Journal

My Favorite Bit: K.S. Villoso talks about THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO

Favorite Bit iconK.S. Villoso is joining us today to talk about her novel The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Born under the crumbling towers of her kingdom, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves. It nearly tore her nation apart. But her arranged marriage to the son of a rival clan heralds peace.

However, he suddenly disappears before their reign can begin, and the kingdom is fractured beyond repair.

Years later, he sends a mysterious invitation to meet. Talyien journeys across the sea in hopes of reconciling their past. An assassination attempt quickly dashes those dreams. Stranded in a land she doesn’t know, with no idea whom she can trust, Talyien will have to embrace her namesake.

A Wolf of Oren-yaro is not tamed.

What is Villoso’s favorite bit?

Wolf of Oren-Yaro Cover image

K.S. VILLOSO

One of my most favourite bits in THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO is this piece of interaction between Queen Talyien and her estranged husband, Rayyel:

“Our special for today is pork bone stew,” the manager said.

“Pork bone stew sounds excellent,” I said. “Rayyel could use a spine.”

“Is heartless shrew on the menu?” Rai asked without batting an eye.

Their meeting, after years of separation, is actually the first thing I ever wrote for this book. It doesn’t show up until a few chapters into the final, published version, but it perfectly encapsulates the essence of it: a story beginning from the trenches of a failed marriage.

The perspective of the characters telling a story is often everything to me. I want to know, from the very beginning, what matters to them—their dreams and goals and how they’re going to go about getting it. Queen Talyien’s story begins where many other characters’ stories end…right after “happily ever after.” What she wants is for that happily ever after to still exist.

It is a sentiment that is familiar to many of us: the desire to continue seeing the world as we were led to believe, to chase after the promises once given to us. Queen Talyien’s whole world is bigger than her husband, but the process of discovering the lies and facade begins with him. They were betrothed as children, and their marriage was meant to signify a joint rule that would cease all hostilities in their war-torn land. She is a “chosen one”—chosen by her father and nation to be the answer to years of chaos, at least. She learns, as we all do, that awakening to reality is uncomfortable, distressing, and maybe even world-shattering. Sometimes the narratives we tell ourselves bear little resemblance to the truth.

And so her story is one that is almost familiar, until it isn’t anymore. Her handsome Prince Charming is cold and cruel, and their supposed fairy tale, happily ever after lives are complicated simply by the mere fact that they are human. Their petty, tension-filled argument in this scene brings the point home—here they are, two supposed diplomats trying to work out an agreement that will benefit their land once and for all, and their emotions take the forefront. Hiding under the barrage of insults momentarily distracts them from the fact that our lives are messy, relationships can’t be reduced to sheer logic, and things can’t be just because we want them to be, even if we’ve all but convinced ourselves we deserve everything to work out in our favour. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg for the main cast of the CHRONICLES OF THE BITCH QUEEN—the epic fantasy trilogy that begins and ends with character.

LINKS:

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Reddit

BIO:

K.S. Villoso writes speculative fiction with a focus on deeply personal themes and character-driven narratives. Much of her work is inspired by her childhood in the slums of Taguig, Philippines. She is now living amidst the forest and mountains with her husband, children, and dogs in Anmore, BC.

My Favorite Bit: J.R.H. Lawless talks about ALWAYS GREENER

My Favorite BitJ.R.H. Lawless is joining us today to talk about his novel Always Greener. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Life’s biggest victim, please step up and claim your prize!

A smash-hit reality show is offering a lifetime of luxury to the one person living the world’s worst life, and now everyone is out to prove just how bad they’ve got it.

Want in? All you’ve got to do is accept ocular implants that let the whole world see life through your eyes, twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week.

Fortunately, there’s still one person who hasn’t lost faith in all humanity. The show’s ever-smiling host is determined to wring some tiny bit of meaning out of this twisted competition and your unhappy existence.

There has to be a purpose behind all this misery.

…doesn’t there?

What’s his favorite bit?

Always Greener Cover Image

J.R.H. LAWLESS

My debut, ALWAYS GREENER, is like an onion plucked from a field by a cantankerous green ogre — it’s a layered book.

It is a dark comedy Science Fiction story about reality entertainment and the even more jaded society we’re heading towards, in the not-so-distant future, if we don’t do something about it. Beneath the humour and the glitzy plot, it is therefore also a deeply political book. It is a book about the battle between an individual’s fundamental optimism, their faith in humanity, and the part society pushes them to play in an uncaring, dehumanising machine. It is the first book in a series that will explore all these themes in greater depth.

But my favourite bit is probably the layer at the core of the Shrekian onion that is ALWAYS GREENER: The etymological footnotes.

At the bottom of many pages — and in fact, right from the book’s tiny « Fun Fact » prologue-style quip — ALWAYS GREENER uses footnotes to touch briefly on the origins and connotations of some of the story’s most interesting words.

It might be my favourite bit — but, more importantly, does it work? Every reader will have to judge that for themselves, and I was only too aware when writing and editing that every single footnote needs to carry enough weight and value to justify the risk of pulling the reader out of the natural flow of the story.

Here are a few of the juicy etymology bits you’ll find between the covers — hopefully enough to give you a taste, and maybe even want to pick up the book to see the rest for yourself!

The words entertainment and religion share the exact same etymological meaning: “that which minds together”

Conspirator — “breathing together”. Ultimately, we are all conspirators.

Education — To educate is “to lead out of”. It says nothing about “into what or where,” “by whom,” or “to what end.” 

Enema — “throwing in”, though techniques may have evolved somewhat since Proto Indo-European times.

Perk — Diminutive of “perquisite” or, in Latin, that which is “thoroughly sought after.” Perks aren’t some sort of side benefit; they are the main event.

The words we use, in speech and in fiction, often carry their own, inner meaning that can illuminate their use — or, at the very least, provide a bit of a chuckle. My wager, throughout the series that starts with ALWAYS GREENER and carries on with THE RUDE EYE OF REBELLION, also coming out from Uproar Books in Fall 2020, is that enough readers will enjoy the word-play and the odd glimpse of revelation to make it worthwhile.

But even if nobody else ends up liking my little etymology footnotes, they will remain my own favourite bit.

LINKS:

Always Greener Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

J.R.H. Lawless is an SF author from Atlantic Canada who blends comedy with political themes — drawing heavily, in both cases, on his experience as a lawyer and as Secretary General of a Parliamentary group at the French National Assembly. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, his short fiction has been published in many professional venues, including foreign sales. He is also a craft article contributor to the SFWA blog, the SFWA Bulletin, and Tor.com. His debut novel, Always Greener, is now available from Uproar Books, and the sequel, The Rude Eye of Rebellion, comes out in Fall 2020. He is represented by Marisa Corvisiero at the Corvisiero Literary Agency, and would love to hear from you on Twitter, over at @SpaceLawyerSF!

My Favorite Bit: Valentine Wheeler talks about NO PARKING

My Favorite BitValentine Wheeler is joining us today with her novel No Parking. Here’s the publisher’s description:

When Marianne Windmere’s bakery customers begin complaining that her parking lot is always full, she assumes it must be customers for the new restaurant next door. She’s never met her neighbor, and with the parking lot situation, she has no interest in doing so. But when a snowstorm knocks out the power and traps both women in the building overnight, sparks fly—until the next morning, when the buried argument comes to a head.

Can they find a way to reclaim the magic of that night? And as decades-old secrets about the history of the town and Marianne’s family come to light, can they work together to save both their businesses?

What’s Valentine’s favorite bit?

No Parking cover image

VALENTINE WHEELER

I loved writing NO PARKING for a lot of reasons, but especially the research portion. I ate so many baked goods and so much shawarma and basturma at our local restaurants. I interrogated my lawyer customers at my post office about the finer points of real estate law. And I made so many spreadsheets. NO PARKING is a story about community. It’s about love, and change, and how some things stay the same and some things don’t and how that’s okay. And it’s a story about how people come together in a meaningful, purposeful way.

But my favorite part of the process? That had to be making the town of Swanley.

NO PARKING is set in a fictional Massachusetts town halfway between Boston and Worcester, south of I-90. It’s an area I know well; I live just a dozen miles north of where I’ve set Swanley, work ten miles to the east, and have friends scattered around the region.

Everybody knows everybody in a town like Swanley. One of my favorite bits of the novel takes place in a restaurant, where Marianne is describing how interconnected the community is:

In this room right now, I see two of my kids’ teachers, three customers, and somebody who was a Boy Scout with my ex-husband. My second cousin was eating at PJ’s next door with his girlfriend, whose ex-wife is the sister of our mail carrier. Everybody knows everybody’s business.

I love worldbuilding. It’s the element of a story crucial to drawing me into a narrative, and its lack can knock me out of a story instantly. It’s not about the amount of worldbuilding, really; it’s more about cohesion, the way characters move through the world in a way that feels whole. Really good worldbuilding isn’t conveyed through infodumps (although I must admit, I do love a good infodump), but through the assumptions characters make and the glimpses we get of how they interact with each other and the world around them. It’s easiest to see the complexity and consistency of a coherent world in speculative fiction–Phillip Pullman or N. K. Jemisin, for example–for obvious reasons. But contemporary fiction has similar challenges.

