Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Aliette de Bodard talks about OF DRAGONS, FEASTS AND MURDER

Favorite Bit iconAliette de Bodard is joining us today to talk about her novel Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.

But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.

It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….

A sparkling standalone book set in a world of dark intrigue.

What’s Aliette’s favorite bit?

Of Dragons, feasts and murders cover image

ALIETTE DE BODARD

My favourite bit of Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders is the grandmother of the main character.

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders is a cross between Asian court drama and high Gothic. I wanted to take the mood of my favourite dramas–the different factions, the intrigues, the plots against the throne–and fuse it with the aesthetic of the Gothic–the decayed imperial citadel as its own setting, a stand in for the moral decay of the people therein, a heroine (in my case a hero) who has to break free of its influence.

The two main drivers of the plot are the return to one’s family for Têt or New Year’s Eve (akin to Christmas, as main character Thuan explains it to his husband), and the secret society inside the palace (secret societies concurrent with the decay of the current dynasty are a common motif). The palace, in this case, is a kingdom of water dragons hidden under the river Seine in an alt-19th Century Paris, and the main character is bi dragon prince Thuan, who is now returning to introduce his husband Asmodeus to court.

Thuan has a complicated relationship with the people he grew up with, and one of these people is his grandmother. When I needed her to come on stage, I started with the cliché of the forgetful, kind lady who provides a lot of food, and then I realised I was wasting opportunities. She could still provide the food, but anyone who rose through the ranks of numerous concubines would not have been kind. So I decided to draw on Wu Zetian and the other more bloodthirsty empress dowagers as a role model, and my former backstabbing empress ended up stealing the show.

She looked like a sweet, forgetful old dragon, her antlers translucent, her eyes rheumy and unfocused, the scales on her cheeks and the back of her hands lustreless — and perhaps she was forgetful those days, but she hadn’t risen to marry Thuan’s grandfather through smiles. Thuan had it on good authority — hers, in fact — that she’d murdered about five concubines to get noticed by the then-Emperor, and executed quite a few more to keep the peace in the six chambers.

My favourite scene in the book is when Thuan unexpectedly has to collect his husband from his grandmother’s quarters. Thuan and Asmodeus are a study in contrasts: Thuan is bookish and likes to solve things diplomatically; Asmodeus’s first port of call is violence or threats, and he doesn’t have any scruples about using either. Thuan is naturally worried that Asmodeus, who doesn’t know the court and doesn’t speak very good Viet, is going to get into trouble, but instead Asmodeus ends up bonding with Thuan’s grandmother, and they gang up on Thuan instead.

The Empress Dowager was sitting on the steps in front of the regal chair she was meant to be occupying, propped up on embroidered cushions and nibbling on a dumpling Asmodeus had just handed her. He was kneeling on the other side of a low lacquered table loaded with food, which looked extensively sampled — and he was probably the only person who could pull off kneeling without seeming submissive.

“Ah, husband,” Asmodeus said, laying down his chopsticks near a bowl of sautéed cucumbers. “How good of you to join us.”

“Grandmother,” Thuan said, and bowed. “Husband.” He wasn’t going to bow, and in any case he was reasonably sure he was the eldest in the couple.

Poor Thuan. He is the eldest in the couple–not that this actually nets him much respect from his husband!

Thuan’s grandmother ended up playing a larger part than I thought, and again it’s a fine tradition of court intrigues that the Empress Dowager makes her own agenda (with the respect to elders, mothers of emperors often had more influence than the imperial consorts) and chides everyone from her grandson to her other, younger relatives: Thuan is mostly trying to keep her away from intrigues for fear she’d put a terminal stop to them, which is a source of much bleak comedy in the book. I’m really glad I didn’t go for the first option, because having her being more ruthless definitely was a better, more original and more entertaining choice.

LINKS:

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murder Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: she has won three Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and four British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is the author of the Xuya series of Vietnamese inspired space opera, the most recent volume of which is The Tea Master and the Detective. Her next release, Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders is a fantasy of manners and murders set in a Gothic palace inspired by 19th Century Vietnam, featuring an m/m diplomacy/murder pairing. She lives in Paris.

My Favorite Bit: Brandon McNulty talks about BAD PARTS

My Favorite BitBrandon McNulty is joining us to talk about his debut novel Bad Parts. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A TOWN DIVIDED. A DEMON MADE WHOLE.

When rock guitarist Ash Hudson suffers a career-ending hand injury, she seeks out the only thing that can heal it—her hometown’s darkest secret.

For decades the residents of Hollow Hills, Pennsylvania, have offered their diseased and injured body parts to a creek demon named Snare. In return, Snare rewards its Traders with healthy replacement parts. There’s only one catch: if Traders leave town, their new parts vanish forever.

Ash wants a new hand, but living in Hollow Hills isn’t an option. Not when her band is one gig away from hitting the big time. Desperate, she bargains with Snare, promising to help the demon complete its organ collection in exchange for both a new hand and the freedom for everyone to leave town.

As her band’s show rapidly approaches, Ash teams up with her estranged father in a last-ditch effort to recruit new Traders. But not everyone trusts Snare’s offer, and Ash soon learns how far her neighbors will go to protect their precious parts.

With her family in danger and her band waiting, Ash must find a way to help Snare. But even if she succeeds, there’s no telling what Snare plans to do with everyone’s bad parts.

What’s Brandon’s favorite bit?

Bad Parts cover image

BRANDON McNULTY

The only thing I love more than a monster is a monster that never runs out of surprises. A creature that steals the show, spreads delicious terror, and constantly reinvents itself.

That’s why my favorite bit from Bad Parts is the shapeshifter at the heart of the story—an organ-swapping demon named Snare.

Ever since I first watched John Carpenter’s The Thing, I’ve been obsessed with shapeshifters. Mimicking other living beings is not only downright cool, but it also allows for countless storytelling possibilities. However, in order to create a compelling shapeshifter, the creature’s power needs to be limited in some way. When it came to limiting Snare, I had an unusual idea in mind: organ trades.

Snare, who inhabits a woodland creek in a small Pennsylvania town, can cure everything from broken bones to lung cancer. Anyone who donates their diseased and injured body parts to her collection gets a healthy replacement in return, but there’s a catch: leave town with one of Snare’s parts, and you’ll lose it. Forever.

The idea for Snare’s dark magic came from my own personal desire for bodily healing. I began writing Bad Parts in my mid-twenties, around the time my knees started bothering me after years of distance running. Sore knees aren’t a big deal, but they got me wondering: how far would people with more severe ailments—terminal illness, debilitating injuries, chronic conditions—go for a cure, especially if one weren’t easily accessible to them? With health being so critical to survival and happiness, who wouldn’t trade a faulty organ for a replacement if given the chance? Even if they had to remain stuck in town for life, it would sure beat suffering…right?

With these questions in mind, I started writing. During my first draft, I thought of Snare purely as a monster—a catalyst to create tension among the townspeople. It wasn’t until later that I gave her a personality, motivation, and backstory. That’s when she truly came to life.

In developing her character, I drew inspiration from Leland Gaunt, the nefarious shopkeeper from Stephen King’s novel Needful Things. In many ways, Snare is Gaunt’s creek-based cousin, giving bargainers what they want in exchange for what they don’t. However, whereas Gaunt is essentially a proxy for the devil, Snare has an achingly raw personal history—and an urgent reason for collecting body parts.

From first draft to final, Snare never stopped surprising me. Whenever I wrote one of her scenes, the story veered in a wild new direction, and luckily I managed to keep up. As for our time together? I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

LINKS:

Bad Parts Universal Book Link

Website

YouTube Channel

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Brandon McNulty grew up loving monsters, demons, and the thrill of a great scare. Now he writes supernatural thrillers, horror, and other dark fiction. He is a graduate of Taos Toolbox Writers Workshop and a winner of both Pitch Wars and RevPit. He writes from Pennsylvania.

My Favorite Bit: William C. Tracy talks about FACETS OF THE NETHER

Favorite Bit iconWilliam C. Tracy is joining us with his novel Facets of the Nether. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Dissolution approaches.

Sam has saved the Assembly of Species, but at a terrible cost. Locked in his apartment, his memories gone and his best friend abducted, he is once again crippled with anxiety. Meanwhile, Enos struggles to free her brother from imprisonment, alone for the first time in her life. Her true species has been revealed, and there are hints the deadliest of her kind survived an ancient war.

But the Nether contains more secrets. A musical chime disrupts daily life, signaling changes to its very fabric. To solve this mystery, Sam must face his anxiety and confront truths about his memories and unique abilities. Only then can he save his friends from the machinations of the Life Coalition, by understanding the reality behind the Facets of the Nether.

