Everyone has a story they want to tell, whether that’s from fiction or from part of your life.
As I’ve been watching the news roll out from Ferguson and then in waves across the nation, I’ve been struck by how much grass-roots reporting has differed from the mainstream media narrative.
While facts and data are important, we respond most to the anecdote, to the personal story. This is why, anytime someone says, “But it’s just fiction” I want to laugh and laugh at their naive little brains. Stories are what shape the world.
For some people, getting a story out is more difficult than for others. This isn’t about talent, it’s often about opportunities and privilege. Because of the intersection of class and race in the United States, many of the people whose stories are the ones we most need to hear, are also not in a position where they can afford the time and money to take a writing class. So, I’m partnering with the Ferguson Municipal Public Library to offer a free writing workshop.
When: Saturday, January 24th 12:00-4:00pm CST
Where: Ferguson Municipal Public Library
35 N Florissant Rd
Ferguson, MO 63135
What: In this 4 hour workshop, I’ll use a combination of lecture and in class exercises to walk you through how to write short stories. The session will cover economical prose, effective use of point-of-view and how plot works in short form.
An interest in writing and a willingness to learn are all you need to participate in this class. Bring your preferred writing tools, whether that’s a laptop computer, notepad and pen, or a typewriter. If you don’t have anything handy, paper and pens will be available.
Why do I need to register if it’s free?
It tells us how many chairs to set up. But if you don’t know until the last minute, that’s okay.
We can do fiction or non-fiction stories? Really?
Yes, with one caveat. This workshop is focused on stories, not journalism or articles. So if you want to tell a story that is based on real life, (narrative non-fiction) the tools are the same as those for things that are made up.
Can people who aren’t from Ferguson come?
Yes, of course. While this was created for the community, the people of Ferguson are not the only ones who have stories to tell.
Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of The Glamourist Histories series of fantasy novels. She has received the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, three Hugo awards, and the RT Reviews award for Best Fantasy Novel. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. Her stories appear in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, and several Year’s Best anthologies. Mary, a professional puppeteer, also performs as a voice actor, recording fiction for authors such as Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. She lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters. Visit maryrobinettekowal.com
Kristi Charish is joining us today with her novel Owl and the Japanese Circus. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Linda Hamilton will flock to the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.
Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.
Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.
What’s Kristi’s favorite bit?
This is my very first novel. The first novel I ever finished, ever submitted to an agent, and had accepted by a publisher.
It still shocks me to write that. In part it’s because the situation is unusual. First novels aren’t supposed to get published. But mostly it’s because my main protagonist, Alix (AKA Owl), isn’t always…well… likeable. I should know. I wrote her that way. And Owl’s voice is My Favorite Bit.
“I can’t make normal friends,” I told Nadya. “I am not physically or mentally capable of connecting with people who aren’t as fucked up as I am.”
I’ll be the first to admit it. Owl is a very flawed character.
A lot of urban fantasy out there stars a knock-out, diamond in the rough, mercenary-like femme fatale with a conflict and plotline that centers around a love interest.
Owl is not that female protagonist and this isn’t that urban fantasy.
Owl is geeky, insecure, socially awkward, moderately addicted to an online RPG, probably drinks too much Corona, and to top it all off hates admitting she’s wrong. She is most definitely not the head turner when she steps into a room. Her friends fill that role. She doesn’t have super powers either. She relies on her wits, resourcefulness, and sheer guts to get herself out of tight situations…many of which, admittedly, she’s gotten herself into.
He smiled and flashed me those black dragon teeth again. “You’re rather famous in my circles now. Accidently bathing a vampire superior in sunlight during an excavation will do that. Though I still haven’t decided yet whether you’re brilliant or miraculously stupid for managing to deliver the sarcophagus and collecting your pay.”
…It should also probably be mentioned Owl has an uncanny knack for making bad situations worse. But Owl’s poor decision making skills aren’t from stupidity or lack of forethought. It’s because following her conscience has steered her wrong before and the results were spectacularly catastrophic. She’d be the first to tell you keeping your morals intact is expensive, and most people when called upon have no interest in paying up. Especially when it means giving up a working fridge and cable TV.
People are real happy to make friends with you when a two-thousand-year-old mummy knocks off half their team, but returning the favor always pisses them off. No one likes to pay up out of the goodness of their heart; that’s why I usually get cash up front.
Owl isn’t forgiving when it comes to people, and why should she?
Being nice and playing by the rules is what got her kicked out of grad school in the first place. The first law of not ending up a scapegoat? Make damn sure someone else is standing ahead of you in line. Morals and ethics are nice and all but don’t mean much when you’re on the run from a pack of vampires who want you dead. Knowing that if she could do it all over again she might not make the same decisions hurts, though you’ll never hear it from her.
Yeah, Owl has some anger issues to work through.
Oh…and then there’s her cat, Captain.