A community is a Venn diagram of relationships. My best friend might be your neighbor, and your kid’s soccer coach could be my best friend’s cousin. Your doctor’s married to my mechanic and they all go to the same synagogue as my favorite high school teacher. When you’re working with a small place–a bottle episode of a novel, almost–it’s townbuilding, not worldbuilding. You’re not changing the laws of physics: you’re carving out a little piece of the world and populating it with people who love each other, or hate each other, but above all think they know each other.

Marianne has lived in Swanley for nearly sixty years. It’s where her parents met, where her great-grandfather’s family settled after the Civil War. It’s where she was married and where her kids were born, and she knows the people in it maybe a little too well. There’s Kevin, her ex-husband who retired from local politics but still knows everything that’s going on in town; Zeke, her one employee, who lives with his great-grandfather and goes to college online when he’s not working at the bakery; Tori and Lila, librarian and lawyer; Ray and Fatima, acquaintances who’ve been around so long they’re basically family; Doris, mail carrier and her wife Natasha, Zeke’s old math teacher.

We all think we’re the hero of our own story, and we sometimes forget that everyone else feels the same way. It boggles Marianne to realize that Rana, the owner of the restaurant next door and a new face in a tight-knit community, knows some of the people she knows, and that she has her own stories and relationships with them.

What Marianne ultimately realizes is that she herself is one thread in the fabric of Swanley, one tied to a hundred others, and each is crucial to this world they’ve built in the hills and valleys of central Massachusetts. Zeke’s boss, Kevin’s ex-wife, Rana’s neighbor, Ray’s friend: Marianne’s life is interwoven with all of theirs, and now Rana’s is, too.

This book is a love letter to the small towns and cities in Massachusetts I’ve come to know over the last decade. I wrote it for the customers who I see finding new friends and old in the lobby of my post office, and for the ones who nearly come to blows over long-held slights or fresh anger over line-cutting or snide remarks. And I wrote it for all the people who’ve ever sat in a traffic commission meeting and thought, hey, this would be the perfect place to find love.

LINKS:

No Parking Universal Book Link

Website 

Twitter

BIO:

Valentine lives in Boston, where she goes by Lis and spends her time citing obscure postal regulations and arguing with a preschooler. She serves as Fiction Editor and Logistics Wizard at Wizards in Space Literary Magazine and as a first reader at various SFF publications. Her short fiction can be found at Ninestar Press.

 

My Favorite Bit: R.W.W. Greene talks about THE LIGHT YEARS

Favorite Bit iconR.W.W. Greene is joining us to talk about his novel The Light Years. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The captain of a family-owned starship arranges a marriage for her son in hopes of achieving faster-than-light travel and maybe, just maybe, marital bliss.

Before Hisako Saski is even born, her parents make a deal on her behalf. In exchange for a first-class education and a boost out of poverty, Hisako will marry Adem Sadiq, a maintenance engineer and self-styled musician who works the trade lanes aboard his family’s sub-light starship, the Hajj.

Hisako is not happy when she finds out about the plan. She has little interest in the broken branch of physics the deal requires her to study, and is not keen on the idea of giving up her home and everything she knows to marry a stranger.

Sparks fly when Adem and Hisako meet, but their personal issues are overshadowed by the discovery of long-held secrets and a chance at faster-than-light travel.

What’s Greene’s favorite bit?

The Light Years cover image

R.W.W. GREENE

It was hard to pin down a single Favorite Bit from The Light Years, my debut SF novel coming out from Angry Robot Books this month. The word “debut” has a lovely ring all on its own, and I really like the fact that the poetry in the book – written from the perspective of a teenage girl – was written by actual-factual teenage girls.

However, My Absolute Favorite Bit has to be the fact that I finally practiced what I preach and wrote the first draft of the book on a manual typewriter (or four). The machines were, depending on where I was whilst writing, an Olympia SG-1, an Olympia SM-9, an Olivetti Lettera 32, and a Hermes Rocket.

Olympia SM9 image

Olympia SM9

That list of names may mean little to the average reader, but a typewriter-phile might offer a respectful nod, and I get a geeky little zing that two German machines, an Italian, and one from Switzerland were used on a book that, in the writing at least, predicted Brexit.

Hermes Rocket

Hermes Rocket

I had a couple that I’d been toting around for several years as part of a half-baked idea to open a journalism-themed bar, but I started collecting typewriters in earnest because I taught high-school creative writing, and I didn’t have enough computers in my classroom for my students to work with. Typewriters were cheap in those heady days. Making the rounds of thrift shops and lawn sales, I could usually pick up three or four a month at $5 to $10 a pop. Soon, I had forty in various states of functionality and sat down to learn to repair and maintain them.

I became a bit of a typewriter evangelist. I ran type-ins and began giving typewriters as gifts to graduating members of the high-school creative-writing club I advised. I showed bits of my collection at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, NH. When one of my students received his fourth concussion and was unable to use anything with a screen, I sent him home with a 1990s electronic typewriter, complete with spell check and a delete key, so he could keep up with his schoolwork. I did workshops on writing with typewriters, talking about how eco-friendly they were, how distraction-free they were, how much kids with ADHD liked them, how pure the experience was, how very zen…

Kezar on a dock

Rob with the Kezar

In the late spring of 2015, I bent to write a book loosely based on a short story that I debuted (there’s that word again!) at the Boskone Three-Minute Flash Fiction Contest. For previous novels, my T60 ThinkPad had done just fine, but I decided to put my time where my mouth had been. I lifted the 43-pound SG1 onto the writing desk and began.

The Judge

The Judge

I had been so right! The ritual of rolling the paper in, the sounds of the keys and bells … it was so easy to get into “the zone”! Sans Internet access, it was even easier to stay there. I wrote every day, my progress not marked by word count but by page after page after page of text piling on the desk beside me. I wrote only forward, not stopping to look left, right, or behind. At home, I used the mighty SG1 or its smaller cousin the SM9. When I wrote with my students, I used the Olivetti, a model favored by Vietnam War correspondents and Cormac McCarthy. On the road, I toted the Swiss Rocket, a portable marvel. When I told my spouse I was going upstairs to write, I actually had to write, lest she hear – hear, I say! – that I was not.

Lettera 32

Lettera 32

In three months, I had a first draft – whew! – and my years of evangelism were vindicated.

Full confession time: I am a terrible typist. Past hunt-and-peck to be sure, but my fingers are not classically trained, and I am absolutely rubbish when it comes to retyping. So, I scanned all those pages, opened them up through Google Documents OCR function, and did all the subsequent drafts electronically. Mama Greene didn’t raise no fool.

Olympia SM9

But that was only the beginning of my adventures in typewriting. For all the reasons above, these beautiful machines remain my go-to for marathon first-draft work. I’ve now written three novel drafts that way, and a host of partials.

There’s a reason so many writing groups and conventions use the typewriter as their symbol. The pen is too much of a multi-tasker, not well-suited for the long haul. The laptop, well, there’s no guarantee that writerly-looking person in the coffeeshop isn’t playing World of Warcraft or editing a video on tiny houses. But a typewriter… It’s a bit of a one-trick pony maybe, but what a trick it is. That’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

The Light Years Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

R.W.W. Greene is a New Hampshire USA writer with an MA in Fine Arts, which he exorcises in dive bars and coffee shops. He is a frequent panelist at the Boskone Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in Boston, and his work has been in Stupefying Stories, Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, and Jersey Devil Press, among others. Greene is a past board member of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. He keeps bees, collects typewriters, and lives with writer/artist spouse Brenda and two cats.

It’s my 51st birthday! Have a party favor!

Today, I reached Level 51 Human and am spending it at my parents’ surrounded by writers on a mini-retreat. I’m going to do some serious cooking tonight, but meanwhile, I have a party favor to share with you.

I thought I’d show you the evolution of a story, from initial seed to published product. A lot of times, people compare their work in progress with someone else’s finished product. Don’t do that, even if the finished product is your own.

The story is Articulated Restraint, which came out last year.

Now, I’m going to suggest that you start this by reading the finished story and then we’ll jump back to the beginning. Why? Because I want you to see how many really cool ideas didn’t make it into the final version and how you totally don’t miss them at all.

Ready?

All right, let’s talk about the way this developed.

The idea started after I got to watch an entire dev run (dress rehearsal for a spacewalk) at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab.

I took a ton of notes by hand when I was there, shadowing Kjell Lindgren (Thank you, Kjell!) as he prepped. Once I was settled in good spot to observe, I took some atmospheric notes, and then captured a bunch of pieces of dialog. You can see pieces that wound in the final story.

Things like:

“The answer is definitely APFR. I can pitch back. I can grab the door. Close it. I can maneuver my body and not have to pitch or roll the handrail.”

“The settings are 11 poppa poppa julia 3

I knew that there was a story there, but it took me a while to find it. Here… Here is my brainstorming dump.

