Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Tracy Townsend talks about THE FALL

My Favorite BitTracy Townsend is joining us today to talk about her novel The Fall, sequel to The Nine. Here’s the publisher’s description:

An apothecary clerk and her ex-mercenary allies travel across the world to discover a computing engine that leads to secrets she wasn’t meant to know–secrets that could destroy humanity.

Eight months ago, Rowena Downshire was a half-starved black market courier darting through the shadows of Corma’s underside. Today, she’s a (mostly) respectable clerk in the Alchemist’s infamous apothecary shop, the Stone Scales, and certainly the last girl one would think qualified to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders a second time. Looks can be deceiving.

When Anselm Meteron and the Alchemist receive an invitation to an old acquaintance’s ball–the Greatduke who financed their final, disastrous mercenary mission fourteen years earlier–they’re expecting blackmail, graft, or veiled threats related to the plot to steal the secrets of the Creator’s Grand Experiment. They aren’t expecting a job offer they can’t refuse or a trip halfway across the world to rendezvous with the scholar whose research threw their lives into tumult: the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers.

Escorting Chalmers to the Grand Library of Nippon with her mismatched mercenary family is just a grand adventure to Rowena until she discovers a powerful algebraic engine called the Aggregator. The Aggregator leads Rowena to questions about the Grand Experiment she was never meant to ask and answers she cannot be allowed to possess. With her reunited friends, Rowena must find a way to use the truths hidden in the Grand Library to disarm those who would hunt down the nine subjects of the Creator’s Grand Experiment, threatening to close the book on this world.

What’s Tracy’s favorite bit?

The Fall cover image

TRACY TOWNSEND

When I was small, my parents went on vacation to Mexico. They brought back a hand-crafted wooden top as one of my many souvenirs. It came in three pieces: the top itself, some kind of handle-thing I don’t know the name of into which it slotted, and a length of string. Once you spindled the top’s mast through the handle-thing, you’d thread the string through a hole in the mast, wrap it tight, grab the free end, and hold the whole contraption just barely touching the floor.

And then, you’d pull. It looked a lot like this:

image of pull string top  

There was a lot that could go wrong before you’d ever get the top whirling away in a blur of color. You could pull the cord too fast or too slow. You could drop it from too great a height and send it caroming off uselessly. And inevitably, no matter how perfectly you set it up, it would always, eventually, fall.

In the language of physics, a top at the end of its journey doesn’t fall. It precesses. Precession is what happens when, unable to fall straight down (gravity has already forced its tip into contact with the ground vertically), the top falls sideways, collapsing in a way unique to how the object itself once moved.

Tops precess. So do stories.

Every story is acted upon by the forces its author puts in motion. Those forces are designed to reach this point of precession, the narrative torque collapsing the characters and their actions toward some calamity they have to face.

Stories are about what happens when things fall down.

That’s my favorite bit about The Fall: being the sequel to my debut novel, it has the benefit of building on narrative forces already in play, compounding its momentum. My trio of character — Rowena, the Alchemist, and Anselm — are off making trouble again, though in different places, and finding themselves more out of their depth than they’d ever imagined. On the other side of the world, another trio of forces, human, lanyani (sentient, murderous tree-beings), and aigamuxa (ogres with eyes in their feet), vie for control of a dying city and the power it represents. And all at once, the right things are discovered at the wrong time — or the wrong things at the right time — and you can see the story tilt toward its inevitable precession.

Authors are architects, true, but at least half the time, we are architects of destruction. We have to build things up knowing they will be broken, torn, imploded. Defeated, at least for a time. And as much as I love my characters (you have to love these people to spend so much time with them), my favorite work is the subtle physics of making a system hurtle along, all its forces acting together just so, knowing that I’ve already applied the torque that will make it inevitably fall. It’s like a magic trick. Now-you-see-it, now-it’s-gone.

I recall writing The Fall’s climax, angling characters’ choices toward the calamities that would consume the rest of their story. It was very much like staring at that little wooden top my parents gave me, watching the blur of colors slow and slip into separate bands, feeling the certainty of collapse edging ever closer.

Dreading it. Loving it. Knowing that, once it happened, it was up to me to pick up the three pieces I had started with and wind them together again.

LINKS:

The Fall Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Tracy Townsend is the author of The Nine and The Fall (books 1 and 2 in the Thieves of Fate series), a monthly columnist for the feminist sf magazine Luna Station Quarterly, and an essayist for Uncanny Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is the former chair of the English department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband. You can find her at Twitter @TracyATownsend, and online at www.tracytownsend.net.

 

My Favorite Bit: Fran Wilde talks about THE FIRE OPAL MECHANISM

My Favorite BitFran Wilde is joining us today to talk about her novella The Fire Opal Mechanism. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Fire Opal Mechanism is the fast-paced and lively sequel to Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and Her Lapidary

Jewels and their lapidaries and have all but passed into myth.

Jorit, broke and branded a thief, just wants to escape the Far Reaches for something better. Ania, a rumpled librarian, is trying to protect her books from the Pressmen, who value knowledge but none of the humanity that generates it.

When they stumble upon a mysterious clock powered by an ancient jewel, they may discover secrets in the past that will change the future forever.

What’s Fran’s favorite bit?

The Fire Opal Mechanism cover image

FRAN WILDE

On Permanence and Evolution in Text 

“Books are measures of time. They are made to grow old. To grow, occasionally, wrong.”
– Ania Dem, Librarian,
The Fire Opal Mechanism

Books have always been my refuge. I disappear into them when reading. I built fortresses of them as a child. And what room full of books isn’t, when you think about it, basically a shelter constructed of words?

So when I set out to write Ania, my librarian, and Xachar, a handler of the very particular printing press in The Fire Opal Mechanism, I gave a lot of thought to the books within the story, those characters who loved them, and those characters who thought that certain kinds of books were a way of hoarding knowledge, and were out of date.

And so, many of my favorite bits of The Fire Opal Mechansim are when Ania, the time-traveling librarian, is thinking about her relationship to books. Her wish to save them all. Her fear that if books are lost, then debate will also be forfeit. And her understanding that books are snapshots in time.

Books feel permanent. The act of committing word to page, especially in print, feels eternal in some ways (especially if one finds a typo — don’t get me started). But they pass in and out of the world in so many ways: they become old, moth eaten, out of date. They are superseded by later knowledge. They are read in the bathtub until they are twice their size and have lost their back cover — ok, that’s probably too much information.

Meantime, digital texts can be overwritten without anyone the wiser. Wikipedia changes constantly; our inboxes seem to have a mind of their own. And while many more pieces of information are at our fingertips, this information feels gossamer-made, fleeting, and sometimes completely insubstantial.

Ania loves books, like I do. She likes their spines, their sturdiness and uniqueness, and all the stories they contain.

She’d loved books since she was a child… loved how each volume felt different in the hand… loved that they had to be handled carefully, like people. But, that they were constant, finished — unlike people.

And one more thing. Ania loves the independence of books. That they span time as individual objects, and objects in conversation. That they can contain and refer to one another. Perhaps most of all, she values that that they do not have a central source. I think Ania imagines, as I do, that in the darkness of a sleeping library, books mutter and argue together like old scholars.

Books aren’t perfect, any more than anything else is. But collected together, they allow us to do a magic thing: we can travel through time to see snapshots of ourselves and how we (or the portion of us that has lasted) once thought, in comparison to all other ways of thinking.

As Ania says to her inquisitors at one point: “All Librarians travel in time, Commissioner. Some more thoroughly than others.”

LINKS:

The Fire Opal Mechanism Universal Book Link

Website

Instagram

Facebook

Twitter

BIO:

Fran Wilde’s latest Gem Universe novella, The Fire Opal Mechanism (coming June 4, 2019 from Tor.com Publishing), features time-traveling librarians and thieves. Her novels and short stories have been finalists for four Nebula Awards, a World Fantasy Award, and two Hugo Awards, and include her Nebula- and Compton-Crook-winning debut novel Updraft, its sequels Cloudbound, and Horizon, her 2019 debut Middle Grade novel Riverland, and the Nebula-, Hugo-, and Locus-nominated novelette The Jewel and Her Lapidary. Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Nature, and the 2017 Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. (Full Bibliography is available at franwilde.net.) She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at franwilde.net. Fran will become Director of Genre Writing at Western Colorado University’s Graduate School of Creative Writing this summer.

