I have a post at the Tor/Forge site today about The Calculating Stars and Hidden Figures and internalized bias, go check it out!
Here’s a teaser:
As mainstream culture becomes increasingly vocal about the politics of gender, it makes me aware of all of the damaging narrative that I’ve internalized and which has created internal biases in myself. Those show up in my fiction. So when I sit down to write, I now assume that I have a bias.
J.S. Fields is here today with the final book in the Ardulum series, Ardulum: Third Don. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The planet wakes.
Atalant is torn between two worlds. In uncharted space, head of a sentient planet, the new eld of Ardulum now leads the religion she once rejected. Emn is by her side but the Mmnnuggl war brewing in the Charted Systems, threatening her homeworld of Neek, cannot be ignored. Atalant must return to the planet that exiled her in order to lead the resistance. She must return home a god, a hypocrite, a liar in gold robes, and decide whether to thrust her unwilling people into the truth of Ardulum, or play the role she has been handed and never see her family, or her world, again.
What’s J.S. favorite bit?
I’m a scientist.
And I’m back.
Although I spend a lot of time in real life, and in the ARDULUM series, talking about wood science (or the science of cellulose, specifically), I never really get a chance to talk about the other side of my job, which is…
Wait for it…
Not the kind that grow on your bread, or in your shower, or the black kind that everyone gets super bent out of shape about for no good reason (can someone please make one of those friendly spider memes for mold? Please?). I work with wood-decaying fungi which, as you might imagine, is sort of perfect since all the tech in ARDULUM is cellulose-based. So what better plot device, what better mass-panic-inducing organism, than a fungus that can literally eat the galaxy?
Fungi have always been a part of the Charted Systems and the Alliance, if somewhat subtly. The menagerie of genders presented in the series are each modeled after a species of fungus. Conveniently fungi present practically limitless options for gender and sexual reproduction, and aliens should be at least as diverse as fungi (our closest evolutionary friends, in terms of kingdom). But I didn’t just want to model gender in THIRD DON, I actually wanted to imagine what fungi, as sentient beings (that can communicate with us. I’m not saying current fungi aren’t sentient. Don’t come after me, mycophiles!) would look like, how they might move, and how they might communicate.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of space to get into the minutiae of sentient fungal mechanics, but I’m really pleased with the parts I did get to play with. How do fungi emote? If we give them more ‘understandable’ traits, a big one would be a large spore expulsion. Although not all fungi release spores in such a manner on Earth, it seems like a reasonable evolutionary trait to be able to aggressively shoot spores (especially foul smelling ones) at someone who is bothering you. The spores could be sticky, smelly, or rapidly come to life and continue attacking. What fun! And what a mess to clean up. One can imagine if extended negotiations were needed with sentient fungi, one would try to make sure tempers stayed cool.
Another big issue would be communication. Fungi communicate chemically, as do most living things, and also, in theory, through their extensive hyphal networks. For THIRD DON I tried to combine the two methods, by indicating that the sentient fungi used chemical signals, but in order to communicate in ‘Common’ with Atalant, rubbed their hyphae together to mimic speaking sounds. I assume the chitin content of fungal hyphae would need to be drastically increased to make the kind of noises needed to ‘talk,’ but hey, this is science fiction. You can take some things on spec, surely.
Finally, movement. Fungi capable of running a planet and interacting with bipeds need a way to locomote. And since this is an entire kingdom we’re talking about here, not just a species (like, say, Homo sapien), there needed to be some variation. So I selected across a broad group of fruiting forms, from the very recognizable stinkhorn fungi (specifically the ‘veiled lady,’ Phallus indusiatus), to the ascomycetes cup fungus elf’s cup (Chlorociboria spp.), to a fungus that has no known fruiting body nor common name: Scytalidium cuboideum.
Dragging seemed the easiest way to get around, and most fungi make hyphae, so across the board the fungi pull themselves along with braided hyphae. But to denote species differences, I got into the mechanics of each type. The veiled lady can detach their ‘veil’ and wave it around (or smack other beings with it) in anger, using hyphal ‘hands.’ Scytalidium cuboideum moves both through its mycelium, and through expulsion of pigment from its hyphae (in real life, the fungus makes a beautiful red pigment which is used in textile dyeing). The final fungus, elf’s cup, doesn’t do much unique with their movement, but since this fungus has been used for hundreds of years in Western Europe for dyeing wood intarsia and marquetry pieces, I wanted to make sure there was a nod to its expansive pigment production. Hence, every time the fungus is on something woody in THIRD DON (which is basically all the time), it injects a blue-green color into the wood, as well as leaves a trail of blue-green pigment in its wake. Like a car leaking oil, but prettier.
The sentient fungi of THIRD DON are mostly limited to one chapter, and play a very small role in the overall plot, but in many ways they were the most fun to write. A biped is a biped, especially in sci-fi, and especially if we want people to be able to relate to the character, but fungi…ah, we have such creative freedom with fungi! Genders and digestion and habitat and communication…really it’s a wonder there aren’t more sci-fi stories dedicated to their biology.
And maybe if there were, people wouldn’t be so terrified of the mold in their shower.
J.S Fields is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. Fields enjoys roller derby, woodturning, making chainmail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, and pronoun indifferent. Always up for a Twitter chat.
Marie Brennan is joining us today with the serial fiction Born to the Blade, written with Michael R. Underwood, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw. Here is the description:
Youth. Ambition. Power. Oda no Michiko and Kris Denn have much of the first two, and crave the last. To get it, all they must do is survive.
For centuries, the Warder’s Circle on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei has given the nations of the sky a way to avoid war, as their chosen warders settle disputes through magical duels of blade and sigil. But that peace is on the edge of crumbling, crushed between the aggression of the Mertikan Empire and the determination of the still-free nations to not be consumed. Twaa-Fei may be neutral, but it is also home to a million intrigues, schemes, and deadly intentions.
Michiko and Kris arrive in this treacherous world together, bladecrafters eager to serve their countries — Michiko as a junior warder for Katuke, a vassal of the empire, Kris as an upstart challenging to win a seat for his home, Rumika, in the Circle. But before the young bladecrafters have even settled in, a power struggle erupts, a man’s head is parted from his shoulders, and every good thing Michiko thinks she knows about the empire comes into question. A storm is coming, and Kris and Michiko stand at its eye. Will it bind the nations of the sky together… or tear it apart?
This is going to sound weird . . . but my favorite bit in Born to the Blade, the collaborative novel I wrote with Michael R. Underwood, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw, might just be Bellona.
Bellona? The arrogant, high-handed character everybody loves to hate? How can I name her, when I could choose from Michiko, Kris, Ojo, Adechike (officially nicknamed “Beautiful Cinnamon Roll” by the writing team)?