What’s William’s favorite bit?

Facets of the Nether cover image

WILLIAM C. TRACY

Facets of the Nether is my first real “second book.” I’ve written ten or more books in total, but this is the first time I’m directly continuing a story, and developing the same characters on a larger journey. I’ve found one of my favorite bits in writing The Next Part of a story is that I get play with all the myths and legends I set up in the first book. Not only do I get to reveal more, but I also get to turn the expectations the characters have on their heads. In the first book, there is an ancient shapeshifting species that has been extinct for a thousand years after an intergalactic war. Except, maybe they’re not all extinct. But still, no one knows what they look like. In the second book, I get to reveal early on, that not only does the species still exist, but oh yeah, some of them have been held captive for quite a long time. Read on for a few tidbits from the first time everyone sees one of these beings:

They separated, and Enos saw they’d been hiding a small metal cube between them, the outside carved into twisting designs. It only came to their knees, and Sathssn were not a tall species.

“The Aridori, it is in here,” Zsaana said.

A tendril grasped the edge of the box from the inside. The head that rose from the knee-high box was dark and iridescent, but unformed.

One hundred thousand beings inhaled.

The head had form now, shining black, with a pronounced snout. The body was bare, with scales that transmuted in the light from the walls, shifting from green to purple, to green. Long arms grasped the sides of the box and pulled the form up, as if rising from a shaft beneath the box. That tiny volume could never hold the being that came from it, but it rested on the faintly glowing—and impenetrable—floor of the Nether. The body had been compressed into a tiny cube.

“This, it is an Aridori,” Zsaana said. “A form not seen in a thousand cycles.”

If not constrained, would the Aridori have sprung forward and started killing? That’s what the tales from the Aridori war said, when they were supposed to have massacred thousands, maybe millions of beings.

The Aridori made no other move, save to step fully from the box, their iridescent scales vibrating as if in a breeze. Their long fingers, black or deep blue like the snout, were clasped in front of their belly. They looked at peace. Their head swiveled to take in the multitude of people sitting above them, fleshy ears surrounded by curls of hair and twisting and turning like a cat’s. The wide nostrils at the end of their snout flared.

“We have a much larger problem,” Majus Ayama said. “Don’t you see? The Life Coalition has more than one Aridori. Maybe a whole army.”

The story develops even more. Not only are some of the Aridori still around, but maybe the story that everyone knows, about how they started a war and tried to kill everyone, isn’t entirely correct either? Just as in our history, tales passed down from hundreds of years ago get muddled, and can be very misleading when not alongside factual records from the time. Even then, the records may not be all that accurate.

This book isn’t the end of the story. Facets of the Nether will be followed in a few months by Fall of the Imperium, and as you can probably guess from the title, yes…bad things happen, and some of them have to do with this ancient extinct species that isn’t as extinct as everyone thinks.

So why not go on a wild science fantasy space opera ride, with lots of LGBTQ+ friendly species, genders, and sexualities? If you haven’t read the first book, check out the post I wrote for The Seeds of Dissolution on a previous My Favorite Bit and read up on how I starting putting a lot more diverse characters in my writing. Then if you’re ready, jump on in and learn the real meaning behind the Facets of the Nether.

LINKS:

Facets of the Nether Book Link

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Goodreads

Bookbub

BIO:

William C. Tracy writes tales of the Dissolutionverse: a science-fantasy series about planets connected by music-based magic instead of spaceflight. He currently has seven books released, including an epic space opera starting with The Seeds of Dissolution, and continuing with Facets of the Nether and Fall of the Imperium (forthcoming August 2020). The trilogy includes many LGBT-friendly elements.

William is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has a master’s in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has also trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003, and runs his own dojo. He is an avid video and board gamer and reader.

In his spare time, he cosplays with his wife as Steampunk Agent Carter and Jarvis, Jafar and Maleficent, and Doctor Strange and the Ancient One. They enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes for the annual Christmas card.

Follow him on Twitter for writing updates, cat pictures, and martial arts.

My Favorite Bit: Nick Martell talks about The Kingdom of Liars

My Favorite BitNick Martell is joining us today with The Kingdom of Liars. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this brilliant debut fantasy, a story of secrets, rebellion, and murder are shattering the Hollows, where magic costs memory to use, and only the son of the kingdom’s despised traitor holds the truth.

Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.

In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.

What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

What’s Nick Martell’s favorite bit?

The Kingdom of Liars cover

The shattered moon on the cover is gorgeous, isn’t it?

It’s striking and draws the eyes to the seven shattered pieces that reside in the sky above the city of Hollow. This isn’t a spoiler, but readers quickly learn that there’s more to the moon than it simply being a gorgeous backdrop. Pieces of it fall to the ground and besiege the world, and those who inhabit the city learn from a young age what the warning signs of moonfall are.  

One bell ringing throughout the city signals a piece of the moon is falling.

Two bells ringing signals a piece of the moon will hit somewhere in the country.

Three bells ringing signals a piece of the moon will hit the city.

And four bells ringing warns those in the city to expect an earthquake or a tsunami from the coast. 

Every day, those who inhabit Hollow live in fear of, not just the rebels outside the walls, but the sky itself. It’s truly a city besieged from all sides and this instills a lingering fear in the populace, no matter what they try to do to forget.  

It’s probably not too surprising, but the shattered moon is my favorite bit of this book. Not simply because it’s cool or an interesting worldbuilding element, but because it represents a fear I had when I was a child. 

My family moved to the United States from Canada when I was young after my father got a new job on Long Island. A few weeks later, 9/11 happened and suddenly a place that I had been promised would be fun and safe seemed anything but. 

If asked, most people remember what they were doing and where they were when they found out what had happened. For me, I was sitting in my second grade class talking to a new friend as my teacher ran in and out of the class. One of the kids whose dad was a firefighter was taken out of the room without explanation. Before long, every kid in my class left one by one as their parents came to pick them up. My new friend came home with me since his parents couldn’t pick him up immediately. Neither of us found out what had happened until all our parents were together and they tried to explain. We didn’t understand what they were saying, except that planes had fallen out of the sky and hit two buildings. 

I’ve had a fear of flying ever since that day. And for years, I had an irrational fear of objects falling from the sky and hitting what lay below. I used to look at the sky hoping nothing would fall from it today and counted the stars at night to make sure nothing had moved when I couldn’t see them. Nothing ever fell again, but to this day I still look at the sky every so often just to appreciate the peace. 

Many years later, I took that fear and put it in The Kingdom of Liars. Partly as a form of therapy and partly to enhance the world I was writing about. So, I guess readers should look forward to taking a peak at what my nightmares were as a child—the uncertainty of what will happen next, the paranoia of watching the skies, and eventually how those who have grown up with a new normal mature into adults. Do they seek to instill change, or let things continue as is? 

LINKS:

The Kingdom of Liars Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Nick Martell was born in Ontario, Canada before moving to the United States at age 7. He started writing novels regularly in fifth grade, and his debut novel, The Kingdom of Liars, sold when he was 23 years old.

My Favorite Bit: E. Catherine Tobler talks about THE GRAND TOUR

My Favorite BitE. Catherine Tobler is joining us to talk about her book The Grand Tour. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Step right up! Come one, come all, to Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. The steam train may look older than your great-grandmother’s’ china, but within her metal corridors are destinations you have only ever dreamed. They’re real, friends, each and every one—and yours for the taking.

Witness Rabi, Vanquisher and Vanisher Extraordinaire, who can make coins and the past vanish before your very eyes. Dare to visit the Beauty and the Beast, our conjoined twins who are terrible and tortured by turns. Sample Beth’s marmalade, the sticky sweetness containing the very memory of the day you turned sixteen, and your beloved’s lips touched yours once and never again.It’s worth the price, traveler. Jackson’s Unreal Circus is where you can be whoever or whatever you want. Whether it be a ride on the Ferris wheel, slipping inside a skin that is not your own, or the opportunity to live as you never have before—it is all possible on this, the grandest of tours. The train beckons you—come, come!

For the first time, E. Catherine Tobler has compiled a collection of her popular circus stories. With nine stories ranging from the first publishing within this universe to a previously unpublished piece, this is your ticket to her magical world. Welcome to The Grand Tour.

Contains the following destinations:
“Vanishing Act”
“Artificial Nocturne”
“We, As One, Trailing Embers”
“Liminal”
“Blow the Moon Out”
“Ebb Stung by the Flow”
“Lady Marmalade”
“Every Season” (original to this collection)
“Inland Territory; Stray Italian Greyhound”

Featuring a special introduction by A.C. Wise!

