Journal

My Favorite Bit: Michael Mammay talks about PLANETSIDE

My Favorite BitMichael Mammay is joining us today to talk about his novel Planetside. Here is the publisher’s description:

A seasoned military officer uncovers a deadly conspiracy on a distant, war-torn planet…

War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big—and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command.

The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive…

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

Planetside cover image

MICHAEL MAMMAY

My favorite bit of PLANETSIDE is a scene that cracked open the story for me. This might come as a shock (or not), but sometimes authors start writing novels without really knowing where they’re going. Or is that just me? I’m going to pretend that it’s a lot of us, so that I can continue to function, okay? Thanks. So there I was, cranking along and not completely sure where I was going with the story, and I sent the protagonist, Colonel Carl Butler, to meet with the commander of the hospital, Colonel Mary Elliot. Going into the scene, my intent was that Butler would go in, pull some macho BS, roll over the medical person and get the next piece of information he needed to continue his investigation.

A funny thing happened when I put them in a room together. Elliot wouldn’t have it. As the person who created her, nobody was more surprised than me.

Here’s how that imaginary conversation went:

Me: Okay, Elliot, Butler’s going to show up, you’re going to give him some trouble, then you’re going to give him a key piece of information about his investigation. Okay?

Elliot: It’s Doctor Elliot.

Me: Huh?

Elliot: You should refer to me as Doctor. Or Colonel, if you prefer.

Me: Yeah, sure. So about the scene…

Dr. Elliot: Yeah. About that. I don’t think so.

Me: Wait…what?

Dr. Elliot: I didn’t spend 25 years working my butt off to reach the highest levels of my profession just so that some asshole grunt could come in and push me around.

Me: But he needs that information…

Dr. Elliot: Guess he’s got a problem, then.

Me: Wait a damned minute. This is my book. I make the decisions.

Dr. Elliot: Do you?

Me: Okay. I hear you. What if you put him in his place, dress him down, and once he understands that it’s your scene, you give him the information?

Dr. Elliot: Counteroffer. What if I put him in his place, dress him down, and throw him out of my hospital?

And that’s what she did. She was supposed to be a bit character with one or two scenes, and instead she became a key piece of the story, all because she refused to be run over. The thing is, it made the story better, because it made things harder on Butler. Instead of giving him the information he needed, she thwarted him, and he had to search for another way. Any time you can make things harder on the protagonist, you’re probably making the story better.

But it had impact beyond just Butler. It informed the entire plot, because while I didn’t know it at the time, once she refused to give answers, she had to have a reason for not giving those answers. Clearly she had to be hiding something. Or not. But her confrontational manner certainly made it possible that she had something she wasn’t sharing. Or maybe she just didn’t care for Butler and his bull-in-a-china-shop antics. It didn’t really matter. Instead of closing her role with her passing information, it kept it open for future scenes. For me, the scenes with Butler and Elliot are some of my favorite in the book, and they never would have happened if she’d just done what I initially wanted her to do.

One of the most exciting parts about writing a book is when I figure out something about the plot that I didn’t know. At the time that scene happened, I really had no idea why Elliot was doing what she was doing. It just didn’t fit her character to roll over, so when I started writing the dialogue, she didn’t. I did figure it out later, and when I did, it changed the book into what it is today. If it sounds like I’m being a bit vague, that’s intentional. PLANETSIDE is a twisty book, and I don’t want to give too much away. I might have already told you too much!

LINKS:

Planetside Universal Book Link

Planetside at Michael Mammay’s local indie bookstore

Twitter

Website

BIO:

Michael Mammay is a retired army officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He has a masters degree in military history, and he is a veteran of Desert Storm, Somalia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives with his family in Georgia, where he teaches English to high school boys, which is at least as challenging as combat.

My Favorite Bit: Claire O’Dell talks about A STUDY IN HONOR

My Favorite BitClaire O’Dell is joining us today to talk about her novel A Study In Honor. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Set in a near future Washington, D.C., a clever, incisive, and fresh feminist twist on a classic literary icon—Sherlock Holmes—in which Dr. Janet Watson and covert agent Sara Holmes will use espionage, advanced technology, and the power of deduction to unmask a murderer targeting Civil War veterans.

Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.

Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.

What’s Claire’s favorite bit?

A Study In Honor Cover Image

CLAIRE O’DELL

When I was nine years old, my Aunt Marianne gave me a collection of stories about Sherlock Holmes. (Please note, my Aunt Marianne was an English teacher and had served in the Women’s Marine Corps during WWII. She was mighty. I miss her very much.)

It goes without saying that I read the book, as I read all the other books she gave me. And as many others have done, I imprinted on the mythos of the brilliant detective and his more ordinary friend. Fast forward to years later, when I decided to write a story about Watson and Holmes.

My Holmes is Sara Holmes, an independent agent for the FBI. My Watson is Dr. Janet Watson, a newly discharged army surgeon, wounded in America’s New Civil War. Their lives are nothing like two men in the Victorian Age, but I knew that a story about Watson and Holmes had to include that iconic scene when they first meet.

Instead of a chemistry lab, Janet meets Sara in the National Gallery of Art, in front of Dali’s Sacrament of the Last Supper:

I was no Christian, not these days. But, oh, those luminous colors. The images upon images. The small trickeries my teachers had pointed out that added layers of story to the most obvious and outermost one. It almost didn’t matter that the Son of Man, a child of Israel and the King of the Jews, was portrayed as a pale-skinned man with yellow hair.

Fuck it, I’m lying. It did matter, the same way it rankled when people–mostly white people–stared when I said I was a doctor, a surgeon, and a veteran of the wars. But I could still look beyond the unthinking bigotry of this particular artist, and the assumptions of his age, to the moment he portrayed, when Christ drank the wine and spoke of his body and his blood.

Then she catches sight of Sara herself:

She was tall and lean. Her complexion was the darkest brown I had ever seen, the angles of her face were sharp enough to cut, and she wore her hair in locs, arranged in a careless, complicated fashion wound around her head, then plaited and pinned, so they fell in a thick cascade down her back. The cant of her cheekbones, the almost imperceptible folds next to her eyes, spoke of East Asia, or certain nations in Africa. Of a world outside my own.

Janet’s friend makes the introductions:

We closed the distance between us, then both of us hesitated. I sensed a Rubicon before me, an array of choices wise or foolish. Gaius Julius Caesar had made his own choice in that matter and died. Or perhaps I was being fanciful.

Then Holmes reached out to me with a hand covered in lace. “You’ve come from the war in Oklahoma,” she said and clasped my hand in hers.

LINKS:

A Study in Honor Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Claire O’Dell grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, in the years of the Vietnam War and the Watergate Scandal. She attended high school just a few miles from the house where Mary Surratt once lived and where John Wilkes Booth conspired for Lincoln to die. All this might explain why she spent so much time in the history and political science departments at college. Claire currently lives in Manchester, CT with her family and two idiosyncratic cats.

Where to Find Mary at WorldCon 76

Mary will be at Worldcon 76 in San Jose, CA from August 16-20, 2018. Register here.