I don’t like Bellona. It’s no accident that she’s named after the Roman goddess of war: she spreads strife wherever she goes, sometimes on purpose, sometimes just by being who she is. She’s utterly invested in the ideology of the Mertikan Empire, which is best described as “rabid meritocracy.” It’s a land where every person is . . . not encouraged, that’s too gentle; more like required . . . to pursue excellence in whatever it is they do, whether that’s being a bladecrafter representing the Empire on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei, or a street sweeper in the capital city.
In Mertika, if you can prove you’re good at a thing, then the job is yours. Other islands in the sky use formal confrontations with swords to settle political treaties or points of dispute, but in Mertika, you can challenge for any position, attempting to prove your worth through a suitable kind of duel. Want to become a cook? Think Iron Chef. Barber? Time to see who can produce the fastest, cleanest shave. Anybody can become Emperor or Empress . . . if they can defeat the current ruler in a test of combined swordplay and magic.
Of course, there are consequences if you challenge and fail. Then you tumble all the way to the bottom of the hierarchy, not only in this lifetime but the next.
Because that’s the other thing: Mertikans remember their previous lives.
Every island in the sky bestows a magical birthright on people born there (regardless of their ancestry). For Mertikans, it’s past-life recall. Combine that with their ideology, and you have a recipe for the “tiger mom” stereotype on steroids: a constant drumbeat telling them to achieve, achieve, achieve, and the awareness of whether they’re surpassing their previous incarnation or failing to live up to it.
I don’t like Bellona, but I love the window she gives us into the Mertikan Empire. She did great things when she was Aelia Tullius, and now she’s ambitious to do more. She has to be excellent at everything she sets her hand to, whether that’s dueling, lying (an excellence she’s never really possessed), or throwing a baby shower for a pregnant Warder. When her superior, Lavinia, tells her she should recognize the limits of her reach, Bellona rejects that outright:
Only an idiot concluded that, because the peach was high in the tree, she would never be able to pluck it. Someone, sometime in the distant past, had faced the same problem . . . and invented the ladder.
Bellona will invent whatever ladders she has to in order to achieve her goals. Even when I detest those goals, even when I want to smack her upside the head with proof that just because Mertika pursues excellence doesn’t mean it’s good, I find her mindset compelling. So while I love many of the characters in our story — nerdy Takeshi, long-suffering Yochno, noble Penelope, flamboyant Shun — Bellona might just be my favorite, because she’s so determined to be the best.
If what she winds up being best at is making readers loathe her, then we’ve done our job.
Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material. She most recently misapplied her professors’ hard work to the Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent; the first book of that series, A Natural History of Dragons, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and won the Prix Imaginales for Best Translated Novel. Her collaborative novel Born to the Blade, written with Michael R. Underwood, Malka Older, and Cassandra Khaw, is out this spring from Serial Box. She is also the author of the Doppelganger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasies Lies and Prophecy and Chains and Memory, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, the Varekai novellas, and more than fifty short stories. For more information, visit www.swantower.com.
Warren Hammond is joining us today with his novella Denver Moon:The Minds of Mars, co-authored with Joshua Viola. Here’s the description:
Once considered humanity’s future home, Mars hasn’t worked out like anybody hoped. Plagued by crime and a terraforming project that’s centuries from completion, Mars is a red hell.
Denver Moon, P.I., works the dark underbelly of Mars City. While investigating a series of violent crimes linked to red fever—a Martian disorder that turns its victims into bloodthirsty killers—Denver discovers a cryptic message left by Tatsuo Moon, Mars City co-founder and Denver’s grandfather. The same grandfather who died two decades ago.
Twenty-year-old revelations force Denver on a quest for truth, but Tatsuo’s former friend, Cole Hennessy, leader of the Church of Mars, has other plans and will stop at nothing to keep Denver from disclosing Tatsuo’s secrets to the world.
Hell-bent on reclaiming her grandfather’s legacy, Denver—along with her AI implant, Smith, companion android, Nigel, and shuttle pilot, Navya—set out on a quest to find the answers they hope will shed light on the church’s true agenda, the origin of red fever, and the mysteries surrounding Tatsuo’s tragic death.
What’s Warren’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit of Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars wasn’t my idea. It was my co-author, Joshua Viola, who came up with the idea of using a gun as Denver Moon’s sidekick. “The gun has been installed with an AI,” he said. “And Denver talks to it when she does her PI work.”
The thought of a talking gun made me smile. From the very beginning, Josh and I wanted to have fun with this project, and making a gun into a primary character sounded like…well, fun. I suggested we name our AI-in-a-gun sidekick Smith, because the gun is a Smith and Wesson. That elicited a grin, and we were off to the races, running with a good idea like all writers do.
That’s the exciting part of a collaborative project. Josh and I both bring good ideas, but those ideas become so much more special when we bounce them off each other, and they morph, and shift, and inspire unexpected turns that far exceed our original thoughts.
The next idea was this: the AI-in-a-gun sidekick carries the memories of Denver’s dead grandfather, the founder of Mars colony. Thanks to this addition, Smith began to grow a personality. Unable to keep himself separate from the memories he carries, he now had his own thoughts and feelings. He was no longer a smoother-talking version of an Amazon Echo or Apple Siri. He was now a fully-realized character who, we decided, would often have an agenda all his own.
And what if Denver gets annoyed when Smith acts too much like her grandfather? What if, among her grandfather’s memories, Smith finds a message implying Denver’s grandfather might not be dead?
Ideas work like that sometimes. One leads to the next, which leads to the next, until they seem to take on a life all their own. Adding layer after layer to Denver and Smith’s world, we built the foundation for Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars as well as a three-issue comic book series named Denver Moon: Metamorphosis. We debuted the comics recently at the Denver Independent Comic & Arts Expo, where we received an unexpected gift.
It was during a quiet period at the Hex Publisher’s booth that a young man picked up the first issue of the comic book series. Silently, he read a few pages as both Josh and I—tired from a long day— sat quietly behind the table. But then the young man started to chuckle. Speaking to himself, he said, “She’s talking to her gun.”
Hearing those words, I smiled, too, just like the first time I heard it.
Warren Hammond grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Upon obtaining his teaching degree from the University at Albany, he moved to Colorado, and settled in Denver where he can often be found typing away at one of the local coffee shops. He is known for his gritty, futuristic KOP series from TOR Books. By taking the best of classic detective noir, and reinventing it on a destitute colony world, Warren has created these uniquely dark tales of murder, corruption and redemption. KOP Killer won the 2012 Colorado Book Award for best mystery. Always eager to see new places, Warren has traveled extensively. Whether it’s wildlife viewing in exotic locales like Botswana and the Galapagos Islands, or trekking in the Himalayas, he’s always up for a new adventure.