What’s her favorite bit?

The Grand Tour cover image

E. CATHERINE TOBLER

When I was seven or eight, my family—my mom and her boyfriend—regularly headed into the mountains on weekends. It usually involved getting a box of fried chicken, or other easily-transportable food. It involved soda and beer. It involved parkas and sometimes still snowball fights, because the Colorado mountains remained chilly in June.

We would always follow the rivers deep into the mountains. We liked to park riverside and camp on a sun-warm boulder, watching the river and the wildlife below us while we picnicked. I have a distinct memory of my mother eating a chicken leg, and then tossing the bones into the river below. I want to do that, I remember thinking. It seemed grown up, to just fling something away when you were done with it. Carefree. I promptly devoured a chicken leg, save for that awful bit of tendon. I flung the bones into the river and felt very satisfied with myself—until I saw the look on my mother’s face.

We don’t waste food, she told me. She thought the chicken leg still had chicken on it—and maybe it did, because that awful tendon was still attached, and of course there’s meat with that tendon. I was certain I’d eaten all I could have of it, mostly wanting to throw it into the river like my mom had.

The rest of the afternoon was spent sulking. I didn’t take another piece of chicken, though I wanted one. It smelled more delicious than anything I could remember, but I was in trouble—and I didn’t want to mess up again. There were other mountain trips, but even now I can remember throwing that bone into the river, the patchwork shoes I had on, the yellow parka, and the anger on my mom’s face.

Memory has always been a crucial element in my circus stories. What actually happened versus what we remember happening. Given that time travel is also a vital element of the circus stories, there is the temptation to change the past, to change what we remember of the past. There is also the temptation—the ability—to relive those moments. Some people seek the circus for that very thing; others don’t know it’s possible, but discover it is.

Beth, who makes the marmalade for the circus, keeps memories in jars, fragments of years. All kinds of jars fill the caboose of the train, jars filled with specific days about specific people. (Every jar is different and Beth knows where each came from the way she knows the lines on her palm. Her fingers dance over them now, glass shoulders and corked tops; embossed lettering, the thick curve of a sealed lip. Sunlight sneaks through the windows to fragment itself in the bottom of the jars.)

She infuses the marmalades with memories to give them back to people, to allow them to relive a moment from their past—because she can’t ever quite forget her own. (Perhaps one of the countless jars that line the wall of the caboose-turned-bakery contains her real name, but if so, it is pushed well to the back, gathering dust, cobwebs, forgetfulness. She has not forgotten; she cannot.)

My mom is no longer in good health; her memory is fragmented. She remembers the past more readily than she does yesterday. My grandmother, before she died, forgot who I was. All the days at the lake, my memory alone. Will my mother also forget me? Or will she remember me the way she does yesterdays?

What happened two months ago has been erased from her thoughts, while I remember it starkly, as if I had eaten all of the circus’ memory-infused marmalade. Memory has always been such a vital part of these stories, but now it feels more personal than ever. I thought I understood what I was doing before—but only really understand it now. The circus holds memories, even when a person cannot—no matter how far one wanders, there is a place that remembers for better or worse. That’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

The Grand Tour Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

E. Catherine Tobler has never run away with the circus, but there’s still time. Among others, her short fiction has appeared in ClarkesworldLightspeed, and Apex Magazine. She edited the World Fantasy and Hugo-finalist Shimmer Magazine, and co-edited the World Fantasy Award finalist anthology, Sword & Sonnet. Follow her on Twitter @ECthetwit or her website, www.ecatherine.com.

My Favorite Bit: Doug Engstrom talks about CORPORATE GUNSLINGER

My Favorite BitDoug Engstrom is joining us today to talk about his novel Corporate Gunslinger. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Doug Engstrom imagines a future all too terrifying—and all too possible—in this eerie, dystopic speculative fiction debut about corporate greed, debt slavery, and gun violence that is as intense and dark as Stephen King’s The Long Walk.

Like many Americans in the middle of the 21st century, aspiring actress Kira Clark is in debt. She financed her drama education with loans secured by a “lifetime services contract.” If she defaults, her creditors will control every aspect of her life. Behind on her payments and facing foreclosure, Kira reluctantly accepts a large signing bonus to become a corporate gunfighter for TKC Insurance. After a year of training, she will take her place on the dueling fields that have become the final, lethal stop in the American legal system.

Putting her MFA in acting to work, Kira takes on the persona of a cold, intimidating gunslinger known as “Death’s Angel.” But just as she becomes the most feared gunfighter in TKC’s stable, she’s severely wounded during a duel on live video, shattering her aura of invincibility. A series of devastating setbacks follow, forcing Kira to face the truth about her life and what she’s become.

When the opportunity to fight another professional for a huge purse arises, Kira sees it as a chance to buy a new life . . . or die trying.

Structured around a chilling duel, Corporate Gunslinger is a modern satire that forces us to confront the growing inequalities in our society and our penchant for guns and bloodshed, as well as offering a visceral look at where we may be heading—far sooner than we know.

What’s Doug’s favorite bit?

Corporate Gunslinger cover image

DOUG ENGSTROM

My favorite bit of Corporate Gunslinger arose from my agent’s suggestion and the need to solve an ordinary writing problem. It also contains one of my favorite lines in the book.

Kira Clark, my protagonist, is a professional gunfighter in the near future. Every two weeks, she meets an opponent on a high-tech dueling field, armed with a single-shot pistol, her training, and a uniform with the same bullet-stopping power as a pair of nice pajamas. Acting on behalf of TKC Insurance, she represents her employer against citizens who are so angry or desperate that they’re willing to risk their lives to win their cases. Most of the time, they’re untrained, unprepared, and no match for Kira’s speed and skill.

At one point in the story, Kira signs up for a high-stakes match against another professional. Despite the hazard of facing a well-trained gunfighter rather than a hapless citizen, the winner’s purse is so large she must compete for the right to represent the company. In the first draft I showed Danielle Burby, my agent, the story jumped straight from Kira’s signup to the results of the competition, with a few details thrown in after the fact.

In her initial edit letter, Danielle said this seemed too abrupt for such a big event, and there should be at least one scene relating to the competition. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to use. The obvious choices were a training montage or a detailed account of a crucial gunfight, but I’d already used those elsewhere in the story. That was part of the reason I skipped over the selection process in the first place. But once Danielle showed me other people noticed the hole, I realized I needed to conjure something new.

Kira’s story is a grim one, filled with the physical and emotional toll of constant violence. However, I respect Joss Whedon’s admonition to “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”

Looking through the manuscript, I could see I hadn’t done anything funny in quite a while.

I considered what might happen if, somewhere in the middle of the selection process, Kira and another one of my hyper-competitive gunfighters were left unsupervised at the end of the day. Their conflict starts when they both insist on being the last to leave the firing range, seeking bragging rights for having worked the hardest. It escalates from there.

One of Kira’s signature characteristics is a ferocious insistence on her dignity and worth, so I made her competitor one of those people who refuses to admit other people, especially women, might be competent. I think everyone has encountered the type—the person who knows what they’re doing but can’t acknowledge that anyone else might be good at their job.

He begins by poking at Kira’s fame. She has an MFA in acting, and she’s used her education and stage presence to craft a media image so intimidating half her opponents quit before reaching the dueling field. Her competitor seizes on this as proof she’s “not a real gunfighter” and has only been included among the finalists for show.

Their rapid-fire verbal confrontation takes on a new dimension when a janitor opens one of the training simulators. The simulators closely mimic the dueling field, using computerized “pseudoguns” to administer a painful electrical shock in lieu of a bullet wound.

They both recognize this is a bad idea. They could be disciplined for using the simulator without a trainer present, and at the maximum setting, the shock could affect their performance during the next evaluation session. Several times, they almost back away from the confrontation, but neither one can quite bring themselves to do it, because walking away feels too much like losing.

The emotions and fast pace made the verbal sparring fun to write. At one point, Kira goads her rival on by holding out one of the simulator’s pseudoguns and announcing, “Either take this thing or admit you haven’t got the ovaries to handle it.” It’s one of my favorite lines in the whole book.

Ultimately, they square off, and the outcome shows readers a little more about both characters.

As usual, going back and thinking hard about a part of the book I was trying to gloss over resulted a huge improvement. In this case, a fun little caper in the midst of a dark story became my favorite bit.

LINKS:

Corporate Gunslinger Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

BIO:

Doug Engstrom has been a farmer’s son, a US Air Force officer, a technical writer, a computer support specialist, and a business analyst, as well as being a writer of speculative fiction. He lives near Des Moines, Iowa with his wife, Catherine Engstrom.