Here’s where to find her there:

Friday, Aug 17

The Myth of the Astronaut – Who are the Space Cadets of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow?
11:00am-12:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – 210 E

 

Saturday, Aug 18

Kaffeeklatsch: Kjell Lindgren with Mary Robinette Kowal
11:00am-12:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – 211B1

Autographs with Writing Excuses
3:00pm-4:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – Autographing

The Fated Sky Pre-Launch Party!
4:30pm-6:00pm
Fairmont (room TBD)

 

Sunday, Aug 19

Stroll with the Stars
9:00am-10:00am
San Jose Convention Center – Lower Level Plaza

Reading: Hugo Finalist Uncanny Magazine
1:00pm-2:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – 221A

Women in Science and Space Exploration: Are Women Finding Equity?
2:00pm-3:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – 210DH

Audiobooks in Genre Fiction
3:00pm-4:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – 210F

Hugo Ceremony
8:00pm-11:00pm
San Jose Convention Center – Grand Ballroom

 

My Favorite Bit: Kate Alice Marshall talks about I AM STILL ALIVE

My Favorite BitKate Alice Marshall is joining us today with her novel I Am Still Alive. Here’s the publisher’s description:

After: Jess is alone. Her cabin has burned to the ground. She knows if she doesn’t act fast, the cold will kill her before she has time to worry about food. But she is still alive—for now.

Before: Jess hadn’t seen her survivalist, off-the-grid dad in over a decade. But after a car crash killed her mother and left her injured, she was forced to move to his cabin in the remote Canadian wilderness. Just as Jess was beginning to get to know him, a secret from his past paid them a visit, leaving her father dead and Jess stranded.

After: With only her father’s dog for company, Jess must forage and hunt for food, build shelter, and keep herself warm. Some days it feels like the wild is out to destroy her, but she’s stronger than she ever imagined.

Jess will survive. She has to. She knows who killed her father…and she wants revenge

What’s Kate’s favorite bit?

I Am Still Alive cover image

KATE ALICE MARSHALL

The first challenge in writing I AM STILL ALIVE was putting Jess in ever-increasing danger, designing setbacks and disasters to threaten her at every turn.

The second challenge was making sure I didn’t actually kill her.

The first half of the manuscript was written on a writing retreat in the mountains, surrounded by people with a talent for mayhem and more survival know-how than I will ever possess. Together we came up with obstacles and twists of fate, escalating and escalating until I had to call “definitely dead” and back up a few steps or provide some extra bit of advantage so Jess could squeak through our latest devilry still breathing.

This give and take led to one of my favorite scenes, one that I wrote toward with relish, knowing it was coming.

Jess, you see, has a rifle. In the few seconds she has to grab whatever she can find before her father’s cabin burns down, she also manages to secure a box of ammunition. So, though she isn’t very good at hunting, she can hunt, and she sets out to make good use of that gun and that ammunition. Bullet by bullet, she uses up what’s already in the rifle. And then she goes to reload it and realizes that she’s grabbed the wrong type of ammo. The other boxes are gone, destroyed in the fire that destroyed the cabin. Back to square one.

But, starving and desperate, she realizes those weren’t the only bullets. The day he was killed, she saw her father put a handful of ammunition in his jacket pocket.

And she knows where he’s buried.

When writing a survival story, the most important question to answer is: what is the character surviving for? The easy answer to that for Jess is revenge. Her father has been murdered. She wants to get back at the men responsible. But revenge and survival are at odds with each other—revenge is a self-destructive act, one that you don’t expect to emerge from whole. I knew that I needed something else to drive Jess—but I’d taken everything from her. Her parents, her home, any semblance of a normal life. That drive had to come purely from within. So the core of Jess’s character is this: she believes she is worthy of survival. She doesn’t fight for someone else, or for something outside of herself; she fights because she wants to stay alive and knows that is a righteous cause.

Jess’s journey to her father’s grave is the closest she ever comes to despair—to deciding that survival isn’t worth it, and that she isn’t strong enough to do what she needs to do. It comes at her lowest point, when every meager scrap of progress that she’s made has been taken from her.

In this scene, she gives up.

And she keeps going anyway.

That contradiction is at the heart of her success. And as dark as the scene is—and yes, it gets pretty gruesome—it’s also the heart of the story. The moment when she is forced to face in vivid, horrifying detail all she’s lost and all she’s suffered, unable to leave it buried any longer, and admit just how far she’s fallen, and just how close to failure she is.

And then she has to dig.

LINKS:

I Am Still Alive Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Kate Alice Marshall started writing before she could hold a pen properly, and never stopped. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with a chaotic menagerie of pets and family members and ventures out in the summer to kayak and camp along the Puget Sound. Visit her online at katemarshallbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @kmarshallarts.

My Favorite Bit: Michi Trota and Matt Peters talk about UNCANNY MAGAZINE Year Five

My Favorite BitMichi Trota and Matt Peters are joining us today to talk about the Uncanny Magazine Year Five Kickstarter, running until Aug 24, 2018. Here’s a description:

Over the last few years, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas ran Kickstarters for the two-time Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine Years One, Two, Three, and Four. We promised to bring you stunning cover art, passionate science fiction and fantasy fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, and provocative nonfiction by writers from every conceivable background. Not to mention a fantastic Parsec Award-winning podcast featuring exclusive content. Through the hard work of our exceptional staff and contributors, Uncanny Magazine delivered on that promise. Stories from Uncanny Magazine have been finalists or winners of Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards!

This year, we’re also back with a new mission for the ranger corps: UNCANNY TV

Hosted and produced by Michi Trota and Matt Peters, Uncanny TV will be the launch of our community-based vid channel, featuring exclusive geeky content related to Uncanny and the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps community!

Matt Peters & Michi Trota will host a short (20-30 min) variety talk show, Uncanny Magazine-style: highlighting creators in SF/F working in a variety of art forms and projects, focusing on people building and nurturing their communities, particularly highlighting marginalized creators. They’ll talk about topics that can be serious, but the overall tone of the show will be to celebrate the things we enjoy and the people who make our communities good places to be in SF/F.

We at Uncanny think we’re doing important work, and we’d like to continue. Please consider supporting Uncanny Magazine Year Five!

What’s Matt and Michi’s favorite bits?

Uncanny kickstarter year 5

MATT PETERS

When I came onboard as a reader for Uncanny, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be a good fit. Obviously, that wasn’t my favorite bit.

I grew up loving sci-fi. My dad and I bonded over classic Star Trek and Star Wars and when he told me I could actually read books that furthered the story past what was on screen I was hooked. I read as much as I could by whomever I could. I’ve read so much sci-fi and fantasy growing up, I can’t even begin to tell you who all the authors were. At one point, if a book had a rocket ship on the cover and it was in stock at the library, that was good enough for me.

When Michi invited me to be a submissions editor for Uncanny, I was excited to begin. Suddenly, there was so much content flying at me at one time, I was overwhelmed. I panicked. I loved sci-fi, so this should be right up my alley, right? After talking to my wife, we came up with a great solution: we’d take turns reading submissions to each other as we played Tetris (Dolores joined Uncanny as a submissions editor soon after).

That’s where it finally clicked for me. A big part of the allure of Uncanny is the camaraderie. There’s a communal aspect. People just like me who grew up reading the same stories I love feel so passionate about them that they came up with their own. Maybe it was because they wanted to honor it. Maybe it was because they felt they could do it better. Maybe they just had something on their mind and staging it in a fantasy realm was just disconnected enough to be honest about their private dreams and desires.