He feinted back and pulled on the leash in an attempt to break my hold and get back to Charles. Nope, not desensitized. Getting better at manipulation.
Owl has her faults but she also has a lot of redeeming qualities hidden under there; she’s independent, loyal to a fault, tries to do the right thing (though her interpretation of the ‘right thing’ is often a little out of the box), is determined, and hell bent on digging herself out of her own messes- be they her fault or not. Owl is not the girl who pines after the guy or waits for someone to rescue her- she’ll handle the rescuing on her own, thankyouverymuch. She tries desperately to make the best out of her bad situations while trying not to wallow in her past- a struggle I’m hoping will resonate. There’s an element of survival in Owl’s attitude as she tries to forcefully cut out an unconventional place in an unconventional world.
But make no mistake about it. This isn’t the UF heroine who confronts the corrupt institution, brings the bad guys to their knees, and otherwise redeems herself, her career, and probably the corrupt institution. This is the woman who when faced with those odds tells the institution and everyone else involved they can all go to hell. There’s something that really appeals to me about that kind of character- the one who’s no longer afraid to say exactly what she wants because the worst has already happened.
I think that’s why I love writing Alix so much- her lack of a filter means she finally has the freedom to say the things no one else can or will. The things ‘nice women’ aren’t supposed to say or do. For better or worse she’s unapologetically herself. There’s something really freeing about writing a female protagonist like that.
My favorite bit is Owl’s voice, and I’m hoping you guys will love her- faults and all- as much as I do.
Kristi is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. The second installment, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Jan 2016. Her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practioner living in Seattle, is scheduled for release mid 2016.
Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.
If you are reading this post, right now, it is because I promoted it. There is another copy of this post on my site, nearly identical, except that I didn’t promote it other than just posting it. It doesn’t take looking at the traffic numbers to figure out which one more people will read. [Edited to add: half an hour after posting both. This is at 261. The other is at 11]
Part of your job, as an author, is to promote yourself and your work. I wish that it was just to write the words, and it’s true that there are some people who can do that. Very few. The vast majority of the books that you have read, you know about because the author promoted them.
But wait! Some of you will point out that you are here because someone else pointed at this post. Someone else promoted it, not the author. Okay… how do you think they heard about it?
Grassroots, word of mouth, has long been the most effective form of promotion. That starts with the author.
Last year, I published:
- Valour and Vanity – (novel)
- “Water Over the Dam” — Spectrum (short story)
- “Expensive Taste” — Popular Science (short story)
- “A Matter of Endurance” — Defense Grid 2 (audio play)
- “Fire in the Heavens” — Shadows Beneath (novelette)
And one other.
Any idea what that was without me telling you? Do you even know what type of fiction it was?
So when awards season rolls around, or when you have a book come out, or a short story, or you win an award… If someone tells you that it’s tacky to tell people about it, they are naive.
You are doing your job.
Edited to add: Two hours in, this post has 852. The other has 61.
Also, worth noting that this post is about why it’s okay to self-promote. I have another on how to do it without looking like an ass.
The latest chapter is up, and I was right about splitting the one I was working on in two. Which means I’m still two chapters from the end. Y’all are four chapters from the end, because of how far ahead of you I write.
Meanwhile, for everyone else, here’s Sadie and Marlowe.
I know you’re really just here for the cat pictures.
David B. Coe is joining us today with his novel Spell Blind. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Book #1 in The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a new contemporary fantasy series from fantasy all-star David B. Coe. A hardboiled, magic-using private detective hunts a serial killer in Phoenix, Arizona.
Justis Fearsson is a private investigator on the trail of a serial killer in Phoenix, Arizona. Justis is also aweremyste—a person with a wizard’s gifts and the ability to see into the paranormal world. Unfortunately, weremystes also tend to go crazy on the full moon—which is why Justis is no longer a cop. Hard to explain those absences as anything but mental breakdown. But now an old case from his police detective days has come back to haunt him, literally, as a serial killer known as the Blind Angel strikes again. His signature stroke: burning out the victims’ eyes with magic. Now the victims are piling up, including the daughter of a senator, and Justis must race to stop the Blind Angel before he, she, or it kills again. There’s only one clue he’s got to go on: the Blind Angel is using the most powerful magic Justis has ever encountered, and if he doesn’t watch his own magical step, he may end up just as dead as the other vics.
What’s David’s favorite bit?
DAVID B. COE
Mary has been kind enough to host me on “My Favorite Bit” several times before, so that I might promote the books of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy series that I write as D.B. Jackson. The book I’m writing about today is quite different, and so is this “Favorite Bit.”