My Favorite Bit: John P. Murphy talks about RED NOISE

My Favorite BitJohn P. Murphy is joining us today with his novel Red Noise. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Caught up in a space station turf war between gangs and corrupt law, a lone asteroid miner decides to take them all down.

When an asteroid miner comes to Station 35 looking to sell her cargo and get back to the solitude she craves, she gets swept up in a three-way standoff with gangs and crooked cops. Faced with either taking sides or cleaning out the Augean Stables, she breaks out the flamethrower.

What’s John’s favorite bit?

JOHN P. MURPHY

My favorite bit in my novel Red Noise is a dinner. Yeah, there are swords and spacewalks and (really very few) nuclear explosions, but when I flip through the manuscript I always stop and read a little bit from the chapter entitled, Okonomiyaki.

I’m not sure that would have been my answer in January. Though I wrote the scene almost two years ago, it has special meaning for me now. These days it seems like a fantasy, having dinner with three new friends. When my nameless protagonist the Miner comes out of her six month seclusion and finds society collapsed on Station 35, the last thing she wants is to become a part of it. It’s too big a problem, and it’s not her problem. Get in, sell some ore, get back to work, that’s the sensible thing. Go on to the next station without being noticed. This dinner is the last thing she wants when she shows up, but at that point in the story, when the friendships have been reluctantly made, it’s what she needs.

For me, the chapter is about those brief but strong connections we make when things are stressful. The choice of food is personal. Okonomiyaki can be complicated, but the Kansai style I learned was pretty simple: a wheat batter mixed with chopped cabbage, spread on a griddle with something like bacon for flavor, and topped with a sweet/salty/spiced sauce. I’ve never made new friends easily, especially as an awkward 20 year old who’d decided that a study abroad in Japan was a good idea. I forget now who first dragged me into the tiny okonomiyakiya around the corner from the dorm, but it was a revelation. I had never liked cabbage. My grasp of the language was tenuous at best. But I was surrounded by new friends and the food was good and the beer was good, and it was an oasis of “everything is really OK” in a whirlwind.

The okonomiyaki was cooked in front of you, as you like it. In the book, it’s not so much “as you like it” but whatever Takata can scrape together in a war zone: Cricket flour, yeast-based fake egg, bacon-like-substance grown in a vat. Tiny hydroponic cabbage. They huddle around the kitchen prep table, watch him cook their dinner, and argue. It’s funny how you can miss bickering.

Red Noise has a lot of things falling apart (when they’re not actively being destroyed) so maybe it’s no surprise that my favorite bit is about something being made. Cooking has a way of bringing people together, even if you’re just watching. Plus, food is kind of a weird ephemeral art, in that its purpose is to be destroyed. All that work, to make something that briefly fills the senses. The look, the taste, the aroma. The texture. Even the sound, when you’re in the kitchen and can listen to the sizzling and banging and occasional swearing. And then it’s consumed and gone, but the whole shared experience lingers, and that makes something too. It’s a bit like writing a novel.

LINKS:

Red Noise Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

John is an engineer and writer living in New Hampshire with his partner and two ridiculously fluffy cats. His previous work, The Liar, was shortlisted for a Nebula Award for Best Novella in 2016. He was a SFWA Director-at-Large until 2018 and is now the Short Fiction Committee Chair. He has a PhD in Engineering and a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

My Favorite Bit: Jeremy Szal talks about Stormblood

My Favorite BitJeremy Szal is joining us today with Stormblood. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Vakov Fukasawa used to be a Reaper: a bio-enhanced soldier fighting for the Harmony, against a brutal invading empire. He’s still fighting now, on a different battlefield: taking on stormtech. To make him a perfect soldier, Harmony injected him with the DNA of an extinct alien race, altering his body chemistry and leaving him permanently addicted to adrenaline and aggression. But although they meant to create soldiers, at the same time Harmony created a new drug market that has millions hopelessly addicted to their own body chemistry.

Vakov may have walked away from Harmony, but they still know where to find him, and his former Reaper colleagues are being murdered by someone, or something – and Vakov is appalled to learn his estranged brother is involved. Suddenly it’s an investigation he can’t turn down . . . but the closer he comes to the truth, the more addicted to stormtech he becomes.

And it’s possible the war isn’t over, after all . . .

What’s Jeremy Szal’s favorite bit?

Stormblood cover art

For this book, character is everything. And for me, character is voice. I write exclusively in first-person, so I try to make the prose as close a reflection of the character’s personality and mindset as possible. But I also love writing about aliens. They can be so weird and wonderful and bizarre, and meeting them just throws you into a, well, alien world. So, naturally, I put alien DNA inside the protagonist’s body. And, for me, the opening paragraph tells you the exact nature of this alien DNA.

“I realised this was a bad idea at around the time the alien biotech started pulsing with dark pleasure under my ribs.

Not that it had ever been a good idea, of course. When you boil it down, there’s two types of plans: the ones that get you killed, and the ones that don’t. When you’re in the business of stealing illegal goods from dangerous people and selling them to other dangerous people, risk is part of the deal. But it was only since I’d been injected with stormtech that I’d started enjoying it. The rush of adrenaline. The thrill of danger. The heat of aggression.

The polymer atrium of the spaceport with its recycled oxygen and pallid lighting was freezing, but my skin was flushed and prickling with fresh sweat, my breathing shallow, my hands twitching by my sides. I think I was even salivating for some action. Moist, sticky saliva filling my mouth like treacle. I grimaced. I hated when my body did that. Twitchy hands were acceptable and sweaty skin I could handle, but I was never going to get used to a sudden mouthful of saliva. The stormtech only got this keyed up when I was walking into something no sane person would consider.

Nothing for it but to press on, keeping a watch on my body and my surroundings. Breathing hard, sweat snaking down my spine, I stepped into the spaceport terminal. It was frantic in the way only spaceports can be: people wandering around and clutching e-tickets, queuing for zero-gravity nausea meds, whirling to meet flight schedules. I cut a path through the crowded chaos. No easy feat for a guy my size, though folks tended to edge out of my way, especially since I was wearing heavy armour.

The humid, hot stench clung to every surface of the spaceport like a bad reputation. The stormtech had elevated my senses, letting me smell the difference between the spicy, gunpowdery stink of a suit lined with asteroid dust and the greasy odour of a suit worn by an engine-room worker. Between the familiar smell of a human and unfamiliar one of some alien species. The smells all tumbling and blending together and oozing into every pore.”

I wanted to grab the reader by the throat, to have the opening be up close and in your face, because that’s the style of the book, and that’s the sort of character we’re going to be spending our time with. If we’re going to spend 500+ pages inside a character head, I want to be as up close and personal as possible.  I want you to feel what he’s feeling, to get that sense of your own guts being tugged on. So I didn’t waste anytime letting you know who Vakov Fukasawa is. Someone who’s cynical, world-weary, and knows he’s about to do something risky. Someone all too aware he’s got this glowing alien organism sniffing up his backbone and into his brain, altering his sweat, his saliva, his muscles. It’s pretty gross and sticky, but it’s a cool and wacky kind of gross, which is what I’m going for.

If we’re going to write about how alien DNA is injected into humans like a drug, we might as well go the full mile, right? The fact that Vakov Fukasawa actually enjoys the feeling of this alien DNA twitching inside him and altering his biochemistry so he gets a kick out of being in danger makes it all the more wacky. I basically spent five hundred pages thinking up new ways for the alien DNA to screw with his body, and loved every page of it. It’s made him addicted to chilli and spices (he also has to eat twice as much as the average human, to feed the stormtech), it renders alcohol redundant so he can’t get drunk, it makes him sweat twice as hard. It enhances his hearing, strength, reaction time, all the good stuff.

And it also turns him into a hair-trigger weapon. In the next chapter, he confesses that there’s no such thing as a fantasy for him. If he considers doing something, no matter how suicidal or stupid, he’ll convince himself to act on it.

Which makes the inevitable encounters with drug dealers, soldiers, cult leaders, and snarky aliens, all the more interesting.

But, of course, the stormtech also wants to survive. It’s made Vakov’s body its home, nice and warm and wet and filled with tasty hormones, and it doesn’t want to lose that anytime soon. So whenever it leads him into danger, it’ll help him find a way out of it.

Usually.

LINKS:

Stormblood Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Jeremy Szal was born in 1995 and was raised by wild dingoes, which should explain a lot. He spent his childhood exploring beaches, bookstores, and the limits of people’s patience. He’s the author of over forty science-fiction short stories. His debut novel, Stormblood, is a dark space opera forthcoming from Gollancz in June 2020, and is the first of a trilogy. He was the editor for the Hugo-winning StarShipSofa until 2020 and has a BA in Film Studies and Creative Writing from UNSW. He carves out a living in Sydney, Australia with his family. He loves watching weird movies, collecting boutique gins, exploring cities, cold weather, and dark humour.