Our true nature reveals itself when we think no one is watching. How incredibly brave to put that story to paper or keyboard and share it with the world on the off chance someone might find a kinship in what you created. Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes as they retell a story that they truly connect with? That driving, nervous energy… That is my favorite bit of Uncanny: the passion.

MICHI TROTA

After four years as Uncanny Magazine’s Managing Editor, I thought it would be a lot harder to pick what my favorite bit about Uncanny is, but in fact, the answer was pretty easy: What I love the most about Uncanny is how its community shows me every day why stories, and who tells them, matters. The people I’ve met through Uncanny have made an incredible difference in my life, and collaborating with them in different ways has brought me so much joy, and has helped me to hone my own craft as a writer. The creativity, willingness to test boundaries, and passion for craft among creators and fans that I’ve encountered has been endlessly surprising. There are so many writers whose work I became introduced to because of Uncanny, and if all their stories, poems, and essays that I’ve added to my “to read” list physically manifested into an actual pile, I’d probably have been buried under it by now.

But what’s impressed and inspired me more than anything is the vibrant network of mutual support and admiration I’ve seen being continually built among creators and fans. The outpouring of joy and signal boosting whenever there’s a new release, whether it’s for an Uncanny issue or a novel or anthology, is one of the best things to see taking over my feeds on social media. And what really gets me, every time, is when someone shares a cool story about how something they made inspired someone else to create something completely unexpected. I have a friend who’s written songs based on stories and novels she’s fallen in love with. I know acrobats who craft their acts to tell superhero stories. I’ve seen fans honor creators with beautiful pieces of fanart, and who’ve taken a page from their favorite stories to build charity and activist organizations. These are people who are taking a deep and abiding love for SF/F and using it to enrich their lives and the lives of others, often for no other reason beyond just wanting to make a positive difference, no matter the scale.

Seeing just how varied and thriving the greater ecosystem of geeky creators actually can be has been a necessary balm, especially since the election. Finding a reason for joy and inspiration to create new stories, new kinds of art, new connections among strangers, is especially important in the face of oppression and rising fascism. When we can see others being creative rather than complacent, building bridges rather than walls, it makes a difference. It’s why I’m excited by the prospect of being able to take Uncanny’s mission of supporting gorgeous, experimental, passionate storytelling even further with Uncanny TV, and dive even deeper into more stories about why SF/F matters. And getting to do this with Matt Peters, a friend and colleague I enjoy collaborating with, and who has inspired me to do better in my own work? That’s definitely one of my favorite bits!

LINKS:

Uncanny Magazine Year 5 Kickstarter

Uncanny Magazine

Uncanny Twitter

Uncanny Instagram

Uncanny Facebook

BIOS:

Matt Peters

Uncanny TV Presenter Matt Peters is an enthusiast of all things nerdy. Matt has been a voice in the industry for several years through his website and podcast Since Last We Spoke. He’s contributed to various media outlets both print and digital and has been invited to speak on panels regarding diversity in geek spaces at C2E2 and Wizard World. Matt is also founder of Core/Demo, a belly dance charity event that supports cancer research. You can find him on Twitter @MightyInkMatt where he frequently geeks out over comics, video games, and pro-wrestling. His favorite color is orange and he’s fond of the number “13.”

Michi Trota

Managing Editor/Uncanny TV Presenter Michi Trota is a two-time Hugo Award winner, and the first Filipina to win a Hugo Award. Michi is an essayist who has been published in The Book Smugglers, The Establishment, The Learned Fangirl, Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F, and Uncanny. She’s spoken at C2E2, the Chicago Humanities Festival, on NPR, and at universities and other organizations. Michi is a firespinner with the Raks Geek Fire+Bellydance troupe. She serves as president of the Chicago Nerd Social Club Board of Organizers and lives with her spouse and their two cats. Her secret mutant superpower is to make anyone hungry just by talking about food. Find her on Twitter @GeekMelange.

My Favorite Bit: Ruthanna Emrys talks about DEEP ROOTS

My Favorite BitRuthanna Emrys is joining us today to talk about her novel Deep Roots. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy, which began with Winter Tide and continues with Deep Roots, confronts H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos head-on, boldly upturning his fear of the unknown with a heart-warming story of found family, acceptance, and perseverance in the face of human cruelty and the cosmic apathy of the universe. Emrys brings together a family of outsiders, bridging the gaps between the many people marginalized by the homogenizing pressure of 1940s America.

Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. Deep Rootscontinues Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery, or risk seeing her way of life slip away.

What is Ruthanna’s favorite bit?

Deep Roots Cover Image

RUTHANNA EMRYS

The source material for the Innsmouth Legacy series—H.P. Lovecraft’s weird fiction—straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy. Lovecraft tried hard to base his gods, ghouls, and lost continents on the very latest scientific findings. In the 1930s. As someone with voracious reading habits but no particular scientific training.

Writing now in the early 21st century, my take on Lovecraft’s Mythos includes open magic and the supernatural. But I still hew close to modern scientific understanding, particularly in my own field of psychology and its cousin neuroscience. This is particularly fun when playing with Lovecraft’s own ideas about the mind. Nowadays, he probably would have been fascinated by the idea of uploading personalities into computers (and all the terrible, world-breaking things that could go wrong amid the circuits). Instead, he came up with the Mi-Go.

The Mi-Go are aliens, possibly fungous, from space that is Not Like the Space We Know. Their favorite pastime is brain surgery. The kind that involves removing your brain entirely and putting you in a canister where you can see, hear, and talk—and travel the universe, learning Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know and being part of a never-ending awesome conversation with all the other brain canisters. I couldn’t resist.

I’ve talked elsewhere about how Lovecraft’s calls the Mi-Go “cosmopolitan,” about his xenophobic idea that multicultural society just naturally deprives people of the strength and agency of their own bodies, and about how this made the Mi-Go a perfect fit for a story about finding identity in diversity… but my favorite bit was figuring out how to make brain thieves fit into a book informed by modern psychology.

I already set up one psychological gimme in Winter Tide: minds are different from brains, and can be separated from them with the right magic. They’re also closely tied to brains, and can’t survive long on their own. Winter Tide featured aliens skilled at the advanced magical art of switching minds between bodies. So the Mi-Go must be doing something similar—not removing actual brains (and more impressively, putting them back), but removing minds and sticking them in artificial “host bodies.” Lovecraft’s classic brain canisters.

Research on embodied cognition suggests that we’d probably adapt to this sort of thing pretty quickly. The real human mind is shaped by a constant influx of sensory input, and by our ability to touch and shape the world. Change that input, and the possibilities for output, and you change the mind at the center. This happens in the real world all the time—we come with different subsets of senses and gain or lose them over the course of a lifetime, work with levels of bodily control ranging from Olympic athletes to Steven Hawking and Jean-Dominique Bauby. It’s a little different, though, when someone can move you between states at will, and has absolute control over where you go and who you meet. And the Mi-Go are very good at psychology…

Some people choose willingly to trade physical autonomy for good company and fantastic journeys. Maybe many people—when I asked my Twitter followers where they’d go, I got a ton of enthusiasm for disembodied tours of the Virgo Supercluster and Marianas Trench, and about three people willing to fight to the death to avoid those tours. Aphra Marsh, my main character, falls firmly in the latter camp. She’s struggled long and hard to live comfortably in her body, has no intention of giving it up, and sees very clearly the cost of doing so.