Joshua Viola is an author, artist, and former video game developer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smurfs, TARGET: Terror). In addition to creating a transmedia franchise around The Bane of Yoto, honored with more than a dozen awards, he is the author of Blackstar, a tie-in novel based on the discography of Celldweller. His debut horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, was a Denver Post and Amazon bestseller and named one of the Best Books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. His second anthology, Cyber World (co-edited by Jason Heller), was an Independent Publisher Book Awards winner and Colorado Book Award finalist and named one of the Best Books of 2016 by Barnes & Noble. His short fiction has appeared in The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Found anthology (RMFW Press), D.O.A. III – Extreme Horror Collection (Blood Bound Books), and The Literary Hatchet (PearTree Press). He lives in Denver, Colorado, where he is chief editor and owner of Hex Publishers.
Cat Rambo is joining us today to talk about her novel Hearts of Tabat. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Fireworks, riots, and rousing speeches all mark the vast societal upheavals taking place in the city of Tabat. But personal upheavals reflect the chaos. Adelina Nettlepurse, noted historian and secret owner of Spinner Press, watches the politics and intrigue with interest, only to find herself drawn into its heart by a dangerous text and a wholly unsuitable love affair with a man well below her station.
The match offered by Merchant Mage Sebastiano Silvercloth would be much more acceptable, but Sebastiano is hampered by his own troubles at the College of Mages, where the dwindling of magical resources threatens Tabat itself. And worse, his father demands he marry as soon as possible.
When Adelina’s best friend, glamorous and charming gladiator Bella Kanto, is convicted of sorcery and exiled, the city of Tabat undergoes increasing turmoil as even the weather changes to reflect the confusion and loss of one of its most beloved heroes.
Meanwhile the Beasts of Tabat — magical creatures such as dryads, minotaurs, and centaurs — are experiencing a revolution of their own, questioning a social order that holds them at its lowest level. But who is helping the Beasts in their subversive uprising?
In the second book of the Tabat Quartet, award-winning author Cat Rambo expands the breathtaking story from Beasts of Tabat with new points of view as Adelina, Sebastiano, and others add their voices. Tabat is a world, a society, and a cast of characters unlike any you have read before.
What’s Cat’s favorite bit?
One of my favorite pieces of the most recent fantasy novel, Hearts of Tabat, didn’t actually get into the final version, which was a set of chapter headers defining which Trade God each chapter belonged to. The Trade Gods of the city of Tabat embody various economic forces of one size or another, ranging from the large Anbo and Enba (Supply & Demand) to the more particular, like Zampri, who oversees Advertising, or Uhkephelmi, God of Small Mistakes.
I ended up removing these headers because I was afraid readers might take them to be more meaningful than they are, but they were great fun to figure out and many still made their way into the book itself or other Tabat works, such as the novelette I just finished, “God of the Balanced Ledger,” which talks at great lengths about some of the practices of merchants of Tabat.
I love complicated mythologies, and I’ve tried to create one in the Trade Gods, though I’ve also tried to make their names make sense by making a list of the more important morphemes as well as creating suffixes that identify gender: female, male, neuter, multi, and other. I know that if a god’s name starts out with “Dom,” for instance, they have something to do with communication, such as Dompkepko, God of Negotiation, or their sibling Domkepthka, God of Persuasion. “Aril” on the other hand usually signals some sort of tie or alliance.
In creating the mythology, I’ve tried to show how the merchants living within it see the world, as something that is made up of economic forces, with a sense of a mythology that is as much a textbook of basic economic theory as it is a scripture, but still captures the flavor of a lively, energetic pantheon. Some of them got quite complicated, such as Rilriliworhaomu, Trade God of Hypothetical Marital Alliances.
The sequel, Exiles of Tabat, is dedicated to another specific trade god, Uhcoemo, Trade God of Exiles. Where this book has explored some of the events of the first from different points of view, the third returns to Bella Kanto and Teo, this time far away from Tabat, struggling with the immense changes that have happened in their lives.
Some folks have said nice things about the worldbuilding in both Hearts of Tabat as well as its predecessor, Beasts, and I think it’s pieces like this, which provide both underlying structure and new directions for stories to go in, that help create an immersive, interesting world, along with all the fantastic talking gryphons, magic fountains, and other details of the seaport of Tabat. By now I’ve written not just two and a half novels in its world, but over two dozen stories, and I know I’ll keep coming back and finding new details, perhaps overseen in that endeavour by Marbu, Trade God of Chance and Domkepdepru, Trade God of Books.
Here’s some of those other Gods for your amusement:
Abkerdomma, Trade God of Full Disclosure
Abvioti, Trade God of First Impressions
Angrajekna, Trade God of Beasts
Angrato, Trade God of Cargo
Arilkepgioti, Trade God of Apprenticeship
Arilkepyaotu, Trade God of Mentorship
Arilworyaomi, Trade God of Future Marital Alliances
Chalwoarma, Trade God of Lustful Influence
Chayanyata, Trade God of Medicines
Diahmo, God of the Balanced Ledger
Domkepku, Trade God of Publishing
Ehworhaoti, Trade God of Negotiating Marital Alliances
Enbi, Trade God of Need
Erilgioma, Trade God of Influence Through Childhood Friendship
Fayapprima, Goddess of Prevented Losses
Giobi, Trade God of Friendship
Hazba, Trade God of Mortality
Ihobvioki, Trade God of Public Display
Keppro, Trade God of Work
Kepterto, Trade God of Tailors
Kepverma, Trade God of Tanners
Mompru, Trade God of Food
Plarworki, Trade God of Political Connection
Rupru, Trade God of Ritual
Uhfawyanbi, Trade God of Danger, Loss, and Gambles
Uhkephelmi, Trade God of Small Mistakes
Uhmarko, Trade God of Unlucky Finds and Unfortunate Meetings
Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches atop a hill in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She is an Endeavour, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee. Her 2018 works include Hearts of Tabat (novel, WordFire Press) and the updated 3rd edition of Creating an Online Presence for Writers. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction and her popular online school, The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, see http://www.kittywumpus.net. She is the current President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. (SFWA.org)
Brenda W. Clough is joining us today to talk about her serial fiction A Most Dangerous Woman, a standalone sequel to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Here’s the description:
Marian Halcombe never believed she’d fall in love, let alone marry. That is, until she meets Theo Camlet. But when Theo’s first wife, who everyone believed to be dead, reappears, Marian’s happy-ever-after might just slip away. Marian and her brother in law, Walter, must delve into the darkest and most dangerous corners of London to save Theo from accusations of bigamy and murder, as well as the hangman’s noose.