 I like the idea of doing a story with Ruby Donaldson and touching on her meeting Elma. The question is if that is the beginning of the story or a midpoint or just an element. I guess the questions to ask about Ruby meeting Elma is when in her lifecycle that happens. She’s clearly already an astronaut since she’s on the moon. Is she a candidate for Mars?

Maybe that’s a possible goal is to get selected for the team? Or possibly she’s already assigned when they meet. No… the way Elma talks about her, I think they met before Ruby was Mars material. Interesting… I need to consider why they did NOT meet until they were on the moon and Ruby was learning to drive the rover. Or maybe… maybe they did and Elma just didn’t remember. That’s also fair play.

So what does Ruby want?

  1. Write down gee-whiz idea. – Ruby Donaldson meets Elma York
  2. Where does it happen? – The moon
  3. Characters who would be there (general list).
  4. Ruby
  5. Elma
  6. Parker
  7. Administrator
  8. Other students
  9. Colonists
  10. Support “divers”
  11. Mars Mission candidates
  12. Journalist
  13. Asshole classmate
  14. Rival
  15. Geologist
  16. Miner
  17. Engineer
  18. Mechanic
  19. Cook
  20. Nicole
  1. From the list, pick three you want to focus on.
  1. Ruby Donaldson
  2. Elma York
  3. Asshole classmate
  1. You’ve picked the three you want to spend time with. What do they want out of life?  Go for the deep wants (i.e. to look good, not to diet).  One technique: write down a want, then ask why the character wants that.  Repeat until you’ve reached a deep desire.

Ruby –

  1. Medic – wants to help people
  2. Lindy hop – daredevil
  3. Ruby Donaldson was a fine medic and a wicked hand at bridge. She could dance the lindy hop and make it look like she was in zero gravity, even on Earth. We were in the same class of astronauts, and I will never forget the first day we met. She had those pigtails that make her look like she’s twelve years old, and when some guy asked if she’d gotten lost from a school tour, she looked up at him and said, ‘Yeah. I’m from the fucking school of hard knocks and I’m here to teach you not to make assumptions.’
  4. Ruby Donaldson was a dedicated astronaut and a compassionate doctor. She took every part of her job seriously, even when it wasn’t glamorous. I never heard her complain about long hours, and she even offered to stay later if a teammate needed help. The first time I met Ruby, she was on the moon to learn how to drive a Rover. I will never forget her yelling ‘Yee-haw.’ I wanted to buy her a lasso
  5. Competative
  6. Desire to prove herself
  7. Tired of being underestimated.
  8. Wants to be pushed.
  9. Chip on shoulder because she’s so used to being undervalued because of stature and gender.
  10. Wants to be seen as herself
  11. Wants to be valued
  12. Wants a partner. Lindy-hop. Bridge. Surgery. These all involve teams of people or at least partnering. She enjoys them because skill matters there and also the connection.
  13. She’s exhausted and just wants to be accepted without having to push. She knows she looks young. She wants her abilities to be valued, not her surface attributes.
  14. Aspect of self that she wants to change?
    1. Role – she was a flight surgeon and wants to push the boundaries of space medicene. Maybe there weren’t that many flight surgeons who became astronauts. Oh… What if she and Kamilah were in the same class because it was a medical class of astronauts. Oh, yes… And she’s always had to prove herself as a doctor, too. She wants to be on the Mars mission.
    2. Relationship – Who’s her family? Parents alive? Or no– Oh… what if she was in the girl scout troop that was in the Crystal cave? I like that. Family dead so she’s an orphan. Wants family. She wants connection. So she has a dance partner. She plays bridge with a group of girlfriends. She wants a family. She wants to date and get married and have children.
    3. Status/hierarchy – She was born middle class and is comfortable being there, but having been an orphan after the Meteor is used to privation. She wants to achieve security for herself and family, which means getting to the highest status she can.
    4. Capability – Ruby is short. She’s constantly assumed to be less than she is. She doesn’t want to change her abilities or even herself, but she wants people to give her the credit she deserves.
  1. Note to self: This is a MUCH clearer way to come up with what your character wants than the random lists I’ve been doing. Whoa. So much clearer.
  1. Pick the deep want that is most compelling to you. That character who has it is your main character. – Ruby

List what MC character has at stake.

“Stake” is a word a lot of people misunderstand — it is what will happen to them if they fail at what they are trying to do.  For instance, Captain of sailing ship, every time he takes a risk is to get a fleet of ships, but what he has at stake is that if he takes a risky route to earn more money, his ship could sink and he could lose everything.  Can write down a couple of things down as you’re trying to sort this out.

What is the failure state for each of her aspects of self?

  1. Role – Losing her license. Killing someone. Every time someone dies.
  2. Relationship  – Skipping a dance tournament. Leaving her chosen family in the lurch. Getting kicked out of the bridge group.
  3. Status – Going back to being entirely dependant on others.
  4. Capability – Eyesight and hands. She can handle almost anything else, but the permanent loss of her vision or her dexterity will strip her Role away as well.
  5. Choose the primary stake for your MC character.

Go back to what the MC character wants.  What is stopping the character from achieving their desires?  Why can’t they have what they want?

  1. Role – she was a flight surgeon and wants to push the boundaries of space medic.Maybe there weren’t that many flight surgeons who became astronauts. Oh… What if she and Kamilah were in the same class because it was a medical class of astronauts. Oh, yes… And she’s always had to prove herself as a doctor, too. She wants to be on the Mars mission.
    1. Her height is an issue.
    2. The competition is really fierce

Relationship – Who’s her family? Parents alive? Or no– Oh… what if she was in the girl scout troop that was in the Crystal cave? I like that. Family dead so she’s an orphan. Wants family. She wants connection. So she has a dance partner. She plays bridge with a group of girlfriends. She wants a family. She wants to date and get married and have children.

  1. Trying to be at her best for pursuing Mars means that she struggling to find time for social activities.
  2. Her dance partner needs more rehearsal time than she can give him.
  3. She can’t play bridge regularly anymore.

Status/hierarchy – She was born middle class and is comfortable being there, but having been an orphan after the Meteor is used to privation. She wants to achieve security for herself and family, which means getting to the highest status she can.

  1. The best jobs go to men.
  2. She looks younger than she is.

Capability – Ruby is short. She’s constantly assumed to be less than she is. She doesn’t want to change her abilities or even herself, but she wants people to give her the credit she deserves.

  1. Height.
  2. Round face
  1. What is the most interesting thing standing in the way of your POV character?
  2. What is your MC’s plan to get what they want?
  1. Role – Study harder. Say yes to everything
  2. Relationship – Try to get a bridge game going among fellow AsCans. Promise her partner that she’s try Lindyhop on the moon. Help him find a new partner.
  3. Status – Try to change her role.
  4. Capability – Lean into the physical stereotypes of youth, letting them underestimate her, and then puts people in their place. Takes risks.
  1. Write up 1-3 sentences summing up the decision you have made for your POV character.

Ruby Donaldson will take outrageous risks rather than admit that she can’t do something. She wants to secure a role on the First Mars Expedition because it is adventure and also because being part of that expedition means she’ll be able to write her own ticket when she gets back. The only problem is that she’ll risk cutting ties in order to go.

  1. Identify the MICE quotient element based on the conflict you’ve most connect with. Looking at the MICE quotient, use that to determine where the story begins and ends and explicitly add both to the 1-3 sentence summary.

<Character> – Ruby Donaldson hates the idea of letting down her lindy-hop partner, especially with a dance contest coming up. At the NBL, she’s trying to get onto the Mars Expedition, which means she’d be able to write her own ticket when she gets back and that will allow her to take care of her family. She finally accepts that she has to prioritize and that she’s not a terrible person for following her dream.

Event – What disrupts status quo? Getting assigned to go to the moon to study low-g medicine? New roommate? — Oooo… if her previous roommate fails out or something that would make her resent the new one. Maybe that’s Kam? Medical emergency. Maybe she’s doing a residency on the moon? Something goes wrong? That’s interesting, but it requires more medical knowledge than you probably have. On the other hand… you do know a flight surgeon/astronaut. You could ask Kjell for Things That Go Wrong. Or Sheyna. On the third hand, this is also the plot of what happens to her in Fated Sky. Let’s find something that is a different status quo disruption.

  • Change in plans about the NBL.
  • Someone else is injured
  • Bumped from being shadow to being prime crew
  • A lindy-hop contest comes up with a lot of money attached to it
  • She injures herself in a dance rehearsal
  • hurricane
  • Partner’s suit has a leak during check and she has to begin run solo
  • her suit has a leak during check
  • adopts a dog
  • Testing a new configuration
  • Lunetta is damaged
  • Gun threat
  • power failure
  • Unexpected guests

A Earth Firster arrives at the NBL as part of a tourist group and managed to get a gun into the building.

Start: When a tourist group arrives, it means Ruby has to pause for photos. She understands, it’s the only way to get this close to an astronaut in an EVA suit, but it still makes a long day longer. One of them turns out to be an Earth Firster and pulls out a gun.

