once. However, there’s a particular small element of the book that makes me geek-out.

I have a map in the front of my book. A map I designed. From the time I was a young kid, any book with a map was immediately elevated in coolness. I spent hours studying atlases and book maps. I’m a geography nut, plain and simple.

However, including a map in my book was not something I planned from the get-go. My initial map was designed purely for my sanity as an author. A good chunk of the book takes place on board an airship. I needed to map out the distance involved and where relevant ports were so I could get my people from point A to point C and try to kill them along the way. I sketched out everything in pencil.

The Clockwork Dagger doesn’t take place on Earth, but the geography is roughly based on western Washington state. There are plenty of differences, too–like the absence of most of the North American continent–but readers who are familiar with the Seattle area will pick up on various references.

After my book and its sequel sold to Harper Voyager, I knew from reader feedback that my drawn map came in handy. I mentioned to my editor that it existed.

This was definitely one of those cases where I was asking for trouble. The reply came back: a map would be great, but it needed to be high res and look professional. Obviously, my little pencil sketch was not going to cut it!

Cue a frantic post to my friends at Codex Writers asking for advice. I ended up on a magical website called The Cartographer’s Guild. Be warned: if you love maps, you can lose yourself there for hours. I found a step-by-step guide to create a sketch style world map.

After many hours spent snarling at Photoshop, I had a map. That map passed muster at Voyager, too. You’ll find it right at the front of the book where it faces the title page. It’s like all those other book maps I admired over the years but this time it’s my world, with my name on the opposing page. How cool is that?

I’m one happy map geek.




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Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a number-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

Beth’s short fiction can be found in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and many other magazines. The Clockwork Dagger is her first novel. The sequel, The Clockwork Crown, will be released in 2015.

Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.

My Favorite Bit: Kater Cheek talks about MULBERRY WANDS

My Favorite Bit iconKater Cheek is joining us today with her novel Mulberry Wands. Here’s the publisher’s description.

Susan never expected to find a corpse in her backyard, especially not one no larger than a doll. Her well-intentioned burial and investigation attracts the notice of the victim’s kin, who blame her for the murder and want vengeance. 

Griff just wants a little more money. When his friend’s squirrelly cousin offers him a side job selling magic wands, and he meets a strange but beautiful girl, he feels his luck is finally starting to change. And then he meets the owls. 

Paul is a human member of the Sunwards, a society of shapeshifting owls. When its parliament orders him to investigate a mage, he doesn’t realize his feelings for Susan will test his loyalty to the society he pledged his life to.

What’s Kater’s favorite bit?



Owls Who Become Women


How to Substitute for Vampires in Urban Fantasy Recipes

When I started to write this series, my goal was to write something that didn’t rely on easy urban fantasy tropes. No  Irish fairies, no fallen angels, no werewolves and especially no vampires.

But I couldn’t get past how useful vampires are. They’re scary and powerful, but they can be sexy too. They live forever, and you don’t know where they are during the day, and they have an uneasy kinship with darkness.  So I had to figure out how to have a protagonist that had the elements of vampires I liked, without being anything like a vampire.

Sitting outside with my friends one night, we saw an owl in a nearby tree. My friend shone a spotlight on it (they hate that, btw) and we could see how huge it was, and how scary. Owls can see at night, they have huge claws, sharp beaks and they strike in total silence. The only reason they aren’t more frightening is that owls have no reason to hurt people.

But what if they did?

So I gave them a reason to have conflicts with humans: competition over limited prey resources. What else would an owl care about, except having enough food to kill? Of course, this happens a lot in real life, that pesticide use or human development will disrupt predator-prey balance. But unlike in real life, my owls aren’t normal owls, they’re shapeshifters known as the Sunwards. The Sunwards are a society that serve and worship a goddess of sunlight. They report to her what happens in the darkness. And when their parliament feels threatened, some of its members turn into women to better spy on human affairs.

We’ve had plenty of stories in which people turn into animals, but very few books in which animals, real animals, turn into people. How could an owl, even a very intelligent owl, pretend to be human? She’d have to learn to speak, how to walk, how to wear clothes, how to pass for human among humans who are hyper-aware of any strangeness. This, too, I stole from vampire stories. The vampires are like human, but they’re not human. They’re more than human, and less.