My Favorite Bit: Anna Kashina talks about SHADOWBLADE

My Favorite BitAnna Kashina is joining us today to talk about her novel Shadowblade. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A young sword prodigy must impersonate a lost princess and throw her life into a deadly political game, in this kinetic epic fantasy novel by the author of the award-winning Majat Code series

Naia dreams of becoming a Jaihar Blademaster, but after assaulting a teacher, her future seems ruined. The timely intervention of a powerful stranger suddenly elevates her into elite Upper Grounds training. She has no idea that the stranger is Dal Gassan, head of the Daljeer Circle. Seventeen years ago he witnessed the massacre of Challimar’s court and rescued its sole survivor, a baby girl. Gassan plans to thrust a blade into the machinations of imperial succession: Naia. Disguised as the legendary Princess Xarimet of Challimar, Naia must challenge the imperial family, and win. Naia is no princess, but with her desert-kissed eyes and sword skills she might be close enough…

What’s Anna’s favorite bit?

Cover Image of Shadowblade

ANNA KASHINA

My favorite fantasy always comes with romantic elements and fancy blade fights. Highly competent warriors, whose sword skill is so breathtaking one can only gape when seeing them in action, make irresistible characters. Such warriors have been central to several of my recent books, and have definitely been my favorite bit in writing Shadowblade.

In Shadowblade, a lot of the story centers around the elite Jaihar Order that trains the best blademasters in the empire. The top-ranked Jaihar warriors are Shadowblades, deadly fighters whose ranking regalia – shadow-gray cloaks and black blades — help them blend into the background and make them even more dangerous. Unmatched in battle, they move like no other, graceful, fluid and fast, are highly technical with their weapons, and are also very controlled. In other words, they’re the whole package, aren’t they?

Before Shadowblade, I’ve tended to focus on the weapon skill itself, rather than delving deeply into the kind of training it takes to develop this kind of a warrior. What sort of talents and traits are needed to achieve the top Jaihar rank, or even to convince your superiors to set you on a path that can lead you to this possibility? What happens at every step of the training? How are the decisions driven to discount a trainee as a failure, or to allow them to go all the way to the top? And, importantly for my main character, Naia – how can a young girl, hard-working and talented, but too headstrong for her own good, go about achieving it?

Naia starts off as an outcast among the Jaihar. Despite her exceptional promise with weapons, she is about to be expelled for a carefully hushed-up case of insubordination. A timely interference of a powerful stranger, an outsider to the Jaihar but a highly influential official in the empire, plunges her into a series of tests of increasing difficulty that would enable her superiors to decide on her true potential. She doesn’t learn until much later that her mysterious benefactor, who’s very likely prevented her from being expelled, has done this because of a serious ulterior motive.

Developing a story centered around Naia’s training has been a fully immersive experience, where I had to submerge pretty deeply into the behind-the-scene world of elite blademaster training. It was so much fun to work out the blade and staff techniques, approaches to a variety of street weapons, and complex combination fights which I had to work through firsthand. A lot of this background work has been about technique, but applying this knowledge to my character enabled me to also understand the depth of the character development that must go into raising a warrior. The self-control, discipline, and balance that comes with the top Jaihar ranking isn’t easy to achieve. This aspect of the training tends to take far more work than weapon technique. Throughout the book, peeking into the mysteries of the Jaihar elite training has been my favorite bit.

Since Shadowblade pre-publication copies went out for reviews, I’ve seen a lot of comments out there that made me feel so good about choosing to write the book this way. One reviewer (clearly a kindred spirit) mentioned that they would have liked to have seen more of this behind-the-scene training, that glimpsing the challenges Naia has gone through made them want to see a whole book devoted entirely to that. This comment hit the spot for me. Writing about Naia’s Jaihar training, and then sending her into action to apply everything she’s learned, not only felt like the right balance for Shadowblade, but it also made me realize that I have so much more to tell. I’ve learned a lot while writing this novel. Stemming from my own experience and all the background research, the Jaihar have become a new class of warriors that combine the best of many cultures and many techniques into a truly enjoyable and wholesome blend.

LINKS:

Shadowblade Universal Book Link

Excerpt

Website

Bookbub

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

BIO:

Anna Kashina writes historical adventure fantasy, featuring exotic settings, martial arts, assassins, and elements of romance. Her “Majat Code” series, published by Angry Robot Books, UK, received two Prism Awards in 2015. She is a Russian by origin, and a scientist in her day job, and she freely draws on these backgrounds in her writing. Her newest novel, Shadowblade, is upcoming from Angry Robot Books on May 7, 2019.

You can learn more about Anna at her blog: https://annakashinablog.wordpress.com/

My Favorite Bit: T.D. Walker talks about SMALL WAITING OBJECTS

My Favorite BitT.D. Walker is joining us today to talk about Small Waiting Objects, her collection of science fiction poems. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In the near future, kitchen appliances question, console, and bewilder their owners. Extraterrestrials leave behind sub-dermal implants and complicated daughters. A second moon settles into orbit around Earth, a moon which challenges those beneath it to see it, to name it, to explore it. And crew members aboard starships turn to fine and pulp art as consolation. The lyric poems in Small Waiting Objects reach back to feminist utopias and onward toward possible futures in which we find ourselves resisting the technologies—and their human implications—that we most desire.

What is T.D.’s favorite bit?

Small Writing Objects

T.D. WALKER

Catherine Helen Spence’s A Week in the Future (1889) spans both a week and a century: for Emily Bethel, a middle-aged, active, inquisitive woman who never married, who is struck ill, it’s a waking week.  Her doctor tells her that she must live quietly from now on or else her heart will become too weak to sustain her.  But she refuses to live as such:

“I know what that means,” said I, bitterly. “I must give up all the things that make life worth living, all the outside interests that are the very bread of life to a solitary spinster, all the larger objects which the best and noblest of my brothers and sisters are striving to accomplish and absorb myself in the one idea of self-preservation.”

Refusing the entreaties of her doctor and of her beloved niece Florrie, she puts forth her own proposition:

“I would give the year or two of life you promise me for ONE WEEK IN THE FUTURE. A solid week I mean. Not a glance like a momentary vision, but one week — seven days and nights to live with the generations who are to come, to see all their doings, and to breathe in their atmosphere, so as to imbibe their real spirit.”

Her doctor obliges, and he gives her a drink that will allow her to sleep for a hundred years so that she can live for a single week in 1988.

Emily Bethel wakes in London, still clutching her valise, and her relatives’ descendants show her the fruits that the social reformers in her own time had sown a century before.  She is pleased with what she has seen, and she passes away on that final day of the week happy to have traded the years of forced tranquility for a week of excitement and knowledge of the future.

As a reader almost 130 years in the future, I allowed myself to believe the utopia Spence imagined for the duration of the book, but given what I know about how events unfolded in the now past–achievements, yes, but also atrocities–I wondered what might happen if Emily Bethel could see into multiple instances of 1988?

I explored such questions through the poems in Small Waiting Objects (CW Books 2019). Several of the poems expand on questions raised by various feminist utopias, including those from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland and With Her in Ourland.  My favorite of these is a response to Spence’s A Week in the Future: “In Which Miss Emily Bethel Wakes a Hundred Years Later in Every Possible Future,” a poem which was originally published in The Cascadia Subduction Zone.

A girl in suburban Houston and her sister witness the arrival of Emily Bethel, the great-great-aunt of their grandmother, a painter, into their present.  As I imagine her, Emily Bethel has become circumspect but still deeply curious after her visits to thousands of futures from her point in 1888.  She chooses to embrace joy, embrace what she can from each visit:

She’d dropped her coat on the floor and asked

whether my grandmother had a sprinkler and a swimsuit

she could borrow. Aunt Emily ran outside with us

 

girls, gripping the paper snowcone cups that leaked blue

raspberry syrup onto the sidewalk in front of our grandparents’

suburban home. Too far back again, she’d said, but we

didn’t ask what she meant, only pulled the dog and sprinkler

 

farther into the lawn. Later we’d see her pull

a small cracked mirror from the valise. She half

closed her eyes and slightly opened her blued mouth

and looked at herself. We’d spent the afternoon

 

running, she’d run harder than either of us girls,

and all of us, hair still damp and fingers sticky

sat on the porch swing watching the August sun

setting or resisting setting.

Emily leaves the valise and the journals in which she’d kept notes about each future with the girls’ grandmother.  The grandmother later passes the valise to the girls, who, much older now, read the final entry in the journal:

She’d stopped writing down the future

 

after a year had passed, after she realized that she’d never

escape these possible futures.  The houses, after all, were houses,

full of people or not.  The schools taught what they taught.

Couples married, had children, grew apart.  Some died

 

from diseases cured long ago in alternate worlds.  The last

page of the diary recorded us:

Week 5,738: Suburban Houston.

This time, it’s Elizabeth again, or this instance of her, and her landscapes,

that little square of gray longing.  Where is this home

she repeats?  Her granddaughters staying with her for the summer.