Spell Blind, the first book in a new contemporary urban fantasy, the Case Files of Justis Fearsson, which I am publishing as David B. Coe, comes out today from Baen Books. My lead character, Justis “Jay” Fearsson, is a private detective and a weremyste. What is a weremyste? A fine question. Imagine a blend of Jekyll and Hyde and the wolfman. As the moon waxes full, weremystes lose control of their minds. At the same time, the strength of their magic deepens, so that when they most need to control the powers they wield, they are least able to do so. Over time, these moon phasings exact a permanent toll on the sanity of runemystes. Eventually all of them wind up mad.
In this first novel, Jay investigates a series of murders which (shockingly!) involve dark magic, and the approach of the full moon serves as the proverbial “ticking clock” that drives the narrative and pacing. I love the magic system for this series. I love the plotting and my characters. I could write a Favorite Bit piece about several elements of the novel.
But the truth is, my favorite thing about this book is its history, and the very fact that it is finally being published.
I first wrote a novel about Justis Fearsson in 2005 and I sold it to a small press that soon went out of business. We managed to get the rights back and tried to sell the series to another publisher. But the books didn’t re-sell, and it soon became clear to me that the reason the series wasn’t selling, and perhaps (thinking symptomatically) the reason this publisher went under, was that my book wasn’t very good. But I still loved the characters, and I wasn’t ready to give up on the series.
So I went back to the beginning. I reimagined the entire series, coming up with a new magic system, several new characters and character dynamics, and new plots for all the books. I tore apart the first book and rebuilt it piece by piece. And when that still didn’t yield the results I wanted, I tore it apart and rebuilt it a second time and a third.
Why put myself through all of this? Because, as I said, I loved the characters, my point of view character in particular. I loved his interactions with the core characters surrounding him. And I was determined to make the series into something commercially and critically viable that also preserved those elements of the original idea that first drew me to the story. It took a tremendous amount of work and time. My rewrites of this first book spanned a total of about six years, and by the time I was done the book was different in just about every way from that first incarnation. It even had a different (better) title. I received a ton of rejections along the way, but I also received invaluable critical feedback from my agent, from editors, and from friends who read the manuscript in various incarnations.
I should also make clear that I did other work besides this. While working on the Fearsson rewrites I also wrote and published the Blood of the Southlands trilogy and the first two novels of my Thieftaker Chronicles. But always Jay Fearsson remained in the back of my mind, waiting his turn. Late in the summer of 2013, we finally resold the series in its current form to Baen. And Baen wasn’t the only publisher interested in the books.
Many might wonder why this would be my favorite thing about the book. It was at times a painful and discouraging process, and I was delighted to see my struggles with the series finally end with last year’s sale. But I believe the tale of this series says a lot about what it takes to be a professional writer.
This is not an easy profession, and our careers don’t always progress in a linear fashion, with ever greater success awaiting our next release. My struggles with this book and series came after I had published eight novels. I was an established, award-winning author with a history of critical success and commercial viability. And that really didn’t matter at all.
Not all books need to be rewritten as many times as this one did. We don’t always need to respond to rejection with a complete reimagining of the project in question. But by the same token, writers do need to understand that rejection is not a final judgment; it is one step in a creative negotiation. Revision is as much a part of the writing process as that original composition of the manuscript. We have to be open to editorial criticism, and yet there is also something to be said for stubbornly clinging to our faith in a project, even in the face of the kind of difficulties I encountered.
To me, Spell Blind is more than just a new release. It represents both determination and flexibility, my passion for a creative notion and the realization that sometimes we as artists need to grow into our creative ambitions. In other words, the book embodies for me both the challenges and rewards of being a professional writer. And that is why the tortured history of the book itself is My Favorite Bit.
David B. Coe is the award-winning author of more than fifteen fantasy novels. His newest series, a contemporary urban fantasy called The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, debuts with the January 2015 release from Baen Books of Spell Blind. The second book, His Father’s Eyes, will be out in the summer of 2015. Writing as D.B. Jackson, he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and Dead Man’s Reach (also coming in the summer of 2015). He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.
For those of you reading along, I’ve posted the next chapter in Ghost Talkers. I just finished chapter 20 and am two or three chapters from the end.
The reason I’m not quite sure is that the next chapter might split into two. We’ll see as I write it. If it gets unwieldy, I’ll find a break point. I use chapters to control pacing, so sometimes I revise my guesses about where those breaks will be.
Actually, I’m almost certain the next chapter will unpack into two, but I’m not quite sure where it will break yet.
Meanwhile, for those of you not reading along, here is a picture of Sadie. I’m sure you can see how helpful she is.
Jim C. Hines is joining us today with his novel Unbound. Here’s the publisher’s description.
For five hundred years, the Porters have concealed the existence of magic from the world.
Now, old enemies have revealed the Porters’ secrets, and an even greater threat lurks in the shadows. The would-be queen Meridiana, banished for a thousand years, has returned in the body of a girl named Jeneta Aboderin. She seeks an artifact created by Pope Sylvester II, a bronze prison that would grant her the power to command an army of the dead. Michigan librarian Isaac Vainio is powerless to stop her, having been stripped of his power and his place among the Porters by Johannes Gutenberg himself. But Isaac is determined to regain his magic and to rescue his former student Jeneta. With no magic of his own, Isaac must delve into the darker side of black-market magic, where he will confront beings better left undisturbed, including the sorcerer Juan Ponce de Leon.