My Favorite Bit: Isabel Schechter and Michi Trota talks about The WisCon Chronicles Vol 12: BOUNDARIES AND BRIDGES

My Favorite BitIsabel Schechter and Michi Trota are joining us today to talk about this year’s collection of essays by WisCon attendees, The WisCon Chronicles Vol. 12: Boundaries and Bridges. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The twelfth volume of The WisCon Chronicles explores our understanding of boundaries and bridges, and what they mean for us as individuals and for our communities. This collection includes essays from first-time WisCon attendees and former Guests of Honor, fans and Tiptree/Otherwise Award-winning authors and editors, cis het and LGBTQ+ attendees, affluent and less well-off, abled and disabled, white and POC, young and old, parents and child-free, English speakers and Spanish speakers, and hopefully more than just these categories can capture.

Structural changes in the convention that break down barriers to attendance and participation are important, and some of the essays recount the process and struggles of creating space and programming for POC attendees, access for disabled attendees, and affordability for all attendees. The words we use matter, as essays that talk about feminist terms, gendered language, and even the name of the Tiptree/Otherwise award (which is almost inextricably identified with WisCon) demonstrate. The definition of “community” is also examined, both within WisCon and beyond, as it spills out into the wider world — including online spaces.

CONTRIBUTORS: Jess Adams • Charlie Jane Anders • Nancy Bird • Kristy Anne Cox • Katherine Alejandra Cross • Alexandra Erin • Nivair H. Gabriel • Sarah Gulde • Lauren Jankowski • Inda Lauryn • Elise Matthesen • Gabriela Damián Miravete • Chimedum Ohaegbu • Otherwise Board • Julia Rios • John Scalzi • Nisi Shawl • Monica Valentinelli • G. Willow Wilson

What are Isabel and Michi’s favorite bits?

Boundaries and Bridges cover image

ISABEL SCHECHTER

My favorite bit about working on this volume of The WisCon Chronicles has been the opportunity to provide a place for voices to be heard.

The world needs to hear a variety of voices, and that won’t happen if people who have something to say are not able to say it. Some people need encouragement and a gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) push before they feel confident enough to submit a piece of writing for publication, and in soliciting submissions for this collection, I provided encouragement and pushes as needed.

Some people just need a venue to make themselves heard, and I wanted the Chronicles to be just such a place. The theme of the collection, boundaries and bridges, is complicated, and I wanted to provide a space to break down barriers, whether externally or internally imposed, and provide a place where people felt welcome, valued, and encouraged to make their voices heard.

By submitting their work, these contributors have overcome assumptions (their own or others’) about who is qualified to submit, who deserves to be heard, and what ideas deserve to be discussed. By breaking through these boundaries, they have now created opportunities for others to see themselves represented, be exposed to a new viewpoint, or think about a subject in a new or deeper way. They have made an impact in the world.

And make no mistake, every one of the contributors in this collection has already made an impact, and that impact will continue and expand as more people are affected by reading their work and engaging in discussions about it. This is why it is so important that people’s voices are heard. You can’t make an impact if no one knows you exist, if no one is exposed to your ideas, if no one discusses the issues you bring up.

I am humbled that as an editor I was able to provide a space where these things could happen. While I can’t claim the credit for the impact the essays in the Chronicles will have in the world, I can be proud that I played even some small part in helping them make that impact.

And hey, if they pick up a Hugo or four while making that impact, that’s icing on the cake.

MICHI TROTA

I’ve loved SF/F before I could read for myself–The Hobbit was one of the first books my mom ever read to me–but nonfiction, particularly essays and other creative forms of personal writing, holds a special place in my heart. In part this is because I’m a nonfiction writer myself, but it’s also because nonfiction is a form of storytelling, utilizing many of the same tools regarding narrative, structure, and voice as fiction. And while there are many things that I’ve loved about co-editing this volume of The WisCon Chronicles, having the chance to work with a collection of nonfiction was too good of an opportunity to pass up, especially with Isabel as my co-editor.

Even within the anthology’s specific theme of “boundaries and bridges,” there was considerable room for interpretation, and it was fascinating to see the different choices these essayists made in approaching their chosen topics. There was no one way to approach WisCon, and reading pieces that were at times vulnerable, analytical, introspective, passionate, and deeply moving was inspiring. Editing nonfiction is no less involved, and occasionally fraught, than editing fiction. It’s a collaboration, and like all collaborations, it requires a considerable amount of trust between editor and writer, particularly on the part of the writer, in the hopes that the editor understands what they’re trying to say and can provide the best guidance in shaping their work into its best possible self.

Editing nonfiction is often a humbling experience and I’ve rarely come away from editing another person’s essay without having learned something that I can apply to my own writing. Whether it’s playing with perspective, a bold and unflinching lens on one’s self, or a delightful sense of humor, there’s so much in creative nonfiction to love. I’m especially grateful that this collection is the first publishing project I was able to take on after my time as Uncanny Magazine’s Managing and Nonfiction Editor. Being able to apply the many lessons I’d learned at Uncanny about how to be a good editor to my work on the Chronicles brought me so much joy, and I’m thankful to the writers who entrusted their work to us, and so proud of the collection Isabel and I have curated together.

I look forward to the day when I’ll have the chance to edit collections of fiction, but nonfiction will always be my first love. And having the chance to edit the nonfiction of so many writers who I’ve admired and liked over the years, for a con that has made an immeasurable difference in my life, with the best possible editing partner I could’ve asked for? All together, that’s my favorite bit.

LINKS:

The WisCon Chronicles Vol. 12: Boundaries and Bridges

Isabel’s Twitter

Michi’s Twitter

BIOS:

Isabel Schechter has been a SF/F fan since childhood and active in fandom for 20 years. Isabel is Puerto-Rican, and her essays on race and representation in SF/F have been published in Invisible 2: Essays on Race and Representation in SF/F; Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy; and WisCon Chronicles. She is a frequent panelist at SF/F conventions and is Co-Editor of The WisCon Chronicles Volume 12: Boundaries and Bridges. Isabel is also an active library supporter and has served on the boards of several library-related organizations. She has a master’s degree in Divinity from the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Michi Trota is a four-time Hugo Award-winner and British Fantasy Award winner. She is Editor-in-Chief of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), co-editor of the WisCon Chronicles Vol. 12, and the first Filipina Hugo Award winner. She was the first Managing Editor/Nonfiction Editor of Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, exhibit consultant and text writer for Worlds Beyond Here: The Expanding Universe of APA Science Fiction at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle, WA (2018-2019), and is also an essayist, public speaker, and fire performance artist in Chicago.

 

My Favorite Bit: Swati Teerdhala talks about The Archer at Dawn

My Favorite BitSwati Teerdhala is joining us today with The Archer at Dawn. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Romantic intrigue and electric action fill the gripping sequel to The Tiger at Midnight, a world inspired by ancient Indian history and Hindu mythology. Perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Victoria Aveyard.

A stolen throne. A lost princess. A rescue mission to take back what’s theirs.

For Kunal and Esha, finally working together as rebels, the upcoming Sun Mela provides the perfect guise for infiltrating King Vardaan’s vicious court. Kunal returns to his role as dedicated soldier, while Esha uses her new role as adviser to Prince Harun to seek allies for their rebel cause. A radical plan is underfoot to rescue Jansa’s long-lost Princess Reha—the key to the throne.

But amidst the Mela games and glittering festivities, much more dangerous forces lie in wait. With the rebel’s entry into Vardaan’s court, a match has been lit, and long-held secrets will force Kunal and Esha to reconsider their loyalties—to their countries and to each other.

Getting into the palace was the easy task; coming out together will be a battle for their lives. In book two of Swati Teerdhala’s epic fantasy trilogy, a kingdom will fall, a new ruler will rise, and all will burn.

What’s Swati Teerdhala’s favorite bit?

Archer at Dawn cover image

It’s funny how outlining a book is rarely ever the whole story. Yes, you are literally writing down the whole story, but in so many ways, it’s only the start of a journey. When I first put pen to paper for the outline of The Archer at Dawn, I tried to think of everything I’d want to see in the second book of a series. Heavy intrigue, hair-raising action, higher and higher stakes, slow burn romance. Those all were expected. But there was one thing in particular on my list that surprised me.