My Sunwards live in darkness. If a Sunward touches sunlight, she vanishes back into her goddess, melding with the light and basically ceasing to exist until darkness falls again. Since she is only aging and alive during her nighttime waking hours, she can live a lot longer than a normal owl. I say owl because 95% of the Sunwards are owls, and 98% of them are female. Paul, my protagonist’s love interst, is a rare, human, male Sunward, who has to deal with the problems of being a double minority.

Paul has most of the elements of vampirism that I wanted. He lives in darkness, he lives longer than a normal human, he’s beholden to a secret society with inscrutable motives, he has an uncanny fellowship with night animals. And most deliciously of all, he has associates that may try to kill the woman he’s falling for.


Kater Cheek


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Kater Cheek is a graduate of 2007 Clarion. Her work has appeared in Weird Tales and Fantasy Magazine, as well as several anthologies. She has art, book reviews, sample chapters, and links to her other work at When not writing, she throws pots, gardens, binds books, practices aikido, and plays with molten glass.


A peek at the process of finding Igbo terms for glamour

Last week, I posted a call for help finding a native Igbo speaker that could help me with some terms for glamour in Of Noble Family, the final Glamourist Histories novel. Thank you all for sending a bunch of generous folks my way. I wound up working with Ebele Mogo, president of the Engage Africa Foundation. She’s also an author, which is always handy.

Ebele has given me permission to post our emails about the project, so you can see how this sort of process goes, and why I think it’s so important to work with someone from the culture you’re trying to represent.

First let me provide some background on the project, before I get to the specific things I need help with. I write historical fantasy novels that are set in the early 1800s. They are sort of like Jane Austen, with magic and I work very hard to be as accurate as possible aside from the inclusion of magic.

In this version of the world, everyone can do something called “glamour.” It’s an illusionary form of magic that can create images, sound, and scents but nothing tangible. Technically, although these words are never in the text, what they are doing is manipulating waveforms, so the visual illusions are a manipulation of the electromagnetic spectrum, then sound waves, etc.

In England, young ladies of quality are taught glamour the same way they are taught painting, music, and needlepoint. It’s seen as a womanly art, and the language used to describe it is related to textiles and often uses French terms. Different cultures have different relationships with it.

So– In the novel, my main character, Jane who is a white British woman, is talking to Nkiruka, an enslaved African in Antigua about glamour. The discussion is about the limitations that the British idea of glamour as a textile place on the art form. Nkiruka says that glamour has its own words, instead of borrowing. Which means… that I need words that don’t mean something else. It’s fine if they are compound words, but totally made-up terms would also work for my purposes.

What I’m going to do is give you the words that I came up with through an online tutorial and Google translate. I’ll provide the context and also the definition that the term should have. If you want the entire book, I’m happy to send that along as well.

“Yes. I use agakọ iteto and then agba gbanwere.”

  • agakọ iteto — Is a technique to blend two pieces of glamour by interweaving the waveforms.
  • agba gbanwere — Is a technique in which the glamourist pulls on the waveform to smooth the peaks and valleys, thus shifting it to a color lower in the spectrum

Nkiruka stretched a piece of blue-white glamour between them. “Look. Use a ewute iteto with your Hobbson’s Pleating. Is so snow look?”

  • ewute iteto – This is essentially a diffusion filter, that makes the illusion look soft and foggy.

She looked frankly baffled. “No. Only one mkpụrụ obi ikuku — ether.”

  • mkpụrụ obi ikuku – The ether – Where the magic comes from. Early physicists  believed that the world was broken into elements with ether being the highest element. Although this theory is discredited now, the original definition meant “A substance of great elasticity and subtlety, formerly believed to permeate the whole of planetary and stellar space, not only filling the interplanetary spaces, but also the interstices between the particles of air and other matter on the earth; the medium through which the waves of light are propagated. Formerly also thought to be the medium through which radio waves and electromagnetic radiations generally are propagated” (OED). Today you’ll more commonly see it as the root of “ethereal,” and its meaning is similar.

Please let me know if you have any questions or would like an electronic copy of the novel. Thank you very much for your time and attention.