 

I’ll leave the valise again.  When I meet Elizabeth again,

a dozen or two dozen weeks from this one, I’ll tell her,

the her I find there, that the light is never true:

rising over the village, reflecting in those vast pools, catching

 

itself in the spray of fountains whose sources we

lose in the process of desire.

Poems, for me, are a way of breaking situations open to find deeper and more complex questions about them.  Would Emily Bethel, driven as she is to know what happens next, ever tire of moving through possible worlds?  I don’t know.  But I do think she’d find a way to situate herself in each so that she could learn as much as she could before passing to the next.  Sometimes that learning involves interviews and tours.  And sometimes it involves writing poems.  But I think it also involves sometimes leaving room to experience the world through joy.  At least the kid I was in suburban Houston in 1988 certainly hopes that’s the case.

LINKS:

Small Waiting Objects Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

T.D. Walker is the author of Small Waiting Objects (CW Books, 2019). Her poems and stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Web Conjunctions, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Luna Station Quarterly, and elsewhere. She draws on both her grounding in literary studies and her experience as a computer programmer in writing her poetry and fiction.

My Favorite Bit: Maurice Broaddus talks about PIMP MY AIRSHIP

Favorite Bit iconMaurice Broaddus is joining us today to talk about his novel Pimp My Airship. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Warning: Don’t Believe the Hype!

All the poet called Sleepy wants to do is spit his verses, smoke chiba, and stay off the COP’s radar—all of which becomes impossible once he encounters a professional protestor known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of local authorities and have to elude the powers that be.

When young heiress Sophine Jefferson’s father is murdered, the careful life she’d been constructing for herself tumbles around her. She’s quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, politics and airships, joining with Sleepy and Knowledge Allah in a fight for their freedom. Chased from one end of a retro-fitted Indianapolis to the other, they encounter outlaws, the occasional circus, possibly a medium, and more outlaws. They find themselves in a battle much larger than they imagined: a battle for control of the country and the soul of their people.

The revolution will not be televised!

What’s Maurice’s favorite bit?

Pimp My Airship cover image

MAURICE BROADDUS

Narrowing down my favorite bit of Pimp My Airship was more of a struggle than I thought it would be. Even the project coming to life was fun. I was on Writing Excuses talking about the Hero’s Journey of one of the main characters in the story, forgetting that I write for me and this book wasn’t out. Or due to be published. Or even submitted anywhere. Well, WRX fans started reaching out to me about it. Since the book only existed as a draft, I wanted a second opinion on it. So I sent it to Jason Sizemore of Apex Books since he bought the original “Pimp My Airship” short story and was a huge fan. As a friend and a fellow writer, I asked for him to take a look at a sample of the manuscript. He got through the first three chapters and wrote back, “I’ll take it.” I told him that I wasn’t submitting it, I just wanted to know if I had something. He said “you do and I’ll take it.” Thus, how Pimp My Airship came to be.

“Pimp My Airship” is the reason I have a steamfunk (think “steampunk” except through a black cultural lens) universe. It’s the world of Buffalo Soldier, “Steppin’ Razor,” and nearly a dozen short stories. It’s a world where America lost the Revolutionary War, Albion still rules the world, and details the impact of all of this on the lives of black people in this society. Most importantly, Pimp My Airship is an assemblage of my favorite collection of characters.

So, back to the Hero’s Journey. One way to look at a character’s story arc is to give them a goal and then throw as many obstacles in front of them to keep them from attaining it. With that in mind…

Meet Sleepy. He’s a poet. He’s had a long, hard day at work scrubbing steam pipes. At the end of his shift, he sheds his work clothes for his evening wear as he hits his favorite club to spit a few verses. After his set, all he wants to do is smoke a little “chiba” and get high.

That’s it. My dude just wants to get high. #heroicgoals

Meet (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. Now astute readers of my work may remember him as a “throwaway” character from my debut novel, Kingmaker. He was in the book for one page but chewed the scenery so thoroughly he moved through space and time to this alternate reality. He’s a former member of the sect the Lost Nation. He sees something in Sleepy. A voice. A kindred spirit. A partner. He wants Sleepy to join him in The Cause. Knowledge Allah is what we’ll call the “prime obstacle.”

Subsequent obstacles include: the COPs, the criminal underworld, a(n accidental) riot, more COPs, and … you get the idea. The lengths I go through to keep Sleepy from attaining his goal is my penultimate favorite bit which builds to my ultimate favorite bit, the moment he … reaches his goal. The scene is a tribute to a classic issue of Grant Morrison’s run on the comic book, Animal Man, called “The Coyote Gospel.” Sure, only comic books geeks will get it, but I start smiling every time I think about it. #beepbeep.

The thing about the Hero’s Journey is that many times, once the hero reaches the goal they think they wanted, it opens up new goals and purpose for them. It reveals desires they never thought they wanted. That’s the rest of the story for Pimp My Airship. A romp through a retrofuture version of Indianapolis, a place that I love, with characters that I love. I’m just glad readers pushed me to release it into the world. I’d call my readers my true favorite bit … but that would just sound weird.

LINKS:

Pimp My Airship Buy Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Maurice Broaddus is a community organizer and teacher. His work has appeared in magazines like Lightspeed Magazine, Weird Tales, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Asimov’s, Cemetery Dance, Uncanny Magazine, with some of his stories having been collected in The Voices of Martyrs. His books include the urban fantasy trilogy, The Knights of Breton Court, the steampunk novella, Buffalo Soldier, the steampunk novel, Pimp My Airship, and the middle grade detective novel, The Usual Suspects. As an editor, he’s worked on Dark Faith, Dark Faith: Invocations, Streets of ShadowsPeople of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror, and Apex Magazine. Learn more at MauriceBroaddus.com.

My Favorite Bit: Danielle L. Jensen talks about DARK SHORES

My Favorite BitDanielle L. Jensen is joining us today to talk about her new novel Dark Shores. Here’s the publisher’s description:

High seas adventure, blackmail, and meddling gods meet in Dark Shores, a thrilling first novel in a fast-paced new YA fantasy series by USA Today bestselling author Danielle L. Jensen.

In a world divided by meddlesome gods and treacherous oceans, only the Maarin possess the knowledge to cross the Endless Seas. But they have one mandate: East must never meet West.

A PIRATE WITH A WILL OF IRON
Teriana is the second mate of the Quincense and heir to the Maarin Triumvirate. Her people are born of the seas and the keepers of its secrets, but when her closest friend is forced into an unwanted betrothal, Teriana breaks her people’s mandate so her friend might escape―a choice with devastating consequences.

A SOLDIER WITH A SECRET
Marcus is the commander of the Thirty-Seventh, the notorious legion that has led the Celendor Empire to conquer the entire East. The legion is his family, but even they don’t know the truth he’s been hiding since childhood. It’s a secret he’ll do anything to protect, no matter how much it costs him – and the world.

A DANGEROUS QUEST
When an Empire senator discovers the existence of the Dark Shores, he captures Teriana’s crew and threatens to reveal Marcus’s secret unless they sail in pursuit of conquest, forcing the two into an unlikely―and unwilling―alliance. They unite for the sake of their families, but both must decide how far they are willing to go, and how much they are willing to sacrifice.

What’s Danielle’s favorite bit?

Dark Shores cover image

DANIELLE L. JENSEN

There are fewer worldbuilding tropes more common to YA fantasy than kingdoms with evil kings or queens, their position and power granted to them by birthright. It’s a trope I’ve used more than once, and will definitely use again, but when it comes to evil rulers, Dark Shores is a significant departure from my other work. The novel begins in an Empire inspired by Ancient Rome, complete with soaring columns, senate houses, deadly legions, and democracy, albeit a flawed version of it. The antagonist is not a villainous king, but rather Lucius Cassius, a power-hungry senator running for the position of consul – the most influential elected position in the Celendor Empire.

The hero of Dark Shores is Marcus, a young legion commander who is being blackmailed into supporting Cassius by having his entire legion vote for him in the elections. There is a rather dramatic scene where Marcus, in full regalia, marches into the Forum at the head of the most feared legion in the Empire in the final hours of the election, knowing that he’s about to turn the vote in Cassius’s favor. Marcus is the first of them to vote and there are a couple paragraphs where he stands alone in the voting pavilion, still not quite committed to what he intends to do, that I absolutely love.

Marcus understands better than anyone that Cassius is a villain. That the Empire won’t thrive under Cassius’s leadership. But Marcus also understands that Cassius’s victory is better for him and for his legion. There are thousands of young men, plus most of the Senate, standing outside in the Forum waiting for him to exit the pavilion, but Marcus hesitates, token gripped in his sweating hand and his stomach in ropes, before casting his vote. For readers, it might seem like a small moment, but it’s actually the crossroads point where the plot of the novel either begins or is stopped in its tracks.

