We’ve added a few more signings for Salt Lake Comic Con, at the Writing Excuses Booth #1611. Come say hi!
Thursday, Sep 21
Saturday, Sep 23
We’ve added a few more signings for Salt Lake Comic Con, at the Writing Excuses Booth #1611. Come say hi!
Thursday, Sep 21
Saturday, Sep 23
Catherine Schaff-Stump is joining us today with her novel The Vessel of Ra. Here’s the publisher’s description:
While traveling in Venice in 1837, Lucy Klaereon, in order to save her family’s honor and her immortal soul, decides to commit suicide by drowning herself in the Grand Canal. Unfortunately for Lucy, she is rescued. Her rescuers believe they can separate her from the demon Ra, whom she is destined to fight because of an ancient family pact.
What Lucy does not know is that her rescuers have their own agenda. Paolo Borgia, head of a deposed magical family, wants to use Ra for his own purposes. Lucy is given an alternative, to separate herself from her demon and family, which she gladly welcomes. When she finds out the truth about Ra, Lucy’s purpose changes from not only freedom, but to righting an ancient wrong.
Octavia, Lucy’s older sister, is in pursuit. She has been trained since birth to kill Lucy when Lucy loses her battle with Ra. At the ritual to free Ra, the two sisters clash with surprising results. Octavia is possessed by Ra and Lucy is determined to free her sister and keep Ra from reshaping the world in his image.
There is one small problem. Lucy has been murdered. However, she’s not about to let a small detail like that keep her from correcting her mistakes. Lucy will save Octavia, even if it kills her again.
What’s Cath’s favorite bit?
The Klaereon family has haunted me since 2002. Inspired by another author’s work, in search of an explanation for one character’s machinations, a voice in my head told me that he would tell me a story. Tell me a story he did. The Vessel of Ra is the beginning a 90-year ascent from Gothic darkness, spanning four generations.
The Vessel of Ra begins in 1837 Venice, a decaying city that has been buffeted back and forth between the French and the Austrians a couple of times. In this setting, Lucy Klaereon decides she will kill herself to avoid her family’s dark fate. For good and for ill, she is rescued by alchemist Carlo Borgia, and sets about changing her destiny. The odds are against her because she is in a Gothic novel.
Gothic tales are multi-faceted. The Klaereon ancestral home, Mistraldol, has been merged with the Abyss, so you never know what you will find in its rooms. Like the characters in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Octavia Klaereon and her father Caius typify the Gothic at its worst—broken people who spiral into their own insecurities and excess. Like Jane Eyre in her titular novel, Lucy Klaereon takes it upon herself to be the salvation of the morally ambiguous. All of these characters, including the settings, have light and dark in them. I loved writing this book, discovering gradations of morality as characters are presented with increasingly complicated elements of the supernatural and increasingly complicated relationships among themselves. All of these people are broken, but they’re doing the best they can.
Because The Vessel of Ra is Gothic, gloom coats this novel like a rainy November day, and yet there are elements of hope and heroism. Drusus Claudian, Octavia’s newlywed husband, shines like a Noblebright hero who got off the plot bus at the wrong novel stop. Carlo Borgia assumes responsibility for his family’s crimes and becomes a man who jury-rigs his way out of magical situation after magical situation with virtually no magic at all. Lucy will stop at nothing to save her sister. The dark curse itself came about for the best of reasons. Can these characters overcome their baser natures, or will their efforts be thwarted by manipulative Egyptian gods, whispering shadows, and the specter of life on the outside of conventional morality? Will the sinister nature of the Gothic win?
For me, the answers to these questions are not clear, even though The Vessel of Ra is finished. I hope you’ll read this book and discuss what you think these answers are with me. Morality is complicated in the landscape of the Gothic.
Catherine Schaff-Stump writes speculative fiction for children and adults, everything from humor to horror. Her young adult Gothic historical fantasy The Vessel of Ra is available from Curiosity Quills. Cath lives and works in Iowa with her husband. During the day, she teaches English to non-native speakers at a local community college. Her most recent fiction has been published by Paper Golem Press, Daydreams Dandelion Press, and in The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Cath is a co-host on the writing and geek-life fan podcast Unreliable Narrators.
My new novels have covers! Look! Look at the link and then come back and I’ll explain why I’m so excited by these.
Have you looked?
Okay. Amazing, right? Irene Gallo, art director at Tor, has knocked this out of the park. Those cover designs by Jamie Stafford-Hill, with silhouettes by Greg Manchess is so perfect for the tone of the books that I squealed when I saw them. Followed by tearing up a little and doing some happy dancing.
And then being intensely frustrated because I couldn’t show them to you. But now you can see the covers, and they are amazing!
Here are the reasons I love them.
I could probably go on for a couple of days. Suffice to say, I’m incredibly pleased with these covers.
Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law are joining us today with their anthology The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound. Here is the publisher’s description:
The world of caregivers and unsung heroes, the province of ghosts . . .
If we believe that we are the protagonists of our lives, then caregivers— our pillars—are ghosts, the bit players, the stock characters, the secondary supports, living lives of quiet trust and toil in the shadows. Summoned to us by the profound magic of great emotional, physical, or psychological need, they play their roles, and when our need diminishes . . .
These are their stories.
Children giving care. Dogs and cats giving care. Sidekicks, military, monks, ghosts, robots. Even aliens. Care given by lovers, family, professionals. Caregivers who can no longer give. Caregivers who make the decision not to give, and the costs and the consequences that follow. Bound to us by invisible bonds, but with lives, dreams, and passions of their own. Twenty-three science fiction and fantasy authors explore the depth and breadth of caring and of giving. They find insight, joy, devastation, and heroism in grand sweeps and in tiny niches. And, like wasps made of stinging words, there is pain in giving, and in working one’s way through to the light. Our lives and relationships are complex. But in the end, there is hope, and there is love.