Ebele wrote back very quickly and explained her process for thinking up terms. I’m cutting our socializing, but leaving the rest of the emails intact. One thing that I really want to point out as you read this, is the way she talks about Igbo. This is why just using google translate to come up with words for a magic system doesn’t work. Sure, I can get words, but the culture and thought behind them can’t come from a computer.

So let me get this- you basically want to find the accurate words for the techniques for ‘glamourizing’ if that’s a word.
So with the part where you interweave the waveforms I suggest you use whole sentences instead of putting the words in the middle of the english sentence as it doesn’t always fit that way. This is because igbo is very poetic and so to translate a thought you have to create a whole sentence that captures the imagery not really the word. So we are translating imagery not words in most cases. I will try to explain below

For example in the first one, “Yes. I use agakọ iteto and then agba gbanwere.” you could say “Yes, m na-eke ya ka a na-eke ịsị aka, and then ị d? ya-ad? ka ịwedata ugwu dị na ya ka hancha dị na-ala”

All the letter i’s that have a dot under are long ‘i’s in Igbo. We have short and long vowels as igbo is very tonal.

m na-eke ya ka a na-eke ịsị aka means I will weave it like you weave hair which means  interweaving the strains

ị d? ya-ad? ka ịwedata ugwu dị na ya ka hancha dị na-ala means to pull and flatten the mountains on it so they can all be flat.

Okay then where you say a diffusion filter, again we will use a poetic translation
So for  “Look. Use ewute iteto with your Hobbson’s Pleating. Is so snow look?” you can say “Look. With your Hobbson’s pleating, use ugobu na-eme ka &#7885 dị ka mmadu jịrị anya na-ebe akwa ahu uz&#7885. Is so snow look?”

Which will mean use the glass which makes it look like someone is seeing through tears (we say glass for eye glasses, mirror, anything that has a lens and from my understanding of diffusion filters they are special lenses for the effect). So basically the ugbo which makes it look like you are looking through tears means the filters that make it blurry since seeing through tear-filled eyes has that effect.

Also where you say ‘is snow look?’ are you trying to say it in pidgin english? If so it would be- na so snow dey look? But maybe you aren’t.

She looked frankly baffled. “No. Only one mkpụrụ obi ikuku — ether.”

As for mkpụrụ obi ikuku I think it is okay and very beautiful. It means the heart of the wind literally which I think does a good job of capturing the thought here.

Let me know if this helps:)

Me again. One thing I’ll note is that although I worked with someone from Antigua on the dialect that Nkiruka speaks when speaking English, it sounded wrong to Ebele because it was a different dialect than the one spoken in Nigeria. Again, this is why you can’t just say “he spoke in a dialect.”

For the one with the Hobbson’s pleating, my description of a diffusion filter is misleading. I think looking through tears is spot on, but in 1818, they wouldn’t have had the context of a glass lens. Is there a way to make it just about looking through tears?

And the pidgin… She’s using Antiguan Creole English, which made sense to me since that’s where she learned English. I worked with an Antiguan writer on those lines.

Here’s Ebele’s response.

Okay so in that case I’d say “Look. With your Hobbson’s pleating, me ka ọ dị ka mmadu jịrị anya na-ebe akwa ahu uzọ. Is so snow look?”This means – ‘do’ or ‘make’ it like someone is looking through tear filled eyes.

I’m really pleased with the results of our conversation. Of course, I’m also painfully aware that there’s an audiobook looming. Might be time to talk about getting a different narrator…

My Favorite Bit: Karina Sumner-Smith talks about RADIANT

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

Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

What’s Karina’s favorite bit?

Radiant 9781940456102


Shortly after finishing Radiant, I came across an article that explained the “right” way to bring a debut novel into the world.  Among other things, it recommended that you understand your genre classifications in detail and where the book will fit, know the book’s audience right from page one, and to think ahead to how you or your publisher might market the novel.

Hmm, I thought. That’s kind of the opposite of what I did. Oops?

See, when I sat down to write Radiant, maybe I should have been thinking about the future – but at the time I was just having a blast. As a result, I have a book that seems to slip between genre classifications, rich with things that delight me: ghosts and spells and sarcastic banter, crumbling urban ruins with creatures that stalk the streets when night falls, a floating city with an economy that runs on magic, and the development of a powerful friendship between two very different young women caught in strange circumstances.