What’s Brenda’s favorite bit?
BRENDA W. CLOUGH
Content Warning: description of genital mutilation as outdated medical procedure
A MOST DANGROUS WOMAN is solidly set in the mid-Victorian period, an era full of research nuggets. It was before antibiotics, before the germ theory, but in a period where everyone wrote everything down. So you have masses of thrilling and blood-curdling medical disaster stories. I am trying to wedge as many of the most wince-worthy ones into these novels! But some of the ones that didn’t make it into the current book include:
The period pharmacopoeia. The favorite Victorian drug was an opiate; opium or its more powerful derivatives were added to everything. Tonics. Baby supplements. Cough syrups. Malaria medicines. It’s a wonder anyone got anything done, they all must have been higher than Timothy Leary. Another beloved chemical enhancement was arsenic. It was like corn sugar for us, a useful additive to anything you can imagine. Lotions, foodstuffs, hair products – everything went down a little better with arsenic. There were no food purity regulations, no drug laws that precluded you from buying half a pound of the stuff at the local store so that you could add arsenic, or opiates, to the food you were selling or cooking for the hubby and kids.
Things to do to sick people. When Emily Bronte (author of WUTHERING HEIGHTS) was bitten by her dog, she staved off rabies by cauterizing the wound with a poker heated red-hot. She did this with her own hands, not even allowing Charlotte and Anne to help. Thank God, there were no cell phone cameras so the incident is not viewable on YouTube. The things to feed to sick people will make you feel ill just reading the recipes. The idea was that sick people were not strong enough to digest anything. So they got dishes like bread jelly (put the bread in a bowl, pour boiling water on, and after it cools take the bread out. Spoon the water left in the bowl into the invalid’s mouth). Or gruel, the bane of Oliver Twist. You could have sago gruel, oatmeal gruel or rice gruel. All of these to be served quite plain, and any leftovers could be used to glue wallpaper to the walls. If you read JANE EYRE it is clear that Bertha, the crazy wife hidden in the attic, is fed on nothing but gruel. After a year or two on this diet you would go berserk and burn the hose down too!
Creative treatment trends. There was a fashion for hydropathy, which means taking baths. Cold baths, hot baths, water poured in a steady stream onto the top of your head – all these things were supposed to help cure a variety of ailments. Charles Darwin spent years treating his digestive issues with sitz baths, sitting in a shallow basin of water. You can still view the bowl at his house in Sussex – he kept it hanging behind his office door, handy for use. Another horrific notion, mainly pushed by a single nutty doctor, was clitoridectomy. Yes, using a scissors on a woman’s most personal organ would cure her of nearly anything from toothache to infertility. That doctor got disbarred, but another, whose idea that all your health problems were caused by your teeth, was not. He prescribed extractions for everything from colds to heart trouble to gout, and did a good business. Then he got sick himself, and had all his own teeth pulled out. He was horrified when it didn’t help, and you will not be surprised to hear that after that he went into a decline.
And finally, the one medical issue that you find very little written about: STDs. Sexually transmitted illnesses were rampant, in an era when London teemed with prostitutes and there were no cures or cheap protections. There was of course no birth control, and even condoms had to be expensively and painstakingly hand-made (from lamb intestine, tied on with ribbon). Every man who strayed sooner or later picked up some horrible disease, and if they were unlucky they were infected with the most feared germ of all: syphilis, the Great Pox. It was highly infectious, and incurable. The treatments (mercury) were at best partially effective and at worst killed you outright. But you couldn’t talk about it. Because if you had an STD you, by definition, had been sleeping around. Doctors would diagnose and treat men, but carefully not tell their wives even if the lady became infected. Because it was the mister who paid the bill, and the knowledge would only upset the poor little woman, right? In any case there was no cure until the advent of penicillin, and if you were really unfortunate the disease would pop back out after years of making you ill, and drive you insane. A vast field of literary analysis is out there, exploring how the fear of VD haunts fiction and poetry of the period. As syphilis warped men’s sexuality, infected women (Isak Dinesen caught syphilis from her husband) people wrote about it in coded or veiled terms that we are only just starting to perceive.
Although I had not intended this, you can look up from the world of A MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN and be really, really glad that you live in an era with modern medicine!
Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. She writes novels and short stories. Her first fantasy, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, cottage at the edge of a forest.
This is a short story set in the Lady Astronaut Universe. It is does not contain any real spoilers for the novels — or at least nothing you couldn’t glean from a blurb about the books. Although it takes place between books 1 and 2, you don’t need to have read anything in the LAU to follow this.
Here’s the teaser
by Mary Robinette Kowal
MOON COLONY EXPANDS TO 100 COLONISTS
Sep. 26, 1960 (AP) — The International Aerospace Coalition announced today that the lunar colony, established last year, was ready to expand to hold 100 colonists. This is the next step in preparing to colonize Mars, but although many still question the necessity of such an endeavor.
Patches of orange light from the sodium vapor lamps fractured the dark parking lot at the IAC’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Six-thirty in the morning was a brutal time to start work and Ruby was already sore and exhausted, which was she tried to tell herself was good practise as an astronaut.
All she wanted was to do the NBL training run and then collapse in bed, but somehow she’d agreed to another lindy-hop dance rehearsal tonight. It was just hard to disappoint a friend that you’d been dancing with since before the Meteor struck. She didn’t have that many pieces of Before left in her life.
I’m looking for 5-10 new readers. Just raise your hand in the comments below.
What will happen then is that I’ll email you with the link and instructions on what sort of feedback I’m looking for.
Chris Cutler is joining us today to talk about his anthology Unspun. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Whatever happened to “happily ever after”?
Heroes search for happiness, villains plot revenge, and nothing is as easy as it once seemed. Gretel suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, an orphan girl questions Rumpelstiltskin’s legacy, a monster cat searches for a child to eat, and the pied piper realizes stealing a hundred and thirty children may not have been his smartest idea.
Fairy tales have endured for centuries even though—or perhaps because—their conclusions are often more unsettling than satisfying. In Unspun, eleven storytellers come together to challenge and explore a few of those classic tales. Unexpected twists are sure to provoke both thought and laughter.
What’s Chris’ favorite bit?
Fairy tales are wonderfully flawed, and we love them for it. They are morality tales whose morals have changed. They are cautionary tales repurposed as entertainment. They are improbable tales built out of incongruities and logic holes. They are escapist tales in which love at first sight relationships and rags-to-riches success fade to “Happily Ever After” before the heroine has time to confront the lasting consequences of her adventure. And I am convinced that we love fairy tales precisely because of these flaws, because each dissonant quality compels us to tell the story over again in a new way. Without those rough edges to catch our imagination, they couldn’t have embedded themselves so deeply into our social consciousness.