Colleen Anderson, Charlotte Ashley, Brenda Cooper, Ian Creasey, A.M. Dellamonica, Bev Geddes, Claire Humphrey, Sandra Kasturi, Tyler Keevil, Juliet Marillier, Matt Moore, Heather Osborne, Nisi Shawl, Alex Shvartsman, Kate Story, Karina Sumner-Smith, Amanda Sun, Hayden Trenholm, James Van Pelt, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm, Edward Willett, Christie Yant, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Dominik Parisien (Introduction).
What are Susan’s and Lucas’s favorite bits?
As a mother, a wife, a daughter and a friend, I know some things about what it means to be a caregiver. I’ve changed diapers and dried tears, held someone close, waited, and listened. I’ve weighed my own needs against the needs of those near to me. I held my mother’s hand as she passed on to whatever undiscovered country lies beyond.
But despite the commonalities between my experiences and those of other caregivers—and we are all caregivers—as a human being isolated in my own skin, my own mind, I can never know, truly and intimately, another person’s experiences of those same relationships.
Stories, though. Ah, stories! Stories bring me as close as I can come to understanding my fellow humans on this earth. That is my favorite bit.
I can—and I did—list the insights into caregiving that I found in The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media). That deserving care doesn’t depend on the receiver’s worth. That caregiving can involve deep sacrifice and many can’t bear that cost—and, choosing not to give care has its costs as well. That, as draining as caregiving can be, it can be joyous, too, and give purpose to a life. Most of us know, if not from personal experience then from the zeitgeist, that the relationship between the caregiver and care-given can be mutual and interchangeable; that caregivers may have to suffer anger and resentment from their loved ones.
We understand that sometimes people who seem not to care, do; and we know that caregivers can be desperate to save the ones they love. That caregivers are aging and becoming fragile; that caring can be an escape from one’s own life; and that witnessing death can also be a kind of caregiving. Caregivers are persistent. Despite setbacks, they continue to give, again and again.
Yet these understandings—intellectual, listed—are only words, dead on the page. They have no vibrancy, no resonance. They give no access to the deep felt meanings they represent. Only the act of reading the story—of living the life of the character within the pages, his feelings and thoughts and interactions, his experiences of giving and receiving care—gives these insights vitality. Significance. It is in how the authors have brought their ideas to life in story that makes their ideas—simple or profound—resonate, rattle around in my brain, stick to me. Change me.
My favorite bit is reading the stories for The Sum of Us.
LUCAS K. LAW:
My favorite bit is not only just reading the stories but the anticipation of seeing the stories in publication, hoping they will show up inside the public and academic libraries across the world. When I was little, my mother often took me to our village library. What a joy it was to flip through those picture books from the shelves! The smell. The touch. The words.
One of the earliest picture books that captured my imagination was “Harold and the Purple Canyon.” Whenever Harold encounters a problem, he shows his resourcefulness and imagination by finding a way to solve it.
When Susan and I solicited the stories for The Sum of Us, our concern was receiving too many stories containing similar characters. When we think of caregiving, we often think of the old, frail, and disabled. Someone who is helpless. Someone who is at the end of life. Someone who is taking our time and energy.
Like Harold, the authors surprised me with their staggering range of caregivers and concepts of caregiving—a henchman looks after a supervillain, the soldier in charge of the governor’s children, a cat helps his patients pass on, an android tends to a terminally ill patient, a service dog looks after an ice hockey player, a young apprentice guides a blind welder, an old couple with diminished capabilities depend on each other to survive an earthquake, an aging tutor overcomes the reservation of her pupil to build a submersible vessel, a hospice director trying to do the right thing, a pious monk makes the final decision, and many more.
Their stories open my eyes about the vast opportunities in caregiving. Caregiving is everywhere, directly and indirectly. And caregivers can be anyone. Sometimes it is us in ways we don’t consider. How about when we recycle? How about when we volunteer for a non-profit organization? How about when we say kind words to a stranger?
Dominik Parisien said it best in his Introduction:
“Caregiving can feel like the province of ghosts . . . They were there all along—caregivers surround us—but it is mainly in those moments of terrible need that we notice them. Many of us think of caregivers as individuals on the periphery. As a result, it is easy to let caregivers fade. It is not necessary that we do not appreciate their support . . . Rather, in our focus on ourselves we often fail to recognize the needs of the person fulfilling our needs.”
Stories are meant to be shared and reflected upon; especially stories that capture the breadth and depth of caring and of giving, and delve into the complex world of caregivers—a segment of our population that is often taken for granted.
We ask you to join us and place “caregivers” and “caregiving” on the forefront. The best gift, my favorite bit, is for you to suggest The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound to your local public and school libraries. Get the stories into as many hands as you can, just like that little Malaysian boy who came home with a knapsack of library books each week to discover a world beyond his own environment.
So let’s inspire the world to recognize those who care. One person at a time.
Lucas K. Law
The Sum of Us
Susan Forest is a four-time Prix Aurora Award finalist and a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her novel (Bursts of Fire), the first in a seven-volume YA fantasy epic series, Addicted to Heaven Saga, will be out Fall 2018 from Laksa Media and followed by Flights of Marigold (2019). Her collection of short fiction, Immunity to Strange Tales, was published by Five Rivers Publishing. Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and OnSPEC Magazine. Susan has co-edited two anthologies on social issue-related themes with Lucas K. Law and they are working on their third, Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders (Fall 2018). Susan is the past Secretary for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).
Lucas K. Law
Lucas K. Law is the managing editor of Laksa Media and the co-editor of Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts and The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound, along with Susan Forest. Their next anthologies are Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders (Fall 2018) and Seasons Between Us: Tales of Identities and Memories (2019). Lucas also co-edits Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy (Oct 2017) with Derwin Mak. He has been a jury member for a number of fiction competitions including Nebula, RITA and Golden Heart awards. When he isn’t editing, he divides his time between Calgary and Qualicum Beach as a corporate and non-profit consultant in business planning and corporate development.
Stephanie Burgis is joining us today with her book Snowspelled. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules…
Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life.
Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.
But the greatest danger of all lies outside the manor in the falling snow, where a powerful and malevolent elf-lord lurks…and Cassandra lost all of her own magic four months ago.