One of the characters, Alok. Somehow he had wiggled his way onto my “must have” list for The Archer at Dawn

You see, I had a plan for this character and it wasn’t very big. He was a breath of decency, a bit of comic relief when needed, a friend I’d definitely love to have in real life, but not much more to the story itself. At least, at first. 

Alok is an essential source of support to his best friend Kunal, one of the main characters. He loves to bring Kunal down a peg, but would also lay down his life for him. But his role as a joker older brother figure was too small for him. His interactions with Esha, the other main character, clinched the deal. Alok can be both wise and maddeningly flippant. Esha is a living legend that takes no prisoners. In all honesty, it was a surprise to me how well they got on in the one scene they had. They almost instantly found ways to connect–mostly at Kunal’s expense. So that one scene became a few more.

Every time Alok showed up in a scene, he ended up stealing it away. Alok is the sidekick that delights in his role but also, somehow, manages to convince you that he shouldn’t be one. And after a while, I gave in. 

The Archer at Dawn is not necessarily a light book. It dives deeper into the psyches of both Kunal and Esha, a questioning soldier and a burdened rebel. It watches them make hard choices and deal with unforeseen consequences. And through it all, they grow. But they don’t grow on their own. It’s the cast of characters, their friends and teammates, who help them along the journey and I found that to be close to real life. 

On your journey to become the best version of yourself, I bet you there’s an Alok. Someone who sees you for who you are and yet pushes you to be better. Who adds levity when the world feels like it’s falling apart. Who is ever reliable and ever a true friend.

Alok was my surprise in this book and my favorite thing. But don’t tell him, he’s insufferable enough as it is.

LINKS:

The Archer at Dawn Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Swati Teerdhala is a storyteller at heart. After graduating from the University of Virginia with a BS in finance and BA in history, she tumbled into the marketing side of the technology industry. She’s passionate about many things, including how to make a proper cup of tea, the right ratio of curd to crust in a lemon tart, and diverse representation in the stories we tell. The Tiger at Midnight is her debut novel. She currently lives in New York City.

My Favorite Bit: Nancy Kress talks about Sea Change

My Favorite BitNancy Kress is joining us today with Sea Change. Here’s the publisher’s description:

New from the Nebula Award winning author of Beggars in Spain: A riveting climate-change technothriller of espionage, conspiracy, and stakes so high they could lead to the destruction of humanity itself. In this environmental page-turner, activist lawyer Renata Black―covert member of the Org―must go deep underground to unravel the truth behind the ecological disaster that has paralyzed the food industry and destroyed her family.

Operative Renata Black has a serious problem: an ordinary self-driving house. But this house, causing a traffic snarl, also has the Org’s teal paint on the windowsill.

In 2022, GMOs were banned. A biopharmaceutical caused the Catastrophe: worldwide economic and agricultural collapse, and personal tragedy for lawyer Caroline Denton and her son. Ten years later, as Renata Black, she is a member of the Org, an underground group of scientists hunted by the feds. But the Org’s illegal food-research might just hold the key to rebuilding the worlds’ food supply.

Now there’s a mole in the Org, and Renata is the only one who can find out who it is. At risk is the possibility of an even more devastating climate collapse. For answers, she will go to her legal clients from the Quinault Nation. Will there be time to reveal the solutions that the world has not been willing to face?

What’s Nancy Kress’s favorite bit?

Sea Change cover art

It probably doesn’t sound good for an author to say that her favorite bit is a story’s opening: What, you mean it’s all downhill from there?  I sincerely hope not.  However, it is nonetheless true that my very favorite bit of my new stand-alone novella from Tachyon, Sea Change, is the opening few paragraphs:

The house was clearly lost.

I watched from my seat on the second-story balcony of the Cinnamon Café as the tiny house, a ten-by-fifteen imitation Cape Cod with a single dormer, wavered in the middle of the intersection below. It turned to the left, to the right, back to the left, ending up crosswise to the intersection. Traffic honked and stopped. The house didn’t budge, probably recalibrating. An ancient Lexus with an ancient driver tried to swerve around the house, but there wasn’t enough room. The driver leaned out and shouted at the house—as if that would do any good. Whoever was inside had the shutters closed.

Several homeless, who were not supposed to be in this historic-preservation neighborhood, jeered and laughed.

The robo-server wheeled up to my table. “Can I bring you something else, ma’am?” I waved it away; my beer was only half drunk. And the show below was too entertaining to gulp the rest, even though I would be late to meet the new recruit. Let him wait. From now on, his life would include a lot of waiting.

The old man in the Lexus, surprisingly spry, jumped out of the car and pounded on the door of the house. Nothing. People in cars, both drivies and manual, leaned out of their windows, looking impatient. One of the homeless threw a plastic cup at the house’s back wall. It missed. A few pedestrians stopped to watch, smiling, probably gloating that they weren’t the ones whose important rushing was being interrupted by an edifice with confused GPS.

Still the house didn’t move. Mobile conveyances this large weren’t permitted on city streets unless occupied, although that didn’t guarantee that the occupants weren’t asleep or drunk or too busy having sex to notice that their dwelling wasn’t moving. At the very least, by now the mandatory pull-to-curbside auxiliary engine should have engaged. Somewhere in the distance, a siren sounded, probably cops trying to get through the increasingly snarled traffic.  Grinning, I leaned forward for a better view.

Why is this my favorite bit?  After all, the novella is about more serious stuff (ocean toxins, genetically modified crops), more dramatic stuff (an underground resistance organization), more emotional stuff (I wish now that I’d titled the novella Sea Change: A Love Story, but I didn’t think of it in time).  But this lost house is my favorite bit.  Maybe because:

  • I am a lousy driver and would greatly enjoy anything that would move itself—car, truck, house.
  • I really enjoyed fitting in a lot of different reactions to this stalled house: amusement, frustration, anger, schadenfreude.
  • It gave me a chance to write “an edifice with confused GPS.” Not a phrase I’ve ever written before.
  • There are several things in this opening that will prove significant later on in the story but don’t seem so now, which allows for that authorial chuckle of suppressed glee: Guess what I’m going to do with this later!
  • The setting was copied from a real-life one in the Bahamas, a second-story balcony café from which my husband and I, sipping exotic touristy drinks with umbrellas in them, watched an completely unexpected parade proceed down the street. (That one did not get stalled).  A good memory.

The larger point here—if there is one—is that what matters to the writer may not be the same thing that matters to the reader—at least, not at the beginning of the story.  Hopefully, those two will have converged by the story’s end.  For Sea Change, you will have to decide for yourself if I made that happen.

Meanwhile, watch out for lost Cape Cods.

LINKS:

Sea Change Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

BIO:

Nancy Kress is the author of thirty-six books, including twenty-nine novels, four collections of short stories, and three books on writing.  Her work has won six Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.  Much of her fiction concerns genetic engineering, including Sea Change (although not her forthcoming space opera from Baen, The Eleventh Gate).   Kress’s fiction has been translated into two dozen languages, including Klingon, none of which she can read.  In addition to writing, Kress often teaches at various venues around the country and abroad, including a visiting lectureship at the University of Leipzig, a 2017 writing class in Beijing, and the annual intensive workshop Tao Toolbox, which she teaches every summer with Walter Jon Williams.  She lives in Seattle with her husband, writer Jack Skillingstead.

My Favorite Bit: Laura Lam talks about Goldilocks

My Favorite BitLaura Lam is joining us today with Goldilocks. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A gripping science fiction thriller where five women task themselves with ensuring the survival of the human race; perfect for readers of The MartianThe Power, and Station Eleven.

Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation.

It’s humanity’s last hope for survival, and Naomi, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity like this – to step out of Valerie’s shadow and really make a difference.

But when things start going wrong on the ship, Naomi begins to suspect that someone on board is concealing a terrible secret – and realizes time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared . . .

What’s Laura Lam’s favorite bit?
Goldilocks cover artOn the day we were meant to have the first all-female space walk, March 29th, I wrote chapter three of Goldilocks in righteous annoyance. It’s one of my favourite bits of the book.

Chapter 3 is just after 5 women have stolen the spaceship that was meant to be theirs before they were kicked off my mission to be replaced by men. The brand new shiny spaceship is still bolted onto the construction hub, and so two women have to go out on a spacewalk to manually release it so they can take off. This was something no one on the ground thought through, and a little loophole Valerie Black, captain of the mission, built into the design in case they pulled something like this.

To write it, I listened to the Houston We Have a Podcast episode on space walks, which was very illuminating. I did some other googling, a few astronaut memoirs mention what space walks are like, and I also watched a few NASA streams of them too. I didn’t go into the minutiae of the NASA acronyms and such, though I used a few. I tried to keep the chapter pacy and full of tension but also give a sense of scope and what was at risk if the Atalanta 5, as they’d come to be called, didn’t achieve their mission.