The other side of the argument is ably represented by Shelean, one of my favorite characters/thought experiments. (She’d be delighted to hear herself described as a thought experiment, which tells you something about her.) Shelean’s body and brain have been twisted by the most dangerous of magical studies—but disembodied she can escape the effects, and think and perceive clearly (mostly). She still talks like someone who grew up in a society of mad scientists/sorcerers, though. Nature versus nurture, another fascinating psychological research question. For both Aphra and Shelean, as well as their compatriots, the Mi-Go force them to think about who they are, and how much that identity depends on the shapes their minds wear.

Teasing apart brains and minds—something we can’t actually do without magic—let me play around with fun scientific ideas, and as a bonus gave me a brand new way to explore my characters.

LINKS:

Deep Roots Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Ruthanna Emrys lives in a mysterious manor house in the outskirts of Washington DC with her wife and their large, strange family. She makes home-made vanilla, obsesses about game design, gives unsolicited advice, occasionally attempts to save the world, and blogs sporadically about these things at her Livejournal. She is the author of The Litany of Earth. Her stories have appeared in a number of venues, including Strange Horizons and Analog.

My Favorite Bit: Kameron Hurley talks about APOCALYPSE NYX

My Favorite BitKameron Hurley is joining us today with her novel Apocalypse Nyx. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Ex-government assassin turned bounty-hunter, Nyx, is good at solving other people’s problems. Her favorite problem-solving solution is punching people in the face. Then maybe chopping off some heads. Hey―it’s a living.

Nyx’s disreputable reputation has been well earned. After all, she’s trying to navigate an apocalyptic world full of giant bugs, contaminated deserts, scheming magicians, and a centuries-long war that’s consuming her future. Managing her ragtag squad of misfits has required a lot of morally-gray choices. Every new job is another day alive. Every new mission is another step toward changing a hellish future―but only if she can survive.

What’s Kameron’s favorite bit?

Apocalypse Nyx cover image

KAMERON HURLEY

All literature is escapism. It takes us away from wherever we are and deposits us neatly into another place, another time, among people whose problems we don’t have to negotiate, manage, or solve in our daily life.

Literature is glorious.

I grew up watching a lot of apocalyptic science fiction movies when I was a kid, probably for the same reason so many enjoy watching The Walking Dead. We all want to believe that when society breaks down and we run out of vaccines and hot water and canned food, that we’ll be one of the tough, lucky few to who can use our wits and our physical prowess to survive.

In reality, the odds are against us. Try talking to any amateur who’s planted a garden, and you’ll discover that growing enough food to feed yourself for a year is no small feat. Every time I battle the bugs eating up all my crops, I lament to my spouse: “How did people ever survive growing food like this?” to which he responds, “There were a lot fewer people.”

Indeed.

Being one crop failure or infected scratch away from death is a harrowing way to live. But if you spend most of your days shuttling to and from a boring, crappy job with crappy benefits with an abusive boss, falling over onto the couch at night and then doing it all over again, day in, day out, with no hope of an end date, there can be an allure in the idea of living more dangerously. Of living for something. Of knowing every second counts.

I learned a far greater appreciation for life when I nearly died at twenty-six. Going from great health to having a chronic illness was like getting hit on the back of the head with a shovel. It completely transformed my life. I realized, for the first time, just how close we all are to death. And I needed a new world to escape to more than ever.

I’m often asked, “Why do you write about terrible people?” Probably for the same reason most people do: we know terrible people. We, ourselves, often have terrible impulses. If you’ve ever sat in a cubicle all day, having a random dude ask you to get him coffee, and being berated, constantly, about how you need to be “civil” to people who are trying to take away your human rights and your friend’s citizenship, you know what it’s like to just want to throw your computer at the window and start punching people.

It happens to the best of us.

To live is to feel powerless much of the time. Powerless in your job. In your state. In your country. Powerless against nature. Many feel powerless even in their relationships. And we are all powerless when it comes to the inevitability of death.

I had a dog, Drake, a very young, healthy dog, who contracted an antibiotic-resistant staph infection after a common surgery. We fought hard for that dog. He fought too. For some time, he was on an antibiotic drip that cost a thousand dollars a week to administer. We kept telling ourselves, “We can beat this. This is a modern era. We have pet insurance. He’s young. We have the best vets. We have the resources to save him.”

But nature won against us, and him, as it so often does. Bacteria, viruses, parasites – all those gooey living critters that want to break down our parts and mulch us back into the earth – they all win, eventually. Our big brains and big guns and big egos can only get us so far.

It’s fun to pretend that this isn’t so, of course. It’s why I love the Conan novels so dearly, despite their obvious flaws and absurdities. They invite you to imagine a giant tank of a hero who never gets infections or STD’s, and never loses a battle or fails to woo a partner. He has a simple solution to everything – just hit it in the face. Wizards? Punch them in the face. Rats? Punch them in the face. Nazis? Punch them in the face.

A simpler world.

Perhaps it is this fantasy of a brutal hero surviving a brutal world that is my favorite part of writing about Nyx, the heroine in Apocalypse Nyx. Nyx is a hot mess of problems. She’s impulsive, callous, bad at relationships. But in her world, none of that matters. She isn’t spending time putting money into a 401(k) because she figures every job will be her last. She doesn’t take shit from a boss because healthcare is free and she has no trouble picking up freelance jobs to live. She doesn’t get sick, only hung over. She’s been inoculated against the worst of the world’s viral contagions. When she gets hit, she gets up. She keeps going. She’s notoriously hard, if not impossible, to kill. Her moral code is hers alone. She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of her.

Nyx is the fantastically brutal escapist Conan I always wanted to see in the world. I keep coming back to her in projects like Apocalypse Nyx and in stories I share with Patreon backers, because her brutal simplicity, her unwillingness to think more than a few steps ahead, and her near-invulnerability make her a cozy tank to slip into when the world wants to grind me down. I suspect many of her fans love her for the same reason. She is the ever-persistent endurance athlete who will keep going long after everyone who bet on her to give up has gone back to the pub for a beer.

Of course, she is callous. She is a brute. I certainly wouldn’t want to be her friend, because she’d murder me in a heartbeat if it would further her ends. But I wouldn’t want to be friends with Conan, either. They each belong to a very specific time a place. A place I enjoy visiting, but a place I would never want to live.

So, when the world gets you down, as it often does me, try slipping into a new skin once in a while. Go meet Nyx.

You won’t regret it.

I sure haven’t.

LINKS:

Apocalypse Nyx Universal Book Link

Publisher Website

Kameron’s Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

Kameron Hurley is the author of The Stars are Legion and the award-winning essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the God’s War Trilogy and the Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, BSFA Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and many anthologies. Hurley has also written for The Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice, Bitch Magazine, and Locus. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.comApocalypse Nyx marks her return to the Bel Dame Apocrypha, first started in the acclaimed God’s War Trilogy.