End: Threat is contained.

Ruby injured her foot when she was practising Lindy-hop. When she arrives at the NBL for a training session, she learns that Lunetta has been damaged and that they are doing a run to figure out how to make the repair. She does not mention the injury and successfully completes the run.

Inquiry – How do you drive a moon rover? <– this is easiest.

Milieu – arrival on Moon <–Navigating being shorter than average.

5 1 1/2

<event> When her lindy-hop partner’s friends arrive at the NBL as a tourist group, it splits Ruby’s focus. <Character> – She’s trying to get onto the Mars team but doesn’t want to let down her partner, especially since she’s been having to cut back on rehearsals and competitions. So she agreed to the tourist group because she understands the desire to be close to an astronaut. But one of the tourists turns out to be an Earth Firster and pulls out a gun. She feels like her desire to be accommodating has caused this problem.  She’s responsible for keeping her IAC family safe. Eventually realizes that she doesn’t have to be responsible for everyone. </character> Working as a team </event>the threat is contained.

<Character> – Ruby Donaldson hates the idea of letting down her lindy-hop partner, especially with a dance contest coming up. At the NBL, she’s trying to get onto the Mars Expedition but it’s hard balancing both. <event>When her dance partner asks if he can bring some out-of-town friends to watch her NBL run it causes her some stress but she said yes. It derails Ruby’s attempts to focus on the run. She understands, it’s the only way to get this close to an astronaut in an EVA suit, but it still stressful. When one of them turns out to be an Earth Firster and pulls a gun, Ruby uses her mad Lindy-Hop skills to defeat the bad guy. </event> In the end, Ruby remembers why that the mission is the most important thing for Earth, and for her. She finally accepts that she has to prioritize and that she’s not a terrible person for following her dream.  </character>

<Character> – Ruby Donaldson hates the idea of letting down her lindy-hop partner, especially with a dance contest coming up. Ruby injured her foot when she was practising Lindy-hop. At the NBL, she’s trying to

get onto the Mars Expedition, which

means she’d be able to write her own ticket when she gets back and that will allow her to take care of her family. Ruby injured her foot when she was practising Lindy-hop. When she arrives at the NBL for a training session, she learns that Lunetta has been damaged and that they are doing a run to figure out how to make the repair. She does not mention the injury and successfully completes the run.

She finally accepts that she has to prioritize and that she’s not a terrible person for following her dream.

Ruby injured her foot when she was practising Lindy-hop. When she arrives at the NBL for a training session, she learns that Lunetta has been damaged and that they are doing a run to figure out how to make the repair. She does not mention the injury and successfully completes the run.

#

So next, I started in the first scene.

The smell of chlorine met Ruby at the door to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab’s pool.She bounded up the stairs to the third floor, braids bouncing against her shoulders on each carpeted step. Coming out on the pool level, she waved at the techs sitting poolside with their cups of coffee. Six-thirty a.m. was a cruel time to be at work.

In the pool, Kamilah Shamoun was doing laps across the short end. The actual pool was bigger than three football fields so pretty much no one swam the length. Ruby walked past the rows of oxygen tanks and rebreathing gear for the support divers and headed around to the steel table where her tools waited.

As she did, Jason Tsao turned from where he was talking with a wiry Indian man. He had a sheaf of papers and beckoned her over. “Ruby, morning. Change of plans.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah…” He gestured to the other man who she suddenly recognized as Halim “Hotdog” Malouf, one of the original Artemis seven astronauts. “Snyder broke his leg last night, so Halim has offered to step in for the run.”

She managed not to freak out. She had met the man, sort of, at the welcome reception for her astronaut class but that included shaking his hand and nothing else.

I stopped, because I realized that I had two many characters already and that the “OMG celebrities” aspect was a whole nother story line. I backed up and tried again.

Here’s take two on the opening scene.

Patches of orange light from the sodium vapor lamps fractured the dark parking lot at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Six-thirty in the morning was a brutal time to start work and Ruby was already exhausted, which she tried to tell herself was good training as an astronaut.

What she wanted was to do the training run and then go home and collapse in bed, but somehow she’d agreed to another lindy-hop rehearsal tonight. It was just so hard to turn someone down that you’d been dancing with since before the Meteor struck. She didn’t have that many pieces of Before left in her life.

And that meant that she hadn’t let her dance partner see how badly she’d actually twisted her ankle in rehearsal last night. The benefit of being a doctor was that she wouldn’t have to admit to a flight surgeon that she’d hurt herself practicing a Charleston Flip. It was hard enough balancing work and life without people questioning her choices.

As she limped from the bus stop, Ruby glanced across the parking lot. There were more cars that normal. She frowned. Was she late? The call time had been six-thirty, hadn’t it?

Ruby glanced across the parking lot. There were more cars that normal. Ruby frowned. Was she late? The call time had been six-thirty, hadn’t it?

She headed for the building as fast as she could without the limp being obvious. The smell of chlorine met Ruby at the door. She headed up the stairs to the third floor, grateful that no one else was in the stairwell and she could lean against the metal rail. Coming out on the pool level, she waved at the suit techs poolside with her EVA suit. As bad as six-thirty was, they’d been there since four.

Wait. There were four suits by the pool. Her run had only been scheduled with one other astronaut.

Across the pool, Jason Tsao turned from where he was talking with a tall blond man and just a look at him confirmed that something was terribly wrong. Jason’s tie was undone and his cuffs were rolled up past his elbows. She had never seen the [run director] look even marginally rumpled. He beckoned her over with his sheaf of papers. “Ruby, morning. Change of plans, as I’m sure you probably expected.”

She had missed something — a message left with her roommate, a briefing update, something — and whatever it was did not look good. All of her medical training snapped her into focus. “What sort of change?”

“I think you’ve met Dr. York?” He gestured to the other man who she suddenly recognized as Dr. Nathaniel York, the lead engineer of the entire International Aerospace Coalition. She managed not to freak out. She had met the man, sort of, at the welcome reception for her astronaut class but that included shaking his hand and nothing else. “He’s familiar with the class of ship that hit Lunetta.”

“Wait– Hit the space station?” Her chest tightened. She had friends up there.

Jason’s shoulders slumped. “Sorry. I assumed you had seen the news.”

She shook her head. “I– I was out last night.”

He took a slow breath. “A ship returning from the moon had a retrorocket that misfired and they impacted Lunetta’s main hanger yesterday evening.”

“Oh God.”  Eugene Lindholm, her partner for today’s run — his wife would have been on that shuttle. She turned, looking for the tall black man among the people working by the pool. He was at the stainless steel bench, running through his checklist with tight, controlled motions. “How bad?”

Dr. York stepped forward and held up his hands. “No one is dead.” He glanced up as if he could see past the tall roof of the NBL to the space station. “They could see coming in that they had a problem, so the hangar crew evacuated and the ship’s hull is intact. We’re incredibly lucky.”

Ruby wiped her hand over her face, still stunned. “And so we’re working on a repair today?”

Shaking his head, Jason handed her the paperwork for the day’s run, which was the only thing that seemed normal. “Rescue and recovery. The impact warped the airlock and coupling mechanism so the ship is locked to the station and the airlock is jammed. We’ve got another crew working on getting it open, but want all possible solutions, because…The crew doesn’t have EVA suits. We have sixteen hours to get them out.”

You can see that this is closer to what the final story wound up as. It’s also really long. It has characters in it that I don’t need. So I took another pass, through, looking at what characters I could eliminate or roll together. Also, I cut the parking lot, because every scenic location makes a story longer.

If you want to hop back over to look at the opening scene of the finished story, you can see the pieces that I kept and how unnecessary the ones I cut were. Did I cut some good stuff? Yes. But honestly, they didn’t need to be there for the finished story. Those bits were making it bloated and slow.

This is a lesson that I have to keep learning. I’m a level 51 human and a level 15 author. Every time I level up, the monsters get trickier, but that’s what makes it fun.

#

P.S. If you wanted to get me a present…would you consider preordering The Relentless Moon? If you order from my local indie bookstore, say “Birthday” in the notes and I’ll include a small gift. Also, you can use the notes field to request personalization. I’ll sign and number the first 100.

Hardcover The Relentless Moon

Paperback The Relentless Moon

My Favorite Bit: Tobias Buckell talks about IT’S ALL JUST A DRAFT

Favorite Bit iconTobias Buckell is joining us with It’s All Just a Draft, a curated collection of essays. Here’s the publisher’s description:

How much does the average author make? How long should my book be? Should I outline my book?

New York Times Bestselling author and World Fantasy Award winner Tobias Buckell started blogging about his path to becoming a writer in 1998. His website and frequent talks to writing workshops and universities contained snippets about his daily life, thoughts, and lots of tips about writing as he learned them. He set out to collect all these articles, posts, and speeches into a bundle he could give to people writing to him for advice. When he mentioned he was doing that, people suggested he turn it into a book, and here it is.