To save herself, Cassandra will have to discover exactly what inner powers she still possesses – and risk everything to win a new kind of happiness.
What’s Stephanie’s favorite bit?
I’ve always been a driven, ambitious person; I know how to push through challenges with strict discipline. So when I got my first “career” job in my late twenties, just after getting my first literary agent, I was certain that from then on I would be set. I planned to jog every morning and work every day. I’d write novels during my lunch breaks, prove myself at my dayjob, enjoy the fact that I’d finally (after years of grad school) hit a professional income level – and I would achieve and achieve and achieve, forever after.
It felt like a fairy’s curse descending out of nowhere when I got sick in 2005 and never got better again. I was a healthy 28-year-old who loved to hike and jog and travel, but suddenly my head swam whenever I walked for even half a block. When I spent twenty minutes upright in my kitchen, cooking muffins, I had to collapse afterwards as my teeth chattered with exertion. Worse yet, the doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong with me…so week after week, I had to call in sick to work with no explanation and no prospect of any cure.
I kept throwing myself back into motion each time I began to feel slightly better, only to collapse worse than ever before, every time. Because, it turned out when the diagnosis finally arrived, pushing through was no longer a recipe for success for me.
I had M.E./CFS, an illness that leeched away 95% of my physical and mental energy without taking away a single percent of my drive and ambition. By the time it was diagnosed, I had had it for two years, which meant that it was almost certainly a permanent condition.
So I found out at age 30 that I could never go back to that day job – or to any other job that required working outside my home – because I would never be physically independent again.
Suddenly, I had no job and no income. I couldn’t even walk to the local store. I had prided myself all of my life on my independence, my strength, and my essential competence. But suddenly I had none of those things anymore.
The rest of my life felt like a yawning black pit opening before my feet, with everything I had planned and hoped for suddenly gone.
I saved myself, in the end, by writing. I threw myself (while lying on a couch and moving as little as possible) into a frothy MG Regency-era fantasy adventure, Kat, Incorrigible, which was full of highwaymen, loving but bickering sisters, magic and hilarity, and it absolutely saved me emotionally. Then it saved our family financially, too, when it sold as the first book in a high-paying trilogy.
But people kept asking me over the next few years: when would I ever write about a heroine like me? That is, someone dealing with chronic illness, because that kind of experience isn’t represented nearly often enough in fiction – especially not from the perspective of a person who has it, rather than just (as almost always) their long-suffering family members.
And I tried, over the years. I really did. But here’s the problem: my writing is my escape from M.E. I don’t want to stay trapped in my illness even in my fictional worlds. So every attempt fell flat…until 2016, just after the November election.
I was furious and scared by the results of that election. So I started writing a romantic fantasy novella, Snowspelled, just for fun as a comfort project, an escape project, full of sparkling humor, magic, romance and adventure – and it became the most personal project I’ve ever written. In my heroine, Cassandra Harwood, I finally found myself writing about that life-shattering transition I’d experienced in my twenties…but this time, with a twist.
Unlike me, Cassandra doesn’t have M.E.; unlike Cassandra, I’ve never been able to cast magic. Our stories (and personalities) are very different in many ways.
But like me, Cassandra spent her life working towards an ambitious goal – in her case, to change her society’s rules and become the first lady magician in Angland (where ladies, being the more practical sex, are meant to stick to politics while men see to the more emotional and tempestuous magic) – only to find herself derailed in her mid-twenties by a horrible, life-changing incident that takes away her ability to cast magic…and with it, not only her goals and dreams for the future but also her entire definition of herself.
Snowspelled is not about that moment of shattering loss. Set four months afterward, it’s light and frothy and was deliciously fun to write, as Cassandra finally emerges from her grief to find herself snowbound in the most awkward house party of her life, along with an assortment of scheming lady politicians, bickering gentleman magicians, an enchanted snowstorm, interfering family members, and – worst of all – her infuriatingly appealing ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good. But when she is confronted in the whirling snow by a menacing elf-lord, she has to find out what inner powers she does still possess after all…
And I can’t even express how cathartic it felt to write from the perspective of a strong, determined heroine who’d experienced that kind of earthquake exploding in her carefully-planned life – and then to show her finding a shining new future after all, replete with unexpected happiness, satisfaction and adventure.
…With, of course, a lot of flirting, banter, and fun along the way!
I lost my first definition of myself in my twenties. But I love the person that I’ve grown into, and I loved writing Cassandra toward happiness, too. I laughed so much as I wrote this novella. I hope you guys will laugh when you read it, too – and I hope it’ll be a comforting escape-read.
It hurts to lose our first adult dreams. But sometimes our new ones are even better.
This is draft five of this @#$!! story. I’d forgotten what it was like to not outline first. Blargh. Anyway, I’ve done a heavy rewrite of Ina’s Spark, which involves a new scene and a totally different ending.
IF you were in one of the earlier rounds of readers and are curious, it is at the same link as before. Please don’t comment on it though, because, sadly, you’ll be comparing it to the previous draft and/or have information that’s not on the page.
If you haven’t read it yet, I could use some help seeing if this version is more coherent. It feels better, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
by Mary Robinette Kowal
If Evina waited much longer it would be full dark, and the tavern would almost certainly have a godforsaken bard by then. As if that weren’t bad enough, by the pricking of the hair along her arms, there had to be at least five other mages in easy walking distance. No surprise, really, given King Redinado’s annual quest. That’s what forced her to the capital, after all.
A pair of drunk men staggered out of the door, golden oil light spilling out onto the rutted city street. They wandered away, singing a ditty about a wench with hair the color of the moon. But not that song, thank the Savior Mother.
She swallowed trying to dislodge the knot in her throat. If she couldn’t even walk into a tavern, how the hell did she think she was going to survive the quest to become a King’s Wizard? Savior Mother and the Multitudes… all she wanted to do was survive. She could give a rotten fig about working for the King.
I’m looking for 5-10 new readers. Just raise your hand in the comments below.