With his loyal fire-spider Smudge, dryad warrior Lena Greenwood, and psychiatrist Nidhi Shah, Isaac races to unravel a mystery more than a thousand years old as competing magical powers battle to shape the future of the world. He will be hunted by enemies and former allies alike, and it will take all his knowledge and resourcefulness to survive as magical war threatens to spread across the globe. Isaac’s choices will determine the fate of his friends, the Porters, the students of Bi Sheng, and the world.
Only one thing is certain: even if he finds a way to restore his magic, he can’t save them all….
What’s Jim’s favorite bit?
JIM C. HINES
I waited three books to get to this scene.
While librarian Isaac Vainio is the protagonist of the Magic ex Libris series, pulling toys out of books and shooting sparkling vampires with Star Trek disruptor pistols, in many ways it’s his companion Lena Greenwood who’s changed the most over the course of the series.
I talked about Lena in my previous Favorite Bit piece here, back in August of 2013. She’s one of the most difficult characters I’ve ever written, but I’ve also felt she’s one who has some of the most potential for awesomeness…if I could pull it off.
Lena is a hamadryad. A nymph. A creature originally created as a sexual object, shaped by the desires and fantasies of her lovers. Over the first two books, we see some of her history. We see her struggle to take control of who she’s going to be, and to move beyond the limitations of her nature.
We also see her kicking a fair amount of ass over the course of those two books.
By the time UNBOUND comes along, Lena has grown into her own person. And now, just like Isaac works to bend the rules of libriomancy and find new ways of using magic, Lena has done the same with her own power as a dryad. We see bits of this over the course of the book, but my favorite moment comes near the end, when Lena reveals just exactly what a being who’s as much oak as flesh can do.
As our heroes make their way toward the climax of the book, a winged creature, a servant of the Big Bad, swoops out of the sky and slams Lena to the ground. They tussle a bit, and he manages to get the upper hand…
Binion cinched an arm around Lena’s neck. The other pinned her arms to her sides, preventing her from drawing her weapons. He pressed Lena’s head sideways, straining to crack her neck.
Lena wedged her chin down, trying to force it into Binion’s elbow to create a gap so she could breathe. She bent her knees and sank lower, then rammed her elbows backward.
It shouldn’t have worked. Binion was as strong as Lena. Probably stronger. But he gasped and released his grip. His hands went to his sides, where blood darkened his robe.
Lena spun to face him. Six-inch wooden spikes had grown from her elbows. Binion drew his sword and swung at her head. She blocked the blow with a forearm now covered in thick bark. The thunk of steel hitting oak echoed over the grass.
Part of why I love this scene is for the sheer badassery Lena gets to display over the course of the fight. There’s something fun and cathartic about watching the good guys finally get to cut loose and kick some butt.
But this scene also marks a turning point in Lena’s growth. She’s levelled up, learning to move beyond some of the physical and mental limitations she always believed were unbreakable. She’s discovering strength and power I’ve been waiting to write about since before I ever started writing LIBRIOMANCER.
I’m really excited about who Lena—who all of these characters—have become over the past three books. And I can’t wait to share them with everyone.
Jim C. Hines is a level 7 geek, multiclassed as a writer and customer support person. He generally wears leather thieves’ armor (with 39 hidden pockets for everything from bookmarks to a sonic screwdriver) that gives him a +2 armor class bonus. He took blogging as a bonus feat and recently spent some skill points in Sanchin-Ryu karate, earning a black belt that gives +3 to roughhousing with his children. He also put points into juggling and yo-yo tricks, because juggling and yo-yos are cool. He gets an automatic penalty to all encounters with goblins, who still haven’t forgiven him for everything he put them through in his GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim is worth 350 XP. Roll on Treasure Chart F to determine what he will be carrying. For complete character stats or excerpts from his work, please check out www.jimchines.com.
This week on Writing Excuses, we’re kicking off a new structure, a masterclass in fiction. Here, I’ll let you read the description.
Season 10 begins!
We wanted to do something different this year. Something special. As we brainstormed we kept returning to something a listener said years ago: “Writing Excuses is like a master class in writing genre fiction.”
That’s a generous remark, as anyone who’s taken an actual master class can attest, but it inspired us to ask ourselves what Writing Excuses would look sound like if it were formatted like an actual master class.
The answer? It would sound like Season 10 is going to sound. This year we’re going to go to school! Each month will focus on a specific bit of the writing process, and each podcast will drill down on one of those bits. We’ll still have some “wildcard” episodes with guests, but for at least three weeks out of each month we’re going to stay on topic. If you’re new to the podcast, this is where to start! If you’re an old hand, don’t worry — this isn’t a return to the 101-level stuff.