 

Where to Find Mary in August

The Fated Sky comes out in T-20 days! Preorder it here, and be with us on liftoff!

Here’s where you can find Mary this August.

August 1

Firefly Fiber Arts Summer Book Event – Chicago, Illinois

August 7

Online Patreon Writing Date

August 9-11

#NASASocial: Parker Solar Probe Launch – Cape Canaveral, Florida

August 12

Online Patreon Writing Class – with special guest Agent DongWon Song, talking about Pitches

August 13

Online Drip Writing Class

August 16-20

WorldCon 76 – San Jose, California

August 21

Signing at The Poisoned Pen with John Scalzi – Scottsdale, AZ

August 24-26

Guest of Honor at Bubonicon – Albuquerque, New Mexico

August 27

Signing at Left Bank Books – St Louis, Missouri

August 30

AMA on Reddit.com/r/books

 

Or find her online here

Patreon • Drip • Twitter • Facebook • Instagram

My Favorite Bit: Jason Denzel talks about MYSTIC DRAGON

My Favorite BitJason Denzel is joining us today to talk about his novel Mystic Dragon. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Seven years have passed since lowborn Pomella AnDone became an unlikely Mystic’s apprentice.

Though she has achieved much in a short time, as a rare celestial event approaches, Pomella feels the burden of being a Mystic more than ever. The Mystical realm of Fayün is threatening to overtake the mortal world, and as the two worlds slowly blend together, the land is thrown into chaos. People begin to vanish or are killed outright, and Mystics from across the world gather to protect them. Among them is Shevia, a haunted and brilliant prodigy whose mastery of the Myst is unlike anything Pomella has ever seen.

Shevia will challenge Pomella in every possible way, from her mastery of the Myst to her emotional connection with Pomella’s own friends―and as Shevia’s dark intentions become more clear, Pomella fears she may be unstoppable.

What’s Jason’s favorite bit?

Mystic Dragon Cover Image

JASON DENZEL

My Favorite Bit about my new novel, Mystic Dragon, or its publication at least, is that I’m lucky enough to have Mary as the book’s audiobook narrator.

Like she did for my debut novel, Mystic, Mary helped elevate the storytelling found within Mystic Dragon by breathing life to a wide variety of colorful characters. In the first book, Mystic, the main character was a young woman who defies tradition and law by leaving her home to enter the Mystwood, where she seeks to become an apprentice to a reclusive Mystic living in the woods. In the new sequel, seven years have passed and a rare celestial event threatens to throw both the human realm and Fayün, the land of the fay, into chaos.

Mary is, in my view, a world-class narrator and performer. Not only does she bring a level of cool professionalism to the performance, but she also provides a spark of youthful enthusiasm to go along with a profound sense of experienced wisdom. These are the exact traits that I want Pomella, the series protagonist, to have in this second volume. Because I’m aging the characters by several years since the events of the first book, Pomella has shed a lot of her gullible teenage youthfulness. Mary skillfully navigates that, and still provides an arc to the character’s “voice”.

What do I mean by voice arc? To explain, let me talk about Shevia, a complicated new character to the series. My goal with Shevia was to examine the mind of somebody who has been routinely oppressed her entire life and then suddenly given an immense amount of magical power. Shevia learns early in her story that power does not always equal freedom. Her story begins when she’s nine years old, and Mary does a great job of making her sound young and full of energy. As Shevia grows up, Mary naturally matures her voice so that she not only sounds older, but she sounds more powerful. It’s a tricky line to walk with this character because Shevia is trying at times to hide her power and appear docile. I was very impressed with how Mary depicted Shevia as having power, but hiding it from those that would seek to exploit her.

Mary with a very unhappy face, after 9 hours in the booth

Mary, however, wasn’t too thrilled after having to channel Shevia for nine hours in the booth. I’m pretty sure my face often looked like that after writing her chapters.

Another awesome reason why I’m delighted Mary contributed to Mystic Dragon’s audiobook is that I always learn a tremendous amount from working with her. Leading up to the recording, I prepared a Google document with some name pronunciations. I’m not an expert in this field, but I’m making a noble attempt to have my characters’ dialect seem real and consistent, and Mary has always been a big help with that. During our pre-recording phone call she talked a little about the various ways people speak, and I found myself scribbling notes about dialect, pacing, and breathing. We spoke about accents, and how to approach representing characters of different cultures who struggle to speak a native language.

Overall, I’m delighted with how Mystic Dragon turned out, and I’m overjoyed that somebody with Mary’s talent and experience could further uplift the story through her narration expertise.

LINKS:

Mystic Dragon Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

JASON DENZEL is the founder of Dragonmount.com, the leading online community for Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time saga and the Web’s top destination for Wheel of Time-related news, features, and discussion. Dragonmount.com has been featured in USA TodayWired, the Los Angeles Times, and on CNN and ABC. Denzel lives in Northern California with his two young boys, and owns a lot of swords. He is the author of the Mystic Trilogy (MysticMystic Dragon, and Mystic Skies).

MRK’s WorldCon 2018 Programming update

With the challenges surrounding WorldCon 2018’s programming, I offered to bring in a small team to help reimagine the schedule. That team was chosen to address a range of identities, marginalizations, and key stakeholders. Together, we’ve spent the past 48 hours diving into this huge, complicated beast.

One note we would like to add here is that there was an enormous amount of good work done by the existing programming team. We are not diminishing or dismissing the errors that were made or the harm that was caused and we are focused on building a stronger program that addresses those concerns.

Process

We have evaluated the existing programming into three categories: Keep, Repair, Replace.

  • Keep is self-explanatory. We like them. Good job!
  • Repair – The core idea was good, but the panel description, staffing, or title needed attention. Most of our effort was here.
  • Replace – These are getting swapped out for another panel for a variety of reasons.

Timeline
We have finished Repairing and Replacing.

Our next task is to contact the finalists and Guests of Honor to offer them first dibs on panels. We recognize that, while efforts were made by the committee to reach out to the finalists, communication was a major issue. We are working within the time constraints to make this as seamless a process as possible while ensuring we don’t accidentally miss anyone who should be included.

At 2:45 Central today, I have emailed the finalists. We’ve received a number of bouncebacks. We are working on getting in touch with these individuals but given the extreme time pressure we are operating under, we ask you to please get in touch with us. If you are part of a group nomination and think that one of your co-nominees may not have received this e-mail, please feel free to forward it to that nominee and let us know the nominee’s name and e-mail if you can.

If you are a finalist and did not receive an email with the subject line “[WorldCon76] Hugo finalist programming query”, please contact me: maryrobinettekowal@worldcon76.org.

This weekend, we’ll begin rebalancing panels where necessary with a goal of finishing that by Wednesday.

Readings and Kaffeeklatches will follow after whisk– I mean, after we’ve got the main program back online.

Many thanks to the concom for listening.

And thanks as well to my team. The full team is able to advocate for a wide and intersectional range of lived experience and perspectives. These are the ones who have chosen to be public.

  • John Picacio
  • Sarah Gailey
  • Jason Stevan Hill
  • Nibedita Sen
  • Alexandra Rowland
  • Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
  • Merc Rustad
  • Stacey Berg
  • Julia Rios
  • Ace Ratcliff
  • Derek Künsken
  • Jennifer Mace
  • Nilah Magruder
  • Alyshondra Meacham
  • K Tempest Bradford
  • Steven H Silver

We look forward to seeing you in San Jose for the Hugo awards and a wonderful, diverse celebration of science fiction and fantasy.