Inside you’ll find out the average advance a science fiction author gets, how many books it takes to break in based on survey of 150 other writers, and find out how Tobias broke into a career in writing. He talks about career, burnout, short stories, novels, craft tricks, and more.

What’s Tobias’s favorite bit?

It's All Just a Draft cover image

TOBIAS BUCKELL

I’ve been lucky enough to make a large part of my living as a fiction writer. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to meet people randomly who’ve read my books and are excited about them. Sometimes I’m honored that people run into me and get excited about wanting to read a book of mine. But what more often happens is that people want to know how to become a writer themselves.

I have to be honest, that used to drive me a little nuts, until I vented about this to a friend of mine who was a doctor.

“It beats,” they told me wearily, “being shown random moles, or graphically told in detail about health issues random people you’ve just met are having.”

Fair enough.

When I started going to writers conferences, workshops, and conventions as a baby writer, the one thing many of us obsessed about was the money question.

How much does a writer make?

We understood that it was a question that had a wide range of answers. Of course. But, to narrow it down, as a young writer, I’d find myself at a bar dancing around the question of how did I ask an already published novelist ‘how much of an advance did you get on your last novel?’

You don’t.

It’s considered uncouth. Some of that information can come once you’ve made friends with a variety of writers selling books in your social circle. But then it puts the onus on you to have a good networking skills.

So back in the early 2000s, we read about every deal announced on Publishers Marketplace and tried to read the tea leaves.

Online, new writers argued constantly about what a ‘typical advance’ would be. Long threads would appear with much vitriol and supposition. Friends became enemies, random numbers were thrown around, and I became tired of it all.

I built a survey on my website, using what little code skills I had to create forms that emailed me results, and then asked working science fiction and fantasy writers to tell me what their last advance had been. I gave them the option to put in the answer anonymously or to let me have their name, promising I wouldn’t put that info on the final general results.

Hundreds of writers filled out my forms, enough to get a decently sample size, and I set about putting all that information into an excel spreadsheet. I created graphs and published the results on my website. Fifteen years later, it’s still the most visited page there.

More writers since then have shared what they make publicly. And since creating the survey, I went on to have a career of my own where I learned that the advance paid for a novel is just one of the money streams for a writer. There are speaking gigs, royalties, translation money, audio rights, media money, and more! But that article on my website to this day answers a very basic question: what’s the average novel advance?

I went on to write more writing-related posts at my website over the years as I learned new things and shared them when I could. And over the years I gathered enough of them together that I would bundle them up into a word document for people who wrote to me asking for advice about being a writer.

Because, as I mentioned above, I get as many questions about the craft of writing itself as my own work.

Eventually, I decided to bundle these essays I’d written up, combine them with articles I’d written for magazines about growing up in the Caribbean while reading science fiction, and create an entire book about writing. It’s called “It’s All Just a Draft,” sort of like my own writerly version of “Don’t Panic!” In it, I weave the story of how I became a writer, as I felt context really matters for writing advice, and talk a great deal about mindset, not specific rules (though I do have some tricks and formulas I share that I picked up along the way).

But, my favorite bit will always be the data-centric article I first wrote online that is still to this day the most popular page on my site.

Oh, you want to know how much writers make?

Well, anywhere from $0 to $600,000 as an advance on a book, a little over ten years ago, before digital self-publishing took off. As a writer in the field, I can’t see that much has changed.

You can read the entire 2006 article and see all the data at https://tobiasbuckell.com/author-advance-survey-version-20/ and if you wanted to read more about how I went from a Grenada-born reader to a high schooler submitting short stories to magazines in the US, to eventually breaking into publishing while in college (and if you’re wondering how did I end up living in the US when I grew up on a boat in the Caribbean) you can find my latest book “It’s All Just a Draft” for sale below.

LINKS:

It’s All Just a Draft Buy Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author and World Fantasy Award winner born in the Caribbean. He grew up in Grenada and spent time in the British and US Virgin Islands, which influence much of his work.
His novels and almost one hundred stories have been translated into nineteen different languages. His work has been nominated for awards like the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and the Astounding Award for Best New Science Fiction Author.
He currently lives in Bluffton, Ohio with his wife, twin daughters, and a pair of dogs. He can be found online at http://www.TobiasBuckell.com and is also an instructor at the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing program.

My Favorite Bit: Juliette Wade talks about MAZES OF POWER

My Favorite BitJuliette Wade is joining us today with her novel Mazes of Power. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The cavern city of Pelismara has stood for a thousand years. The Great Families of the nobility cling to the myths of their golden age while the city’s technology wanes.

When a fever strikes, and the Eminence dies, seventeen-year-old Tagaret is pushed to represent his Family in the competition for Heir to the Throne. To win would give him the power to rescue his mother from his abusive father, and marry the girl he loves.

But the struggle for power distorts everything in this highly stratified society, and the fever is still loose among the inbred, susceptible nobles. Tagaret’s sociopathic younger brother, Nekantor, is obsessed with their family’s success. Nekantor is willing to exploit Tagaret, his mother, and her new servant Aloran to defeat their opponents.

Can he be stopped? Should he be stopped? And will they recognize themselves after the struggle has changed them?

What’s Juliette’s favorite bit?

Mazes of Power cover image

JULIETTE WADE

Reading the description above, you might think that Mazes of Power is a story about two noble boys. It is – but that’s not all it is. There’s a third perspective in this book: that of an Imbati-caste servant named Aloran who comes to work for the boys’ mother. He’s important, and he’s my favorite bit. Let me explain why.

The Western literary canon is full of stories about kings, princes, and nobles. These stories train us to feel comfortable with the idea of contests for power, and often, we’re asked to empathize with a noble perspective, while less exalted groups to fade into the background. However, some stories change this pattern. I remember, as a child, feeling inspired by a story called “The Water of Life,” part of a fairy tale collection by Howard Pyle. In this story, the father of a princess asks suitors to complete three impossible tasks in order to win her hand, and the nobleman who admires her asks his faithful servant to complete the tasks… and in the end, the faithful servant is the one who wins the love of the princess. I also love movies, like Gosford Park and The Remains of the Day, that look at the secret lives of servants.

So when I was working on the caste system of Varin, I put a lot of work into the Imbati, the servant caste. They’re third from the top, just beneath nobles and officers. They’re highly educated, and they’re everywhere across the society: in the bureaucracy, in the courts, in the post offices and the prisons. One of the most important things to me, though, is that they are actually real people with childhoods, life experiences, education, and goals. And that means that each Imbati has a different life experience, and grapples with Imbati goals and ideals in their own way.

Like many Imbati in Pelismara, Aloran started at the Imbati Service Academy at age six, and studied hard to learn special skills like waiting, bodyguarding, law, political strategy, and nursing. At twelve, he decided to specialize in the Lady’s Training, choosing nursing over politics. He excelled in these skills, was certified at age 19, and is one of the select few young men and women at the Academy who become manservants. A manservant is an Imbati who vows to serve a particular individual of the nobility, rather than serving the Household, the State, or the Courts. Before swearing loyalty, a young Imbati goes through an adulthood ceremony where they are tattooed on the forehead with the symbol of their vocation.

Aloran is proud of his Imbati identity, and finds silence easy. He will readily give the oath of silence: “My heart is as deep as the heavens. No word uttered in confidence will escape it.” He also believes in the Imbati ideal of selfless loyalty.

When he encounters Tagaret and Nekantor’s family, however, his ideals meet a very complicated reality. He struggles with the depth of his emotional reactions to the conflicts in the house, especially with the fact that, though he has sworn to protect her, his Lady is not safe from her partner. He is constantly torn between his own strong moral judgments and the principles on which the nobility operates – and he also is required, in the name of professionalism, to hide any emotional reactions he has to these events. He has his medical skill, and a deep practicality, which help him in the epidemic, but he also has a fundamental sweetness that I just love. He takes comfort in the domestic routines of life when things get out of control, and he loves hairbrushing, because it’s an act that helps him untangle his thoughts as well as his Lady’s hair.

I can’t wait for you to meet him.

LINKS:

Mazes of Power Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

Juliette Wade never outgrew of the habit of asking “why” about everything. This path led her to study foreign languages and to complete degrees in both anthropology and linguistics. Combining these with a fascination for worldbuilding and psychology, she creates multifaceted science fiction that holds a mirror to our own society. The author of short fiction in magazines including Analog, Clarkesworld, and Fantasy & Science Fiction, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her Aussie husband and her two sons, who support and inspire her. Her debut novel, Mazes of Power, will come out from DAW publishing on February 4, 2020.

In which I try on an A7-L replica spacesuit, courtesy of Adam Savage

I was recently at a conference and got to try on Adam Savage’s replica A7-L spacesuit. An A7-L is what they wore on the Apollo missions. This was very, very cool. A couple of actual astronauts were there and said that the fidelity of the suit was high.

To begin with, Adam had me sit down to slide my legs into the suit. It’s a back opening, with a zipper and an additional closure after that. Let me tell you, I have never been so happy that I had a camisole on under my sweater.