I love moments where characters must make choices, but I love this one in particular not just because the consequences are so catastrophic, but because it’s a moment readers can see themselves experiencing. None of us are likely to ascend a throne, but nearly all of us will have the opportunity to vote for a political leader, knowing that we have a hand in who comes out victorious. We understand the feeling of grappling with the choice we must make, weighing and measuring the options. A vote is a powerful thing, and like Marcus, we are all culpable for the actions of those we cast our vote for.

LINKS:

Dark Shores Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

BIO:

Danielle L. Jensen is the USA Today bestselling author of The Malediction Novels: Stolen Songbird, Hidden Huntress,  Warrior Witch, and The Broken Ones, as well as The Bridge Kingdom (Audible Originals). Her latest novel, Dark Shores, was released by Tor Teen on May 7. She lives with her family in Calgary, Alberta.

My Favorite Bit: Wendy Nikel talks about THE CASSANDRA COMPLEX

My Favorite BitWendy Nikel is joining us today to talk about The Cassandra Complex, the third novella in the Place In Time series. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Cass is a 22nd century university student who – like most young adults – has always believed her parents were a bit stuck in the past. But on her eighteenth birthday she learns exactly how true this is: not only are her parents time travelers, living in an era different than either was born in, but now, to ensure that history plays out as it’s supposed to, she must travel to the year 1914 to live out her adult life.

Cass isn’t the type, though, to just sit back and watch while all the tragic events she’s learned about in her history courses play out in front of her. Not when she’s the only one in the world with the foreknowledge – and determination – to change it.

What’s Wendy’s favorite bit?

Cassandra Complex Cover Image

WENDY NIKEL

The Cassandra Complex is the third book in my Place in Time novella series. Throughout the first two books, The Continuum and The Grandmother Paradox, I’ve enjoyed sending my characters on adventures to various points in history through a time travel agency that specializes in vacations to the past. From the Titanic to the 1893 World’s Fair, this series has allowed me to spend a lot of time exploring the way people lived and things that were unique to those times. One particular piece of history I researched for this story were the thousands of young women who followed the railroad lines westward to take on positions of waitresses in the Fred Harvey Company.

With the rise of train travel in the late 19th century, Fred Harvey worked to fill a need for quality food and hospitality for travelers in the west. He opened his first roadhouse in Topeka, Kansas in 1876 and soon had a thriving franchise along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, providing travelers with fresh, wholesome meals, served within the time frame of a single train stop.

Harvey initially hired young men as waiters but found them too prone to drinking and fighting, so in 1883, he began hiring “white, young women, 18-30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent.” Thousands left their homes in the East and Midwest to answer his ads. The salary of $18.50 a month, plus room and board, was generous at the time, and many of these women were eager for adventure and a steady income.

The Harvey Girls were held to high standards to protect their reputations and that of the company. They wore uniforms of modest black dresses, tidy white aprons, and black stockings, and wore their hair in nets and white ribbons. Rules prohibited smoking, gum-chewing, or drinking.

In the 1890s, Fred Harvey was contracted to serve food in the dining cars of the Santa Fe Railway trains, and the Harvey Girls took to the rails. One of the trains they served on was the California Limited, which is featured in The Cassandra Complex.

I hadn’t initially intended to put Cass, my main character, on a westbound train, but when I began researching what jobs would have been available to single, young women in the year 1914, this quickly rose to the top of the list. It was truly a unique opportunity for women during that era, when the choices of young women (especially from poorer backgrounds) were extremely limited. Many women used their earnings to attend schooling which they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. Others went on to marry ranchers, miners, and other frontiersmen they met in West, thus playing an important role in the settlement and development of communities.

With the decline of railroad travel in the 20th century, the Fred Harvey Company also faded from existence, but even years later, many of the 100,000 women who served as Harvey Girls considered their years of service as an important part of their identity. And after her adventures on the rail line, I’m sure my main character, Cass, would agree.

LINKS:

The Cassandra Complex Universal Book Link

Website

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BIO:

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Daily Science FictionNature: Futures, and is forthcoming from Analog and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. For more info, visit wendynikel.com

My Favorite Bit: William C. Tracy talks about FRUITS OF THE GODS

My Favorite BitWilliam C. Tracy is joining us today to talk about his novel Fruits of the Gods. Here’s the publishers description:

Sisters Kisare and Belili uproot an ancient box in their owner’s orchard and find a miracle inside: a fifth godfruit in a society that knows only four. It is punishable by death for non-nobles to eat godfruit, so the sisters hide the discovery and plot to escape servitude for good. With the power represented in the box, they could live as nobles themselves.

But Kisare finds her new freedom more difficult than she imagined, and Belili has many secrets she strives to keep hidden. With the help of a people slowly losing their culture and technology to the powerful nobles, the sisters lead an infiltration of the highest levels of noble society.

While Kisare finds she cares for the captured leader of the people helping them, Belili comes to love her noble suitor’s guard—a fierce woman with a similar past to her own. In the end, the fifth godfruit may bring harmony to the world, but the sisters’ only hope of succeeding lies in deciphering ancient mythologies surrounding the gods’ original plan for their people.

What’s William’s favorite bit?

Fruit of the Gods

WILLIAM C. TRACY

This was by far the easiest “Favorite Bit” to decide on out of my books. Three words: Seasonal Fruit Magic. Pop a juicy slice of godfruit in your mouth and you have a magical ability! That is, if you have the right color hair. The magic varies depending on what season it is, and which magical tree is fruiting. All this leads to a magic system simple in context, but powerful for storytelling. Fruit type + hair color = magic power.

Planning out the magic in this book was lots of fun, especially since I grew up with a huge garden every year, courtesy of my mother and father. Mom used to joke that she got 110% germination on her tomato plants, and it was hard to check, because she routinely planted more than a hundred a year! Keep in mind I didn’t grow up on a farm. I lived in south central Charlotte, NC.

Back to the fruit. When I got my own place, I planted fruit trees, and over the years, I’ve had a plum, a peach, a cherry, a pear, blueberries, avocados, pineapples, lemons, kiwis, blackberries, and raspberries. They became one of the inspirations for this book. What kind of fruit would gods pick to bless? If you read carefully, you’ll notice I picked completely different genera for each season, so they wouldn’t be easy to cross-pollinate. In fact, I worked very hard to make the fruit a scarce commodity. The trees won’t bear if they’re too close to another of the same species. They only bear in one season. They have to be fertilized by the bodies of dead magic-users (probably my second-place favorite bit).

Now add in hair color. Not just anyone can use magic. Only the people blessed by the gods can use the godfruit. This is shown by five different colors of magical locks, as well as the non-magical blond hair. Each different hair color creates a different cross with a fruit, and you end up with twenty magical powers. As an engineer, I love seeing how systems fall into patterns and categorizations. So, after figuring out my basis for the magic, I got to play around with the powers and how to group them by fruit and by season. It won’t spoil things much to tell you the categories of magical powers: Mental, Sense, Elemental, and Body. I even created an in-world children’s verse that teaches how the gods bestowed their powers:

Dumzi, the trickster, put his guile in the morus. Our minds gain unearthly powers to serve us.

Geshtna’s passions are always intense. Her prunae increase all five of the senses.

Kigal can call all the elements to her. The malus’ juice gives them out to the user.

Enta, old man winter, is hard as leather. His citrons make our bodies fitter, stronger, deadlier.

But how does the magic work? Here’s one of the first confrontations where we see the power of the godfruit, in this case the malus of autumn and the citron of winter:

All six elders behind Hbelu had malae to mouths, and Kisare heard the crack of teeth biting into crisp godfruit. From the ground at their feet rose the ghostly forms of past Asha-Urmana, their hair a pallid shade of purple. The shades stalked forward, pushing back the nobles and their guards. The hounds skittered away in fear.

When she turned back to Hbelu, he was facing Aricaba-Ata, already passed through the ghosts’ line. She realized the prince towered over her former master. Hbelu’s leather clothes stretched to their limits to cover him, making him look like a man wearing boy’s garments.

But Aricaba-Ata had already bit into his own citron. She could see the juice running into his fingers. Hbelu swept into Aricaba-Ata with a roar, his voice deeper than usual. Aricaba-Ata resisted the charge. Kisare had seen him rip a tree from the ground with the strength the citron gave those with red hair. Little stabs of lightning trailed down the two magic users’ arms and legs, and Kisare stepped back, wincing as the two crashed together with a smack. They were like two slabs of rock, one twice as tall as normal, the other with strength to raise boulders above his head. Hbelu slowly pushed the noble away, large hands clasped on arms.

Enti-Ilzi was steady again, wiping blood from his face with one hand, his nose straight once more. His arm was still around Bel’s neck, and her face was going pale. She struggled weakly for a moment longer and went limp. The noble guided her to the ground, then drew his sword. He grasped in his pouch with his other bloody hand and produced a slice of malus.

The Asha-Urmana sentries stalked toward him. Enti-Ilzi saw this and bit down, standing over Bel’s unconscious body. As the sentries came close, Enti-Ilzi’s sword grew a band of frost, and then ice, white contrasting with the black lock of his hair. The ice lengthened, and he whipped it forward into the nearest sentry. A wicked shard of ice flew toward him, stabbing into his leg. The sentry stumbled backwards. Enti-Ilzi followed with several more slashes of his sword, each dislodging a spike of ice at a sentry. Kisare ran toward him, but Enti-Ilzi stood his ground, his sword wavering in Kisare’s direction.

Fruits of the Gods is my first book with a publishing house, as opposed to the five I’ve self-published so far. I have to say, I’ve loved working with NineStar Press. It takes a lot of the burden off me in coordinating the release. So if you’d like to go on a journey based on my experience with fruit trees and nature, why not take a big bite of Fruits of the Gods?

LINKS:

Fruit of the Gods Universal Book Link

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon Page

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 five books out, including the first book of an epic space opera, The Seeds of Dissolution, which includes 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: Meg Elison talks about THE BOOK OF FLORA

My Favorite BitMeg Elison is joining us today to talk about her novel The Book of Flora, the last of the Road to Nowhere trilogy. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this Philip K. Dick Award–winning series, one woman’s unknowable destiny depends on a bold new step in human evolution.

In the wake of the apocalypse, Flora has come of age in a highly gendered post-plague society where females have become a precious, coveted, hunted, and endangered commodity. But Flora does not participate in the economy that trades in bodies. An anathema in a world that prizes procreation above all else, she is an outsider everywhere she goes, including the thriving all-female city of Shy.

Now navigating a blighted landscape, Flora, her friends, and a sullen young slave she adopts as her own child leave their oppressive pasts behind to find their place in the world. They seek refuge aboard a ship where gender is fluid, where the dynamic is uneasy, and where rumors flow of a bold new reproductive strategy.

When the promise of a miraculous hope for humanity’s future tears Flora’s makeshift family asunder, she must choose: protect the safe haven she’s built or risk everything to defy oppression, whatever its provenance.

What’s Meg’s favorite bit?

The Book of Flora cover image

MEG ELISON

I’ve never written myself into a main character.

Writers are always accused (or at least suspected) of pulling this trick. Women authors in particular are expected to project themselves in fiction, and are far more likely to be painted as wish-fulfilling fluffmakers (j’accuse, Mary Sue!). But I’ve never put myself into my stories. The worlds I’ve written are too grim and I didn’t see a place for anyone like me in them.

Until now.

There is a character in The Book of Flora who is a blatant self-insert. It’s so obvious that my entire writing group and almost every single beta reader roasted me for it, and they were right. Her name is Max, she’s the mayor of a city that used to be called Chicago, and she’s me. She’s so me that I want to play her if there’s ever a movie made of this story. Mayor Max is my favorite bit.

The city of Chicago underwent the same plague-reckoning as every other major city in the Road to Nowhere series. Almost everyone died of a hemorrhagic fever, and women died at a greater rate than men. The resulting population distribution left one woman (or AFAB person) for every ten men on earth. The particular kind of chaos caused by that imbalance facilitates brutality, chattel slavery, and human trafficking with a horrifying speed. Chicago was no different than any other city up to this point.

The city didn’t burn, and after things calmed down, control came into the hands of an unlikely pair. This didn’t make it into the finished novel, but the founders who shaped the city that was Chicago and gradually became Shy were a football coach and a cheerleading coach. They were a couple, they were organized, and they were visionaries.

The resulting civilization is multilingual and multicultural. It values art and music and sport. The people expect spectacle and a lot of opportunities to gather and celebrate their superiority to other cities. Imagine if sports rivalries became the guiding principle of civic character. Imagine if an entire city dedicated to that kind of intensity elected to become a city of women only. That’s Shy.

Now imagine who would get elected mayor in such a place.

Mayor Max is expansive and florid. She loves attention, command, and control. She favors dresses and wouldn’t dream of wearing anything without pockets. She’s unabashedly fat, reveling in the luxury of a city that produces enough rich food to keep its people far from starvation or even boredom. Max is never bored. She has a private table at every venue in town, and she sits up front and cheers the loudest.

Max is also queer, but in a city where everyone is a woman it hardly bears mentioning. She is accompanied everywhere by at least two of her many partners, and she is not shy about her affections. I wrote her enjoying excellent fresh hummus, locally-produced wine and spirits, and (oh yes my fellow anime dweebs) hitting the hot springs for an episode. After writing a series about power-mad warlords hoarding childbearing bodies and queerphobic town elders pressuring people into breeding cycles, Max was fun to create. She is fun to picture and fun to dream about.

Writing Max was my favorite bit because I’ve never really seen a character like her. Fat characters are commonly villainous and slovenly. Their bodies are used as a shorthand for avarice, for stupidity, and for a fortress of loneliness that no lover would dare to storm. In the midst of a difficult book, Max was a joyous moment of writing the fat, queer, freewheeling slick politician and shrewd manager I knew could rule a city like Shy. I wanted to breeze through a dystopia with tickets to the opera and a full-throated laugh at the concept of scarcity. So I did.

And damn it felt good.

Flora is an immensely complex character. It took me a long time to get to know her, but only a single scene to fall in love with her. I wrote her story in an ache to deliver her from an embattled life into a peaceful ending, and finishing this series was like pulling out my own permanent tooth. It had to happen, and I am proud of the way I came through.

Max was one of the sweets I enjoyed on my way to the death of that tooth. I hope you find her sweet, too.

LINKS:

The Book of Flora Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

Meg Elison is a Bay Area author and essayist. Her debut novel, THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award and was listed as a Tiptree Committee recommendation. She is the first college graduate in her family, after finishing her BA in English at UC Berkeley in 2014. She spoke at her graduation. She writes like she’s running out of time and lives in Oakland.

My Favorite Bit: Kay Kenyon talks about NEST OF THE MONARCH

My Favorite BitKay Kenyon is joining us today to talk about the final book in her Dark Talents trilogy, Nest of the Monarch. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Kim Tavistock, undercover in Berlin as the wife of a British diplomat, uncovers a massive conspiracy that could change the course of the war—and she’s the only one in position to stop it in the electrifying conclusion to the Dark Talents series. 

November, 1936. Kim Tavistock is in Berlin on her first Continental mission for SIS, the British intelligence service. Her cover: a sham marriage to a handsome, ambitious British consul. Kim makes the diplomatic party circuit with him, hobnobbing with Nazi officials, hoping for a spill that will unlock a secret operation called Monarch. Berlin is a glittering city celebrating Germany’s resurgence, but Nazi brutality darkens the lives of many. When Kim befriends Hannah Linz, a member of the Jewish resistance, she sets in motion events that will bring her into the center of a vast conspiracy.

Forging an alliance with Hannah and her partisans, Kim discovers the alarming purpose of Monarch: the creation of a company of enforcers with augmented Talents and strange appetites. Called the Progeny, they have begun to compel citizen obedience with physical and spiritual terror. Soon Kim is swept up in a race to stop the coming deployment of the Progeny into Europe. Aligned against her are forces she could never have foreseen, including the very intelligence service she loves; a Russian woman, the queen of all Talents, who fled the Bolsheviks in 1917; and the ruthless SS officer whose dominance and rare charisma may lead to Kim’s downfall. To stop Monarch and the subversion of Europe, she must do more than use her Talent, wits, and courage. She must step into the abyss of unbounded power, even to the point of annihilation. Does the human race have limits? Kim does not want to know the answer. But it is coming.

What’s Kay’s favorite bit?

Nest of the Monarch cover image

KAY KENYON

In my career as a fantasy and science fiction author, I’ve never had the chance to write a caper scene. You know, one of those break-in-steal-the-jewels sequences where everything goes like clockwork–until all hell breaks loose.

What’s fun about caper scenes is the slow, methodical build-up, when the reader knows from experience that things will go wrong, but nevertheless really hopes they don’t. For a while everything looks golden. Then comes the turning point, the moment when the whole plan goes south, fast.

In my favorite bit, secret agent Kim Tavistock has broken into a Nazi-run sanatorium in the middle of the night to get photo evidence of human experimentation. She’s working with a German resistance group which provided her a nurse’s uniform and the keys to a secret ward where the subjects are kept. In this scene, they have executed an elaborate hoax to draw attention away from Kim’s break-in.