If you can’t tell, I happen to really love fairy tale adaptations. Several of my all-time favorite books fall into that category, as do many of the bedtime stories I tell my children. There is something inescapably fun about unpacking motivations to make the characters feel genuine. There is something incredibly satisfying about rearranging background events and people to justify the narrative thread of a story. And, at heart, there is something simply wonderful about telling a familiar story in a new and exciting way. I was thrilled by the experience of participating in this anthology because it not only allowed me to join some great authors in doing exactly this sort of unpacking, rearranging, and retelling, but it also let each of us explore the wonderful realm of “What happens next?”
For example, I absolutely adore Jeanna Stay’s story “Breadcrumbs,” which follows Gretel after she escapes the horrors of the gingerbread house. How do you return to your family after betrayal and abandonment? How do you escape the nightmares that remind you of what you had to do to survive? Gretel’s struggle to find hope and direction after the trauma of her fairy tale is intensely personal and beautifully told.
Another personal favorite from the anthology is Katherine Cowley’s novella “Tatterhood and the Prince’s Hand.” In the original fairy tale, Tatterhood is an ugly princess who rides a goat and wields a magic spoon. After rescuing her sister from trolls, she finds herself happily-ever-aftered to a foreign prince. In Cowley’s continuation of the story, Tatterhood is happy with herself and her abilities, but she is not entirely confident in the affection of her new husband (or in her affection for him). When he is captured by a magical creature, Tatterhood has to decide how much she wants him back. Underneath the action scenes and the search for clues, the story is an insightful and touching exploration of loyalty and confidence and acceptance.
When I approached writing “Heart of a Thief,” my continuation of Jack and the Beanstalk, the flaw that captured my attention was the cow. Recall that Jack’s whole adventure starts off when he sells the family cow to an old man in exchange for a handful of magic beans. If someone has genuine magic beans, why on earth would they trade them for a cow that can no longer help Jack and his mother subsist?
As it happens, there are a whole slew of possible ulterior motives. Here is a glimpse into my brainstorming session:
The man is Jack’s estranged father in disguise, coming back to make amends by giving Jack something valuable.
It’s the giant’s wife in disguise, hoping to get rid of her good-for-nothing husband. That explains why she keeps hiding Jack in the house on repeated visits despite Jack’s habit of running off with their valuables.
No disguise, he’s just a con man. Buying the cow is step one of a heist. It’s easier to rob a farmhouse than a giant’s stronghold, and he’s planning to steal the treasure from Jack.
He is a pickpocket who stole the beans from a passing wizard, not knowing their value. Now he’s being pursued and needs to offload them quick.
Maybe it’s a fair trade, even knowing all the treasure that Jack stands to gain, because the cow is magic, too! When fed the right diet, this cow’s milk is like the fountain of youth!
No wait, the cow is his true love, a princess enchanted years ago by an evil witch. (This might be the most plausible yet. Princesses, witches, and true love are hardly in short supply in these stories.)
Settling on a reason for the trade (none of the above, actually) was crucial in establishing the old man’s character, but once I had done so I mistakenly assumed that the cow’s part in this was over. After all, the story is about the bean-seller, not the the cow he bought. To my surprise, the cow continued to impact the story from start to finish. Her presence altered the direction of the plot, constrained the choices available to the protagonist, and illuminated the motivations of those around her. When the old man sits on a hill watching villagers steal from the giant’s corpse, the cow is grazing in the background. When he leaves the village, his interaction with the cow is a primary lens into his personality. When he seeks a path to the giant’s house, he finds himself severely limited by the need to bring the cow with him. And in the climax when he discovers more obstacles in his way, the cow gets to play a role yet again.
I set out to tell the story of the bean-seller, a background character from the original fairy tale. I found that in order to do his story justice I needed to include another background story, the story of the cow he bought. Letting the two of them interact ended up driving the creative process of almost every scene, and I love that a loose end I almost overlooked in the original fairy tale turned out to have such an immense impact. She doesn’t get to play much of a role in Jack’s story, but she forced herself onto the stage for the sequel. That’s why she’s my favorite bit.
Chris is an immunologist who, instead of songs, often gets words stuck in his head. He loves stories of all types, especially speculative fiction. He enjoys writing both poetry and prose, but despite living a mere thirty minutes from Walden Pond, Chris has yet to embrace a solitary life in the woods. (He does like to go there on walks with his two kids.)
Charles Soule is joining us today to talk about his novel The Oracle Year. Here’s the publisher’s description:
From bestselling comic-book franchise writer Charles Soule comes a clever and witty first novel of a twentysomething New Yorker who wakes up one morning with the power to predict the future — perfect for fans of Joe Hill and Brad Meltzer, or books like This Book Is Full of Spiders and Welcome to Night Vale.
Knowledge is power. So when an unassuming Manhattan bassist named Will Dando awakens from a dream one morning with 108 predictions about the future in his head, he rapidly finds himself the most powerful man in the world. Protecting his anonymity by calling himself the Oracle, he sets up a heavily guarded website with the help of his friend Hamza to selectively announce his revelations. In no time, global corporations are offering him millions for exclusive access, eager to profit from his prophecies.
He’s also making a lot of high-powered enemies, from the President of the United States and a nationally prominent televangelist to a warlord with a nuclear missile and an assassin grandmother. Legions of cyber spies are unleashed to hack the Site — as it’s come to be called — and the best manhunters money can buy are deployed not only to unmask the Oracle but to take him out of the game entirely. With only a handful of people he can trust — including a beautiful journalist — it’s all Will can do to simply survive, elude exposure, and protect those he loves long enough to use his knowledge to save the world.
Delivering fast-paced adventure on a global scale as well as sharp-witted satire on our concepts of power and faith, Marvel writer Charles Soule’s audacious debut novel takes readers on a rollicking ride where it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.
What’s Charles’s favorite bit?
Well, first and foremost – spoilers. It’s hard to talk about my favorite part of my debut novel The Oracle Year without giving away some of the plot… but I’ll do my best. The book is about the appearance of a real-deal prophet in the world, a New Yorker in his late twenties named Will Dando. This otherwise ordinary guy has one hundred and eight specific future events revealed to him, all set to happen over roughly the next year. When the first few come true, he has to try to understand why he was given such an incredible gift/curse and, more importantly, what he’s supposed to do with them.
The book follows Will’s story as the Oracle, but also the way the Oracle’s presence affects the world – and it does, massively. Every aspect of human society is changed in one way or another, from politics to religion to economics to pop culture. I think we all want to know what’s going to happen next, and if someone were out there who could actually tell us… well. It’d flip the whole world on its ear – and so it does, in The Oracle Year.