Sitting down to put legs through spacesuit

From there, he had me reach down and pull the legs up as close to my crotch as I could. I remember saying, “It’s like pulling on pantyhose.” In truth, the legs are snug — which they don’t look like they’ll be — because of the layers of insulation. This generation of suit has 21 layers.

From there, he had me slide my arms into the suit, stick my rump out, and duck through the neck ring.

I expected this to be harder than it was. I suspect that if the suit had been built for me, that would be true, but I’m a little shorter overall than Adam and definitely shorter through the torso.

Adam zipped it up and fastened the back while I grinned like I’d been given a new kitten.

The weight of the suit settled on my shoulders as soon as my head was through the ring. It weighs around 62 lbs but since it was distributed over my entire body, didn’t feel like it was much more than a heavily beaded gown. Okay. A heavily beaded gown with a significant train, but still.

I’ve definitely worked puppets that weighed more, but having read about the weight, I was still surprised. Once I was in it for a bit, I stopped noticing. Granted, there was no Portable Life Support System attached, so with the PLSS it would have been unmanagable.

The gloves were next. They have the interior bladder and the finger tips are made of the same material as the original Apollo suits. Even without being pressurized, they are stiff and clumsy. You’ve got virtually no sense of touch and what’s there is mostly about resistance than anything nuanced.

The shoes were not regulation to be clear. But super cool.

The “snoopy cap” was also very high fidelity. The mic just touched my cheek, which might not have happened if I hadn’t been grinning like a kid in a candy shop.

Then came the helmet! My actual thought process was EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

Somewhat more helpfully, there’s an immediate aural change. Again, it felt familiar from some of the puppetry or mask work, in that the sound of my own breath was reflected back at me and everyone sounded distant and a little muffled. Where it differed is that with a puppet, I would have discreet ventilation holes hidden below the helmet, and would have had some external noise coming in via that route.

It’s not as muffled as a flight helmet for a T-38, but that’s designed to dampen sound.

I would love to experience this with the comms in the snoopy cap actually hooked up.

I immediately began heating up, because I wasn’t wearing a Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment. The LCVG is the long underwear with meters of tubing stitched to it that astronauts wear to control their body temperature on a spacewalk. Even just standing there, it was obvious that exertion would quickly become a problem.

I bent down, to see what the range of motion was like. Okay. A little restricted, mostly from lack of stretch, but not much. Think of it like wearing a snowsuit. If it were under pressure? Ugh. It would have taken a significant effort to move.

I wound up asking them to take the helmet off, because I couldn’t hear well when they were continuing to talk about the suit. If not for that, I would have happily stayed in it and played longer.

Best. Day.

Thanks to Adam for letting me try on his beautiful, beautiful spacesuit and to Jacob Matthews for the photos.

My Favorite Bit: Nandi Taylor talks about GIVEN

My Favorite BitNandi Taylor is joining us with her debut novel Given. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Yenni has never been this far from home. With only her wits, her strength, and her sacred runelore, the fierce Yirba warrior princess is alone in the Empire of Cresh. It’s a land filled with strange magics and even stranger people—all of whom mistrust anyone who’s different. But Yenni will prove herself, and find the cure for her father’s wasting illness. She will not fail.

No one warned her about the dragons. Especially not about him.

Yet there is something powerful and compelling about the violet-black dragon known as Weysh. In human form he’s muscular, beautiful—and completely infuriating. What kind of arrogant creature claims a stranger as his Given; as his destined mate? Yenni is no man’s—or dragon’s—plaything. But other magics must be at work here, because Weysh might just be her best hope at finding the answers she seeks.

Only now Yenni can’t tell if she’s fighting an attraction to a dragon . . . or fighting fate itself.

What’s Nandi’s favorite bit?

Given cover image

NANDI TAYLOR

“Given” is my debut novel and it’s the story of Yenni-Ajani, a princess of the Yirba Island tribe whose father, the Chieftain, is ailing. Desperate to find a cure for his sickness, she goes abroad to the Northen Empire of Cresh, intending to enroll in the top magical academy there in the hope of learning something that will save him. While there she bumps into Weysh, a dragon-shifter who claims the two of them are Given, or destined soulmates. Yenni’s not having it, but Weysh is convinced he’s right. However if Weysh  keeps pushing, he’ll push her away for good.

Of course the slow-burn enemies to lovers romance is a big focus of the book. It was incredibly fun nudging the two main characters together. And to that end I enjoyed subverting some common, and in many cases problematic, romance tropes. But what really got my motor running was examining our existing cultural bias through the use of a secondary world.

I’ll give an example. Yenni comes from a collection of islands known as the Moonrise Isles. There, magic is done through drawing runes on the body and singing wordless rune hymns. In the empire of Cresh, magic is done through incantations bolstered by an ironclad faith in a collection of theories, laws and principles. Yenni is incredibly skilled at runelore, the magic of her home, but when faced with the magical entrance exam for the Creshen academy, she is at a loss, drawing ridicule from the head of the magical department at the academy. This was my metaphor for how we value certain forms of intelligence over others, and how Western standardized testing can fail students from certain backgrounds.

I’m always thrilled when astute readers on Wattpad, where the story was first posted online, identify and point out exactly which cultural bias I’ve critiqued in a certain scene.  Further complicating things for Yenni is the empire’s perception of runelore. Yenni is dismayed to learn that runelore is considered primitive and taboo even, and especially, among the empire’s Island colonies. The rumors go so far as to say that Moonrise Islanders use the blood of infants in their runepaint. Some quick readers saw that this is an analogy for indigenous people’s complicated history with the religions of their colonizers, Christianity in particular.

I love worldbuilding, and one of my favorite parts is using my fantasy cultures to analyse, interrogate and make sense of the world I live in. So using magic systems as a means of pointing out and critiquing cultural bias was definitely my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Given Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

Nandi Taylor is a Canadian writer of Caribbean descent based in Toronto. She’s a two-time Watty award winner, and her Wattpad story Given has garnered over one million reads and earned the 2018 Worldbuilders Watty award.

Nandi grew up devouring sci-fi and fantasy novels, and from a young age wrote books of her own. Her books are an expression of what she always wanted more of growing up—diverse protagonists in speculative settings. Common themes she writes about are growth, courage, and finding one’s place in the world.

My Favorite Bit: Kameron Hurley talks about THE BROKEN HEAVENS

Favorite Bit iconKameron Hurley is joining us today to talk about The Broken Heavens. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The bloodsoaked conclusion to Kameron Hurley’s epic fantasy masterpiece – the Worldbreaker Saga – is unleashed.

The Dhai nation has broken apart under the onslaught of the Tai Mora, invaders from a parallel world. With the Dhai in retreat, Kirana, leader of the Tai Mora, establishes a base in Oma’s temple and instructs her astrologers to discover how they can use the ancient holy place to close the way between worlds.

With the connected worlds ravaged by war and Oma ascendant, only one world can survive. Who will be sacrificed, and who will be saved, when the heavens finally break?

What’s Kameron’s favorite bit?

The Broken Heavens cover image

KAMERON HURLEY

What does it mean to say your favorite part of writing a book was when you knew it was over?

I’ve spent the last five years writing the final book in my Worldbreaker Saga, The Broken Heavens. In truth, I probably rewrote the entirety of the book three times.

Oh, sure, I wrote other books in there as well – in the last nine years I’ve published eleven books – but with this one, well… I kept typing and wailing and drinking and wailing some more until I got the ending right and my agent said it was good. I revised the whole first half again after we’d turned it into my editor, and then again… and then we shipped it.

That was my favorite bit. The shipping part.

It took a long time to figure out how to end a fantasy epic where folks are fighting their doubles from parallel worlds; an epic about genocide and morally gray choices and star magic and small people caught up in events far larger than they can comprehend. I transformed a scullery girl who really is the daughter of nobodies into the driving force of a resistance against genocide and autocracy. I smashed together whole worlds and drove numerous characters to find and fight disparate versions of themselves, all of whom had made different, and often more terrible, choices.

It’s a lot to keep in your head.

Books are tricky pieces of storytelling. Ending a series of books carries with it even more complexity. I wanted this book done right, though, not just on time. No one’s going to remember a book was on time if it’s crap. They will remember that it was crap.

Saying too much about how I ended this book will be giving a lot away, even though the ending is my favorite part. I had set myself up to give my characters two terrible endgame choices. But when I gazed out at the world around me, I realized those were false choices. And I wanted my characters to realize that too. But how I was going to achieve that… I had no idea. It took me years to figure it out.

And now you all get to see what I came up with.

I am pleased I didn’t go with the easy choice. Pleased that I pushed my characters and myself to be smarter than that.

I know a number of people who say they won’t read an epic fantasy series until it’s done. I do not actually believe this, knowing approximately how many books the top folks in fantasy are moving without having finished their final volumes.

But if you were waiting for a fiery, bloody, hopeful, gritty, fantasy saga that’s unlike anything if you’ve ever read before – you can now binge read the whole thing in a go. And rest assured – the ending is worth the wait.

LINKS:

The Broken Heavens Universal Book Link

Website

Blog

Twitter

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BIO:

Kameron Hurley is the author of  The Light Brigade, The Stars are Legion and the essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Locus Award, Kitschy 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 and numerous anthologies. Hurley has also written for The Atlantic, Writers Digest, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, Bitch Magazine, and Locus Magazine. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com.

My Favorite Bit: Rod Duncan talks about THE FUGITIVE AND THE VANISHING MAN

 

My Favorite BitRod Duncan is joining us with his novel The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man, the concluding chapter in the “Map of the Unknown Things” series. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Ladies and gentlemen, for the very final time, Elizabeth and Edwin Barnabus will perform the grand illusion of the Vanishing Man.

Elizabeth Barnabus is a mutineer and a murderer. So they say. The noose awaits in Liverpool as punishment for her crimes. But they’ll have to catch her first.

Disguised as a labourer, Elizabeth flees west across America, following a rumour of her long-lost family. Crossing the border into the wilds of the Oregon Territory, she discovers a mustering army, a king who believes he is destined to conquer the world, and a weapon so powerful that it could bring the age of reason crashing down.

In a land where politics and prophecy are one and the same, the fate of the Gas-Lit Empire may come to rest on the perfect execution of a conjuring trick…

What’s Rod’s favorite bit?

The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man cover image

ROD DUNCAN

My favourite part of this book is, without question, a conjuring trick. My protagonist, Elizabeth Barnabus, learned how to perform The Vanishing Man when she was growing up in a travelling show run by her parents. Years have passed. But when she is reunited with a fellow performer from the show, she finds herself having to stage the trick one more time.

Much rests on the outcome. Persuade the right people that their magic is real and they’ll be able to shape the future of the world. Fail and they’ll be unmasked as mere conjurors. Death would follow.

I’ve had this trick in my mind for more than six years. You’ll find clues to it in The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, which was the very first novel set in the Gas-Lit Empire. Not that I’d worked out the precise mechanism at that time. My notion was something like this: Note to self – devise a spectacular disappearing act as the grand finale at the end of the second trilogy.

Writing it, however, proved a challenge. A conjuring trick in a novel follows the same storytelling pattern as a heist. It works like this:

  • First, the significance of the trick or crime caper must be established. A heist cannot be merely for money. Nor can a conjuring trick be for entertainment alone. Something extra must be at stake.
  • Next, the near-impossibility of the task must be understood. But there will be an elegant, one-in-a-million chance of it being achieved.
  • All the people must be gathered, each with a unique part to play, dependent on their individual skills.
  • The details of the plan will then be laid out. There could be a dress-rehearsal. Perhaps a map or a model. However it’s done, we need to understand how things are supposed to happen.
  • There will be a ticking clock – our awareness that time is running out. The point of no return is approaching, when our thieves or conjurors will have separated and begun their allotted tasks.
  • That’s when something unforeseen will happen. The plan goes wrong. It always does. We expect it. Yet it must also be a surprise. Perhaps an enemy intervenes. Or a chance event will push the plan off course. It is a disaster.
  • This is when our protagonists must show their quality. They improvise. And through a coming together of things we knew about already but hadn’t considered relevant, they snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Or perhaps they fail and suffer the consequences.

In order to write a fictional heist or conjuring trick, it must be worked out backwards. Everything is so intricately connected that the writer needs to start by figuring out what happens at the end. Then, step by step, they reverse through the story until the starting point is revealed. Meticulous planning is needed to make it all seem unplanned. In that way, the writing itself becomes like a conjuring trick.

Watch carefully. Elizabeth walks the length of a banqueting table, kicking away plates and wine goblets as she goes, pistol in hand. Three hundred pairs of eyes are watching, from the king and the courtiers down to the kitchen boys.

Now you see her. And now you… don’t.

LINKS:

The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

ROD DUNCAN writes alternate history, fantasy and contemporary crime. His novels have been shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award, the East Midlands Book Award and the John Creasey Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association. A dyslexic with a background in scientific research, he now lectures in creative writing at DeMontfort University. Some might say that he is obsessed with boundary markers, naive 18th Century gravestones and forming friendships with crows. But he says he is interested in the way things change.

My Favorite Bit: Parker Peevyhouse talks about STRANGE EXIT

My Favorite BitParker Peevyhouse is joining us today to talk about her novel Strange Exit. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Seventeen-year-old Lake spends her days searching a strange, post-apocalyptic landscape for people who have forgotten one very important thing: this isn’t reality. Everyone she meets is a passenger aboard a ship that’s been orbiting Earth since a nuclear event. The simulation that was supposed to prepare them all for life after the apocalypse has trapped their minds in a shared virtual reality and their bodies in stasis chambers.

No one can get off the ship until all of the passengers are out of the sim, and no one can get out of the sim unless they believe it’s a simulation. It’s up to Lake to help them remember.

When Lake reveals the truth to a fellow passenger, seventeen-year-old Taren, he joins her mission to find everyone, persuade them that they’ve forgotten reality, and wake them up. But time’s running out before the simulation completely deconstructs, and soon Taren’s deciding who’s worth saving and who must be sacrificed for the greater good. Now, Lake has no choice but to pit herself against Taren in a race to find the secret heart of the sim, where something waits that will either save them or destroy them all.

What’s Parker’s favorite bit?

Strange Exit cover image

PARKER PEEVYHOUSE

As the youngest of five, I can safely say that younger sisters are worth their weight in books. My original idea for my latest novel, Strange Exit, was that it would be set in a simulation and would follow a 17-year-old and her younger sister. Sometimes I envisioned the older sister, Lake, searching a broken sim for her sister. And sometimes I envisioned Lake searching with her sister, an indispensable partner who simultaneously annoys and encourages Lake. In the end, what most excited me about writing the story was that it could be about both: Lake could search the sim for Willow with the help of… Willow.

Strange Exit takes place decades after a nuclear apocalypse, when survivors live in a simulation meant to prepare them for life after nuclear winter—but they’ve forgotten that the sim isn’t reality. Lake is one of the few who realizes the truth, and she searches the sim for “sleepers” to wake with the help of a computer-generated version of her sister Willow.

Lake and Willow’s partnership was my favorite element of the book to write, because I got to draw from my own experience with the contentious, hilarious, helpful, and totally steadfast bond of an older and younger sister. A younger sister myself, I know what it’s like to chafe at not being taken seriously, to long to capture an older sister’s attention—and to settle for mutual exasperation. At one point in the story, Willow complains, “You think everything I do is annoying,” a grievance no doubt voiced by little sisters the world over. Lake replies, “Good thing I’d rather be annoyed by you than entertained by anyone else,” which is the kind of concession I imagine my older sisters giving me and meaning with all their hearts.

The person Lake most wants to rescue from the sim is, of course, the real Willow. But in moments when Lake succumbs to the dream-logic of the sim, she forgets that the computer-generated version of Willow isn’t her real sister. And in moments when Lake is most lucid, she remembers an even more painful truth: Willow never survived the nuclear apocalypse, and so Lake will never find her. One day, Lake hopes to rescue all the sleepers and get out of the malfunctioning sim before it swallows her along with them—but that day will also be the last Lake can spend with the “figment” of Willow, the only version of her sister left in the world. It’s this dilemma that most intrigues me about the story; it makes me wonder which I’d rather have—a simulated version of my sisters or no sisters at all.

One of my older sisters reads all of my stories before they ever get to publication (and many stories that will never see publication). I dedicated Strange Exit to her, not only because she’s a trusted reader but also because I figure I owe her for modeling the dynamic I tried to achieve in the book—that of an older sister letting a younger one tag along, not out of kindness, but because she might secretly enjoy the company. Or at the very  least, because she’s desperate for someone to tell her a good story.

LINKS:

Strange Exit Universal Book Link

Website

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My Favorite Bit: Niki Smith talks about THE DEEP & DARK BLUE

My Favorite BitNiki Smith is joining us to talk about her graphic novel The Deep & Dark Blue. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Witch Boy meets The Legend of Korra in this breathtaking, epic graphic novel.
After a terrible political coup usurps their noble house, Hawke and Grayson flee to stay alive and assume new identities, Hanna and Grayce. Desperation and chance lead them to the Communion of Blue, an order of magical women who spin the threads of reality to their will.

As the twins learn more about the Communion, and themselves, they begin to hatch a plan to avenge their family and retake their royal home. While Hawke wants to return to his old life, Grayce struggles to keep the threads of her new life from unraveling, and realizes she wants to stay in the one place that will allow her to finally live as a girl.

What’s Niki’s favorite bit?

 The Deep and Dark Blue cover image

NIKI SMITH

I devoured stories that played with gender as a kid. Mulan, disguising herself as a male soldier to keep her father safe. Tamora Pierce’s Alanna, eager to serve as a knight, even if she had to take a new name to do it. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night— the trope goes back centuries, and I love it in all its forms. But what I never saw was the reverse: it was always a character yearning to live the life of a boy. The life of a girl was full of boring needlework: tedious and something to escape.

But what if it weren’t? What if “women’s work” wasn’t just something to dread? The more I researched, the more I wanted to write a system of magic with its roots deep in fiber and textile arts… so I did! The Deep & Dark Blue is about twins on the run, disguising themselves and joining a sisterhood of women who weave living bloodline tapestries, healers who use cat’s cradle to knit bone— all powered by a mysterious, deep blue dye. Grayce, a young trans girl who finds a family in this sisterhood, becomes a spinner, using a small, carved drop spindle to control the wind and manipulate the world around her.

Spindles have been around for thousands of years, back to Neolithic times. Small enough to fit into a pocket and simple enough for a child to use, spinning was ingrained in every part of life: it gave us thread, rope, and cloth, and it’s not at all surprising that the spindle found its way into religion and mythology around the world.

In ancient Greece, the three Fates, the Moirai, assigned destinies to every mortal at birth. One goddess spun the thread of life, the next measured its length, and the third severed it. In Norse mythology, you’ll find the same three goddesses, the Norns, spinning the threads of mortals’ lives at the base of Yggdrasil. I moved to Munich a few years ago and my favorite tourist spot is the incredibly gaudy and Baroque Asam Church— and there, again, I found the spindle and thread of life.

Spindle in Asam Church

The conclusion of Plato’s Republic describes the orbit of the celestial bodies revolving around the Earth, a model of the workings of the then-known universe. At the heart: the “Spindle of Necessity.” Held by Ananke, the primordial deity, and spun by the three Fates: the cosmos exists on a spindle.

Spindles show up in folklore and fairytales everywhere. Disney tells us that Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on a spinning wheel, but the tale is from an era before spinning wheels— her curse was the sharp point of a drop spindle. Witches may ride broomsticks nowadays, but in medieval Europe they rode distaffs: the wooden staffs that held their wool for spinning…

Spindle of cosmos (left), witch riding spindle (right)

Working as a spinster meant a woman could support herself without needing to marry— a wild concept! And one not generally appreciated by the rest of the folks in town.

I wove that into The Deep & Dark Blue: a self-sufficient enclave of women, working a mysterious magic through fiber arts. A tight-knit sisterhood that a young girl yearns to be a part of, and when the chance comes, she seizes it.

LINKS:

The Deep & Dark Blue Universal Book Link

Website

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Instagram

My Favorite Bit: Derek Künsken talks about THE QUANTUM GARDEN

My Favorite BitDerek Künsken is joining us to talk about his novel The Quantum Garden. Here’s the publisher’s description:

THE ULTIMATE CHASE

Days ago, Belisarius pulled off the most audacious con job in history. He’s rich, he’s back with the love of his life, and he has the Time Gates, the most valuable things in existence. Nothing could spoil this…

…except the utter destruction of his people and their world. To save them, he has to make a new deal with the boss he just double-crossed, travel back in time and work his quantum magic once again.

If he can avoid detection, dodge paradox and stay ahead of the eerie, relentless Scarecrow, he might just get back to his own time alive.

What’s Derek’s favorite bit?

The Quantum Garden cover image

DEREK KÜNSKEN

I’m a sense of wonder junkie. I think the universe is vast and marvelous and too strange to really comprehend. Its weirdness can only be appreciated, considered from all angles, turned over like a pebble in restless fingers.

So my stories gravitate to hard, icy worlds, tragically genetically-engineered people, the metallic clouds sailing through the upper atmospheres of brown dwarfs, and the interior of wormholes. My characters often have strange perceptions and see the world off-angle, living through a kind of insightful disorientation, sometimes with Québécois swearing.

I have all this in The Quantum Garden, my second novel, a kind of space opera Back to the Future story. But if we’re getting to brass tacks about my favourite bit, I have to pick the heart of the time travel story. Time travel stories do lots of exciting things, but in my favourite ones the dislocation in time is a lens magnifying who we are and where we come from.

Each of us at some point in life asks why we are the way we are, what influences added together to make us. Sometimes we ask those questions many times. I do. That kind of questioning is at the core of the novel for Ayen Iekanjika, whom we first met in The Quantum Magician. What separates her from me is that she’s obliged to go back in time, to the events around her birth, and those around the birth of her nation and its myths. She finds things very different from her present, in ways that she both anticipated and didn’t anticipate.

Time travel literature is the ultimate lens for looking into causality. It obliges us to think about what causes are and where our personal strengths and weaknesses come from. Occasionally and unnervingly, self-knowledge tells us that some very deep, important things are fragile, and have no causes at all.

The Quantum Garden was a deep dive into this for me. I only realized afterwards that the questions in the novel are obviously bothering me in some way, even if I don’t know where they came from. So, even though there are AIs and sub-zero alien plant intellects and weird physics and biology, my favourite bit is the deeply personal story I got to explore in Ayen’s past. 

LINKS:

The Quantum Garden Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

Webtoons

BIO:

After leaving molecular biology, Derek worked with street kids in Central America before finding himself in the Canadian foreign service. He now writes science fiction in Gatineau, Québec. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. His first novel, The Quantum Magician, was nominated for the Locus, Aurora and Chinese Nebula awards, and has been published in English, Mandarin and Japanese, with French and Russian translations forthcoming. He also writes a fun girl-mercenary-jetpack-Flash-Gordon adventure comic called Briarworld at Webtoons.com.

My Favorite Bit: Cynthia Hand talks about THE HOW AND THE WHY

My Favorite BitCynthia Hand is joining us today to talk about The How and the Why. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Today Melly had us writing letters to our babies. I can’t imagine you as an actual baby, let alone an eighteen-year-old person reading this letter. I’m not even eighteen yet, myself. -S

Cassandra McMurtrey has a family. One with a loving mother and a father too full of cheesy dad jokes for his own good. They’re the best parents a girl could ask for, and they’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs—except maybe the one thing she wants.

Like to know who she is. Where she came from. Questions that her adoptive parents, no matter how much they love her, can’t answer. Mysteries she feels she must solve.

Cass can’t stand the thought of hurting the family she has by searching for a woman she’s never met. But eighteen years ago, a teenage girl wrote Cass a series of letters. Letters that have been sealed up in the Idaho Bureau of Vital Records since the day she was born. Letters that might just hold the answers Cass has been searching for. Clues, waiting to be found.

What’s Cynthia’s favorite bit?

The How and the Why cover image

CYNTHIA HAND

I was a theatre nerd in high school. Over the four years that I spent at Bonneville High School, (in Idaho Falls, Idaho) I acted in fifteen plays, and helped with dozens more. Theatre was my life. It was a way for me for explore who I wanted to be through playing other people. I was (and still am) an introvert, but being on the stage allowed me to come out of my shell. There was no better feeling for me than being up there under the lights.

I kept doing theatre in college, but once I graduated that part of my life abruptly ended. I poured all of my creative energy into writing. So at the point when I started working on The How & The Why, my eighth novel, I hadn’t been in a play for (gulp) almost twenty years.

The How & The Why is primarily a story about adoption. Half of it is told from the point of view of a pregnant teenager writing letters to the unborn baby she intends to place for adoption. The other half of the story is told by Cass, the eighteen-year-old girl that adopted child grows up to become.

Cass is a senior at Bonneville High School, in Idaho Falls, Idaho. She’s also a theatre nerd.

Getting to write about the theatre again was definitely one of my favorite parts of working on this novel, and the best part was that Cass gets to try out for, rehearse, and perform one of my all-time favorite musicals: Into The Woods. There was a movie version a few years ago that was pretty good, but the play itself, live on the stage is absolutely magical.

I’ve always wanted to be in Into the Woods, but never got the chance back in the day. So, in a way, I got to live vicariously through Cass. I watched as many different versions of the musical as I could get my hands on: the movie version, the Broadway version (which is the best one, in my opinion—Bernadette Peters is the best!) and a half dozen student versions. I figured out what character Cass would be best cast as, along with her best friend, Nyla, and her new love interest, Bastian (who obviously had to play Prince Charming). I designed the set that Cass would perform on, and chose the costume she would wear. I thought about how she would feel, rehearsing song after tricky Sondheim song. I waited in the wings with her, while she was waiting to go on stage for her big solo.

And finally her “Moment In The Woods” arrived. Cass stood on the stage, under the lights, feeling the eyes of the audience, her heart pounding, her nerves zinging, and she sang.

And for just a fleeting moment, I got to go back and be up there with her.

It really was my favorite bit.

LINKS:

The How and the Why Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

Cynthia Hand is the New York Times bestselling author of several books for teens, including the UNEARTHLY trilogy, THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE, MY LADY JANE and MY PLAIN JANE (with fellow authors Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows), THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE, and the upcoming novels THE HOW & THE WHY (November 5, 2019) and MY CALAMITY JANE (June 2, 2020). Before turning to writing for young adults, she studied literary fiction and earned both an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in fiction writing. She currently resides in Boise, Idaho, with a husband who’s addicted to buying typewriters, two kids, two cats, one crazy dog, and a mountain of books. Find her online at www.cynthiahandbooks.com