After entering the storied place known as “the fourth floor,” Kim is in a ward of comatose patients. Using a miniature camera, she photographs the unnatural-looking (and heavily sedated) patients who are restrained because sometimes the treatments they are undergoing lead to madness.

In the alternative history milieu of this trilogy, some people have psi-abilities. One comes into play in this scene, and that is the turning point.

“Nurse,” came a man’s voice. Kim froze. One of the patients was awake in a bed across the room. “Nurse.” More insistently.

So as not to cause him to call her more loudly, she approached.

A sign hung from the foot of the bed, displaying a word she couldn’t translate, and below that a clipboard on a chain.

“I know I should sleep,” the patient said with a modulated, deep voice. “But I cannot.”

She felt a pang of sympathy for him, knowing that his condition was fatal, and imagining the misery of ending it in this place.

His voice was wistful. “Do you ever try to sleep and fail?”

She hesitated to answer him. It would be best to leave now, but something about him gave her pause.

“I’m sure you know what I mean. But for us—” he looked around the room—“we prefer to sleep at different hours than others.”

He moved his body a few inches under the covers. “The straps hurt. I have sores. You could check if you don’t believe me.”

“I believe you,” she said. Why had she spoken? A trickle of sweat fell down the side of her rib cage.

“You aren’t like the others. I knew that when you first came in and started to take pictures.”

Time to leave. No one would hear him if he cried an alarm.

“Just loosen the strap around my hips one notch. The bruises, they hurt me so.”

She glanced down at the end of a leather strap dangling below the covers.

His eyes flickered with pain. Well, just a notch, then. She bent down and unbuckled the strap, slipping it into holes further down.

“What does the sign say?” She gestured to the end of his bed.

“Ah,” he said, nodding. “It is my condition. You know it, ja? You are a nurse.”

“No,” she said, sweat now pouring from her face. She folded the cape away from her shoulders.

“The sign says compulsion.” A long, flat smile carved across his face. “But we do not need to worry about that. This is a hospital.”

“We don’t need to worry,” she agreed.

“And perhaps the other straps? I know it is a great deal of trouble.” His voice was soft and even, like snow falling on a river and disappearing.

She fumbled with the buckles on his ankles. The straps were very tight and hard to unfasten, but she finally managed.

“Why not just take them all off?” he asked, reasonably enough. “Now that we have started, that is what we should do.”

In her dream-like state, Kim obeys. From here, things go very wrong. All the stealth, elegant planning, and misdirection go out the window as chaos erupts, terror descends, and even the SS guards are a welcome sight compared to what’s chasing Kim.

While I think the entire scene is very scary, it is also fun in a way that perhaps you have to be a little twisted to enjoy. Which I certainly did, in the writing, anyway!

LINKS:

Nest of the Monarch Universal link

Nest of the Monarch PW review

All Kay Kenyon books

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Kay Kenyon is the author of fifteen science fiction and fantasy novels. Her work has been shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick and the John W. Campbell Memorial awards. Her trilogy, the Dark Talents novels (Nest of the Monarch is book three) has been called “Supremely entertaining” by Kirkus Reviews and “Riveting” by Publishers Weekly. Some of her short stories are gathered into a collection, Dystopia: Seven Dark and Hopeful Tales, available in eBook and paperback.

My Favorite Bit: Ashok K. Banker talks about UPON A BURNING THRONE

My Favorite BitAshok K. Banker is joining us today with his novel Upon a Burning Throne. Here’s the publisher’s description:

From international sensation Ashok K. Banker, pioneer of the fantasy genre in India, comes the first book in a ground-breaking, epic fantasy series inspired by the ancient Indian classic, The Mahabharata

In a world where demigods and demons walk among mortals, the Emperor of the vast Burnt Empire has died, leaving a turbulent realm without an emperor. Two young princes, Adri and Shvate, are in line to rule, but birthright does not guarantee inheritance: For any successor must sit upon the legendary Burning Throne and pass The Test of Fire. Imbued with dark sorceries, the throne is a crucible—one that incinerates the unworthy.

Adri and Shvate pass The Test and are declared heirs to the empire… but there is another with a claim to power, another who also survives: a girl from an outlying kingdom. When this girl, whose father is the powerful demonlord Jarsun, is denied her claim by the interim leaders, Jarsun declares war, vowing to tear the Burnt Empire apart—leaving the young princes Adri and Shvate to rule a shattered realm embroiled in rebellion and chaos….

Welcome to the Burnt Empire Saga.

What is Ashok’s favorite bit?

Upon a burning throne cover image

ASHOK K. BANKER

Upon a Burning Throne is a fairly short book. Almost a novella. Barely a morsel. Only 246,000 words. Why, I’d call it a short story. Or a flash. A fragment, really.

Heh.

It gets worse.

It’s only the first of a nine book series called The Burnt Empire Saga. And the later books in the series are considerably longer than the first. So much longer that, depending on the publishers, paper costs and binding technology at the time they’re published, they might even be split into two parts apiece. Which is what the Indian publishers of Upon a Burning Throne have done for their edition.

Honestly, I think the length is nothing at all, especially if you love exciting, immersive epic fantasies.

It’s such a teensy weensy thing, a pupper of a story, a wee kitten.

In fact, my favorite bit in the book is what I left out.

Not out-takes, or the short stories, novelettes, and novellas I excised from the original draft and which have been published on Lightspeed Magazine as Legends of the Burnt Empire.

Those are more on the order of important backstory as well as origin stories of key characters and relationships that impact the main plot of Upon a Burning Throne. In a sense, they are part of the Burnt Empire Saga as a whole.

I don’t mean those parts.

I mean the parts that literally don’t exist anywhere in print or pixels. They only have a life in my mind.

I’m talking about the things I’ve left unsaid in the book.

Like the two key chapters at the very end of the book where two minor characters suddenly do or say things that are wholly unexpected. In one case, it’s even arguably out of character – though that particular person has shown himself capable of being uncharacteristically earlier in the book as well, so even that’s arguable. (They’re both male-appearing characters so I’m not giving away any spoilers here.)

Those two chapters and characters and what they do in one case, and say in the other instance, change everything that is to follow, turning the whole book on its head, so to speak, or pulling the rug out from under everyone’s foot – the other characters’ feet, and, if I’ve done my job right, the readers as well.

But it’s what I don’t say in those chapters that is the part that makes it work. The part that will (again, if I’ve done my part correctly) make the reader go “WTF? OMG!”

Similarly, in the beginning of the book, the main opening sequence, the long set-piece broken into several smaller chapterlets, the main “hero” or chief protagonist of the entire series and story is introduced, but this person is only just a baby at that point.

And I mean that literally, by the way. A baby as in a diaper-wearing milk-suckling babe, although of course they didn’t have diapers in the Burnt Empire or anywhere else in the world of Arthaloka, which is probably why said character is wrapped in a blankie. (There are always blankies in every world, just as there are always babies; any high fantasy world without babies and blankies is not a world worth contemplating leave alone writing about and I refuse to entertain the very idea of such a blankie-less, babe-less wasteland. Pshaw!)

That baby in a blankie will turn out to be the main protagonist of the Burnt Empire Series, or hero, if you will.

But I never say so openly in Upon a Burning Throne. I’m only saying it here, on Ms Kowal’s lovely online soap box, because it’s my favorite bit in the whole book.

I introduced the hero of the entire series as a baby in a blankie in a single brief scene in Book 1, and then never said a word more about that person in the rest of the 246,000-word book!

Again, this isn’t a spoiler. Anyone reading about Upon a Burning Throne will soon learn that the sequel A Dark Queen Rises follows lickety split on its heels. Just a year later. And as that second book’s title so blatantly and shamelessly reveals (major spoiler now) that protagonist is, of course, the eponymous dark queen.

The same one whom you were introduced to briefly but memorably as a baby in a blankie in Book 1. Yes, the very one. Gadzooks.

And I never told you that when she first came on the scene. Or at any point thereafter. In fact, I never even hinted throughout that entire 688-page hardcover volume (beautifully designed, bound, with a delicious cover and a simply sumptuous map, by the way) that she was even going to be the protagonist!

Like I said before, I left that bit out.

Deliberately, wilfully, knowingly, with full knowledge and intent.

I wrote an entire BFF (Big Fat Fantasy, not to be confused with Best Female Friend, though those are awesome too) without letting on that the main protagonist doesn’t even take center stage until book 2!

Because all heads turn when the hunt goes by. And the Queen, especially the Dark Queen, never leads the hunt.

She arrives in style, heralded and ushered, the path well beaten and cleared, the crowds assembled, the trumpets echoing across the vale.

And that’s it.

My Favorite Bit.

LINKS:

Upon a Burning Throne Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Ashok K. Banker is the pioneer of the speculative fiction genre in India and the author of 60+ books, including the internationally acclaimed Ramayana series. His works have all been best-sellers in India, and have sold around the world.

My Favorite Bit: Lara Elena Donnelly talks about AMNESTY

Favorite Bit iconLara Elena Donnelly is joining us today to talk about her novel Amnesty, the conclusion of the Amberlough Dossier. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In Amberlough City, out of the ASHES of revolution, a TRAITOR returns, a political CAMPAIGN comes to a roaring head, and the people demand JUSTICE for crimes past.

As a nation struggles to rebuild, who can escape retribution?

Amnesty is a smart, decadent, heart-pounding conclusion to Lara Elena Donnelly’s widely-praised glam spy trilogy that will have readers enthralled until the very end.

What’s Lara’s favorite bit?

Amnesty cover image

LARA ELENA DONNELLY

There are a lot of satisfying things about wrapping up a trilogy. And there are a lot of satisfying things about Amnesty in particular. I could talk to you about my calculating neo-liberal lesbian power couple. I could talk to you about designing severe, sexy, pseudo-Balenciaga gowns for Lillian DePaul, or about the power politics of sex scenes. I could mention the delight of writing a disaffected thirteen-year-old, and how useful it is to have a character who can play adult or child as necessary (read: as inconvenient and emotionally taxing for his parents as possible).

I put a lot of what I loved and wanted into this book. But I’m going to talk to you now about one tiny scene, insignificant to the plot, that demonstrates a huge truth about writing I try to impart during every panel I’m on, in every class I teach. I’m going to talk to you about verisimilitude. And also, about shooting skeet.

Okay, you got me: I said skeet for comic effect. I’m actually going to talk about shooting trap. And now we’re already getting into the details of how to write with deeply-developed verisimilitude.

There is a scene in Amnesty, during the Most Awkward Holiday House Party of All Time, in which a few of our heroes(?) are outside in the snow, wearing their tweeds, shooting at clay pigeons. I love this scene. Nothing happens except some very subtle character relationship development, but. I. Love. It.

It was a chance for me to flex my descriptive muscles to the max, and also meant a lot of texting with my mom to double-check details. She shot trap and skeet as a kid. And that’s one of the details I had to confirm: what’s the difference?

Not like it would matter to most people. And in fact, the differentiation didn’t make it into the book, because it’s a very informal set up we’ve got going on here: just one guy throwing targets by hand, a couple of other guys shooting. No houses, no proper slingin’ machine. Another detail: is throwing these things by hand feasible? Yes. But your character’s arm will be sore later.

When I first wrote this scene, I mined my own memories of my brief stint shooting as a kid. I mostly used a rifle, for shooting at static targets. The one time I tried to shoot trap, I remember the shotgun was so heavy I could hardly lift it twice, let alone track the target. I also remembered watching my cousin and grandfather out the window of the front room in my grandparents’ farmhouse, shooting clay pigeons over the front pasture. The one-two of the double barrels discharging, echoing in waves.

But I wanted to make sure I had nailed the sport as neatly as possible, so I sent the scene to my mom, who had a lot more experience than I did, and she helped me clean it up: A shooter with weak arms doesn’t struggle beneath the weight of the gun; their body bows around the stock so they can’t lift the muzzle high enough to shoot the pigeon. The pigeons don’t shatter when they’re hit dead on: they disappear in a trailing puff of smoke. The pigeons come in twos, because that’s how many shots you get in a double-barrel shotgun. In trap they come from the same house. In skeet they come from different houses, so it’s more challenging to aim.

And so on. And so on.

Like I said: do I think a lot of people reading this book will have shot trap before? Not particularly. But it was deeply pleasurable to write this scene knowing I had gotten as close to real life as possible, leaning into the sensory details. And also knowing if anyone who has shot trap before reads this scene, they will feel a spark of recognition.

Verisimilitude in writing is important because otherwise it can become derivative, stale, rote, other words that mean boring and bad. In her craft book Storyteller, Kate Wilhelm cautions that writers should never use fiction for research, because it results in a distorting game of telephone. I have a dead horse I often beat about writers drawing on things they’ve seen before in other books, in movies, in TV, and getting everything about everything wrong: how long it takes to drown, what happens when you get knocked out, what it’s like to live with a particular marginalized identity.

When you write things you have seen, experienced, researched, and know, it comes through in a way that’s hard for readers to put a finger on, but that they feel in their bones. It is, as my mom says: “The detail that makes it real beyond imagination.”

LINKS:

Amnesty Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Lara Elena Donnelly is the author of the vintage-glam spy thriller trilogy The Amberlough Dossier (Tor), as well as short fiction and poetry appearing in venues including Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, Nightmare, and Uncanny.

A graduate of the Clarion and Alpha writers’ workshops, Lara has also served as on-site staff at the latter, mentoring amazing teens who will someday take over the world of SFF. Lara is currently a guest lecturer in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College and a teacher at the Catapult classes in New York City.

My Favorite Bit: Jaine Fenn talks about BROKEN SHADOW

My Favorite BitJaine Fenn is joining us today with her conclusion to the Shadowlands duology, Broken Shadow. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The sky is falling, and only one dilettante scientist can save the world, in the startling finale of the Shadowlands duology

Rhia Harlyn risks death for science. Accused of heresy for promoting an unorthodox cosmology, she must defend herself, her work and her House alone. If only she could rely on her feckless brother Etyan, transformed through the combination of an occult scientist’s experiments and the harsh rays of the skyland sun. But she knows she cannot.

When Dej, Etyan’s half-alien lover, finally uncovers Etyan’s dark secret she runs off into the perilous skyland. She is looking for peace in a world that has rejected her; what she discovers instead will change everyone’s lives.

Meanwhile, overhead, the very stars themselves are shifting. Rhia is about to find herself proved disastrously right…

What’s Jaine’s favorite bit?

Broken Shadow cover image

JAINE FENN

It probably comes as no surprise that I found it hard to pick a favourite bit from my latest book. Most authors have several – ideally many – moments they love in their novels; we spend a lot of time shaping these stories, so if we aren’t loving what we do – at least some of the time – then that’s a sad state of affairs.

In this case, there is also a higher-than-average risk of spoilers. Broken Shadow is the second of two books in a science fantasy duology and although I’ve done my best to make it stand alone, there are certain plot-threads set up in the first Shadowlands book, Hidden Sun, which pay off here.

My first choice favourite bit would probably be when Rhia, my enquiring and unorthodox  protagonist, wakes up about two thirds of the way through the book to find that overnight the world has… yeah, that’s a massive spoiler, so whilst I loved writing that scene of realisation and reaction feeding into action only she would take, I can’t really share it here.

The bits I love most in Broken Shadow most are character moments – again, probably true for most authors – when these people we’ve spent so much time with implement their cunning plan or find out what’s really go on or pull off the seemingly impossible. And if I have to pick a non-spoilery favourite bit for Rhia it would be her heresy trial.

In Hidden Sun, Rhia discovered something about the universe that the reader already knows to be true but which no one else in her world believes. Now, the Church is challenging her over it.

In writing Rhia’s trial I took a lot from the real world. Firstly, as straight plunder: I shamelessly copied details from the real-life trial of Galileo, though I upped the stakes for Rhia. Rather than house arrest and having her book banned, she faces a brutal execution and the suppression of her ideas before they’ve even been made public. Secondly, explorations of what truth is versus what people choose to believe have been at the forefront of my mind for a while. They say you can date any SFF book to within a decade regardless of when and where it is set and this book is definitely a product of a ‘post-truth’ world.

Rhia values knowledge above else, and wants to believe that if you can prove a truth, it will be accepted. This refreshing if somewhat naïve view already puts her in a minority, as this exchange early on shows:

“Calculations produce proofs that cannot be argued with!”

Francin’s response was gentle, “Or, sadly, understood. Not by most people anyway.”

At her trial she rests her defense on trying to prove her theory, whilst also demonstrating that it doesn’t challenge the extant religious teachings. And she’s right of course. However, I took a perverse pleasure in sharing her slowly dawning realisation that too many people see ‘truth’ not as a provable concept with objective reality but merely as a tool to further their own ends. The irony for Rhia is that if her theory is ruled not to be ‘true’ then it can hardly be considered heretical, an argument which unfortunately only works when dealing with rational people.

Having finally been forced to acknowledge the truth about ‘the truth’, and to face the consequences of daring to challenge it, for Rhia to then wake up and find that the world has…done what it has done…well, that goes beyond irony.