My Favorite Bit: Jay Schiffman talks about GAME OF THE GODS

My Favorite BitJay Schiffman is joining us today to talk about his debut novel Game of the Gods. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Max Cone wants to be an ordinary citizen of the Federacy and leave war and politics behind. He wants the leaders of the world to leave him alone. But he’s too good a military commander, and too powerful a judge, to be left alone. War breaks out, and Max becomes the ultimate prize for the nation that can convince him to fight again.

When one leader gives the Judge a powerful device that predicts the future, the Judge doesn’t want to believe its chilling prophecy: The world will soon end, and he’s to blame. But bad things start to happen. His wife and children are taken. His friends are falsely imprisoned. His closest allies are killed. Worst of all, the world descends into a cataclysmic global war.

In order to find his family, free his friends, and save the world, the Judge must become a lethal killer willing to destroy anyone who stands in his way. He leads a ragtag band of warriors—a 13-year old girl with special powers, a mathematical genius, a religious zealot blinded by faith, and a former revolutionary turned drug addict. Together, they are the only hope of saving the world.

What’s Jay’s favorite bit?

Game of the Gods cover image

JAY SCHIFFMAN

My favorite bit about my novel was finishing. Bittersweet, for sure. But when a writer, especially one with control issues, hands in those final edits, there’s nothing better. It’s one of those rare feelings of accomplishment that the process of writing has to offer.

Well, that’s it. I’ve finished with My Favorite Bit and that elusive high of finishing a piece is at hand. But . . . since I’m only a paragraph in, I guess I should share another one of my favorite bits. It’s a scene from early on in the book, so I won’t be revealing too much.

The main character in Game of the Gods is Max Cone, a former military commander who is now his nation’s Highest Judge. Max has the unenviable task of deciding which teenage candidates will be granted citizenship in the Federacy, the most powerful nation in the world. Only a lucky few will be granted citizenship and a life of peace and prosperity. The rest will be sent out to miserable existences where their chances of survival are limited. Max hates being responsible for deciding which teenagers will live and which will die.

The citizenship process begins with an elaborate ceremony that is described in the novel as “something like the Old Christians’ Confirmation.” This ceremony is followed by a formal interview called the First Interview. The judge begins a five-year process of determining whether the candidate is worthy of citizenship. Each year, from the ages of thirteen to eighteen, the candidate appears before the judge for a comprehensive evaluation, and by eighteen a final decision is rendered.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Max first meets a citizen candidate named Pique Rollins. (She just so happens to be my favorite character in Game of the Gods.) Pique is a thirteen-year-old girl with special abilities, but I can’t say more than that.

I will let Max, who narrates Game of the Gods and loves Pique as much as I do, tell you about the first time he meets her.

I begin most First Interviews the same way. I say nothing. I wait for the candidate to speak first. I usually will remain silent for up to ten minutes. Most candidates will say something before the ten minutes pass. Of those candidates, more than half will say something that immediately demonstrates they are unworthy of citizenship. The other half eventually demonstrate their unworthiness in the next few minutes of the interview. I then proceed to waste the next five years trying to prove to myself that my initial instincts were wrong.

Pique is that rare candidate who says nothing. She politely makes eye contact with me, and after a few minutes takes out a pad and begins sketching. There is no specific rule forbidding this, but it seems wrong to me, perhaps even rude. After a minute or two of silence, I point to the pad and shake my head in disapproval. But I don’t say anything. She ignores me and continues to sketch. We both sit in silence for about ten minutes before I give up and ask her what she’s drawing.

“Your chambers,” Pique says.

“Why?”

“It was the most useful thing I could think of doing. I was getting kind of bored just sitting here.”

I ask her if I can see her work, and she hands it to me. I look at her sketch. It’s a meticulous drawing of the room we’re sitting in by someone who appears to be schooled in the high science of interior engineering, which of course she cannot be, because she is too young and comes from the Anterior Region. “Why are you sketching my chambers?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe one day I’ll be a judge and I’ll need to know how to decorate this place.”

I want to laugh, but I don’t. It’s too early in the process to have that kind of familiarity. “Well . . . you will need to become a citizen first.”

“Oh, I’m pretty confident you’ll want to make me a citizen.”

“And why are you so confident.”

“Because I’m a talented fighter and I don’t lie.” Pique stands up. She is no more than 150 centimeters tall. She looks nothing like a fighter and her boast about being a talented one seems like a lie. She sits back down on her chair with her legs crossed. She looks tiny. She repeats herself. “All you need to know about me is that I’m a talented fighter and I don’t lie. That’s what you Federates are looking for, right?”

Max soon finds out whether Pique is in fact a talented fighter and whether she lies. But before he does, Pique wants Max to understand that she is not like other thirteen-year-olds.

What I love most about Pique is the childlike playfulness she exhibits even when she is imparting her wisdom to an adult. In developing Pique’s voice, I was influenced by strong teenage characters like The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, Divergent’s Tris Prior, and Ready Player One’s Art3mis.

Again, Max tells the story best.

“So,” I say before taking in a long breath. “You’re a talented fighter and you don’t lie. Presumably you have some weaknesses?”

“Sure, I already told you them. I’m a talented fighter and I don’t lie.”

“You said those were your strengths.”

Pique smiles. She then rests her chin on her closed fist and schools me with her eyes. She doesn’t say anything, but I know what that looks means. Come on now, Judge, my strengths are my weaknesses. This is true with anyone. You should know that.

Maybe it’s because I’m a father of a bunch of children ranging from 15 to 3, but I love how Pique schools Max. My favorite bit about Game of the Gods isn’t just this scene. It’s the entire relationship between this accomplished middle-aged man and the teenage girl who teaches him to be more than his accomplishments.

Done. Another piece finished. My favorite bit about writing!

LINKS:

Game of the Gods Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Jay Schiffman is a writer and entrepreneur committed to creating socially responsible businesses. He has started a number of successful companies in entertainment, education, and technology, including an entertainment studio dedicated to developing unique digital content for the public sector. His studio creates award-winning apps, games, digital stories, and animations for public interest organizations, educational institutions, and governmental bodies. Prior to starting his businesses, he was a practicing attorney, taught political science at N.Y.U., and worked in the public and private sectors. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and children. Game of the Gods is his debut novel.

My Favorite Bit: Wendy Nikel talks about THE GRANDMOTHER PARADOX

My Favorite BitWendy Nikel is joining us today to talk about her novel The Grandmother Paradox. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When Dr. Wells, the head of the Place in Time Travel Agency, learns that someone’s trying to track down the ancestors of his star employee, there are few people he can turn to without revealing her secrets. But who better to jump down the timeline and rescue Elise from being snuffed out of existence generations before she’s born than the very person whose life she saved a hundred years in the future?

But Juliette Argent isn’t an easy woman to protect. The assistant to a traveling magician, she’s bold, fearless, and has a fascination with time travel, of all things. Can the former secret agent Chandler, with his knowledge of what’s to come, keep her safe from harm and keep his purpose there a secret? Or will his presence there only entangle the timeline more?