There are a lot of parts I love about the story, which is a good thing, because in order to live with a book for the years it takes to bring it into being, you better love a lot of it – if not the whole dang thing. Some of the parts I love are the parts you’ll never get to see, in fact, the bits I cut to get the novel down to a publishable length. There are a number of alternate versions of the big “Interview with the Oracle” scene, including one set on a boat floating off the Long Island coast. There’s a fully written chapter set at the Lucky Corner Massacre. There’s an interlude built around the reaction of a young woman who was the subject of an Oracle prediction stating she’d win the lottery, and what she does with her winnings. There’s a scene when the Oracle first realizes he’s the Oracle. More than that, too, “deleted scenes” of all types, not to mention the cut lines, cut words… in a way, they’re all my favorite bits, because I love the whole book, in all its incarnations.
But none of that’s really fair to you, the person reading this right now, since you’ll probably never seen any of that. So, I’ll select a section from the finished book, something you can actually read, if you’re kind enough to pick up my novel. One of Will Dando’s predictions is just a set of three numbers: 23-12-4. He doesn’t know what they mean, and the reveal is a big plot point from the ending, so I won’t spoil it here. What I will say is that Will spends a bunch of time and money trying to figure it out for himself. He hires a bunch of consultants from all disciplines – mathematicians, codebreakers, numerologists, astronomers, you name it. (He gets very rich at one point in the book, which is how he’s able to afford all of that.) One of the consultants, a numerologist/kabbalist, tells him that the numbers might refer to a certain Bible verse. When the first letters of each line in that verse are lined up, they form an anagram which, when unscrambled, reads ‘God quit the sad task,’ with two letters left over: W and D.
Now, remember that the prophet’s real name is Will Dando. W and D. Will didn’t tell the numerologist his actual name when he commissioned the report, so to the analyst, the W and D are just two random letters. To Will, though, they read like a sign that the message was created especially for him – in an ancient religious text. He’s not sure what it means, if anything, but it freaks him right out. This ends up being a red herring in the story, just a coincidence, but it gives that part of the book a very cool frisson of “oooh, what does that mean?” possibility that I think is a lot of fun.
The Oracle Year is full of a bunch of things like that – so why is this my favorite bit? Because it’s true. When I was trying to think of fun things to do for alternate explanations of the 23-12-4 numbers, I did a bunch of research. I found that verse, figured out the anagram, and then saw that it ended up with two leftover letters that just happened to be the initials of my main character. An incredibly fortunate coincidence, just a happy accident, but the kind of thing I knew I could really run with – and I did.
For me, writing a novel generally starts in one place and ends somewhere very different, and that journey is fueled by amazing, unexpected connections you make between your ideas as you go. Something you never could have seen coming until you were deep into the story ends up pushing everything in a new direction. Makes for quite a ride, and it’s often one of the best parts of writing something big. For me, 23-12-4 is representative of that concept as a whole, and that is why it’s my favorite bit.
Charles Soule is a musician, attorney and the New York Times bestselling author of numerous comics titles for Marvel, DC, Image and other publishers, with over 2.2 million individual comics sold in 2017 alone. He is best known for writing Daredevil, She-Hulk, Death of Wolverine, and various Star Wars comics from Marvel Comics, as well as his creator-owned series Curse Words from Image Comics and the award-winning political sci-fi epic Letter 44 from Oni Press. Letter 44 was an official selection of the 2016 Festival International de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême, France, which recognizes the finest graphic titles published in the French language. Soule also received the 2015 Stan Lee Excelsior Award for Superman/Wonder Woman Vol.1: Power Couple. His series Twenty-Seven (with Renzo Podesta) and She-Hulk (with Javier Pulido and Ronald Wimberly) were included on the “Great Graphic Novels for Teens” list from the Young Adult Library Services Association in 2012 and 2016, respectively.
Kate Heartfield is joining us today to talk about her novel Armed in Her Fashion. Here is the publisher’s description:
In 1328, Bruges is under siege by the Chatelaine of Hell and her army of chimeras—humans mixed with animals or armour, forged in the deep fires of the Hellbeast. At night, revenants crawl over the walls and bring plague and grief to this city of widows.
Margriet de Vos learns she’s a widow herself when her good-for-nothing husband comes home dead from the war. He didn’t come back for her. The revenant who was her husband pulls a secret treasure of coins and weapons from under his floorboards and goes back through the mouth of the beast called Hell.
Margriet killed her first soldier when she was 11. She’s buried six of her seven children. She’ll do anything for her daughter, even if it means raiding Hell itself to get her inheritance back.
Margriet’s daughter is haunted by a dead husband of her own, and blessed, or cursed, with an enchanted distaff that allows her to control the revenants and see the future. Together with a transgender man-at-arms who has unfinished business with the Chatelaine, a traumatized widow with a giant waterpowered forgehammer at her disposal, and a wealthy alderman’s wife who escapes Bruges with her children, Margriet and Beatrix forge a raiding party like Hell has never seen.
What’s Kate’s favorite bit?
Let me tell you a secret. All along, as I was writing my novel Armed in Her Fashion, I was rooting for the villain.
The thing is, the Chatelaine of Hell has reasons to be pissed off. Long ago, her husband abducted her. He imprisoned her inside a chthonic beast for centuries. When the novel begins, in 1328 CE, she’s driven the beast called Hell up to the surface of the Earth, having locked said husband in an oubliette within. All she wants now is what any medieval ruler wants: some land, some alliances, and an army when she needs it. Is that so much to ask?
Sure, she’s ruthless, manipulative, downright cruel. But no more so than her ally, Philip VI of France. Philip promised to make her a countess, with land and vassals of her own, in exchange for her help in his wars. But he’s not eager to fulfill that promise. The Chatelaine has Hell at her disposal, with its revenants and its furnaces. Giving her more authority and legitimacy doesn’t strike the French king as a very good idea.
Philip—who happens to owe his crown to the opinions of Very Learned Men when it comes to gender and inheritance law—has an interest in drawing the Chatelaine into legal disputes about the property rights of women.
So does a much less powerful figure marching across Europe, armed with nothing but a frying pan, to demand her own inheritance. The widow Margriet de Vos comes from Flanders, which has some of the most enlightened laws in medieval Europe when it comes to widows’ rights. She wants something that belonged to her dead husband, a weapon that the Chatelaine is desperate not to lose.
This is my favorite bit: The villain who is a mirror of the protagonist. They’re both stubborn, they both have (literally and figuratively) rotten husbands, and they are both ready to use any means necessary to get their due.