Mary will be in Utah at Salt Lake Comic Con from Thursday, Sep 21 to Saturday, Sep 23. Get tickets here.
Thursday, September 21
Puppetry 101: Bringing Inanimate Objects to Life
Non verbal cues are a major part of communication. In the world of puppetry you have to convey these cues and bring to life inanimate objects that do not carry emotion but must still deliver a captivating story. Join professional puppeteer, Mary Robinette Kowal, as she teaches the fundamental techniques of the art of puppetry. This is part lecture and part play time.
Friday, September 22
Writing Excuses: SLCC Edition
Writing Excuses is a podcast with the goal of helping listeners become better writers. Whether they write for fun or for profit, whether they’re new to the domain or old hands, Writing Excuses has something to offer. Join a live taping of this lively, instructive, and just plain fun podcast.
With Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal and Dan Wells.
Shadow Mountain Booth #1807
Creating Characters with Character: A Guide for Creators
Talk with many authors about how to make characters feel lifelike.
With Courtney Alameda, Bree Despain, Peggy Eddleman, David Farland, Brandon Mull (as moderator) and Eric James Stone
Okay, but How?! Turning Ideas Into Novels
Have you ever had a great idea, but didn’t know the steps to take to make it into something more? Join these authors for an in-depth workshop centering premise, characters and craftsmanship. Stretch your creative muscles during timed exercises, explore different ways to layer character arcs, and uncover the beginning of the book you’ve always wanted to write.
With Taylor Brook, Nicole Castroman, CB Lee (as moderator) and Illima Todd
Saturday, September 23
The Brandon and Dan and Brandon and Mary and Howard Show
The yearly Brandon and Dan and Brandon Show grows by two! Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler join Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells to talk about…well, anything they want!
Shadow Mountain Booth #1807
Plot and Character and Scene and Setting: A Guide to Story
Join bestselling authors as they discuss all the parts that make up a story.
With Jim Butcher (as moderator), Michaelbrent Collings, Tyler Jolley, Jody Lynn Nye, and J. Scott Savage
This dough was shockingly pliable. It was also tender, flaky and tasted like a damn fine pie crust.
Mix dry ingredients together. Grate the frozen butter into the mix and stir it with your fingers to coat. Add wet ingredients and gently knead together in the bowl until it forms a ball. (Note: you might want to back off on the liquor depending on the humidity of your home. Or you might need to add more. A neutral spirit, like vodka, won’t add any flavor. Here’s the science behind this.)
Dust a surface with cornstarch and put the ball on it. Dust more cornstarch on top and cover with a sheet of parchment paper. Roll out into a rough rectangle. Fold the long sides in toward the middle. Fold the ends in towards the middle and then fold the whole thing in half like a book. Fold in half again to make a little squarish block. (Credit for this step to Stella Parks)
Dust with cornstarch again and put the parchment paper back on. Roll it out to the size of your pieplate. As you start this the pieces will slide around a lot. Don’t worry about it, they’ll come together in the end. Also, I highly, highly recommend a pastry scrapper to ease the crust up off the bottom sheet.
Now… in theory, it will stick a little to the parchment paper on top, and you can use that to transfer it to the pie plate. In practise, it’ll depend on how much you dusted it, your horoscope sign, and the favor of the Gods.
*What’s with the xanthum gum? It adds elasticity, which normally comes from gluten. Don’t go overboard though, because it can also turn things into gummy awful servings of sadness.
**What’s with the sour cream? Pie dough “consists of three phases: a water/flour mixture, pure pockets of fat, and a flour/fat paste” What this does is create the flour/fat paste phase with zero fuss. You could back off on the butter because of this, but why would you. Because butter. (I might be from the South.) It also adds the little bit of extra elasticity that gluten-free crusts need.
Michael J. Martinez is joining us today with his novel MJ-12: Shadows. Here’s the publisher’s description:
It’s 1949, and the Cold War is heating up across the world. For the United States, the key to winning might be Variants―once ordinary US citizens, now imbued with strange paranormal abilities and corralled into covert service by the government’s top secret MAJESTIC-12 program. Some Variants are testing the murky international waters in Syria, while others are back at home, fighting to stay ahead of a political power struggle in Washington. And back at Area 51, the operation’s headquarters, the next wave of recruits is anxiously awaiting their first mission. All the while, dangerous figures flit among the shadows and it’s unclear whether they are threatening to expose the Variants for what they are . . . or to completely destroy them. Are they working for the Soviet Union, or something far worse?
What’s Mike’s favorite bit?
MICHAEL J. MARTINEZ
As my ever-gracious host is no doubt aware, one of the benefits of writing historical fiction is leveraging actual history for one’s work. And sometimes, there’s just a piece of history that seems too good to be true.
There’s a very real series of historical events in MJ-12: Shadows – the CIA’s ham-handed efforts to install a strongman in Syria in 1949 so that, yes, the new government would agree to extend an oil pipeline through Syria to the Mediterranean coast. (Sadly, things never seem to change.) One incident during this CIA campaign stood out.
The CIA efforts were led by an officer named Miles Copeland. Up until the records of his activities were declassified, Copeland was known largely as an intelligence policy commentator and author – and the father of Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police. Small world indeed.
But now the cat’s out of the bag and we’re starting to get details about early intelligence efforts during the Cold War. Most of it is stranger than fiction to some degree or another, and Copeland’s Syria activities are no exception.
Copeland and his partner, Stephen Meade, spearheaded the CIA’s efforts in Syria to destabilize Syria’s democratically elected government and install Hosni al-Za’im, America’s preferred military strongman. And by spearheaded, I mean they were basically the only agents there, and had more petty cash and bad ideas than common sense. Honestly, it’s kind of amazing they came out alive.
One of the key’s to Copeland’s efforts was to sway international opinion of the democratic government, and Copeland thought that if the government was seen violating diplomatic norms, that would do the trick. So he let slip that he was keeping super-secret, critical information about the Syrian government at his house.
Copeland thought that the government would then send a burglar to retrieve the documents, and Copeland could catch said burglar in the act and give the government a black eye.