What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?

The Grandmother Paradox cover image

WENDY NIKEL

THE GRANDMOTHER PARADOX is the second book in the Place in Time novella series, which is based around a travel agency that specializes in time travel vacations in the past. Although I still love the travel agency itself, which I blogged about for the release of book one, in this book, my favorite part is one of the settings: the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

I first read about the fair in Erik Larson’s 2004 book, The Devil in the White City, and instantly, I was hooked. I tried to get my hands on anything I could read about this fascinating event. As the city recovered from the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago put in its bid for the World’s Fair, right at a time of global change and innovation, which would make this one of the most memorable fairs in history. Electric lights illuminated the fairgrounds. Products such as Quaker Oats, Cracker Jack, and Juicy Fruit gum were first introduced to the public. Countries from around the world and individual states hosted pavilions that showcased their best qualities.

It was an exciting place to be at a pivotal point in United States history, where technological developments were beginning to put the world within the common person’s reach and anything seemed possible. If I had access to a time machine, this would definitely be on my list of places to visit.

I initially used this setting in a now-trunked manuscript. In it, a boy and his family journeyed down to the fair from Wisconsin, and there he met up with a traveling magician who gave him some important advice and a gift. The Midway Plaisance of the fair – which also featured carnival rides such as a balloon drop and the world’s first Ferris Wheel – was filled with performers like this, including one who would become quite well-known for his escape acts: Harry Houdini. So when I decided to set part of this novella at the fair, the idea of traveling magicians came along with it.

In THE GRANDMOTHER PARADOX, the head of the Place in Time Travel Agency, suspects that someone is plotting to kill the great-great-grandmother of his star employee (to prevent the events of the previous book), so he calls upon the man whose life she saved to jump to the year 1893 and protect the young woman, who’s working as a magician’s assistant in a traveling show.

Together, they make their way to the World’s Fair, where he hopes they’ll be able to blend in among the sights and crowds, but he quickly discovers that when you’re being stalked by a man with a time machine, nowhere – and no time – is really safe.

LINKS:

The Grandmother Paradox Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

BIO:

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the ImaginationDaily Science FictionNature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, was published by World Weaver Press in January 2018, with a sequel, The Grandmother Paradox, out now. For more info, visit wendynikel.com

My accent, Calculating Stars, and identity

A friend of mine was listening to the audiobook of Calculating Stars and said that usually when he listens to audiobooks narrated by friends, he’s like, “Oh good, my friend is going to tell me a story.” Listening to Calculating Stars, he said, “There’s this other woman, Elma, and I’m totally invested in her and there was nothing of my friend Mary in there.”

I have a complicated reaction to this.

Professionally, I’m delighted. This means that the character is working as are my voicing choices.

And then this knife stab… “nothing of my friend Mary in there.” See, I narrated that audiobook with a Southern accent. With my Southern accent. Or rather, with what is the closest we’ll likely come to my natural accent.

I don’t know. It was trained out of me. trained it out of me. I was complicit in erasing that part of my identity from my voice.

I was raised in Raleigh, North Carolina — in the Piedmont of the state. The Piedmont North Carolina accent is one of the softer Southern accents to outside ears. We have the diphthong on our vowels, but it’s not a nasal accent and doesn’t twang as much as other parts of the South. We have the soft “r” which sounds more British than the rest of America.

Raleigh is part of the Research Triangle Park, so growing up, I was surrounded by transplants. My parents are from East Tennessee, so have a totally different Southern accent and my mom code-switches like her accent is on a rheostat remote controlled by circumstance. I wasn’t exposed to a great deal of the local Southern accent.

That said, I can’t hear the Piedmont N.C. accent because it just sounds right to me. I still pronounce pin and pen as if they are the same word. But otherwise…

Most of the rest of it is gone. It began as a child. I had a speech impediment, so did speech therapy, which erased one of my accent markers. The soft R. My diction became very precise, with crisp final Ts and final Gs. Sometimes people would ask where I was from in my hometown. 

I remember being proud of that.

I remember being in college at East Carolina and hearing myself begin to pick up the local twang. I remember the horror. I remember reading street signs as I drove to make sure everything was crisp and that there was no Southern in my voice.

Now. As an adult, I know what was happening. I know the role that policing “correct” speech has in reinforcing hierarchies. In the South, each region has at least four distinct accents. Educated white, educated Black, country white, country black. Only one of those is acceptable in a business environment. I’ll let you guess which one.

If you want to leave the South, you’d better have no accent at all.

To do Elma’s voice in Calculating Stars, I basically let my mouth relax. I’ll do it for interviews or on panels and there’s always a laugh. People don’t mean to be laughing at me, I know that. I know it’s the juxtaposition. But the comedy of that juxtaposition is based on this media representation of Southerners as stupid, yokel, rubes… So people laugh. And then I switch back to my “neutral” American accent because some part of me is still embarrased to sound like that. Oh, and just so we’re clear– “neutral” is really a white Midland American accent.

Elma? Elma is what I might have sounded like, if I hadn’t learned to be ashamed of my voice.

So when my friend says, “there’s nothing of my friend Mary in there…” a part of me wants to weep.  Because I’m there. I’m right there. It’s just in the rest of my life that there’s a part of me missing.

My Favorite Bit: TJ Berry talks about SPACE UNICORN BLUES

My Favorite BitTJ Berry is joining us today with her book Space Unicorn Blues. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A misfit crew race across the galaxy to prevent the genocide of magical creatures, in this unique science fiction debut.

Having magical powers makes you less than human, a resource to be exploited. Half-unicorn Gary Cobalt is sick of slavery, captivity, and his horn being ground down to power faster-than-light travel. When he’s finally free, all he wants is to run away in his ancestors’ stone ship. Instead, Captain Jenny Perata steals the ship out from under him, so she can make an urgent delivery. But Jenny held him captive for a decade, and then Gary murdered her best friend… who was also the wife of her co-pilot, Cowboy Jim. What could possibly go right?

What’s TJ’s favorite bit?

Space Unicorn Blues cover image

TJ BERRY

My favorite bit about Space Unicorn Blues is a single word deep in the book about a quarter of the way from the end. Part-unicorn Gary Cobalt reminisces about his human mother teaching him how to read and write languages from her home planet of Earth:

His mother, on the other hand, had taught him only two human languages: English and Kannada. She showed him how to assemble sticks and balls to make English letters and how to glide his pen through the undulating contortions of the Kannada alphabet.

The single word is the name of an Indian language, Kannada, and it’s my favorite because it was a reminder to me of a wonderful dinner spent with friends discussing their home city.

My zero drafts are sprawling things in which logic, reason, and story arcs don’t exist. Anything from an underwater helicopter chase to a love story between an octopus and an assassin can end up on the page. I write recklessly and rapidly, daring myself to visit every unexpected possibility before settling down to find the heart of the story. It gets the pantsing urge largely out of my system so that I can hew close to my outline in subsequent drafts.

But this fast and furious approach means that I don’t slow down for research during a zero draft. I toss in hundreds of brackets full of placeholder text like [insert saucy jokes here] and [look up the flag of New Zealand]. It also means that some of what I write is flat-out wrong. I originally dashed off the two lines above using Hindi as the language that Gary’s mother would have taught him. It wasn’t until nearly two years later that I discovered my mistake.