But if I’m being honest what I love most of all is the book’s ending.

Sometimes I think writers make the mistake of conflating their experience writing a story with the audience’s experience in reading it – for good or ill.  And yes, working on those final few chapters was probably one of the happiest writing experiences I’ve yet had: the words rushing out as characters fought, and things went wrong, and great forces came together in those final, explosive scenes.  Yet throughout the revision and editing processes, as I read the book again and again (and again … and again …), I realized that, if anything, I liked that ending more with every read-through.

Xhea, the main character, is a homeless young woman from the very bottom of her society – literally. There is the City, made of floating Towers that battle for altitude across the sky; there is the Lower City, huddled in the ruins on the ground below; and then there is Xhea, who lives in the abandoned subway tunnels and shopping corridors that wind beneath the Lower City. In a world that runs entirely on magic, she has no magic at all – no place, no way to participate, nothing. Most people think her useless, little more than a parasite; Xhea’s too busy surviving to argue.

Yet there comes a point in the story where Xhea is trapped, alone and abandoned and in her enemies’ hands. She can find no way out; no strength, even, to try. It’s only when she realizes that her only friend in the world needs her help that she manages to stand up and fight back.  This person who others dismiss as selfish and useless is transformed not by serving her own interests, but by risking everything for someone else.

You could say that my favorite part of Radiant is Xhea herself; you could say it’s her slow and difficult process of breaking down emotional walls and learning to trust another person.  You could say it’s the cool magic, or the ghosts, or the world in which it’s all set.  But in truth, it’s just a single moment: the moment that a difficult, hurting, determined young woman truly comes into her own.

And after that … well, then things really get fun. What can I say, I love a good explosion.




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Karina Sumner-Smith is a Canadian fantasy author. Her debut novel, Radiant, will be published by Talos/Skyhorse in September 2014, with the second and third books in the trilogy following in 2015.  Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies.  Though she still thinks of Toronto as her home, Karina now lives in a small, lakefront community in rural Ontario, where she may be found lost in a book, dancing in the kitchen, or planning her next great adventure.

Want to beta-read a short SF story?


I’m looking for a couple of beta-readers for a short SF story that’s about 7400 words. If you have time, I’d love to get your reader responses. Just drop your willingness into the comments here on my site and I’ll send the password along.

Here’s a teaser.

 Wary of Iguanas

by Mary Robinette Kowal

The iguana was probably some kid out for a joyride. A wetware patch covered nearly its full back in a web of gold and silicone. Tilda opened the window and leaned out to pluck the iguana off the branch. That was the thing about animals with amateur mind-riders — their instincts were slow.

She dropped the iguana into a carry-crate and threw a cloth over it. “No trespassing signs apply to anything with an intelligence on board, but I’ll drop your critter near a street sign.”

“Most people would euthanize the thing.” Helmut pulled a fresh wetware patch out of the fridge and opened the sterile packet. “You’re a softie.”

“It’s not the iguana’s fault his person is an idiot.” Still, given the nature of her contract with the German government, she couldn’t take the chance that it was a joyrider. Tilda carried the crate past the row of benches that dominated the saddle room and set it outside in the hall. “Go ahead and start calibrating and I’ll join you in a minute.”

My Favorite Bit: Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson talks about ONE NIGHT IN SIXES

My Favorite Bit iconArianne ‘Tex’ Thompson is joining us today with her novel One Night in Sixes. Here’s the publisher’s description.

The border town called Sixes is quiet in the heat of the day. Still, Appaloosa Elim has heard the stories about what wakes at sunset: gunslingers and shapeshifters and ancient animal gods whose human faces never outlast the daylight.

And the daylight is running out. Elim’s so-called ‘partner’ – that lily-white lordling Sil Halfwick – has disappeared inside the old adobe walls, hell-bent on making a name for himself among Sixes’ notorious black-market traders. Elim, whose worldly station is written in the bastard browns and whites of his cow-spotted face, doesn’t dare show up home without him.

If he ever wants to go home again, he’d better find his missing partner fast. But if he’s caught out after dark, Elim risks succumbing to the old and sinister truth in his own flesh – and discovering just how far he’ll go to survive the night.

What’s Tex’s favorite bit?



At the time, doing a fantasy Western sounded dead easy.

“Right,” I thought.  “I’ll just rip the stuffing out of American history, shove it through a wormhole, and then mash whatever comes out the other side into a smooth supernatural paste – cowboys and Indians and fishmen and the whole nine yards.  Call of Cthulhu meets Howdy Doody.  It’ll be great!”

Seven years, eighteen gray hairs, and half a million words later…

Well, it was a mixed bag.  The research made me sweat.  The history made me cry.  But right from the beginning, the dialogue was a delight.  Because when you inflict a line like this on the world –

Here, go dish you up some of that pie.  They got apple raisin with calf slobbers on it, and it’s going quick.

– you not only thrust the reader face-first into what Mel Brooks once called “authentic frontier gibberish”, but effortlessly justify the hours you spent marathoning Deadwood episodes and wallowing in 19th century slang.  (Calf slobbers is meringue, by the way – and no, I didn’t make that up.)

But the dangerous thing about words is that if you ever stop to wonder where they come from, they will suck you in quicker than a UFO drive-by.  Like, how can you have a Western without using words like adobe, lasso, mustang, pueblo, stampede, or palomino?  They’re all derived from Spanish – so where in this secondary-world frontier fantasyland are all the Spanish-speaking people?

Well, all right – in our world, Spanish is a Romance language originally brought to the New World by the conquistadors.  In frontier fantasyland, the only seafaring humans are near the poles, because the temperate waters are dominated by fishmen, so… okay, maybe the Roman Empire was more of an AtlanteanEmpire.  Maybe that’s since broken up and spread out, so instead of (human) Frenchmen and Italians and Spaniards, we have the (aquatic) freshwater Emboucheaux, deepwater Taglienti, coastal Castamarín, and so on.

And granted, their languages won’t be the same as ours, because the people speaking them aren’t the same as ours.  Fishmen use sign language to communicate underwater, which would almost certainly have an effect on their spoken languages too, and they actually have neuter-sex individuals, so Latin’s grammatical neuter gender probably would have stuck around.  (This was the point where I realized I was in over my head, and threw up the bat-signal.  Jason Wells-Jensen heroically answered the call, and saved my speculative-linguistic bacon with no less than three constructed languages.)

But that is not all, said the Cat in the Hat – no, that is not all!  If the indigenous peoples of frontier fantasyland were first contacted by non-humans, that changes the equation considerably.  The fishmen aren’t mammals, so they don’t carry human/livestock diseases – so if they got to the New World first, there wouldn’t be huge, devastating epidemics paving the way for big conquests.  They probably couldn’t even penetrate the drier inland areas, water-bound as they are.  Which means they couldn’t just steamroll the locals – if they wanted to stick around, they’d have to figure out some way to co-exist.  So by the time the “guns, germs, and steel” Euro-Nordic humans from across the water finally do establish a toehold in Upper Canadia, the more southerly native populations will already have had generations of inter-species trade with the fishmen (who are probably acting as a natural disease barrier in whatever major river-systems they’ve worked their way into), and THAT means that when these cultures inevitably collide… well, suffice to say that Dances With Wolves, it ain’t.

“Dang, Tex,” you may be saying. “It’s called My Favorite Bit, not My Favorite Backstory Bloatfest.  What does any of this have to do with anything?”

Well, strange as it is to say it: my favorite bit is English.  I love how infinitely bendable and pliable it is.  I love how it’s the Katamari Damacy of languages, constantly growing and picking up new words as it rolls along.  I love how pulling a single thread of English through that wormhole to fantasyland ended up dragging linguistics in after it… and history… and biology… and culture… and then real actual people, like Jason, who have since become some of my best friends.

In the story, the language barriers between all these different people are a huge deal, with misunderstandings leading to fatal consequences.  But backstage, the roots and branches of my own everyday language have connected me with more ideas and people than I ever would have found otherwise – and the book and I are both enormously improved because of it.



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Arianne “Tex” Thompson is a home-grown Texas success story.  A relentless fantasy enthusiast dual-wielding a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in literature, Tex has since channeled her interests into an epic fantasy Western series, kicking off July 2014 with the release of ONE NIGHT IN SIXES.   She is also an active member of SFWA, Codex, and Novelocity, and currently serves as editor for the DFW Writers Conference.  Find her online at and on Twitter as @tex_maam!

Wanted for consultation: Native Igbo speaker

In the latest Glamourist History book, I have a discussion of glamour in different parts of the globe. One of the participants is a native Igbo speaker. Although she’s speaking in English during the conversation, I have a couple of phrases where she uses her own terms rather than the European ones. I’m looking for someone who speaks Igbo to look at the terms I came up with. I took an online tutorial, but that’s only going to get me so far.

I’m worried that I’ve come up with a term that’s a) a real word or b) slang for questionable activities.

There are around a dozen words to look at and I can offer a $50 honorarium for doing so.

EDITED TO ADD: Thank you so much. I was able to work with someone to translate those terms.

My Favorite Bit: Kameron Hurley talks about THE MIRROR EMPIRE

My Favorite Bit iconKameron Hurley is joining us today with her novel The Mirror Empire. Here’s the publisher’s description.

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy.

Stretching from desolate tundra to steamy, semi-tropical climes seething with sentient plant life, this is an epic tale of blood mages and mercenaries, emperors and priestly assassins who must unite to save a world on the brink of ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

What’s Kameron’s favorite bit?



My Favorite Bit: These Aren’t Your Typical Ents

When my epic fantasy novel The Mirror Empire was making the rounds, looking for a publisher, I found myself overcome with a desire to build dangerous terrariums. I’d spent the last nine months writing about flesh-eating plants, and terrarium building seemed like a good creative outlet that wasn’t writing. It turns out, as many already know, that nurturing carnivorous plants is trickier than it looks. Despite care with filtered water and non-enriched soil, I watched my pitcher plants and Venus fly traps shrivel and die.

I was reminded of this vision of death when my first round of structural edits came back on The Mirror Empire after it found a home at Angry Robot Books. My editor had highlighted my favorite chapter of the whole book, the one where the reader finally gets a look at the semi-sentient trees I’ve been foreshadowing throughout the narrative, and said that though the chapter was “entertaining-ish” it really didn’t add much to the story, and perhaps I should consider shortening or cutting it.

A bolt of cold terror cut through me. I starred at my favorite chapter, where the non-magically-gifted head of the militia outsmarts a gifted assassin by exploiting her knowledge of the herds of sentient trees that roam the woodland. I loved that chapter to pieces. I loved the pacing, the character moments, the horror, the weirdness, and of course – the bizarre trees that snarl up the dead from the ground and deposit them into these big pitcher-like growths swinging from their crowns, to be devoured and digested in delicious plant juices.

If this was what my editor thought of my favorite chapter, I thought – how bad was the rest of the book?

I’ve told my agent and others that I work best under deadlines. The adrenaline of a deadline helps me focus and prepare my best work. It turns out there’s another way to give me a spike of adrenaline: the fear that the book I’m about to send out the door and have book bloggers and colleagues review is a piece of crap.

It doesn’t matter how many books I write: the fear is still there. The fear that somehow, this one is the crappy one.

That editorial note freaked me out, and I attacked the book with new vigor.

I loved my evil sentient trees. I loved my witty militia-leading heroine. I was not going to cut them. So I needed to make them – and all the events leading up to them – crisper, tighter, more interesting. I needed to justify this chapter.

I ended up cutting about 10,000 words from the manuscript, and completely reimagining several plot lines. I gave my characters more personal stakes instead of just concentrating on the overall story stakes. I kicked at my dialogue and my character relationships and turned a rather messy book with some good ideas into a more succinctly plotted and powerful book.

On the downside, I’d already send out the first version of the book to other authors for blurbs. I still wince at that. On the upside, I kicked the book into shape, all because I wasn’t going to lose those damn semi-sentient trees.

An editor’s job isn’t so much to be prescriptive: I think a lot of writers outside the publishing game think you have to do what editors say all the time, or that they rewrite your books for you. But great editors simply point to problems. They tell you where things are lagging, where you lost them. They make suggestions. If, like me, the suggestion is to cut out your favorite part of the book, you need to sit down and take stock of exactly what that means. Does it really mean cut it out, or does it mean you didn’t do a good enough job justifying it being there?

It’s often harder to go back and fix everything that came before than it is to just cut the chapter. A writer who got that edit who thought editing was prescriptive might have just cut the chapter and moved on. But I’m not that kind of writer. I’m here to write the best book possible.

So it should surprise no one that I’m trying again to raise those carnivorous plants in terrariums, now. I’m taking what I learned from last time and giving it another go, because failure doesn’t mean you give up. Failure means you work to get better. Failure means you’re on to something great. You just need to put in the work to transform a failure into a pitcher plant.

A really big one. With sharp, nasty teeth.


Kameron Hurley


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Kameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy, comprising the books God’s WarInfidel, and Rapture. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Hurley has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed MagazineYear’s Best SFEscapePodThe Lowest Heaven, and the upcoming Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.

My Hugo acceptance speech plus thoughts on what it’s like to be given one.

I am slightly calmer now, although I do keep looking over at the Hugo to make certain it is real.  There are three questions people kept asking me after the Hugos.

  1. Who did your hair? – Dolly and Rhonda who were amazing and wonderful.
  2. Did you write the lyrics to the Retro Hugos song? – No. Those were written by the very clever Mark Osier and sung to the tune of “Anything Goes.”
  3. What does it feel like to win a Hugo? – I grew up reading Hugo award winning work. I mean, I’d pick things out specifically because of that and still do. These people seemed like they were in a sort of heroic pantheon, so the idea that I have a story in that group? It’s sort of baffling and overwhelming. If I think about it too much, I get a little teary.

Here. You can listen to my voice shaking in my acceptance speech.

And a transcript… plus one bit in brackets that I forgot because I left my speech in my reticule.

I had actually just said, “I’m calling it for Aliette. But it might be Ted.” That I was not expecting, thank you all very much.

I’d like to thank Ellen Klages, who let me read the story out loud to her on a long drive to WisCon. I want to thank my Dad, who used to work in programming at IBM back in the punchcard days, and inspired me to write a punchcard punk universe. I want to thank Mike Fink, the astronaut who let me ask him questions. ( Astronaut! Oh my god!) And Gardner Dozois for asking me to write him a story. [Thank you to Patrick Nielsen Hayden who ran the story on]

And I also want to thank my grandmother, who is– who passed away in March at the age of 109, (I know, a hundred and nine!) whotaught me about aging gracefully and that 65 is not old. 70 is not old. 80 is not old. And even when you are old, you can still be wonderful and powerful.

Thank you all very much.

2014 Hugo for best noveletteMany, many thanks.

After the awards, John Chu, Aidan Moher, and I went over to the fan village to circulate. When I won my first Hugo (and I love that sentence. Ee!) John Scalzi took me around to the fan parties, rather than going to the Hugo Losers’ party.  This year it was called the Hugo Nominees party, but I still think that the tradition of the winners going among the fan parties is an important one. Sure, it gives the other finalists time to commiserate and look at the stats, but — and I think this is more important — it gives the people who actually voted for the awards a chance to see the thing and hold it.

I mean, the Hugo awards are by and for the fans. It only seems sensible to let them share in the joy of that night. I remember what it was like to read those works, before I was writing. I remember the first time I saw a Hugo live and in person (At Ursula K. Le Guin’s house — OMG!!!! So name-dropping but also so much squee there) and the sort of awe it gave me, even though I totally understand the popularity aspect and that it’s technically just a hunk of metal. (A very, very pretty hunk of metal and, in my case, glass)

But here’s the thing — we joke about “It’s an honour just to be nominated,” which is totally true. There are a lot of stories in any given year and to be noticed by a significant enough number of readers to make the ballot– that’s an honour. To be given a Hugo is amazing. So I take the award out with me to let folks see the tangible representation of the very great honour they have given me.

Because that’s what an award is. It’s not a hunk of glass or metal, it’s a tangible representation of the fact that a given work has made a connection with readers. And that connection? That is all any writer wants.

So thank you again, and again for the honour.

And the very pretty tangible award, which is totally going on my mantle because OMG rocket.