In January we’ll cover the very beginning — coming up with cool ideas, and wrapping them up into something that we can turn into a story. And for this first episode we’ll answer the dreaded “where do you get your ideas” question quite seriously. We’re not going to tell you about the Idea Factory in Schenectady (Harlan Ellison’s stock answer,) nor are we going to eye-roll. Nope. We’re going to tell you how we get our brains to think stuff up, and then we’re going to give you homework in the writing prompt.
Now… As part of this, I’m going to do my level best to play along with the writing exercises each week so that you also have concrete examples to look at, in addition to the podcast.
This week’s writing exercise is:
Writing Prompt: Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:
- From an interview or conversation you’ve had
- From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
- From observation (go for a walk!)
- From a piece of media (watch a movie)
- From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)
From an interview or conversation you’ve had: – So I do this podcast…
[This one, I’m showing you a little of the brainstorming I do, too.]
Nobleman who wants to hire her
Fashionable city… I use London a lot and don’t want to go there again, but am also sufficiently lazy that I want to avoid heavy research… Okay, so this is going to be a secondary world Venice, but in the Venetian Republic sense, not just in the city.
Milliner assassin is hired by a nobleman to kill a woman who has the power to destroy him. In the process of carrying out the assignment, the assassin realizes that the woman is guilty of nothing more than refusing his advances. Annoyed and angered, she takes steps to deliver the hat to him “for approval.” He dies in his gondola, seemingly alone. The only clue is an artificial orange. The assassin’s secret is that the hats do not kill, they simply mark the target and provide a portal through which the assassin can enter. The woman who was her original target reaches out to her and says that there are other women who may be in need of assistance. The milliner is only too happy to help.
From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc) — The 1st Russian Woman’s Battalion of Death
In an mosttly women, and historically accurate WWI story, we follow [name] as she enlists in the Russian Army under the famous Maria Bochkareva. The lady soldiers are mocked. They go to the front lines, go over the top and take three German trenches with very few loses. The men, however, are too frightened to follow them. [name] returns, victorious, with her comrades to mock the men who failed to take even a single trench.
From observation (go for a walk!) — It’s snowing! I kept finding dropped gloves and saw a boot. Who loses a boot?
In the bitter cold of Chicago winter, a young woman finds a pair of boots standing upright in the fresh snow, as if they were in mid-stride. A trail of footprints leads to them, but nothing leads away. It looks as though someone simply vanished from their boots. She takes a picture and posts it to Instagram as #MysteryBoots. To her surprise, she is contacted by a man who has seen the same phenomenon no less than three times. They meet over coffee. Discussing various theories, including performance art, eventually leads to tracking other instances of the vanishing walker. She sees footage of herself on a viral video talking about the boots and confronts him. He confesses that he’s actually an artist creating these as installations and has been creating a secret documentary about the people who find them.
From a piece of media (watch a movie): We watched Slings and Arrows tonight
Police detective [name] is in the audience for a production of Hamlet, when the theater loses power. Rather than stopping the show, the cast continues as though it is a radio play. When the lights come back up, the actor playing Hamlet is dead in the middle of the stage. Someone had been delivering his lines in the dark, so no one knows exactly when he died. [name] investigates and eventually finds the culprit.
From a piece of music (with or without lyrics): Unwoman’s The Bridge
While on a steampunk cruise, a solo cellist is caught up in solving a murder when a guest is found dead with the end pin shoved through his heart. She has to solve the murder, and clear her name, before they dock. In a thrilling climax involving the salsa lounge and a live band, she corners the real murderer and gets his confession broadcast through the ship.
So… that’s basically how I do it. Usually, at this point, I’d come up with names for the characters but I figured it would be more useful to you to see a slightly rawer version.
For those of you reading along, Chapter 17 is up.
For everyone else, here is an entirely unrelated photo of Sadie’s pawprint in the snow. She headed for the front porch, put one foot down, and then thought better of it.
Happy New Year!
Nothing like starting the year by realizing that you haven’t sent an email, is there? So, I totally goofed. When I run a workshop, I normally open it to the waiting list from previous workshops and alumni of other events before I open it to the general public. But I saved the invitation for the workshops to draft, then didn’t notice because of the holidays so… that means I have three openings in this weekend’s class and five openings in next weekend’s.
It’s okay. You can mock my scheduling foolishness. I’ll join you.
So! Want to do a Short Story Intensive this weekend or next?
In this intensive three day workshop, you’ll be taken through the steps of writing a short story using exercises, homework, and in-class critiques.
January 2 – [This sold out overnight, but there’s still a spot in next week’s]
Through exercises focusing on viewpoint, dialogue, and plot, you’ll learn how to let nothing go to waste. By the end of this three day workshop, participants will be given a writing prompt and complete their own short story.