LINKS:

Broken Shadow Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Jaine Fenn studied linguistics and astronomy before becoming a full time writer. Her first book, Principles of Angels, started the Hidden Empire series of character-driven space opera novels. She won the British Science Fiction Association’s Shorter Fiction Award in 2016 for Hidden Empire, and now divides her time between original fiction, teaching creative writing, and writing for tabletop and video games. She lives in Devon.

My Favorite Bit: Caitlin Starling talks about THE LUMINOUS DEAD

Favorite Bit iconCaitlin Starling is joining us today with her debut novel The Luminous Dead. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

What’s Caitlin’s favorite bit?

The Luminous Dead cover image

CAITLIN STARLING

I grew up (as I suspect many of us born in the late 80s and onwards) on my computer. AIM, MSN, Skype, MMOs, BBSes– I grew up forming relationships with people I’d never seen, many of whom I only knew through text. I told stories with them, honing my writing skills without consciously noticing it, until I was co-writing epics hundreds of thousands of words long. I was also falling in love, having my heart broken, learning that not everybody was kind or trustworthy, and practicing how to read between the lines of what was written to suss out somebody else’s heart.

So of course my first book is that, writ large.

The two characters in The Luminous Dead are strongly opinionated, twisty, aggressive women with very different approaches to getting things done. They don’t trust each other. They don’t like each other. But these two women, diametrically opposed, are dependent on one another and, most importantly, they aren’t even in the same physical location. Gyre is alone in a massive cave system, and Em is only a voice on her radio.

My favorite bit is how I got to take that complication – that cornerstone plot piece – and play with exactly how they communicate.

Gyre and Em’s relationship begins with a contract, negotiated through an intermediary. It grudgingly moves on to verbal communication, stop and go conversations as they begin to feel each other out. When Em is willing to talk to Gyre becomes almost as important as what she says—  and when she’s able to talk to Gyre becomes terrifyingly relevant as Gyre descends farther and farther away from the surface and any other chance of human contact.

Keeping dialogue fresh when there aren’t any physical cues for one of the participants was a definite challenge, as was keeping the content from feeling repetitive as they go back and forth over many of the same disagreements from different angles. I had to create a distinct voice for Em, as well as find ways to drop subtle cues as to what she might be doing while speaking. Pauses, dead air, are as important as the words spoken. So many of us have had the experience of waiting, anxiously, desperately, for the next text, email, DM. Not knowing when our companion will respond, or if they ever will. Watching the “…” blink for minutes, hours, days as we wonder what their response will be. Where does Em trail off? Where does she keep talking, when somebody else might have let Gyre get a word in edge wise?

Em also has more at her disposal than just her voice. The contract gives her control over the suit that keeps Gyre alive, and granted me another suite of tools— tools that are powerful, but also risky. Em can move Gyre’s body without asking permission, freeze her in place, or even end a conversation with a well-timed dose of narcotics. I couldn’t use those actions often, or they’d lose their efficacy, but I had to balance that against ensuring that when I did use them that their meaning was clear and concise. I couldn’t afford a break in rhythm to explain how an interaction physically functions; it had to feel as natural as breathing, as indisputable as a punch. It had to feel as instantly, naturally devastating as your brand new ex-girlfriend blocking you before you can respond to her break-up message.

All this carefully balanced back and forth, the constant shifts of power and understanding and vulnerability leaves Gyre and Em in very different situations than they began. But to see just where the obsession their limited communication produces takes them, you’ll have to climb down into the cave yourself.

LINKS:

The Luminous Dead Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Caitlin Starling is a writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, comes out from HarperVoyager on April 2, 2019. It tells the story of a caver on a foreign planet who finds herself trapped, with only her wits and the unreliable voice on her radio to help her back to the surface. Caitlin also works in narrative design for interactive theater and games, and is always on the lookout for new ways to inflict insomnia. Find more of her work at www.caitlinstarling.com and follow her at @see_starling on Twitter.

My Favorite Bit: Timothy Jay Smith talks about THE FOURTH COURIER

Favorite Bit iconTimothy Jay Smith is joining us today to talk about his novel The Fourth Courier. Here’s the publisher’s description:

It is 1992 in Warsaw, Poland, and the communist era has just ended. A series of grisly murders suddenly becomes an international case when it’s feared that the victims may have been couriers smuggling nuclear material out of the defunct Soviet Union. The FBI sends an agent to help with the investigation. When he learns that a Russian physicist who designed a portable atomic bomb has disappeared, the race is on to find him—and the bomb—before it ends up in the wrong hands.

Smith’s depiction of post-cold war Poland is gloomily atmospheric and murky in a world where nothing is quite as it seems. Suspenseful, thrilling, and smart, The Fourth Courier brings together a straight white FBI agent and gay black CIA officer as they team up to uncover a gruesome plot involving murder, radioactive contraband, narcissistic government leaders, and unconscionable greed.

What’s Tim’s favorite bit?

The Fourth Courier cover image

TIMOTHY JAY SMITH

The minute I learned that my challenge for this blog was to select my favorite bit in my new novel, I knew what it would be. The Emma scene. Chapter Six. Rarely has a scene been so much fun to write—and relive, because it’s based on a journey I took some forty years ago.

Two strangers—Dr. Sergej Ustinov, a genius Russian physicist, and Emma, a plump and lustful Russian-American on her way to visit relatives—by lucky chance have a first-class compartment to themselves in a train crossing Russia. While my real-life journey and scene in the book end differently, most elements are exactly the same: the cans of soup falling out of Emma’s duffel; a greasy bag of dried fish that they share; and finally, complaining about her feet hurting, she drops a foot over Sergej’s thigh urging him to massage it. There’s a lot of humor in the whole scene, and pathos, too. (Lina Wertmuller-ish for those who know her movies.) Here’s a taste of it:

Of course he couldn’t exactly ignore her foot resting on his leg, nor entirely block her squirming toes from view. Her nails were painted cherry red, which he realized did make her feet attractive, certainly more attractive than the coarse yellow nails his wife hadn’t painted since their first anniversary. Oh, why not massage her foot? he decided. It might be fun, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d touched someone’s foot other than his own. Tentatively he wrapped his fingers around her arch and squeezed. “Is that where it hurts?” he asked.

“Oh yes . . . but harder . . .”

He gripped her foot tighter and massaged it with his thumbs. He found he rather enjoyed it; there was an unfamiliar sensuality to it, and as a bonus, from this angle he could peek up her skirt to where her heavy legs disappeared in a dark shadow. Gradually his fingers migrated to her toes, which they worked vigorously, rooting down between them, and bending them to crack them. For the first time he understood why some people sucked toes for sexual pleasure, and if his back had been more limber, he might have dared to bite hers.

Emma sighed. “I can tell you are professional. Yes . . . oh yes . . .”

Suddenly the situation, and certainly his fantasies, seemed ludicrous to Sergej. He released her foot and said rather coldly, “I hope it feels better.”

The sense of scene is crucial to my writing. It’s how I think about a story. Before I start new work, I always have the opening and closing scenes in my head, and then I fill in everything else. I think it comes from growing up in a house where the television was never turned off. We kids were even allowed to watch TV while doing homework if our grades were good. Later in life I’d joke that canned laughter was the soundtrack of my childhood.

I haven’t owned a television for many years, but growing up with it exposed me to scene-driven notions of how to tell a story and be efficient with dialogue. When I completed my first novel, by chance I took a workshop with Sebastian Junger who had just sold the film rights to The Perfect Storm. When he said he would have nothing to do with writing its adaptation, I immediately decided to study screenwriting. I wanted to be knowledgeable enough to have some artistic input into that process, should I ever be fortunate enough to have the chance. That training reinforced my natural inclination to visualize my stories in scenes, which is also why my readers say they can see my stories as they read them.

I worried about selecting Emma’s scene as my favorite bit because of “Chekhov’s Gun”— the notion that every element in a story should contribute to the whole. I knew Emma would only be in one scene. Was that sufficient? Did she deserve so much space on those few pages? Could I make her appear again? Ultimately I decided she didn’t need to. It’s Emma’s scene only because it’s her only scene. It’s even more Sergej’s scene, especially because it’s the first time readers have the chance to begin to understand his psychology.

LINKS:

The Fourth Courier Universal Book Link

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BIO:

Raised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-days crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.

These experiences explain the unique breadth and sensibility of Tim’s work, for which he’s won top honors. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. He won the Paris Prize for Fiction (now the Paris Literary Prize) for his novel, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012. Tim was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. His screenplays have won numerous competitions. His first stage play, How High the Moon, won the prestigious Stanley Drama Award. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.