To say things didn’t work out as planned is a monumental understatement. I almost didn’t put the incident into MJ-12: Shadows because it seemed too far-fetched…for a novel about super-powered covert agents, no less.
But I did, so I won’t spoil it here. It’s my favorite bit in MJ-12: Shadows and the MAJESTIC-12 series thus far. I hope you’ll check it out.
Michael J. Martinez is the author of the Daedalus trilogy of Napoleonic era space opera adventures as well as the MAJESTIC-12 series of superpowered spy-fi thrillers. He likes mashing genres together, obviously. His short fiction has appeared in Unidentified Funny Objects 4, Cthulhu Fhtagn!, Geeky Giving and The Endless Ages Anthology for Vampire: The Masquerade. He lives with his very understanding wife and amazing daughter in the New Jersey suburbs, which are neither understanding nor amazing. He can be found online at michaeljmartinez.net and on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.
Ferrett Steinmetz is joining us today with his novel The Uploaded. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Life sucks and then you die… a cyberpunk family drama from the ingenious author of Flex.
In the near future, the elderly have moved online and now live within the computer network. But that doesn’t stop them interfering in the lives of the living, whose sole real purpose now is to maintain the vast servers which support digital Heaven. For one orphan that just isn’t enough – he wants more for himself and his sister than a life slaving away for the dead. It turns out that he’s not the only one who wants to reset the world…
What’s Ferrett’s favorite bit?
As a Christian, I generally see two types of Christians in science fiction books. Neither reflects my reality.
The first is what I call the “smash and crash” Christian – whatever scientific wonder has been devised to make everyone’s lives better, these Christians hate it as though it were emitted straight from Satan’s bowels. They’re greedy for power, preaching to vacuous congregations without a single neuron to share between them, raising crowds of wrench-wielding Luddites to show up in the third act and wreck whatever miracle machinery is improving the world.
Why do these stone-throwing zealots despise the miraculous? It’s never really explained. In these books it’s taken as a given that a Christian is not only diametrically opposed to science, but unable to wield it. So they’re book-dumb, though if they’re lucky they may be possessed of a crude cunning, not unlike a stoat or a weasel.
Ah, but what if the author’s sympathetic to religion? Then you get the “hugs and mugs” Christian, who wraps you in a warm embrace before bringing you a mug of decaffeinated herbal tea. This Christian wears cool sweater-vests and serves as a faith-flavored psychiatrist, never judging anyone except when they’ve done something so bad the plot requires the protagonist the be course-corrected back on the road to heroism. They may even flirt a little, just enough to provide fan-shipping possibilities. Their faith is diffuse, their beliefs never so firm as to inconvenience anyone.
What I rarely see in novels is Christianity’s morality in justifiable opposition to the main characters’ goals. A faith with teeth, if you will. A faith where yes, perhaps their beliefs start with the Bible but grows to object to this so-called wonder technology for both pragmatic and compassionate reasons.
Which wasn’t too hard to create in my novel The Uploaded, given it’s all about what happens 500 years after humanity’s perfected its computerized Heaven. Digitally preserving people’s brains is the big social change that’s transformed humanity as we know it. Nobody worries about meat-deaths any more – when your body kicks off, the last saved copy of your consciousness gets uploaded to the Upterlife’s game servers, where you can choose to check in on Earth or play in the most vividly imagined MMORPGs for all eternity.
Which sounds good, but… like most world-changing technologies, it’s had long-term, unforeseen consequences.
Because when you know for-sure there is a palpable, verifiable Heaven, you let the rest of the world slide. Your view shifts myopically to focus on the reward; society has to place laws against suicide to ensure you stick around to keep the servers running. Cruelty gets written off; why should someone care how cruel they are to you in life when you’ve got an eternity of pleasure awaiting you when you die? The living are sold into slavery, kept in line through venal promises of unlocking bonus treasures in the Upterlife. The sick are cut down with a laugh.
And if you’re a Christian with serious beliefs, not only is this new technology corrupting the world and encouraging callous evil, but people are confusing souls with programs. Yes, it’s very nice that there’s a simulation of your dead Mom talking to you, and it’s certainly a beautiful replication, but… that set of computerized emotions can vote. It can own property. It can decide who gets access to vital, life-saving technology and who doesn’t – and because the dead’s priorities are always dead-first, the best and brightest tech goes to upgrading the Upterlife servers.
It’s bad enough when people are following false prophets, but these prophets aren’t even real. They’re just… simulated echoes of what someone used to be. With each passing year inside the servers, these replicas forget what it was like to be human. Yet they’re in charge.
Worst of all, the Upterlife is popular. A lot of so-called Christians, when a virtual Heaven is dangled before them, forget immediately about the real thing and accept this rampant cruelty.
And if you’re a Christian – a true Christian – do you have any choice but to oppose this? You can’t hope for political change; there are twenty generations of dead, and even if every living person voted for something they’d never get their agenda through if the dead opposed it. You can’t persuade people; the dead sift through the saved brain-scans of potential Upterlife applicants, and if the applicant’s too rebellious they’re condemned to die an ugly meat-death.
Your only choice is to rebel through physical force. To take up the sword.
They call it crime. You call it your only choice.
And so my favorite bit in The Uploaded is Evangeline, the young NeoChristian who’s spent her entire life training for the moment she can take down the servers. The other characters in The Uploaded, who were raised in the post-Upterlife society, think she’s dumb; she’s not. She uses technology just fine, can field-strip a rifle and hijack a spirocopter better than any of them. They think she’s thuggishly violent. They think she’s deluded by her sky-beard.
She’s not. She sees the pain the Upterlife has created clearly, simply because her faith has not numbed her to suffering but attuned her to it. She knows that God offered Adam and Eve stewardship of the Earth, and so there’s a better world to be created from the ruins of this one. And she knows the cost of fighting this new and monstrous society, because she’s watched her fellow NeoChristians get abducted and tortured – but she’s loathe to kill not because she believes it’s a sin, but because she’s unwilling to condemn the ignorant to Hell without giving them a chance.
She’s afraid. But she knows who also died to save mankind, and He gives her strength. Which is why she’s willing to risk having her brains ripped apart by the brainwashed servants of the servers.
She’s not naive. She’s not misguided.
She’s just ready.
Ferrett Steinmetz’s debut urban fantasy trilogy FLEX (and THE FLUX and FIX) features a bureaucracy-obsessed magician who is in love with the DMV, a goth videogamemancer who tries not to go all Grand Theft Auto on people, and one of the weirder magic systems yet devised. His latest book THE UPLOADED, well, you just read about it, didn’t you? He was nominated for the Nebula in 2012 and for the Compton Crook Award in 2015, for which he remains moderately stoked, and lives in Cleveland with his very clever wife, a small black dog of indeterminate origin, and a friendly ghost.
He Tweeters at @ferretthimself, and blogs entirely too much about puns, politics, and polyamory at www.theferrett.com.
Paul Weimer is joining us today with his 2017 DUFF Report, What I Did On My Summer Vacation. Here’s a description of the project:
The Down Under Fan Fund Report is compiled by the Down Under Fan Fund Representative as a record of their trip to the other side of the world to connect with SFF fandom, and bring disparate portions of the SFF community together. Having originated in 1970, the Down Under Fan Fund sends fans from Australasia to North America and back again in alternate years. Entirely run on donations from the SFF community, the Down Under Fan Fund report itself is made available so that all proceeds from its sale can help replenish the Fund. The 2017 Down Under Fan Fund delegate, Paul Weimer, traveled from Minnesota to the 2017 National Science Fiction conventions of both New Zealand and Australia, and saw many things along the way, ranging from Hobbiton to the Sydney Opera House. The 2017 Down Under Fan Fund Report details his experiences.
What’s Paul’s favorite bit?
For me, writing the Down Under Fan Fund report was very much like writing a travelogue. I was a stranger in a strange land, having traveled to the antipodes in search of conventions and other SFFnal and touristy things. It did take me a few days to truly get my bearings in New Zealand, driving on the opposite side of the road, dealing with technical problems, sulfur sensitivities, nearly not finding Hobbiton in time for my tour, and then the stress of performing my duty and attending the first of the two cons, Lexicon, in the resort town of Taupo. But it had been to that point an often-challenging trip to manage.
It was like a sign from the heavens, thusly, that as I left Taupo on an early morning, the sky was overcast if not rainy, making a long drive down the desert road and across a fair chunk of New Zealand to be an experience of sullen skies, poor photographic conditions, and a lot of driving. I had already learned that driving in New Zealand was a slow and ponderous affair, doubly so in rain and fog. I wound up in less than stellar lodgings after a day and a good chunk of the night driving where New Zealand had seemed mostly grey, flat and nothing like the Middle Earth I had hoped to see in and between the convention. Only brief breaks of clarity sustained me on that drive, but my hopes to see the great three central mountains of the north island of New Zealand had been occluded. A suggestion that author Adam Christopher had made to me months ago, when first planning the DUFF trip, had turned out to be a wash.
The next day, waking up in that questionable motel, seemed to promise nothing better. I had to get to Wellington at the bottom tip of the island that evening, but I wanted one more shot at real scenery in New Zealand before the next part of my trip, over in Australia. So, I went for it, driving up Mount Taranaki in the early grey morning in search of a waterfall. I found my waterfall, and a mountain wreathed in clouds, the top as invisible as the ones on the desert road had been. It was a pity, too. Mount Taranaki is a stratovolcano standing in the middle of flat country. Think of it as a somewhat smaller version of Mount Fuji from Japan and you’ll get the idea.
And yet, despite the weather, it was then, after the short walk to the waterfall, as I stood by my car, key in hand, something drew me to take a hike. I could have left after the waterfall, it was a long drive to Wellington, after all. The day was not getting any longer. And still, I found myself climbing a path through the goblin forest, a twisted and faerie looking forest of covered branches that gave the air of an Elven court. When I emerged from that forest an hour later at the “Hillary Seat”, the face of the mountain above me came into view.
Reader, the clouds had parted. The fog was gone. The rain was abolished. The sun was out. The snow packed top of the mountain peak gleamed in the sunlight. The flanks of the mountain were vibrant with color of brown and green. It was a transformative experience, looking up at one of the great mountains in the world, there for my eye and camera to capture (and yes, there are photos of that glorious vista in the report). I stood rooted to the spot for long minutes, unwilling to break the vision of all I had hoped to see in New Zealand in terms of scenery.
I would go on to a fantastic second con in Melbourne (aside from having gotten New Zealand con crud), and see many fantastic things in Australia in the company of most excellent people. And my report is full of photos of everything I saw and everyone I met, from beaches in New Zealand, to Hobbit holes, to the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, to the podcasters of Galactic Suburbia, the Great Ocean Road, and much more. However, it is that moment on Mt. Taranaki, after that hike that something told me I had to take against all rational thought, and to my benefit, that I go back to again and again in my mind. And that’s why it’s my favorite bit.
Paul Weimer is a SF writer, reviewer, and podcaster and an avid amateur photographer. When he isn’t doing any of that, he’s often found rolling dice and roleplaying. His audio work can be found on the Skiffy and Fanty Show and SFF audio. His reviews and columns can also be found at Tor.com and the Barnes and Noble SF blog, amongst other places. Paul is best seen on twitter as @princejvstin.
Alan Gratz is joining us today with his novel Ban This Book. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A fourth grader fights back when From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is challenged by a well-meaning parent and taken off the shelves of her school library. Amy Anne is shy and soft-spoken, but don’t mess with her when it comes to her favorite book in the whole world. Amy Anne and her lieutenants wage a battle for the books that will make you laugh and pump your fists as they start a secret banned books locker library, make up ridiculous reasons to ban every single book in the library to make a point, and take a stand against censorship.
What’s Alan’s favorite bit?
There’s a lot I love about this book, but there’s one bit I especially love, because I got to work in a bit of my own fandom into the story.