Classes will be taught via G+.
Each session, you will be given an exercise that builds on the previous session. Classwork will be uploaded to a shared Google Drive folder visible only to you and your classmates. The class will be divided between lecture and group critique. The class is capped at eight students, to create a class size that allows the most interaction, feedback and personal attention for each of you.
The registration page has the full syllabus.
Edited to add: If you don’t make it in, put your name on the waiting list and you’ll get notified of the next class. Really. I normally am more organized about this.]
SL Huang is joining us today with her novel Half Life. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Cas Russell is back — and so is her deadly supermath.Cas may be an antisocial mercenary who uses her instant calculating skills to mow down enemies, but she’s trying hard to build up a handful of morals. So when she’s hired by an anguished father to rescue his kid from an evil tech conglomerate, it seems like the perfect job to use for ethics practice.Then she finds her client’s daughter . . . who is a robot.The researchers who own the ’bot will stop at nothing to get it back, but the kid’s just real enough for Cas to want to protect her — even though she knows she’s risking everything for a collection of metal and wires. But when the case blows up in her face, it plunges Cas into the crossfire of a massive, decades-long corporate espionage war.Cas knows logically that she isn’t saving a child. She’s stealing a piece of technology, one expensive and high-stakes enough that spiriting it away is going to get innocent people killed. But she has a distraught father on one hand and a robot programmed to act like a distraught daughter on the other, and she’s never been able to sit by when a kid is in trouble — even a fake one.Screw morals and ethics. All Cas wants to do is save one little girl.
“Hey, I just came from rehearsal, so I’m going to grab a quick shower while I’m here,” Miri said. She turned to me. “Cas, right? Make yourself at home, but do me a favor and don’t choke out my cats.”
“I’m really sorry about that,” said Checker. “Cas is…well…” He gave up. “Are you okay?”
Miri winked at him over her shoulder as she disappeared into the hallway. “Fine. My girlfriend’s given me worse.”
“Too much information!” Checker yelled after her.
She’s pretty much my favorite character ever. Why? Because she’s basically me.
I mean, not REALLY — she’s not at all a math nerd, for one. And if I tried to keep as many plants as she does I’d end up with a forest of dead things in my apartment, which is only fun if you’re into that sort of thing. But she’s a queer Asian woman who makes her living in the performing arts and is strangely unperturbed by the weirdness showing up in her life, and every time she pops up on the page I get that happy little flutter of relating to a character a little too well.
Which solves a nice little problem for me! Namely:
Since book 1 of this series came out, a somewhat frightening number of people who know me as a person have told me they think of Cas as being based on me. To which I can only say:
“Holy moly, what do you all THINK of me?!”
I mean, we’re talking about CAS, my superpowered mathematician protagonist with no social skills and severe issues with her moral compass. Cas, who only cares about money and will draw a gun on you as carelessly as she’ll bloody you up. Some friends have even said that they imagine her looking like me, despite the fact that her described appearance is totally different!
I am going to make a public statement, right now, the absolute truth: I honestly do not go around shooting people and punching them in the face all the time. I really, sincerely do not.
And hey, being more serious for a second, maybe that’s part of the danger of being an ethnic woman writing a (different) ethnic woman as a protagonist — and oh, all right, a protagonist who also likes math and guns, I’ll give ’em that. Fine, I guess I see why people want to imagine me as Cas. But the comparison is still slightly horrifying, given that she’s a violent mercenary antihero who shoots first and asks questions later, and I’m . . . not.
Not to mention that Cas can be an exceptionally rude person. Really, she’s an asshole. It’s an effort to write her dialogue much of the time because I have to work to make make her more curt and mean and growly.
*makes more shifty eyes at my friends*
Miri, on the other hand . . . Miri is lovely and easygoing and witty. She’s joyous and talented and a loyal friend and doesn’t bat an eye when the protagonists take over her apartment to hide from the Mafia and the Feds —
Okay, fine, Miri’s much cooler than I ever will be. Miri’s as awesome as I WISH I were!
I quite love her.
And now when people ask if Cas is based on me, I can point to Miri instead. And I can say, “What?! No! Cas is not me. I do not kill people! You know who is me? Her. THE QUEER ASIAN WOMAN PERFORMER PERSON WHO SNARKS AT THE PROTAGONISTS AND LIKES CATS. THAT’S ME.”
In all honesty, Miri probably has no more aspects of my personality in her than some of the other characters who fold facets of me-ness into them — Checker, for instance, who gets to make about 9,823,427 nerd references in this book, or (terrifyingly) the antagonist of Half Life, whom I tried to write as if he was the corrupted funhouse mirror of someone with my background, if that person were both way more evil than me and way less lazy. But Miri’s existence makes me happy in the same way she’d make me happy if another author wrote her, because she’s someone I delight in relating to.
I hope you all enjoy her just as much as I do.