Here’s a wee excerpt from that chapter:

“Earth spread below them, sunset deepening back to night. They were over Asia – there was the little finger of Japan and Korea, the sprawl of China. Shocks of light from Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul. The cities were bigger, buildings for accommodation and business, but also vertical farms. Sea walls protected the changed coastline as best they could, and more walls bisected landmasses in a futile attempt to stop the next wave of climate change refugees who had nowhere else to go. So many millions of people far below them. If the Atalanta didn’t make it, all those lights would darken.

Naomi braced herself, using a rail as a foothold so the torque wouldn’t twist her around with the wrench. Each connection had a dozen smaller bolts in turn, and each took at least a hundred turns to loosen. They pocketed each bolt in an empty container so they wouldn’t be floating within the vicinity of the craft when they left. Before long, her hands hurt despite the padding of the gloves. Sunset brought back the night and she cooled again despite the suit’s protection. She adjusted the temperature of her suit, using the mirrors at her wrists to read the backward-printed controls. Her elbow joints grew stiff.”

I’d been so excited to tune into that space walk at the end of March—it was making history! And then when they didn’t have two suits that would fit them, since men usually wore large, it was disappointing. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. So, writing this chapter in a corner of a coffee shop (remember when we could go to coffee shops? I miss them so much) was cathartic. I was able to imagine women up there, doing their job. From researching this book, I know I unequivocally do not have the right stuff, so writing about it is as close to space as I’ll ever get.

We did end up getting our all-female space walk in October. I had just finished the book by then. I watched the space walk on the train, heading down to London for an event. Though it kept buffering due to a poor connection, I slyly wiped my eyes and hoped no one saw me crying. So many women in the history of spaceflight aren’t as well known as they should be, and it’s nice to see contemporary astronauts getting the visibility they so deserve.

Everything has changed the last few months, with some of the astronauts who went up to the ISS returning to a world that’s very different. This is definitely not how I expected my book launch to go, and it’s hard not to mourn what it could have been in the alternate 2020 timeline. I still really loved writing about these women in space and imagining what it must be like up there among the stars.

LINKS:

Goldilocks Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Originally from sunny California, Laura Lam now lives in cloudy Scotland. She is the author of the feminist space opera Seven Devils (co-written with Elizabeth May), BBC Radio 2 Book Club section False Hearts, the companion novel Shattered Minds, and the award-winning Micah Grey series: PantomimeShadowplay, and Masquerade. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in anthologies such as Nasty WomenSolaris Rising 3, Cranky Ladies of HistoryScotland in Space, and more. Her romance alter ego is Laura Ambrose. She lectures part-time at Edinburgh Napier University on the Creative Writing MA.

My Favorite Bit: Dan Moren talks about THE ALEPH EXTRACTION

My Favorite BitDan Moren is joining us today to talk about his novel The Aleph Extraction. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Aboard a notorious criminal syndicate’s luxurious starliner, Commonwealth operative Simon Kovalic and his crew race to steal a mysterious artifact that could shift the balance of war…

Still reeling from a former teammate’s betrayal, Commonwealth operative Simon Kovalic and his band of misfit spies have no time to catch their breath before being sent on another impossible mission: to pull off the daring heist of a quasi-mythical alien artifact, right out from under the nose of the galaxy’s most ruthless crime lord.

But their cold war rivals, the Illyrican Empire, want the artifact for themselves. And Kovalic’s newest recruit, Specialist Addy Sayers, is a volatile ex-con with a mean hair-trigger who might put the whole mission at risk. Can Kovalic hold it all together, or will the team tear themselves apart before they can finish the job?

What’s Dan’s favorite bit?

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DAN MOREN

Ask any of my friends what crime I would commit if I thought I could get away with it, and to a one they would give you the same answer: a heist.

I love heists of all shapes and sizes: from the small, low-tech robbery of a Logan Lucky to the huge Mission: Impossible-style caper with masks, gadgets, and split-second escapes. So, it was only a matter of time before I wrote a story that prominently featured an elaborate heist as a centerpiece. Thus, my latest novel, The Aleph Extraction.

In Aleph, the heist in question involves our heroes, Simon Kovalic and his team of covert operatives, stealing a legendary artifact said to contain secrets which could alter the balance of the galaxy’s ongoing cold war. The problem—or, perhaps, chief among many problems—is that the artifact is somewhere on a spacefaring cruiseliner run by a ruthless crime lord. Oh, and their rival superpower, the Illyrican Empire, wants the artifact for itself, and will do anything to get it. No pressure.

The reason I love this heist so much is that it features one of my very favorite things, in fiction or the real world: a competent team of professionals who are each working to do their part of the job. That meant I got to relate events from a variety of different characters’ perspectives, each of whom—like the reader themselves—can only see one small part of the overarching plan.

But I also love the heist because the act of writing it was a bear. It turns out carrying out a heist actually has a lot in common with writing: they both have a lot of moving pieces, they’re meticulously planned, and ultimately something always goes wrong—but, of course that was part of the plan all along! Or was it?

Writing a heist means a lot of balls to juggle: Which character is where, at what time, and how much do they know at this point about what’s going on elsewhere? That’s true in any story, but it’s even more so in the case of heist, which requires a higher degree of precision that may be down to the very second. You have to balance unfolding events in a logical fashion while still maintaining elements of surprise for the reader.

Challenges are what help us keep improving, and putting together this heist meant leveling up as a writer. I tried a number of different ways to organize events, including spreadsheets and timeline apps, none of which really worked for me. Ultimately, I determined it made the most sense if the characters themselves had a “mission clock,” which let me set different goal markers—i.e. by this time, this event should be happening to one of the characters—and thus line up what was going on in different places. When I was editing, I made sure to highlight and note every place in the manuscript that a reference to time appeared, just to make sure everything lined up.

And, of course, as much joy as there is in everything going smoothly, one of the things that I realized while sketching out the idea of the heist was that things had to go wrong. While there is tension in watching to see if our heroes can pull it off, no plan survives contact with the enemy—and sometimes with your allies too. So every time I asked myself what should happen next, the answer was always the same: how can I make this harder for our protagonists? Sure, it’s cruel, but I do it all for you, reader.

What’s fun—and alternately terrifying—about constantly raising those stakes is that when the characters need to figure out how to get out of a particularly tricky jam, I need to figure it out first. It’s writing by the seat of your pants, and while sometimes it works, you can all too often write yourself into a corner, as I very nearly did more than once.

But, when it’s finally done and you’ve put it through the wringer, ironing out each and every little detail, you can step back, admire what you’ve constructed, light a cigar, and utter that time-honored phrase: “I love it when a plan comes toge—oh crap, did I remember to explain that?”

LINKS:

The Aleph Extraction Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

DAN MOREN is the author of sci-fi espionage capers The Aleph Extraction and The Bayern Agenda, both from Angry Robot Books, as well as The Caledonian Gambit from Talos Press. A prolific podcaster and freelance tech journalist, he writes for a number of sites including Macworld and Six Colors, and hosts shows on The Incomparable and Relay FM networks. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts with his wife, where he is never far from a set of polyhedral dice.

My Favorite Bit: Ilze Hugo talks about THE DOWN DAYS

Ilze Hugo is joining us to talk about her novel The Down Days. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the aftermath of a deadly outbreak—reminiscent of the 1962 event of mass hysteria that was the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic—a city at the tip of Africa is losing its mind, with residents experiencing hallucinations and paranoia. Is it simply another episode of mass hysteria, or something more sinister? In a quarantined city in which the inexplicable has already occurred, rumors, superstitions, and conspiracy theories abound.

During these strange days, Faith works as a fulltime corpse collector and a freelance “truthologist,” putting together disparate pieces of information to solve problems. But after Faith agrees to help an orphaned girl find her abducted baby brother, she begins to wonder whether the boy is even real. Meanwhile, a young man named Sans who trades in illicit goods is so distracted by a glimpse of his dream woman that he lets a bag of money he owes his gang partners go missing-leaving him desperately searching for both and soon questioning his own sanity.

Over the course of a single week, the paths of Faith, Sans, and a cast of other hustlers—including a data dealer, a drug addict, a sin eater, and a hyena man—will cross and intertwine as they move about the city, looking for lost souls, uncertain absolution, and answers that may not exist.

What’s Ilze’s favorite bit?