From the vantage point of 2018, the progress of women’s rights—and human rights in general—tends to get smoothed into a global narrative that looks natural, even inevitable. Progress doesn’t work that neatly. The rights of widows in 14th-century Bruges, for example, were completely different from the rights of widows at precisely that time in Florence. It’s far from inevitable, and it can always go backward. The only way justice has ever happened is by ordinary people fighting for it, with pots and pans if need be.
I’ve always been drawn to villains who make a pretty good point, even when they’re getting in the hero’s way; Marvel’s Erik Killmonger is a great example. I’ve also always been fascinated by villains whose identity and backstory is obscure. Maybe it’s a taste I picked up as a kid reading J.R.R. Tolkien; I still remember the chill that went through me the first time I read about the Mouth of Sauron, whose “name is remembered in no tale, for he himself had forgotten it.”
The Chatelaine makes a similar appearance:
“The woman told Giovanni Saranzo, the Doge of Venice, that she had been so long in the belly of that Beast that she had forgotten her birth name.
‘Was it Persephone? Was it Hel? Was it Lilith?’ The scholars asked her. She shook her head, and said it might have been, but then again it might not.
‘We thought Hell was a place,’ they said.
‘It is,’ she said. ‘It is also a Beast. A capacious Beast; it carries multitudes within it.’
‘Are you the Queen of Hell?’ they asked her.
She shook her head. ‘I have no right to that kingdom as it had no right to me,’ she said. ‘But I am, for now, its mistress and manager. I hold the keys. You may call me, perhaps, its Chatelaine.’”
I wrote that passage very early in my first draft of the novel, and I knew right away that this woman was my favorite bit.
Kate Heartfield is the author of Armed in Her Fashion, a historical fantasy novel from ChiZine Publications, and The Road to Canterbury, an interactive novel from Choice of Games. Tor.com Publishing will publish two time-travel novellas by Kate, beginning with Alice Payne Arrives in late 2018. Her fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, and Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World. A former journalist, Kate lives in Ottawa, Canada.
Sheryl R. Hayes is joining us today to talk about her novel Chaos Wolf. Here is a publisher’s description:
Bitten by a werewolf. Taught by a vampire. At this rate, she’s going to start a war.
Literature major Jordan Abbey ordered a double mocha latte, but it wasn’t supposed to come with a side order bite by a love-sick werewolf. When a vampire comes to her rescue, gut instinct tells her he has questionable motives. But he’s the only one she can trust to help get in touch with her inner animal.
Within a week, her smart mouth lands her in trouble with the hostile Alpha of the local pack and the stiff-necked vampire Elder. She now has less than a moon cycle to master shape changing… or else. And the besotted werewolf who started this whole mess is stalking Jordan and killing her friends. He won’t take no for an answer.
In the Northern California town of Rancho Robles where the children of the Wolf and the Bat share an uneasy coexistence, one woman makes an epic mess of the status quo.
What’s Sheryl’s favorite bit?
SHERYL R. HAYES
I love world building. Pick up my copy of The Magician’s Nephew and the book falls open to is where Aslan sings Narnia into being. Tolkien’s Simillarion has a well thumbed section about the creation of Arda. I read my mother’s copy of Mother West Wind’s “How” Stories over and over and over until all I had to do was close my eyes and I could see the Green Forest and all the animals who lived there. So when I got the chance, I dove in head first to create my own mythos.
It’s a standard trope of most urban fantasy that werewolves and vampires do not get along. The comment ‘it’s always been that way’ without an explanation of why left me unsatisfied. It makes sense if you consider them both as alpha predators that may be competing for the same resources. Sometimes it’s a personal dislike, but more often than not, it’s something intrinsic to both species. I wanted to dig into the reason for that instinct. That meant going all the way back to the beginning.
In my new novel Chaos Wolf, as Jordan explores her werewolf nature, she is taught about the Wolf and the Bat. All vampires and werewolves are familiar with the legend. Whether or not they believe it is another matter entirely. But they can all recite how the first Wolf and the first Bat were cursed by Gaia for killing the first Man, locking them into human forms.
If you listen to the werewolves, the Wolf showed true contrition for her sin and Luna, unable to lift the curse placed on her by Gaia, lessened it. Moved to pity, she allowed the Wolf to regain her true shape once a month, making her the first werewolf. When the Bat sought sympathy from Sol, he was punished further for attempting to deceive his patron god, transforming him into the first vampire.
The vampires tell a slightly different version. Ashamed of how he had led his friend into temptation, the Bat interceded on the Wolf’s behalf. He took on additional punishment of not being able to bear the rays of the sun in addition to the blood thirst that ravaged him. But she didn’t show any appreciation for his sacrifice, still angry at him for causing their downfall from grace.
Both the Children of the Wolf and the Children of the Bat use this story as justification for the hostilities between their species. Which one is telling the truth? Only the gods, the Wolf, and the Bat know for sure. And me, but I’m not telling.
Sheryl R. Hayes can be found untangling plot threads or the yarn her cats have been playing with. In addition to writing, she is a cosplayer focusing on knit and crochet costumes and works full time at a Bay Area water company.
Technically, this is just for Alyshondra, who is all things wonderful, BUT she wants to share her birthday present, so that means you get a story, too. Make sure to wish her a happy birthday in the comments.
The moment the stuffed giraffe drifted toward the floor of their small lunar hopper, Alyshondra knew that she had a problem. It was not that her eleven-month-old had lost her grip on the beleaguered patchwork giraffe and would start crying in about — now — but they weren’t supposed to be decelerating at this point in the trip to Grandma’s new homestead.
Amara’s wail wept up from a whimper to a full klaxxon to match Alyshondra’s internal alarm. She grimaced and ignored her daughter because the giraffe was continuing to fall.
She raked her gaze over the gauges on the panel of the hopper. 720 meters altitude, down at 80, 120 forward…. Their altitude was dropping with the giraffe and– MASCON. The moon had mass concentrations of gravity where the density of some rock formations made the gravity measurably stronger. They must be passing over one of those. Working on instinct, she gave a double tap on the nadir and aft thrusters to counter their drop and send them surging forward.
The engines kicked the seat against them. The giraffe dropped to the floor and bounced, spinning upward. Right hand on the manual controllers, Alyshondra snared the giraffe with her left as she watched the gauges. 1000 meters altitude, up at 100, 190 forward…. and steady. By the numbers, they weren’t dropping any more and were back on course for Grandma’s.