SL Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction, starting with her debut novel, Zero Sum Game. In real life, you can usually find her hanging upside down from the ceiling or stabbing people with swords. Online, she’s unhealthily opinionated at www.slhuang.com or on Twitter as @sl_huang.
New Year’s Eve, 1817
Despite the snow outside on the streets of Vienna, a bead of sweat tickled Jane’s nose. Hot and fatigued, she let her vision return from the ether. With each rapid breath, her ribs pressed against her stays, even laced as loosely as they were. Sweat covered her brow and dripped from her temples down to her jaw. She raised a hand to wipe it away and studied her work.
The small patch of peonies she had woven in the nursery of the home that their family had rented in Vienna added to the overall effect of a Chinese garden. At least, she hoped it did but all they had to go on were descriptions in some rather questionable travelogues and a few illustrations. It had been Melody’s particular request and, being great with child, her requests were attended to with an alacrity more appropriate to a command. Still, after their adventures in Italy, it was pleasant to work on a glamural again. She was pleased with the peonies themselves, which appeared to tremble in a passing breeze as their delicate pink petals caught the light in a blush of glory.
Jane turned to see how Vincent was getting on with the mountains he was creating on the far side of the room. To her surprise, her husband had settled in a chair and was watching her.
The mountains, rendered in a distant mist, rose above his shoulders and utterly obscured the far wall of the dining room. Like herself, his breath was still quick from his efforts. He had abandoned his coat, waistcoat and cravat in a way that made her more than a little jealous. She could shed only her fichu and retain any decency in dress. Not that a gentleman should ever appear with his shirt open in such a distracting manner.
His collar bones lay exposed and the hollow at the base of his neck deepened with each inhalation. Jane lifted her gaze, aware that she had been staring a little.
Vincent smiled at her and stretched his arms over his head. The unfastened cuffs slid down to reveal his strong forearms. “You do create the most becoming vision.”
“Thank you.” Jane glanced back at the peonies where they clustered at the base of a ginkgo tree. “I had contemplated matching the cherry tree, but decided for a deeper shade.”
“I was not referring to the glamour… Though your work is wonderful, as always.”
“I am not cer–” She returned her gaze to her husband, who lowered his arms and cocked his head with an interesting consciousness. Jane cleared her throat, as her cheeks flooded with heat that had nothing to do with working glamour. “Oh.”
“I have mentioned before that sometimes working with you is difficult.” Vincent rose slowly. “I find myself distracted.”
“I see… Is there anything I can do to help with your distraction?”
“Mm… Are you asking how you can be less distracting, or more so?”
“I hardly know. Which would you prefer?”
“More so, I think, since we are finished with work for today.”
Jane glanced about the room and pretended to misunderstand him. “But there is still more to do.”
“Yes.” He crossed the room and took her hand. “But this is the first time we have not had to work on New Year’s Eve, and… I fear you are over-heated.”
Jane put her free hand to her cheek, which was still damp with sweat. “That is true enough.”
Vincent covered her hand with his, and leaned down, lips parting. If the room had been warm before, Jane’s entire form seemed aware of the heat radiating off her husband and added her own. She leaned forward to meet him.
And the door burst open as Jane’s mother bustled in. “Oh, Jane! Sir David! Do see who has come to call.”
Vincent straightened and closed his mouth so quickly that his teeth clacked together. His face was quite red, though Jane was certain no redder than her own. He, at least, had the benefit of having his back to the door. Jane’s own blush must be fully apparent to the elderly gentleman who followed Mrs. Ellsworth into the nursery.
He was stout and had only a fringe of white hair around his pink scalp. His eyes twinkled as he glanced quickly about the room at the glamural in progress. There was about him such an blend of confidence and conviviality, that though Jane had never seen him before in her life, she was quite looking forward to making his acquaintance. She glanced at Vincent to see if he knew the man.
Vincent cleared his throat, cheeks still a little red, and turned. His face underwent a wonderful transformation as surprise mingled with obvious pleasure. “Herr Scholes!”
And then he spoke in rapid, yet stumbling German. Jane had heard him speak it often enough since their arrival to know that he was quite fluent, so the stammering must be from the emotion that showed with astonishing clarity upon his normally guarded features.
She could scarcely fault him, grateful as she was not to be immediately called upon to speak. Herr Scholes was accounted one of the great glamourists of the ages, and had taught Vincent years ago. While Jane knew that he resided in Vienna and had looked forward to meeting him, she would rather not have been in such an inelegant state.
She glanced around the room at the glamural. What would he think of her work? It was still unfinished. She bit the inside of her cheek and wished, rather desperately, that her mother had called them out of the nursery, rather than bringing Herr Scholes here.
Vincent switched back to English and held out his hand to Jane. “May I present my wife? Jane, Lady Vincent this is Herr Scholes, who taught me everything I know.”
Herr Scholes laughed. “Your husband exaggerates rather a great deal. Especially as he has told me of several things that you have taught him, Lady Vincent.”
Jane blinked in astonishment. Vincent had written to his mentor about her? To Herr Scholes. To the Herr Scholes, the world-famous glamourist. And said that he had learned things? From her? “That is very kind, and given how frequently he speaks of you, I think it is very little of an exaggeration.” She offered Herr Scholes her hand. “It is a very great honor to meet you, sir.”
He bowed over her hand. “The honour is mine.” He stood and smiled at her and at Vincent. “Now then, I have come with an invitation. Would the two of you give me the pleasure of your attendance at our New Year’s celebration?”
“I have fond memories of the party.” Vincent glanced at Jane, and in his raised brow, she read both the desire to go and also the willingness to decline if she should not wish to attend. She gave a small compression of her lips and a little nod. He turned back to his mentor. “We should be delighted, sir.”
“Good! Although…” Herr Scholes held up a finger, expression serious save for his eyes, which still twinkled. “I should warn you that I would very much like you to participate in the tableaux vivants that evening.”
“Th—thank you. Yes, sir. Yes. We should be honoured.” Vincent, who normally seemed ten years older than his one-and-thirty years, seemed now ten years younger. Jane could not recall seeing quite such an expression of earnest delight and embarrassment upon his features before.
“Very good.” He clapped his hands together. “Now, I have interrupted you at work so I shall take my leave.”
“Oh–” Vincent glanced around the room and ran his hand through his hair. “We are not working.”
With a tilt of his head, Herr Scholes regarded the sweat that still beaded upon Vincent’s brow, and Jane’s discarded fichu. She blushed, upon realizing that if they were not working then there would be only one other explanation for their state of dishabille. Herr Scholes winked at Vincent. “But I have interrupted you nevertheless, I think. I shall see you both at eight o’clock on New Year’s Night. You recall the way?”
“Yes, sir. I do, sir.”
“Good.” Herr Scholes paused in the door and looked back at Vincent. He spoke again, very briefly, in German with a warm smile. Whatever he said caused Vincent to blush and to stammer. He gave another wink, and then took his leave, shutting the door behind him.
Vincent found the nearest chair and dropped into it, staring at the door. Jane let out her own breath in a rush. The famous Herr Scholes looked altogether more like someone’s beloved grandfather than a great artistic force and yet, his presence had filled the room. Certainly, she had never seen Vincent quite so earnestly awkward. She crossed to him and rested a hand on his shoulder. “Are you all right?”
“Hm?” He looked up with a dazed expression as though he had been deep in the ether. “Yes. Astonishingly so.”
“Very much so.”
He nodded and reached up to take her hand. “I have not seen him in… ten years? We correspond regularly but the war prevented any visits.”
“And is he as you remember?”
“What did he say, there at the end, that caused you to blush so?”
He chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. “That I should stop calling him ‘sir’ to which I said ‘Yes, sir’.”
“Oh dear.” She bent and gave him a kiss on the top of his head. “Shall we plan our tableau for the party?”
Vincent pulled her down on his lap. “I think… I think we had other plans that I should like to attend to first.”
Their plans for New Year’s Night were delayed as they were then occupied for some minutes, although Vincent did pause his attentions to lock the door.
To Be Continued…
I had to stop writing for a bit because I had to go through the copyedits for Of Noble Family, and then the holidays and now here we are. Chapter 16 is up, for those of you reading along.
I also stalled out, which is a thing that happens sometimes, because I felt like I needed to make a change to the outline, but it was a fairly large one and I spent some time second-guessing myself. I finally just made a copy of the outline, cut the scenes I thought I needed to cut and added the new ones. Lo! It works much better. This, of course, is the point of an outline. It allows me to try a variation on the novel in small form, without committing all of those words to the page.
Of course, that only works if you have a brain built to fill in the gaps in a wire frame rendering of your novel. Mine is, which I think is related to my days as a puppet builder/set designer. Not everyone’s is so I don’t expect this trick to work for everyone, but it’s worth trying a couple of times to see if it’ll be a good fit for you.
Granted, every single time, I dig my heels in rather than just going ahead and trying the alternate. Even after I can tell that I really should do it because I’ve stopped writing the version I had originally planned.
That — by the way — is a trick that I think every writer can use. If you start getting bored with your own novel, something has gone of the rails. The hard part is figuring out what it is. The harder part is learning how to fix it.
That’s what practice is for.
I’ll mention that at about the one minute mark, my laughter is a little maniacal. I think my mask slipped.
Early in November, at the World Fantasy Convention, I interviewed a few authors. Below is my interview with Mary Robinette Kowal, my final one from that weekend. Mary spoke of everything from modeling naked, to impersonating Patrick Rothfuss, to zombie-Napoleon on a steam-powered wheelchair. With cannons. She also spoke of her writing, and her upcoming novel.