Down Days cover image

Ilze Hugo is joining us to talk about her novel The Down Days. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the aftermath of a deadly outbreak—reminiscent of the 1962 event of mass hysteria that was the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic—a city at the tip of Africa is losing its mind, with residents experiencing hallucinations and paranoia. Is it simply another episode of mass hysteria, or something more sinister? In a quarantined city in which the inexplicable has already occurred, rumors, superstitions, and conspiracy theories abound.

During these strange days, Faith works as a fulltime corpse collector and a freelance “truthologist,” putting together disparate pieces of information to solve problems. But after Faith agrees to help an orphaned girl find her abducted baby brother, she begins to wonder whether the boy is even real. Meanwhile, a young man named Sans who trades in illicit goods is so distracted by a glimpse of his dream woman that he lets a bag of money he owes his gang partners go missing-leaving him desperately searching for both and soon questioning his own sanity.

Over the course of a single week, the paths of Faith, Sans, and a cast of other hustlers—including a data dealer, a drug addict, a sin eater, and a hyena man—will cross and intertwine as they move about the city, looking for lost souls, uncertain absolution, and answers that may not exist.

What’s Ilze’s favorite bit?

Down Days cover image

MY FAVORITE BIT:

My debut novel, The Down Days, is set in a quarantined Cape Town, where a mysterious laughter epidemic has ravaged the city. Bodies are piling up and laughter has been proclaimed illegal.

I got the idea of a fictional laughter epidemic from the real life Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic that occurred in in Tanzania (then called Tanganyika) in 1962. It started with one school girl who couldn’t stop laughing and soon spread through the school and across the region. At the time, authorities didn’t know what was causing the epidemic and were worried that it might be viral. Scientists now believe the epidemic was a form of mass hysteria or mass psychogenic illness. 

Sounds unreal, right? Maybe. But it’s not at all unusual. Instances of mass psychogenic illness have occurred across the world throughout history and are thought today to be caused by chronic stress. Another famous and bizarre example is the Dancing Plague of 1518, when a woman in France started dancing in a street and soon up to 400 people joined in and danced manically for days until, as the story goes, dancers started dropping dead from exhaustion. More recent examples include a suspected case among school girls in Leroy, New York in 2011 (with the girls exhibiting muscle twitches, garbled speech and facial tics). 

Much like in today’s Cape Town (in fact, eerily so) the epidemic in my novel sees borders closed, police patrolling the streets and everyone wearing masks. It’s a novel about the impact of disease on culture. About fake news (with myths, misinformation and rumors spreading like wildfire). About masks. About the resilience of the human spirit. But it’s also a story about ghosts. 

American journalist Colin Dickey wrote in his book, Ghostland, that ‘ghost stories are about how we face, or fail to face, the past – how we process information, how we narrate our past, and how we make sense of the gaps in that history.’ Cape Town is a city with a very real history of racial segregation and displacement. And many of its citizens are still reeling from the traumas inflicted during Apartheid. Along with the idea of a laughter epidemic, ghost stories were one way to deal with this very real history or trauma, and mass ghost sightings seemed like an apt response to the trauma of a fictional epidemic. 

In fact, it didn’t seem that far-fetched, considering that after the 2005 tsunami in Thailand the dead lingered on throughout the country in the form of mass ghost sightings. The local newspapers were running stories on all sorts of spirit sightings and some experts believe the sightings were a way for the country to deal with the trauma of the event. American neurologist, Oliver Sacks, also wrote in his book, Hallucinations, that between 30 and 60 percent of elderly widowed people are visited by visions of the ghost of their loved ones after they’ve passed on and that these kinds of hallucinations are a natural way of processing grief. 

Enter my favorite character in the novel, Fred Mostert, ghostbuster, sin eater, comic relief, and then some. Fred was dreamt up for a short story I wrote for an anthology of South African short stories compiled by SA author, Diane Awerbuck. I loved him so much that he snuck his way into The Down Days as a side character. In the novel, Fred is an ex member of the occult unit of the South African Police Service – a real unit created in the 80’s during South Africa’s satanic panic era, when even The Simpsons and ThunderCats were cause for alarm. The unit was formed to fight Satanism, along with investigating everything from muti murders to “spectral evidence, including spiritual intimidation and astral coercion; curses intended to cause harm; voodoo; vampirism; harmful cult behavior; animal mutilation and sacrifice where evidence of occult involvement was believed to be indicated, human sacrifice, and the interpretation of alleged occult signatures.” When I started writing the novel I thought, along with a lot of other people, that the unit had been disbanded after Apartheid had ended, but it turns out it’s still a very real part of the South African police force today.

Truth is often so much stranger than fiction and I’ve always had a love of arcane, weird bits of history. Weaving all these real, uncanny facts into my fiction was one of my favorite bits about writing the book. 

LINKS:

The Down Days Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Ilze Hugo is a South African freelance journalist with degrees in fine arts and English studies, along with a Masters in creative writing from the University of Cape Town. She lives by the ocean in Muizenberg, Cape Town. The Down Days is her first novel.

My Favorite Bit: C.J. Lavigne talks about In Veritas

My Favorite BitC.J. Lavigne is joining us today with In Veritas. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this fantastic and fantastical debut, C.J. Lavigne concocts a wondrous realm overlaying a city that brims with civic workers and pigeons. Led by her synesthesia, Verity Richards discovers a hidden world inside an old Ottawa theatre. Within the timeworn walls live people who should not exist—people whose very survival is threatened by science, technology, and natural law. Verity must submerge herself in this impossible reality to help save the last traces of their broken community. Her guides: a magician, his shadow-dog, a dying angel, and a knife-edged woman who is more than half ghost.

With great empathy and imagination, In Veritas explores the nature of truth and the complexities of human communication.

What’s C.J. Lavigne’s favorite part?

In Veritas cover art

My favorite parts of In Veritas are the ones that aren’t there.

I don’t mean that I deleted them, or that some cruel editor killed my darlings; it’s just that some details are missing. They were meant to be missing.

I utterly flail when people ask me what In Veritas is about. I’ve described it as “a weird brick” and, more verbosely, “like urban fantasy and magic realism had a child, and that child was a jigsaw puzzle that wanted to be a poem.” That puzzle has lost pieces; there’s enough to put it together, but you need to work around the gaps, or maybe carve your own pieces, and fit them in for yourself.

Wait, don’t run! It makes sense. I promise.

In Veritas is a standalone novel about a woman who perceives multiple realities at once, and whose body processes all of that conflicting information as a form of synaesthesia. She sees sound; she tastes things she touches. Her world is a cactus dripping in the scent of lilac and coal, and the salt-brittle of cracking seashells. On one level ― the most important one — In Veritas is a story about Verity Richards looking for truth, and trying to help her friends. It has a magician! And an angel. And a dog.

On another level, though — the one in which I take quiet pleasure — it’s a story about our own inability to tell stories. It’s about the limitations of language, and how no matter how much we try, we can never completely communicate the depths of our own thoughts and experiences to other people.

This is expressed in a lot of ways in the book: it’s a pastiche of clippings and transcripts and images, and little conversations between Verity and the narrator where they try so hard to get it right, just for you.

They really can’t, though. It’s all in the title. My thought process is something like this:

IN VINO, VERITAS – This is a phrase that a lot of people know: “in wine, there is truth” (or variants thereof). It’s the notion that the truth will out when someone’s been drinking. It’s a starting point: a common reference that many readers will get. But it’s not actually the title.

IN VERITAS – Take out “vino” and this is what’s left. Of course, it’s a reference to Verity; the novel is a window into her life. But presumably, the new phrase also translates as “in truth”: a promise that the story will be honest and reliable. The Latin may have gotten a little mangled, though? Maybe it means “in reality,” or maybe it should be something like “in veritate.” The premise is already flawed; the structure doesn’t quite work.

That’s because there’s a word missing. There’s nothing substituting for “vino.” So the title can also be read as IN _____, VERITAS — which is to say, “in [some hidden, ineffable concept], there is truth.”  There’s no knowing where such truth is actually to be found, because the fullness of our realities can’t be expressed through anything as limited as a single human language. It doesn’t mean that we can’t communicate anything; it just means that we can’t communicate everything. And that’s it: my secret favourite part. That’s what the book is about.

To be clear, though, In Veritas isn’t just me pontificating about semantics. It’s the story of a woman who hears rainbows and tastes music. And don’t forget about the dog.

LINKS:

In Veritas Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

C.J. Lavigne is a Canadian speculative fiction writer. Since 2007, she has divided her time between Ottawa, ON, and Red Deer, AB, where she currently resides and works as a professional communications scholar who writes on television, gaming, and popular culture; at other points in her life, she’s been a barista, tech support supervisor, marketing manager, freelance editor, and — briefly — radio DJ. In Veritas is her first novel.