Sighing, she handed the giraffe to Amara whose wail cut off like an engine. Alyshondra’s daughter giggled and shoved the giraffe’s foot into her mouth
Glancing from the gauges, which continued to show a steady altitude, to her daughter, Alyshondra grinned and settled back into the rhythm of flight. “Well, done, little one.” She leaned forward and made a note on her logbook for the trip home. “MASCON discovered by Amara’s giraffe…”
Mary will be at the SFWA Nebula Conference in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania from Thursday, May 17th to Sunday, May 20th.
Here’s where to find her at the conference!
Thursday, May 17th
Ignite Talks (moderator) 3:30-4:30pm
Get snapshot talks on a variety of subjects, geared toward jumpstarting your brain. Presenters get 20 slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds. The results are fast and fun presentation each of which lasts just 5 minutes.
Heinlein’s Rules for writing – Kevin McLaughlin
Senses of Sailing – Rekka Jay
Poetry in Science (119 times) – Mary Soon Lee
How to Accurately Portray Mental Illness – Dr. Shana Feibel
Medieval European Swordsmanship – John Appel
how covers differ between countries and genres, and how readers interpret them – Claire Humphrey
Ghost Hunting – J.R. Dawson
The Emotions of Salvage Archaeology – Jason Sanford
SF and Rock and Roll – Larry Ivkovich
Elementary Particle Physics – Lesley L. Smith
Shape of Narrative Arc in Gaming
Stories can be found in games just as much as fiction. Panelists will discuss how they emerge in games, how the type of game affects the narrative arc, and how writers impact the story. The panel will also highlight techniques to evaluate the narrative arcs in published games.
Friday, May 18th
Makeup for Writers
You’re at a con, you’re exhausted and have to look like you’re in top form. Learn tricks for femme, ace, masc, and everyone on the gender spectrum to spackle over the fatigue. This isn’t about conforming to media stereotypes but about using a tool to look like the best version of you.
And if you’re a nominee wanting a little extra sparkle… this is a hands-on workshop.
Ongoing Funding for Authors
There are more ways for a writer to earn income now than every before. This panel focuses specifically on the subscription or patronage model for providing an author with on-going support. From Patreon to Drip to Koffi, what are some ways to reduce the uncertainty of your income stream?
Nebula Nominee Presentation
Here is your chance to meet and congratulate this year’s Nebula Nominees before the mass autographing. As a way to celebrate the nominees’ work, we have partnered with SAG/AFTRA to have two professional audiobook narrators who will read excerpts from the nominated work (Mary is one of narrators reading).
Sunday, May 20th
Self-Publishing an Audiobook (moderator)
A narrator can make or break a book. How do you find, evaluate, and work with a narrator to create the best possible audiobook? Representatives from SAG/AFTRA, (the union representing audiobook narrators) join with narrators and audiobook publishers to give you the low-down on what goes into creating an audiobook and how to proceed if you don’t want to sell your audiobook rights but would rather produce it yourself.
Mass Autographing – open to the public!
Come have your things signed by Mary and the other attendees and nominees!
Rebecca F. Kuang is joining us today with her novel The Poppy War. Here is the publisher’s description:
A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
What is Rebecca’s favorite bit?
Let’s talk about blood.
Specifically, let’s talk about menstruation.
Halfway through the first act of The Poppy War, there’s a scene where the protagonist–Rin–gets her period for the first time. The cramps are awful. She’s living in a secondary world that mirrors Song Dynasty China, so she doesn’t have access to anything so convenient as tampons or diva cups. And she has some brutal martial arts exams coming up that she needs to pass if she wants to stay at the academy, so she really doesn’t have time for this shit.
Rin’s reaction, if you’ve met her, is predictably wild.
Here’s an excerpt:
Rin reached the infirmary in a sweaty, bloody mess, halfway to a nervous breakdown. The physician on call took one look at her and called his female assistant over. “One of those situations,” he said.
“Of course.” The assistant looked like she was trying hard not to laugh. Rin did not see anything remotely funny about the situation.
The assistant took Rin behind a curtain, handed her a change of clothes and a towel, and then sat her down with a detailed diagram of the female body.
It was a testament, perhaps, to the lack of sexual education in Tikany that Rin didn’t learn about menstruation until that morning. Over the next fifteen minutes, the physician’s assistant explained in detail the changes going on in Rin’s body, pointing to various places on the diagram and making some very vivid gestures with her hands.
“So you’re not dying, sweetheart, your body is just shedding your uterine lining.”
Rin’s jaw had been hanging open for a solid minute. “What the fuck?”
I’ve always been a bit frustrated about how my favorite fantasy novels, most of them written by men, tended to hand-wave away the idea that a lot of the characters had uteruses, and that a lot of them were probably going through a monthly ritual of cramps, pain, and waves of blood. How the fork did they deal? Did they wear girdles? Did they stick some wadded-up leaves in there? You can’t exactly take period time off when you’re travelling the dirt road with your mercenary party, so do you just shut up and deal?
And what about fighting battles on your period? Period fatigue is a thing; every twenty-eight days, I’m barely able to crawl out of my bed. But the Lord of the Underworld doesn’t care about my menstruation cycle. What’s a girl to do?
Here’s what Rin decides to do:
“There’s no way to just stop it forever?”
“Not unless you cut out your womb,” Kureel scoffed, then paused at the look on Rin’s face. “I was kidding. That’s not actually possible.”
“It’s possible.” Arda, who was a Medicine apprentice, interrupted them quietly. “There’s a procedure they offer at the infirmary. At your age, it wouldn’t even require open surgery. They’ll give you a concoction. It’ll stop the process pretty much indefinitely.”
“Seriously?” Hope flared in Rin’s chest. She looked between the two apprentices. “Well, what’s stopping you from taking it?”
They both looked at her incredulously.
“It destroys your womb,” Arda said finally. “Basically kills one of your inner organs. You won’t be able to have children after.”
“And it hurts like a bitch,” Kureel said. “It’s not worth it.” But I don’t want children, Rin thought. I want to stay here. If that procedure could stop her menstruating, if it could help her remain at Sinegard, it was worth it.
Hysterectomies are at tricky subject in popular culture. Often they reduce characters to their abilities to produce children. (“Oh, my god! I can’t have kids! My life is over.) And yes–for some people, infertility is devastating. For others, getting rid of your uterus can also be empowering. It’s a personal choice. Granted, it’s an extreme choice, but Rin is nothing if not extreme.
So there’s my favorite bit. I became a fantasy author solely to gripe about how much I hate getting my period, and how much I don’t want kids. Raise your diva cups and have a drink.
Rebecca F. Kuang studies modern Chinese history at Georgetown University, and will be pursuing her graduate studies at the University of Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar. She graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2016 and the CSSF Novel Writers Workshop in 2017. She tweets at @kuangrf and blogs at www.rfkuang.com.
Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps […]