Journal

I am 47 today! Have the first scene of GHOST TALKERS as a party favor.

Hurrah! I’m 47 today and I’m getting on an airplane to go to Salt Lake City to record Writing Excuses and attend LTUE. On my birthday. On a plane.

I think we all know how this is going to go.

Meanwhile! I have a party favor for you. This is the first scene, sort of, in Ghost Talkers. The reason I say “sort of” is that I’ve trimmed it so that it works as a short story in order to not leave you totally hanging until the novel comes out in July.GhostTalkers_comp_web

Ghost Talkers

CHAPTER ONE
16 July 1916

“The Germans were flanking us at Delville Wood when I died.”

Ginger Stuyvesant had a dim awareness of her body repeating the soldier’s words to the team’s stenographer. She tried to hold that awareness at bay, along with the rest of the warehouse. Even with a full circle supporting her, she ached with fatigue and that would pull her back into her body before her shift was finished. It wouldn’t be fair to force Helen to assume control of the circle early. The other medium was just as exhausted.  Around her, the currents of the spirit world swirled in slow spirals. Past events brushed her in eddies of remembrance. Caught in those memories, scent and color floated with thick emotion. The fighting at the Somme had kept the entire Spirit Corps working extra shifts trying to take reports from the dead, and the air was frigid with souls.

The young soldier in front of her had been with the 9th Scottish Division, 26th Brigade, the Black Watch. Private Graham Quigley technically still was a member of the Black Watch until his unfinished business was completed and he could cross beyond the Veil.

Belatedly, Ginger realized what he’d said. “So you could see the Germans? You know their positions?”

His aura rippled black with remembered pain, but a flash of amber satisfaction shot through it. “Oh, ma’am. Don’t I just. The shell that got me made it clear as all that I’d not live through the day, so I had the boys prop me up.” Quigley grinned. “I saw the Huns set their guns up, not fifteen feet from where I lay bleeding.”

“When did you die? The time. Did you see the time?”

“11:47.” His spirit winked at her. “I had one of the blokes hang up my watch so I could see the time. Remembered my training, I did.”

Most soldiers came in within a few minutes of their death, but sometimes their confusion, or the sheer number of them meant that their report didn’t come until hours later.  Knowing when they died was vital. Her shift would end at noon, so Quigley had only been dead for a few minutes.  “Can you show me their positions?”

“Aye. That I can.” The amber of his pleasure suffused and buried the dark pain of dying. If the Spirit Corps did nothing else, it gave these young men some meaning for their death.

“Give me a moment.” Her circle, well-trained as they were, made the necessary changes to their configuration. Taking care not to break contact with her, Mrs. Richardson, on her right, slid her grip up Ginger’s arm so that her hand was free. An aide, seated in the center of the circle, positioned the drawing board in front of her. Edna had already clipped a map of the village Longueval and Delville Wood to the board. Neither woman had the Sight, so to them the soldier was only a dim shadow and only when they were in full contact with the circle. Without it, they’d feel nothing more than a spot of uncanny cold where he stood. But while the circle was in effect, with a strong medium to lead, all six of the sitters could hear him and the countless drills they had done stood them in good stead.

If Quigley had seen where the Germans were, the command center could hopefully find a way to stop those guns. A cluster of other ghosts waited, crowding the warehouse until another circle was free to take their report.  Dimmer flashes of living people walked through the room carrying stenographers’ reports or updated orders as the casualties poured in.

Ginger reminded her body to take a breath before she turned her attention back to the soldier. She pushed her soul farther out of her body. The relief sighed through Ginger as her mortal weight lessened. Her soul blended with the radiance around her, but there was not time to permit herself to drift in the spirit plane and delight in the tangible flow of spirits. “Show me, please.”

She reached out for Quigley and let his soul wrap around hers, dropping into his memories.

He is leaning against a wall trying not to look at where his legs used to be. The pain is not as bad as he’d thought it would be, but he’d give anything for a drink of water. He is so thirsty. The blasted Huns have overrun their position and are setting up their guns behind the wall of what used to be a church. No proper respect, shelling a church like that. He blinks, trying to focus, but the world is starting to go grey around the edges. The Lance-Corporal had told them how important it was to the war effort to remember after death. There are five of them, three to handle the gun, plus another two to manage the horses that pulled it into place.  The sound of the gun going off is deafening, but he’s too tired to flinch. It’s cold. It’s a relief after the oppressive July heat. But why is it cold? The gun fires again, and he stares at it, willing himself to remember. It’s a heavy field Howitzer — a five nine — and they look to be settling in to stay.

Ginger pulled herself back, sinking toward her body. It had gotten even colder in the vast warehouse — no. No, that was just a residual from Quigley’s memory. Her body shuddered with it anyway and she wanted to retreat from the heavy mortal flesh. The circle pulled her soul down, anchoring her. Ginger checked to make sure her body was still breathing and nodded to the soldier. “Thank you. That is very good information. I will make a commendation to your superior officer.”

Back in the mortal sphere, Edna was slipping the map from the board. Upon it, Quigley had used Ginger’s body to draw the location of the gun and the Germans at the time of his death. A runner would take the map to the intelligence officers and they would relay the information back to the front line. Ginger sent up a prayer that they could stop the gun, even while knowing that there would be more. There were always more deaths facing her.

“Am I finished, ma’am?” Quigley’s presence pulled her attention back to where it belonged. “They said in the training that we could send a message after we reported in.”

“Yes. Of course.” Her fatigue would have to wait another ten minutes until her shift ended. “What message would you like to pass on?” She would just repeat his words, and let the stenographer take note instead of spirit writing. It seemed unjust to complain of being tired when speaking to the dead, but her entire body ached with other people’s memories.

“Tell Alastair Olsen that he owes me five bob. He’d bet that I was too daft to remember to report in and I guess he was wrong.”  The soldier twisted the memory of his cap in his hands.  The amber faded and for moment his aura went deep purple with grief. “And tell my mum that I love her and that I’m sorry about the table leg. I meant to fix it before I went to war. Tell her I’m sorry I didn’t. Hell — tell Alastair Olsen to give the five bob to Mum and she can use that to get the leg fixed. Only don’t say I said ‘hell’.” He looked behind him and the edges of his spirit blurred. “Oh… that’s the light the Lance-Corporal was telling us about I guess. Huh. It’s yellow.”

With a sigh, Quigley let go and diffused away from them. The eddies of his passing tugged on Ginger’s soul, nudging her to go along with him on his journey. Her circle stood fast, holding her to this mortal coil. With her spirit, she held a salute as Pvt. Quigley’s soul passed fully through the veil to the next plane of existence.

And then another soldier took his place.

END

I should note that Ghost Talkers begins on 16 July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, and comes out on 6 July 2016. Which is really, kind of awesome.

Oh, and for my birthday? I’m treating myself to a pair of these so I can cos-play Ginger.

Black Victorian buttoned boots

MRK’s non-eligibility awards post

Normally I do my end of year wrap up post in December, because it’s a good time to collect everything in one spot for when nomination season rolls around. I didn’t do that this year because I’d decided to recuse myself from eligibility for the Hugo awards.

Why? Because I know how few nominations it takes to skew something onto the ballot for short fiction. There’s so much of it published that it a handful of people can make the difference in getting something onto a ballot.

This is, incidentally, why it’s important to nominate and not just vote for awards. Your nomination actually carries more weight than your vote.

With that in mind, here are the works of mine that are not eligible for Hugo nomination this year.

Novel

Short Story

  • “Doctor Faustus” — The Doll Collection (Tor)
  • “Like Native Things” — Asimov’s
  • Grinding Time” — Popular Science
  • Midnight Hour” — Uncanny Magazine
  • “Rockets Red” — Word Puppets

And I just want to say that this is really hard, because I think Of Noble Family is my best novel and “Midnight Hour” is… I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written. So, if I could ask you to at least read them? That would be lovely.

Now! Let’s talk about work that IS eligible. What are you excited about? Do you have an eligibility post? Then share it, please.

And nominate. Please, please nominate work that you love.

Puppets and the suspension of disbelief

Puppet and admirerAt Christmas every year, there’s a giant gathering of family. I usually have a puppet because… because puppet. Anyway, one of my favorite things is introducing my newer cousins to the puppets.

There’s an interesting thing that happens developmentally with little kids. You know that whole willing suspension of disbelief thing? Little kids haven’t started doing that yet.

I can move the puppet and they’ll respond to it as if it is real, because for them it is. If I speak with the puppet though, they are confused. They look at where the sound is coming from — at me — and not at the puppet because they haven’t yet learned to play the game where we all pretend that the puppet is speaking.

I remember playing with one of my cousins when he was around five or six. I had a sea witch and he loved being chased around the yard by her. Periodically though, he would have to stop and say, “She’s not real, right?” I would reassure him that she wasn’t. Mind you, I was fully visible and not doing ventriloquism, but he still needed that reassurance, and then it was fun again. At this point, he wasn’t doing willing suspension of disbelief, he just believed and need to remind himself where the real world was.

His dad, and the grandfather of the fellow in the picture, would watch his kids talking to the puppet and join in the conversation. Then his kids would wander off and he’d keep talking to the puppet. Then he stopped. “I’m talking to a puppet.”

“Yes, you are,” the puppet said.

And then he kept talking to her, with his willing suspension of disbelief in full force. It’s a social compact that we make in a lot of art forms, and I love watching it develop and evolve.

When was the last time that your suspension of disbelief was strong enough that you didn’t question it?

Today is the first day of Month of Letters. Are you in?

A Month of Letters Challenge (3)

I started this challenge back in 2012 on a whim, and it turns out that I’m not the only person who enjoys sending mail. It’s like I know a bunch of writers or something. Fancy that.

A couple of things about the challenge, for those of you who are looking at it and feeling like it is too intense.

  1. I’ve seen you do NaNoWriMo. This is way fewer words.
  2. It’s only 24 items.
  3. People love getting physical mail.
  4. They don’t have to be handwritten.
  5. They don’t have to be letters. A postcard. Fabric swatch. You name it.
  6. To repeat, people love getting something personal. They love getting real mail.

But, awkwardly, this year, I have a favor to ask: Don’t write to me.

I know– I know it is totally counter-intuitive, but the thing is that as the founder of Month of Letters, I get more than my fair share of mail. I’m still working my way through the mail I got last February in fact, which cause me more than a little anxiety. So… What I’d like to ask is that you pick a friend who maybe doesn’t get mail and write to them, even if it is unlikely that they will write back to you.

There will still be a connection with that person. So take a moment, sit down, and send someone a tangible expression of the fact that you are thinking about them.

It’s fun. I promise.

Do you mentor early career writers?

Periodically, I get people asking if I’ll mentor them. I don’t, because my schedule is tight enough that I don’t feel like I can take on another job and do it justice. But I know that there are people who do and it occurred to me that I could just ask y’all if you’re one of those writers who is willing to be a mentor.

(And I should say that I think that this is a service and that mentors should be compensated for their time. That might be a barter thing, but no one should feel entitled to instruction for free.)

Anyway, if you have acted as a mentor and are open to new mentees, here’s a thread where you can hang out your shingle. Tell folks, who you are, what your specialty is (ie SF novels, fantasy short stories, structure, etc, and a link to more information.

My Favorite Bit: Jennifer Brozek talks about NEVER LET ME

My Favorite BitJennifer Brozek is joining us today with her omnibus Never Let Me. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An omnibus edition of the first three books in Jennifer Brozek’s Melissa Allen series.

What would you do if you discovered that everyone, in your house, on your street and in your town was dead? Then you discovered you weren’t alone–and whatever was out there was hunting you?

Melissa Allen, a troubled teen under house arrest, is the only person left alive in South Dakota. After discovering the mysterious deaths of her guardians and hearing of the massacre on the news, she realizes that there are monsters out there. They are pretending to be human, and they’ve have begun a door-to-door search–for her.

Melissa is unable to leave the quarantine zone and has no help except for Homeland Security agent David Hood on the phone. Before the government takes drastic action, she must figure out what killed everyone and stop it from happening again.

…or did Melissa herself, in a psychotic fit, murder her guardians–and the rest of the apocalypse is only happening inside her mind?

This special edition features the first three books in Jennifer Brozek’s Melissa Allen Series: Never Let Me Sleep, Never Let Me Leave, Never Let Me Die as well as a previously unpublished short story.

Never Let Me takes you head first in to Melissa’s troubled, paranoid world – and it will never leave you alone.

What’s Jennifer’s favorite bit?

NeveLetMeOmnibus

JENNIFER BROZEK

Never Let Me is the omnibus of my YA SF-Thriller trilogy (Never Let Me Sleep, Never Let Me Leave, Never Let Me Die, with the new short story, “Never Let Me Feel.”) starring Melissa Allen.

In the first book, Never Let Me Sleep, she is on her own in a town filled with everyone she’s ever known dead of mysterious causes but she’s not alone and what’s out there is hunting her. Locked in a quarantine zone with only a Homeland Defense agent on the phone to help her, Melissa has to solve the mystery while being hunted before the government takes matters in hand to an extreme and lethal end with Melissa as collateral damage.

Melissa is a troubled teen who questions her sanity on a regular basis—with good reason. She is bipolar, schizophrenic, and prone to hallucinations under stress. She was also under house arrest at the time of this apocalypse. She is a teenager who hasn’t been allowed to take care of herself or take responsibility for things around her. Now, not only must she take responsibility for her actions, the rest of the world is depending on her to do so.

My favorite bit comes about halfway through the first novel. It is the point that Melissa mentally shifts from someone who just reacts to one who acts and chooses to act. She has been attacked multiple times, been told what she needs to do to save everyone—including herself—and is on her way to do just that. She’s walking down the main hall of the local high school and she catches sight of herself reflected in the trophy case.

… I saw my reflection in the trophy case at the end of the hall. In the dim light, I looked bad ass. Dirty clothes, a bat in one hand, a bent butcher knife in the other, and a determined walk. I stopped and looked at myself. I realized something: I no longer wanted to be rescued, no longer felt like I needed to be rescued. Yes, I was scared, but I wanted to rescue myself and to do what needed doing.

It was a marvelous sensation. …

The image of Melissa, bloody and determined, making the conscious shift to taking control and giving herself agency, makes me happy. It’s a mental shift that she continues throughout the rest of the series. In the second book, Never Let Me Leave, she extends taking responsibility to protecting other teens like her. In the third, Never Let Me Die, it morphs from more than a duty into caring for her chosen family.

Melissa’s acceptance of her own agency will always be my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Amazon

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Google Group (notifications only)

BIO:

Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award-nominated editor and an award-winning author. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fourteen anthologies with more on the way, including the acclaimed Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields anthologies. Author of Apocalypse Girl DreamingIndustry Talk, the Karen Wilson Chronicles, and the Melissa Allen series, she has more than sixty published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.

Jennifer is a freelance author for numerous RPG companies. Winner of the Scribe, Origins, and ENnie awards, her contributions to RPG sourcebooks include DragonlanceColonial GothicShadowrunSerenitySavage Worlds, and White Wolf SAS. Jennifer is the author of the YA Battletech novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, and the Shadowrun novella, Doc Wagon 19. She has also written for the AAA MMO Aion and the award winning videogame, Shadowrun Returns.

When she is not writing her heart out, she is gallivanting around the Pacific Northwest in its wonderfully mercurial weather. Jennifer is a Director-at-Large of SFWA, and an active member HWA and IAMTW.

My Favorite Bit: Daniel M. Bensen talks about GROOM OF THE TYRANNOSAUR QUEEN

My Favorite Bit iconDaniel M. Bensen is joining us today with his novel Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Former soldier Andrea Herrera isn’t happy with where her life’s taken her. Specifically, Hell Creek, Montana, 65 million years before the present. As far as careers go, making sure the dinosaurs don’t eat her paleontologist clients comes in a pretty dismal second choice to serving her country. But when their time machine malfunctions, Andrea and her team are trapped in a timeline that shouldn’t exist with something a hell of a lot more dangerous than terrible lizards: other humans.

Kidnapped by the stone-age descendants of a lost time colony, Andrea finds herself stripped of her technological advantages and forced into a war against the implacable armies of the Slaver Empire. Even worse, the Slavers have captured the time machine and the mission’s one surviving paleontologist, using his futuristic weapons for their own ends.

Andrea’s only hope lies with the ferociously intelligent and violently insane tribal war-leader, Trals Scarback. Armed with his mystic sword, his trained velociraptor, and his herd of war-triceratops, this former slave has the resources and motivation to take on the empire. But can Andrea persuade him to see her as a partner rather than a tool for his ambitions? Only if she beats the barbarian at his own game and becomes the Tyrannosaur Queen.

What’s Daniel’s favorite bit?

B018UD6DH2

DANIEL M. BENSEN

What would it be like to meet a tyrannosaur? That’s the question that everyone who works with dinosaurs wants to answer. What did this animal look like? How did it behave? What sounds did it make? What smells? How did it fit into its landscape? Answering those questions —and a surprising number of those questions do have answers — will give you a picture of an animal.

(Tyrannosaurus rex by Daniel M Bensen)

(Tyrannosaurus rex by Daniel M Bensen)

But, here’s another question: Why are you meeting a tyrannosaur? What are you doing in the late Cretaceous? What are you going to do if that thing attacks? How the hell are you going to survive this? Answering those questions will give you a story.

The speed of the tyrannosaur was shocking, an insult to all sense of physics and decency. The predator executed a turn, still moving faster than a galloping horse. Andrea’s overstressed HUD could only give her a confused blur of sweeping tail, huge bunching thigh muscles under dark feathers, a snapping mouth. Jaws the size of a compact car tore through the prey’s skin and muscle in a waterfall of blood.

The tyrannosaur slowed, stopped, and stalked back to where its injured prey had collapsed. Blood splashed around its feet and the mouth tore downwards. The head lifted, scooping out a chunk of meat about the size of Andrea. It froze, as if posed for a photo. Little black eyes glinted from behind charcoal-colored feathers. Muscles curved in smooth tensegrity lines from the back of the skull to the powerful chest. Meat-hook claws cocked. Barrel ribs shifted as the lungs inflated. Bloody jaws clenched. The little bird eyes squeezed shut, and the tyrannosaur swallowed its mouthful.

“Holy shit,” said Andrea again. “You people know how to ride those things?”

“So the legends claim,” Trals grinned at her. “Let us find out if they are true.”

Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen started out as a series of encounters between people and dinosaurs. Some of them were from the perspective of a modern person: a time-traveler. Someone like the characters in L. Sprague de Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur.” Others were more like James Gurney’s Dinotopia: pre-industrial human cultures that had grown up around dinosaurs. Realizing I could have both was the kick that gotGroom of the Tyrannosaur Queen up and running.

So I set to work on a story about a group of paleontologists and their bodyguard making a wrong turn in their time-machine and stumbling across a lost time-colony of stone-age humans. And, since I had just listened to the Writing Excuses episode about the Three Act Structure, I set up the beats in my outline based on how these people dealt with the creatures they found. A legion of soldiers driving a baggage train of triceratops. A particle cannon vaporizing a charging nodosaur. A kidnapper using a velociraptor to hunt down a runaway. Riding a tyrannosaur.

Those are the best bits. The dinosaurs. They’re smelly, they’re enormous, they’re just barely under control. Sometimes all the human characters can do is to hold on and enjoy the ride.

LINKS:

Dan’s website

Amazon

Goodreads

TV Tropes

Tumblr

Facebook

Twitter

Deviant Art

BIO:

Daniel M Bensen is a father, English teacher, and author. He lives in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Sadie + peacock feather + winter static = hillarity

One of Sadie’s favorite toys is a peacock feather. During the winter, the combination of our wool rug and her very fluffy coat leads to the feather sticking to her. And then she chases it.

If you’ve been having a rough day, this is my gift to you. You’re welcome.

Oh and lest there’s any concern for her well-being? When she finally gets it off, she comes back and sits on it again.

David Hartwell’s sartorial splendour 1941-2016

David Hartwell HugoOne of the things that David was known for was his flamboyant and weirdly paired outfits. It was easy to laugh at his clothing choices as either a seriously mutated fashion gene or as someone mocking the need to dress up.

But it was way more interesting than that.

Let me back-up slightly. For reasons involving a hotel screw-up, at the Nebulas in Orlando, I had a suite with two bedrooms, a fold-out couch, and a kitchen. David and his family had… no room at all. So I invited them to stay with me. Bear in mind, I’m still a brand-new author and this felt nerve-wracking and audacious to issue the invitation to David God-almighty! Hartwell.

He and Kathryn and their kids were fantastic. It wound up being like a summer beach vacation, just with, you know, one of the top editors in the field. But during this, we got to talking about clothes.

David was a fashion junkie. I know– I know exactly what you’re thinking. That a man who would wear paisley and pinstripes is not an example of sartorial sense. But wait. He collected haute couture pieces. Those jackets, terrifying ties, shirts, and trousers had been the height of fashion when it was produced.

He might spend years tracking one down. Often, he was wearing them in combinations that the designer had actually intended. When I saw him at conventions after that, we didn’t talk fiction. He would tell me the story behind whatever pieces he was wearing and talk about the designer and the theory behind why this particular combination had been fashionable in its day. He wasn’t buying clothes because they were tacky; he was buying them because he was enjoying this whole meta-conversation about fashion and taste.

It was fascinating and I wish I had taken notes.

So when I look at pictures of David and his wardrobe, I remember that his devotion to science-fiction and fantasy, yes, but also that his passion for the rare and the odd was deeply embedded. I think, in part, that might have been why he’s such a good editor.

Edited to add: Thanks to Liz Gorinsky for pointing out David Hartwell: Fashion Theorist.

It includes Hartwell’s Three Laws of Fashion

  1. To Dress in ignorance of Fashion is to Dress badly.
  2. To Dress knowingly in Fashion is to become invisible.
  3. To Dress knowingly in opposition to Fashion is to have your own style.

And then he goes on to draw corollaries to writing. Read it.

Why aren’t there more women in the SFF section?

During my travels, I started to notice that SFF sections in airport bookstores had disturbingly few women. So at a certain point, I started taking photos and counting. In this informal survey, only 18% of the books on sale were by women.* I should note that gender is not the only disparity in bookstores, it was just the one that I could count while waiting for an airplane.

This is what the airport SFF sections in bookstores look like.Survey of gender in SFF bookstores

It’s easy to chalk this up to something like, “Well, women don’t write as much SFF.” The problem is that I know that the gender breakdown for published SFF in the US doesn’t support that.  According to Strange Horizons, in 2014, 53.9% were by men and 42% were by women and non-binary authors.

So why, then, were the numbers so disparate?

Fortunately, after one of my tweets, Christine Thompson, the buyer at Barbara’s Bookstore reached out. This is the only bookstore that got in touch with me. (And please note, the improvement in their numbers after I brought the matter to her attention.) She agreed to sit down with me and talk about the problem.

As we talked, it became clear that the fault doesn’t rest with a single source. It’s the result of a ton of decisions, each of which is probably fueled by unconscious bias and then reinforced by a feedback loop.

For instance… When airport booksellers are stocking books, they look at multiple factors, one of which is the print run numbers. Higher print runs mean that the publishers have more faith in that book, ergo, it will probably sell well.

When publishers have an investment in a book, they are more likely to invest co-op dollars in it. Which essentially means that they pay for endcaps and placement of certain authors. Those books sell better, because they are out in front of readers.

SFF has a long history of bestsellers written by men. So men often have higher print runs, which means… You see the cycle?

And while one can say that it’s all economics, and it’s about what people want to buy, it’s much harder to buy a book that’s not in front of you. And certainly, not all men get huge print runs. Being a guy doesn’t guarantee a stellar publishing career, but… it does stack the deck 82% in their favor.

One of the questions that came up was: “Is it the big houses?” They are the ones with the co-op dollars. I have no idea what the gender breakdown of SFF is by publishing house, but Christine thought that might account for some of the disparity. The big houses are the ones with the most money in the way of co-op dollars and print run sizes. Smaller houses might create the parity in terms of publishing numbers, but with smaller printruns might have a harder time getting representation into stores.

It happens again when you look at which books get reviews. Again, this is a major source for discovering new authors.

But the final thing that came up in our conversation was that, even if a bookseller wants to improve the representation in their store, it’s difficult to do so because catalogs aren’t sorted by gender.  This… this is something we can fix though.

We can crowd-source a list.

That’s right. You can help crowd-source a list of women and non-binary authors in SFF in order to help book buyers create a more balanced list for their stores. Because this disparity is reinforced by reviews, which focus on authors who are publicly identified as male, it is difficult for booksellers to discover authors who are not male identified.

(tl;dr: There are a lot of guys in the bookstores. Please don’t use this list to tell us about guys, even if they’re LGBTQ.)

So, you can add books written by women and non-binary authors through this form. (Don’t worry about duplicates, I’ll clean up the list periodically, since it’s sortable.)

You can also use the list as a discovery guide.

If you had asked me, before I started this informal survey, if a young woman should choose a male pseudonym, I would have said “Absolutely not.” I am less certain now.

*Methodology: I counted the total number of authors. Then I counted the women. If I couldn’t tell and/or didn’t know, because the author used initials or a gender neutral name, I counted them as male. The reason I did this, instead of leaving them out, is because I was looking at the perception of gender rather than actual gender. If a woman is making choices to obscure her gender, that says loads about the current environment.

Edited to add: Ro Smith, in comments, has made an excellent point about how my methodology contributes to the erasure of non-binary, agender, and genderfluid authors. When I am counting this year, I’ll be counting the three categories Ro suggested: Stereotypically male names, Stereotypically female names, and gender-non-specific names.  I encourage anyone who is also counting to do the same.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Koboldt talks about THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL

My Favorite BitDan Koboldt is joining us today to talk about his novel The Rogue Retrieval. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Stage magician Quinn Bradley dedicated his life to a single purpose: headlining for a major casino on the Las Vegas strip. But just before his dreams come true, two modern mercenaries show up to make him a puzzling offer. Half a million dollars for six months on a private assignment. Their corporate employer has discovered – and kept secret – a gateway to a pristine medieval world called Alissia.

For fifteen years, they’ve studied it beneath a shroud of secrecy. Now, the head of their research team has gone AWOL, with a backpack full of disruptive technology. They’re sending in a retrieval team, and they want Quinn Bradley to come along. His talents for illusion, backed with the company’s considerable resources, should make for some convincing magic.

It will need to be convincing. Because Alissia has the real thing.

What’s Dan’s favorite bit?

Koboldt-Rogue-Retrieval-cover

DAN KOBOLDT

I’ve been reading fantasy and science fiction since the 4th grade. I’m a sucker for world-building, and it showed in the books I went for. I didn’t just read the doorstopper fantasy novel. I read the glossary, the genealogy, and the forums on Dragonmount.

When the time came to write my novel, I wanted to create an equally compelling secondary world . So I asked one of my favorite authors, Scott Lynch, how he does it so well. He said, “I am absolutely not afraid to take a place or a specific detail that I’m keen on and world-build everything else around it.”

When I took his advice, I learned something interesting. Apparently, my favorite bit is the booze.

Alcohol comes in many forms in Alissia, my novel’s secondary world. Whether it’s the rough ale they drink in the cold north of Felara, or the color-changing liquor from Valteron, every society leaves their unique stamp on the time-honored tradition of inebriation. Alcohol is more than just a way to get drunk. In many societies (both real and fictional), it’s a crucial element of culture and tradition.

I like exploring booze in a secondary world because it’s so versatile. You can produce alcohol by fermenting grain mash (beer), grapes (wine), fruit juice (cider), rice (sake), and even honey (mead). You can distill it into high concentrations for spirits like vodka and gin. Humans have been fermenting things since the late Stone Age, and look how far we’ve come: the worldwide alcoholic beverage market last year was over $1 trillion.

That kind of money changes things, and here’s proof. Every year, my family takes a vacation to Traverse City, Michigan, home of the National Cherry Festival. One of our favorite parts is driving up the Old Mission Peninsula to look at the cherry trees. Over the past few years, however, vineyards have replaced many of the orchards. I’m told they’re far more profitable.

I love wine as much as the next guy, but I miss the cherry trees. And I hate the idea that profit margins are the reason they’re gone. It made me wonder how far a society would be willing to go to produce an expensive alcoholic beverage. That’s how I came up with the most famous and expensive drink in my book’s world, Caralissian wine:

The only time they got any notice from the locals was when they encountered a wine caravan. Ten wagons, each pulled by a pair of draft horses. These were hardly visible behind the mounted riders that escorted them, who happened to be some of the hardest mercenaries that Caralissian gold could buy. They looked up at the sound of the approaching horses. Hands went to sword hilts. Two of the men reached down into the nearest wagons, probably for spears or loaded crossbows.

“Caravan coming at us,” Logan warned over the comm link. He slowed his mount and moved to the side. “Keep your hands visible, no sudden moves.”

The mercenaries knew their business—­they only got paid if the shipment arrived safely. Their casual positions only looked haphazard. If Logan were to attack, three or four would engage him from multiple angles. An equal number would stay with the wagons. And a few would ride for the nearest Caralissian outpost for reinforcements. Bandits tried raiding wine caravans from time to time. Some even got hold of a cask or two, but they rarely made it far enough to enjoy a taste.

All of this grew from a simple idea: a drink that cost its weight in gold. I started thinking about economics of that, in a pre-industrial society. The exploitative labor practices required to produce it. The impact on international trade. The armed guards you’d need to protect it.

Caralis is a monarchy, so only a few can enjoy the vast wealth brought by Caralissian wine. The queen, of course, and her pet nobles. That leaves an entire populace out in the cold. Forfeiting most of their crops to the Caralissian vintners. Starving while the chosen few grow rich.

Looking, perhaps, for a way to take revenge.

LINKS:

Visit the author’s website, Twitter feed, or Science in Sci-fi blog series.

Check out the book on Amazon, Barnes & NobleGoodReads, or HarperCollins.

BIO:

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and sci-fi/fantasy author from the Midwest. He’s co-authored more than 50 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, and other journals. Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Every fall, he disappears into Missouri’s dense hardwood forests to pursue whitetail deer with bow and arrow. He lives with his wife and children in St. Louis, where the deer take their revenge by eating all of the plants in his backyard.

My Favorite Bit: Marie Brennan talks about CHAINS AND MEMORY

My Favorite BitMarie Brennan is joining us today with her novel Chains and Memory. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Manifestation was only the beginning.

The Otherworld has returned — bringing with it the sidhe, the source of humanity’s psychic powers. Some mortals welcome these creatures of legend, some fear them . . . and no one is ready for the change their presence will bring.

Last autumn Kim and Julian stood at the center of that storm. Now they face a challenge closer to home: a battle over the laws governing wilders, the closest genetic relatives of the sidhe. Many feel that change should wait until the current upheaval has ended . . . but Kim sees opportunity in the chaos, a chance to free Julian and all his kind from the chains of the deep shield that locks their gifts away.

The roots of that shield run deeper than she knows. The quest to destroy it will lead her and Julian back into the world of the sidhe, where they will uncover ancient lies, face betrayal on all sides — and gamble everything on the possibility of freedom.

What’s Marie’s favorite bit?

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MARIE BRENNAN

My favorite bit in Chains and Memory is both a moment and a thread that runs throughout the story.

It also, not coincidentally, happens to be the core of what drove me to write the book in the first place. You see, when I wrote the original draft of Lies and Prophecy so many years ago, I intended it to be a stand-alone book. I knew the story didn’t tie up in a neat bow at the end . . . but I didn’t see any way for what happened next to be something my protagonists could still protag in.

Little details kept drifting into my mind, though — most of them background for the secondary protagonist, Julian Fiain. I’d decided, in drafting Lies and Prophecy, that he belonged to a minority of psychics whose gifts manifested at birth rather than in puberty, and that such people were raised as wards of the state. But because the first draft of that book was the first novel I ever finished, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into how that whole “raised as wards of the state” thing worked. Over the following years, as I revised and rewrote and revised again, the picture began to fill in — not all of which fit into that first book.

So my favorite bit of Chains and Memory is the culture and society of wilders, and how those things interface with the rest of the world they live in. The main protagonist of the series, Kim, wasn’t raised by the state . . . but in order for her relationship with Julian to function, she needs to understand what that life is like, and how it affects those who grew up that way. And Julian in turn needs to open up to Kim, rather than closing her out the way wilders usually do.

Half the time this expresses itself in little details, like when Julian telekinetically yanks an object to his hand rather than walking over to pick it up, then admits to Kim that he trained himself out of the habit when he went to live among ordinary psychics. But there’s also a watershed moment in the story where their entire relationship reconfigures itself: Julian realizes he’s been undercutting Kim in a serious way, entirely without meaning to, because of his subconcious habits and assumptions. Changing his behavior is hard . . . but he makes himself do it, and the result is utterly transformative.

I wrote that scene long before I started drafting the book. (That one, and a couple of others playing off the same conflict.) I had to revise it, of course, because by the time I got there properly the story wasn’t quite the same as I had imagined — but the core hasn’t changed. And its fire is the reason that “stand-alone” book became the start of a series. Lies and Prophecy is, among other things, the story of how Kim and Julian got together; Chains and Memory is the part I find more interesting, the part where they have to work out how that relationship is going to function, despite the differences between them.

LINKS:

Website

Blog

Twitter

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

BIO:

Marie Brennan is an anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material.  She is currently misapplying her professors’ hard work to the Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent; the first book of that series, A Natural History of Dragons, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. She is also the author of the doppelanger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasy Lies and Prophecy, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, and more than forty short stories.

My Favorite Bit: Megan E. O’Keefe talks about STEAL THE SKY

My Favorite Bit iconMegan E. O’Keefe is joining us today with her novel Steal the Sky. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Detan Honding, a wanted conman of noble birth and ignoble tongue, has found himself in the oasis city of Aransa. He and his trusted companion Tibs may have pulled off one too many cons against the city’s elite and need to make a quick escape. They set their sights on their biggest heist yet – the gorgeous airship of the exiled commodore Thratia.

But in the middle of his scheme, a face changer known as a doppel starts murdering key members of Aransa’s government. The sudden paranoia makes Detan’s plans of stealing Thratia’s ship that much harder. And with this sudden power vacuum, Thratia can solidify her power and wreak havoc against the Empire. But the doppel isn’t working for Thratia and has her own intentions. Did Detan accidentally walk into a revolution and a crusade? He has to be careful – there’s a reason most people think he’s dead. And if his dangerous secret gets revealed, he has a lot more to worry about than a stolen airship.

What’s Megan’s favorite bit?

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MEGAN E. O’KEEFE

If I’m being truly honest, my favorite bit of Steal the Sky changes based on my mood. There are a lot of moving parts in the book, and which one tickles me the most at any given time varies quite a bit. I suspect that’s probably true for most writers – it’s like asking us to pick the favorite part of a dear pet. But what I come back to again and again, what I feel is truly the heart of the book, is the deep well of friendship between Detan, my conman protagonist, and his best friend Tibs.

When we first see them together in Steal the Sky, they’ve already been friends for awhile. They rely on one another to keep their tempers in check and their heads on straight when they’re neck deep in mischief. They know one another’s deeper secrets, and the darker aspects of each others’ natures, and accept those things. They even help each other to overcome them when necessary.

But while their relationship runs deep, they tease one another ruthlessly and don’t hesitate to call out when one or the other is being an idiot. Though, to be fair to Tibs, it’s usually Detan being the doofus.

Disagreements between them are hashed out quickly, and usually with sly jibes. In the excerpt below, Detan has just upset Tibs by using his family name – Honding – to gain social leverage over someone who had pushed his temperamental buttons. The Honding name is an old and respectable one. One Detan’s powerful aunt is very protective of having used in unscrupulous circumstances.

When he and Tibs were back on the solid rock of Aransa, the old rat gave him a sturdy punch in the arm.

“You’re a mad bastard, Honding.”

“Pits below!” He jumped and rubbed at the ache. “I was perfectly safe navigating the vents. I got a good look at them from above.”

“It’s not the vents I’m about.” Tibs said as he marched ahead, taking the lead back into the winding ways of the city. Detan ruffed his hair in frustration, then shook himself and scurried to catch up. Dusk was descending over Aransa, the purple-mottled sky making Tibs little more than a silhouette before him. He stomped with every step he took, wiry fingers curled into knobby fists at his side. Detan slowed his steps and shoved his hands in his pockets, ducking his head down like a whipped dog.

“Is it the clothes?” Detan ventured, “Because, well, I figured that—”

“Nope, that ain’t it either.”

“Err. Well…”

Tibs stopped cold, pinning Detan down with his gaze as easily as he’d drive a nail through a board. “Dame Honding is going to hang you from your toenails, using your name with just anyone like that.”

“Oh! That. Well, it is my name Tibs.”

“You had better write her a letter, sirra, before the rumors get back.”

Detan sighed and sat down hard on the top of a low, stone fence, heedless of the dust that undoubtedly coated his backside. “I suppose. Wouldn’t want the old badger to worry, eh?”

“I suggest you do not address it to ‘the old badger’.”

“She’d laugh!”

“She’d fly right out here and beat you with her parasol.”

They move on to discussing other worries that venture into spoiler territory, so I’ll cut it off there. Their easy rapport is something that always makes me smile and is a joy to write, even when they’re having arguments. Well, let me be honest: they’re a joy to write especially when they’re having arguments.

Strong friendships are an element of fiction that I love to find in stories, and I’m delighted to add my own manic duo to the bunch.

LINKS:

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Website

BIO:

Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She has worked in both arts management and graphic design, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on.

Megan lives in the Bay Area of California and makes soap for a living. It’s only a little like Fight Club. She is a first place winner in the Writers of the Future competition and her debut novel, Steal the Sky, is out now from Angry Robot Books.

My Favorite Bit: Eric James Stone talks about UNFORGETTABLE

My Favorite Bit iconEric James Stone is joining us today with his novel Unforgettable. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Out of sight, out of mind.

In the near future, a fluke of quantum mechanics renders Nat Morgan utterly forgettable. No one can remember he exists for more than a minute after he’s gone. It’s a useful ability for his career as a CIA agent, even if he has to keep reminding his boss that he exists.

Nat’s attempt to steal a quantum chip prototype is thwarted when a former FSB agent, Yelena Semyonova, attempts to steal the same technology for the Russion mob.

Along with a brilliant Iranian physicist who wants to defect, Nat and Yelena must work together to stop a ruthless billionaire from finishing a quantum supercomputer that will literally control the fate of the world.

What’s Eric’s favorite bit?

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ERIC JAMES STONE

For sentimental reasons, my favorite bit of Unforgettable is the original beginning of the novel.  When I started writing that first scene I had no idea I was starting a novel. I just had an idea of a character who could not be remembered, and I wrote it simply to meet my daily writing goal.  It wasn’t until later, when I showed snippets about the character to my writing group and they told me I needed to write a novel about the character, that I came up with the plot of the novel.  So here’s what I wrote on the first two days of January 2008:

I straightened the tie I’d stolen from Macy’s that morning and stepped into the interviewer’s office.  Becoming a CIA agent was my only choice if I wanted to go legit.  I had to make a strong impression.

The balding man behind the desk looked up.  “You don’t look twenty-seven,” he said.

“I’m not.  I don’t have a Ph.D. in math, either.”  My words rushed out, and I sat in a chair to force myself to slow down.  “I copied someone’s resume, just hoping to get the interview.”

He leaned back in his chair and pinched the tip of his nose a couple of times as he looked me over.  “You’re what, eighteen?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fresh out of high school and watching too many James Bond movies?  Tell you what–I admire your creativity.  Go to college, get a degree in something useful, and I’ll guarantee you an interview when you graduate.”

“I can’t go to college.  Anyway, I need a job that will pay me now, and I think you can use someone of my unique talents.”

“I hate to disappoint you, but you’re not much of a liar.”  He held up the resume I’d sent.  “A good candidate would have been able to walk through that door and convince me he was the man on this sheet of paper.”

“I’m not a good liar,” I agreed.  “My talent is different.  I have to show it to you.”

“What is it?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.  You have to see it first.  Write this down on a piece of paper: Nat Morgan promised to show me his talent.  Then sign it and put the date and time.”

He gave me a skeptical look.  “I don’t have time–”

“Please.  I promise you’ll be impressed.”

“Nat Morgan’s your real name?”

I nodded.

After a moment, he picked up a legal pad off his desk and wrote.  “Done.  Now what?”

“Now I step outside for a minute and come back in.”  I stood up and walked out the door, closing it behind me.  I counted to sixty, just to be safe, then walked back into the office.

The interviewer looked at me, blinked rapidly a few times, then shook his head as if to clear his thinking.

“You don’t look twenty-seven,” he said.

“My name in Nat Morgan,” I said, “and I promised to show you my talent.”

“Sorry, I don’t remember that.  You’ll have to make an appointment, because I’m supposed to see–”

“Look at your pad of paper.”

“What?”

I pointed to the pad.  “Read it.”

He pulled the pad across the desk and looked at it, then looked at his watch.

“You must have snuck in here and written that while I was at lunch.”

“Is it your handwriting and signature?”

He leaned back in his chair and pinched the tip of his nose a couple of times.  “You’re a forger?  It’s pretty good work.”

“I’m not a forger”  I waved my finger in a circle.  “Do you have video surveillance of this room?  That’ll make things quicker.”  I’d have brought my own video camera, except security would have confiscated it on the way in.

“No.”

“OK, the fact is you wrote that when I was in here a few minutes ago, but you forgot I’d been here after I stepped outside.”

A version of this scene is still in the novel, though it is no longer the beginning.  But it’s still my favorite bit because it’s the seed from which the novel grew.

LINKS:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

Website

Twitter

BIO:

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and Writers of the Future Contest winner, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies, among other venues.  His debut novel, science fiction thriller titled Unforgettable, was published by Baen.

One of Eric’s earliest memories is of an Apollo launch on television. Thanks to his father’s old science fiction collection, Eric grew up reading Asimov and Heinlein.

Eric attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp and the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Eric lives in Utah with his wife, who is a high school physics teacher, and their daughter.  His website is www.ericjamesstone.com.