I’m a long-time Star Trek fan. The first novel I ever tried to get published was a Star Trek novel (Pocket Books didn’t buy it) and before I became a published kids book author, I wrote Star Trek fan fiction. I later got to write a young adult Star Trek novel that I actually got paid for—Starfleet Academy: The Assassination Game—but it’s not often that my Trek fandom crosses over with my books for young readers.
One of the other students in Amy Anne’s class is, like me, a die-hard Trek fan. His name is Jeffrey Gonzalez. Jeffrey is very close to his grandmother, and when she dies he has a really hard time dealing with. He has such a hard time that he becomes surly and contentious, and eventually gets into a fight at school that gets him suspended. Amy Anne is the only other student who realizes why he’s so upset, and being the budding librarian she is, she thinks she has the perfect book to help him work through his feelings: Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia.
And it works. When Jeffrey reads the book, he finally lets out the emotions he’s kept bottled up inside, all the tears he didn’t allow himself to shed. It’s a cathartic moment for him, a real soul-cleanser. When Jeffrey comes to thank Amy Anne for the book, he tries to explain what happened to him, and this is where his (and my) love of Trek comes back in. The best way Jeffrey can explain the change that came over him is through a classic episode of Star Trek:
“I’m just glad you feel better,” I told Jeffrey. “You got really mean there for a little while.”
“I know,” Jeffrey said. “That was the Mirror Universe me.”
“The Mirror Universe you?”
“Yeah,” he said. “In Star Trek, there’s this Mirror Universe, and everybody there is the opposite of what they are in this universe. So if you’re good here, you’re bad there. The Mirror Universe Jeffrey took over for a little while, but Jeffrey Prime is back now.”
He was losing me. “Well, whoever you are now, I’m glad you’re back.”
Jeffrey smiled and saluted me with his fingers in a V shape. “Live long and prosper,” he told me.
“You too,” I said.
I have a little more fun with the Mirror Universe bit just a chapter later, when Amy Anne discovers that her beloved school librarian, Mrs. Jones, has been replaced with her opposite number—a celebrity magazine-reading, kid-hating shusher whom Amy Anne quickly nicknames the Mirror Mrs. Jones. Amy Anne even has to consider which version of herself she likes better—the quiet, meek, no-trouble Amy Anne that she was, or the boat-rocking, rule-breaking, activist Mirror Amy Anne she’s become.
She certainly knows which one has made the greatest impact on her universe.
Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe (my hometown indie!)
Alan Gratz is the author of a number of novels for young readers, including Samurai Shortstop, The Brooklyn Nine, Prisoner B-3087, Code of Honor, Projekt 1065, and The League of Seven series. His latest novels are the New York Times bestselling Refugee, and Ban This Book. A Knoxville, Tennessee native, Alan is now a full-time writer living in Western North Carolina with his wife and daughter. Visit him online at www.alangratz.com.
Spencer Ellsworth is joining us today with his novel A Red Peace. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A Red Peace, first in Spencer Ellsworth’s Starfire trilogy, is an action-packed space opera in a universe where the oppressed half-Jorian crosses have risen up to supplant humanity and dominate the galaxy.
Half-breed human star navigator Jaqi, working the edges of human-settled space on contract to whoever will hire her, stumbles into possession of an artifact that the leader of the Rebellion wants desperately enough to send his personal guard after. An interstellar empire and the fate of the remnant of humanity hang in the balance.
Spencer Ellsworth has written a classic space opera, with space battles between giant bugs, sun-sized spiders, planets of cyborgs and a heroine with enough grit to bring down the galaxy’s newest warlord.
What’s Spencer’s favorite bit?
I feel weird talking about “my favorite bit” with A Red Peace because this novel just fell right out of me. It was fun to make up. It was fun to write. It was even fun to revise, and revision is NOT SUPPOSED to be fun. Revision is supposed to be when you weep into your booze and your life in narrated in a bad French accent and is black and white. “Ze artist sufferz for ze art.” That kind of thing.
A Red Peace wasn’t that. It was a total brain dump, one part 80s kid, saturated with Star Wars and Transformers, and one part history buff obsessed with the failed “noble” revolutions of the 20th century.
But when I’m thinking about the book, there are three places that really stand out to me, where a character really found their voice.
The first was in the (very short) omniscient prologue, when the heroic Resistance has beaten the evil Empire (sound familiar? It’s supposed to) and their heroic, handsome leader, John Starfire, gives the command:
Kill every human being in the galaxy.
That moment was the seed of the story—the idea of following a brave rebel leader to the point where he starts to look less like Luke Skywalker and more like Stalin.
(That, and space bugs.)
My antagonist, Araskar, was a tricky character to write, and he was all wrong in my first draft. He had to be likable, but at the same time, he had to continually make terrible choices because he couldn’t face the fact that his cause had become evil.
For the second draft, I wrote him into a white-hot, blood-and-mud soaked battle, to show that he could actually do heroic things with a small unit—but when his superior officer tells him they’re going to hunt down children, his cognitive dissonance is such that he decided just to get high.
Finally, Jaqi, our hero, my favorite forthright smuggler who gets into all this trouble because she wants a fresh tomato, was a blast to write all the way through. She’s the first character I ever wrote who can’t read, who has little interest in galactic affairs, and who is all the more interesting for it.
My favorite bit of Jaqi’s story is a part that… I really don’t want to give away!
It’s when she realizes something. Something very important.
Guess you’ll have to read the book.
William C. Tracy is joining us today to talk about his novel The Seeds of Dissolution. Here’s the book’s description:
On a bright August day, the sun disappears.
Sam van Oen barely escapes freezing to death in his house, as his watch stops and fire ceases to burn. He is pulled into the Nether—a nexus between ten alien cultures—where he meets Rilan and Origon, two maji who can control the musical foundation of the universe. While coping with anxiety attacks prompted by his new surroundings, Sam must learn to hear and change the Symphony, and thus reality, in order to discover what happened to his home.