You see, Gary Cobalt is the descendent of aerospace engineers who live and work in Bangalore. They board a generation ship to escape a dying Earth, and decades later their granddaughter Anjali falls in love with a space unicorn. (I know. Just trust me.) It wasn’t until I passed the manuscript to a group of sensitivity readers and expert advisors that my error was pointed out to me. Friends who had offered to fact check the parts of the book influenced by Indian culture asked me, “Why is she teaching him Hindi? We only speak Kannada at home and that’s what we’d teach our children.”

Reader, I am ashamed to admit that even though I consider myself moderately well-versed in the basics of Indian culture—okay, maybe we’ll just call it a semester of grad school Hindi and eating more baingan bharta than I care to admit—I had never encountered Kannada. Luckily, my friends were quite eager to fill me in about their beloved home city over a long and delicious curry dinner.

They patiently and cheerfully answered all of my questions about Bangalorean family life. I learned what spices and seeds would be vital to bring onto a generation ship destined for an unfamiliar planet. They helped me brainstorm names for space stations and ships based on important figures in Indian history. At one point, we got into a deep dive about mango pickle. This is, I have learned, a Very Important Condiment in Indian cuisine. Every family has their own mango pickle recipe, which is always better than any other family’s recipe. The instructions are passed down through the generations with such reverence that I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that Indian families on a deep-space generation ship will someday have a minor civil unrest that begins with a slight to one person’s mango pickle.

Mango Pickle image

A mango pickle, which is clearly far inferior to everyone else’s mango pickle.

They ordered a dish of it and urged me to add it to everything on the table. As a person from a culture where the primary condiment is sugared tomatoes boiled down to a paste, I felt that I might be on familiar ground with a condiment with “mango” in the name, but it was not sweet at all. The pickle I tried was not particularly spicy, but it was astringent—vinegary and tart with hint of licorice whenever I hit a fennel seed. The mango is meant to be green and have an al dente bite. It’s absolutely lovely and I want to eat it with everything, which is precisely the point of a mango pickle.

After all was said and done (and eaten), a dozen plates of food and hours of discussion distilled down to a single word in the actual book. That’s often how research works, but this time I also came away from the table with two dozen pages of notes for a different book about a generation ship full of Bangalorean engineers and the strife caused by a jar of mango pickle.

LINKS:

Space Unicorn Blues Universal Book Link

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BIO:

TJ Berry grew up living between Repulse Bay, Hong Kong and the New Jersey shore. Her favorite pizza is a plain slice from Three Brothers in Seaside Heights. She can be coaxed into a trap using any type of cheese.

TJ has been a political blogger, bakery owner, and she spent a disastrous two weeks on the assembly line in a razor blade factory. She now writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror from Seattle with considerably fewer on-the-job injuries.

She also co-hosts the weekly Warp Drives Podcast with her husband, in which they explore science fiction, fantasy, and horror via pop culture and literary lenses. Find her on Twitter @TJaneBerry and online at http://tjberrywrites.com.

My Favorite Bit: Theodora Goss talks about EUROPEAN TRAVEL FOR THE MONSTROUS GENTLEWOMAN

My Favorite BitTheodora Goss is joining us today with her novel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the sequel to the critically acclaimed The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll and the rest of the daughters of literature’s mad scientists embark on a madcap adventure across Europe to rescue another monstrous girl and stop the Alchemical Society’s nefarious plans once and for all.

Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.

But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?

Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies.

What’s Theodora’s favorite bit?

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman cover image

THEODORA GOSS

I hope you’re not offended if I assert that Hungarian pastries are the best in the world.

Oh, I know, the French tarte tatin is world-famous, as is the Italian tiramisu. And who can pass up a piece of bakhlavah? Pavlova, dulce de leche, halva, flan, panettone . . . Every culture has wonderful sweets to share. But my favorites are the traditional Hungarian ones, because they are not too sweet, and often combine contrasting flavors in interesting ways: chocolate and apricots, poppy seed and sour cherries. If you want to disagree with me, go right ahead, but not before you travel to Budapest yourself, sit down at one of the traditional old cafés like Gerbeaud or the Centrál Kávéház, and try some of them for yourself. I’ll gladly share a tarte tatin with you, if you’ll take a bite of my Eszterházy torte.

Why am I talking to you about Hungarian pastries? Because one of my favorite moments in European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman happens when Mina Murray, Mary Jekyll’s former governess, welcomes Mary and her friends to Budapest by taking them shopping on Váci utca, and then suggests they stop at Gerbeaud. She buys them a selection of traditional Hungarian pastries, including Eszterházy torte, Dobos torte, krémes, and Rigó Jancsi. My favorite of these is the Eszterházy torte, which is layers of buttercream between layers of a flourless cake made with walnuts, egg whites, and sugar. Lots of layers, like five or six or seven, so you get plenty of buttercream and walnuts. Dobos torte is probably the most famous Hungarian cake for its shining caramel top. Rigó Jancsi, which you seldom find outside Hungary and Austria, is the most romantic: it’s supposedly named after a Romani violinist who fell in love with a Belgian princess. She left her husband for him, they were married, and he created the pastry for her. Krémes is like a Napoleon, only better.

So there they are, Mina and Mary and other members of the Athena Club, sitting in a café in Budapest eating pastries. Why is this one of my favorite bits of the book? When I was writing the first and second Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, I wanted my characters to have adventures, of course—they would overcome obstacles, fight adversaries, and have revelations of various sorts. All the things characters do in books. After all, Vladimir Nabokov said a writer is someone who puts his characters up a tree and throws stones at them. I’ve thrown all sorts of things—murder and mayhem—at mine. But life is never all adventure. I also wanted my novels to contain moments that are more realistic. Moments when the characters are just sitting round drinking tea, or when they get bored, or have to go to the bathroom. (Even characters have to go to the bathroom sometimes.) There they are in Budapest, trying to fight the dastardly Société des Alchimistes, but they have to eat, right? So for about an hour, they stop and sit down and have cake. Not just any cake, but some of my favorite cakes.

There’s another reason this particular bit matters to me. In this novel, it makes sense for my characters to go to Budapest because the villains they’re dealing with are in Budapest—that’s where they were in the original texts I was drawing on. The plot requires a trip to that part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, I was born in Budapest and it’s my favorite city in the world. In this book, I wanted to show you a bit of the city I love, as it would have looked in the late nineteenth century. Sure, I populated it with monsters—that’s what I do. But I also wanted to make sure you knew there were cakes. Really good cakes. The monsters may not be there anymore, but Gerbeaud and the Centrál Kávéház are, and they still have all those pastries, right in the pastry cases, close to the front. You can order them, just as Mina did for Mary and her friends. I guarantee that they will fortify you for whatever obstacles you need to face, whether fighting monsters or just finding your way to the art museum.

LINKS:

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman Universal Buy Link

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BIO:

Theodora Goss is the World Fantasy and Locus Award-winning author of the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format; the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia (2014); debut novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017), and sequel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman(2018). She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her work has been translated into twelve languages. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program. Visit her at theodoragoss.com.