But more freezing voids like the one that started his journey are appearing, and Sam’s chances of getting back are fading. The Assembly of Species is threatening to dissolve and the maji are being attacked by those they protect, while rumors grow of an ancient, shape-changing species of assassins, returning to wage war.
The Dissolution is coming.
What’s William’s favorite bit?
WILLIAM C. TRACY
First off: the sales pitch. I’m funding The Seeds of Dissolution through a Kickstarter project, not to help write the story, but in order to bring more art, maps, and other extras into the printed book. I love finding illustrations in the novels I read, and I wanted to do the same with what I write. So please check it out and help me bring this story to life!
Now, my real favorite bit. The more I write, the more I appreciate putting diverse people and philosophies into my stories. This will be my first full novel in the Dissolutionverse, though it’s also one of the oldest stories I’ve written. When rewriting this novel to bring it up to date with my novellas, I was struck by how much it was a “white boy becomes the chosen one” story. It still is, to some extent, but I’ve made an effort to diversify my stories, in order to learn about the different sorts of people I’ve encountered. I’ve written about this before, in the Favorite Bit posts for my previous novellas, Tuning the Symphony and Merchants and Maji.
In The Seeds of Dissolution, Sam (the aforementioned white boy protagonist) now has fairly strong panic attacks based on social situations and new environments. I have not had panic attacks myself, which meant I needed to do a lot of research and talk with people who do have social anxiety. I didn’t want to make it something superficial that was cured by magic. It’s a part of Sam and he has to cope with it. In the process, I was able to recognize those times when I was afraid to speak in front of others, or go to new places. We all have anxiety at some point, and talking to those people who have to deal with it all the time taught me a great deal. Even though he has anxiety issues, Sam is still very loyal to close friends. He wants to connect with others, even if he is prevented at times by his mental state.
This leads to the other change for this character. Sam is bi/pansexual. This, I think, has actually been a long time coming. His attraction(s) in this book were originally one person, then female, then male, then two people. I could never get the dynamic right between Sam and the love interest until I realized Sam is not constrained by the person’s gender, and once this happened, the relation between the three characters started to come together. There are of course still some pitfalls and surprises in their relationship, but I’ll let you read about it, as it’s pretty central to the main story!
Working with people who don’t identify as male or female helped me to make the species of the Great Assembly more diverse. When designing an alien species, there’s no real reason for having two genders rather than more or less, and a lot of people on Earth already don’t fit into those parameters. One of my beta readers is non-binary, and helped me to flesh out the ten species of the Dissolutionverse considerably. One species now has three genders, another has four, and another reproduces asexually. Every addition has only made me more interested in writing these stories and learning about these people.
One of my favorite characters is named Hand Dancer, who is a member of the Lobhl, a species who communicates only with their hands. In-universe, bringing them into the Great Assembly of species caused many to balk at the changes needed to ease communication, and even 50 cycles later, the species is rarely seen. The species is also gender fluid by nature, conforming to a gender by need and mental state rather than biology. I love describing Hand Dancer’s communication, especially since the story takes place in a giant crystal that translates between species! Here’s a few short excerpt to show what I mean:
<Forgive our intrusion, Councilor,> Hand Dancer signed. Origon watched the large and expressive hands twirl through the sentence. The six fingers and two thumbs on each hand curved and twisted in a different direction, and both hands were heavily tattooed. It was disconcerting talking to a Lobhl. Most of the time, Origon could ignore how the Nether changed speech so others’ words were in his native language in his head, but the Lobhl communicated almost entirely with their hands. There were no facial expressions, and the bald creatures didn’t even have a crest to signal with. The meaning appeared directly in Origon’s mind, as if Hand Dancer had said the words a moment before and Origon was remembering them. It made him want to itch something, though he didn’t know what.
<As I seem to be included, may I ask what is going on?> Origon started, and saw the others do the same. How they could hear the signing when they weren’t looking at the Lobhl, like a cough in an echoing building, was beyond him. He would never fully understand the Nether.
Hand Dancer listened for a moment as well, in him, a stretching of thumbs. Then his hands moved again. <I must be female during this task, for concentration.>
I’ve had a lot of fun while writing The Seeds of Dissolution because I’ve gotten to talk to people from different backgrounds, genders and sexualities, and different mental states. I hope it has added more realism into my world, and made my characters more interesting.
Please take a look at the Kickstarter for The Seeds of Dissolution. There are a lot of great backer rewards, with chances to buy original artwork, be tuckerized in the story, get maps, buttons, and pins, and get an extra short story, just for backers. See you around the Dissolutionverse!
William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has two self-published novellas available: Tuning the Symphony, and Merchants and Maji, both set in his Dissolutionverse. The Kickstarter for the first novel, The Seeds of Dissolution, will run in August/September 2017.
He also has a masters in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003, and runs his own dojo in Raleigh. He is an avid video and board gamer, a reader, and of course, a writer. He and his wife also cosplay, and he has appeared as Tenzin, Jafar, and in several steampunk outfits.
In his spare time, he wrangles three cats and a bald guinea pig, and his wife wrangles him (not an easy task). They both enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes and making them cosplay for the annual Christmas card.
Somehow with all the travel I’ve been doing, I finished a 12,500 word fantasy story. I’m looking for five to ten beta readers. Just comment on my site to raise your hand.
Here’s the teaser.
If Evina waited much longer it would be full dark, and the tavern would almost certainly have a godforsaken bard by then. As if that weren’t bad enough, by the pricking of the hair along her arms, there had to be at least five wizards in easy walking distance. No surprise, really, after King Redinado’s proclamation. That’s what brought her to the capital, after all.
A pair of drunk men staggered out of the door, golden oil light spilling out onto the rutted city street. They wandered away, singing a ditty about a wench with hair the color of the moon. But not that song, thank the Blind Man.
She swallowed trying to dislodge the knot in her throat. If she couldn’t even walk into a tavern, how the hell did she think she was going to survive the quest to become a King’s Wizard? Blind Man… all she wanted to do was survive. She could give a rotten fig about working for the King.