Archive for the ‘My Favorite Bit’ Category

My Favorite Bit: Peter Tieryas talks about MECHA SAMURAI EMPIRE

My Favorite BitPeter Tieryas is joining us today to talk about his novel Mecha Samurai Empire. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Man in the High Castle meets Pacific Rim in this action-packed alternate history novel from the award-winning author of United States of Japan. Germany and Japan won WWII and control the U.S., and a young man has one dream: to become a mecha pilot.

Makoto Fujimoto grew up in California, but with a difference–his California is part of the United States of Japan. After Germany and Japan won WWII, the United States fell under their control. Growing up in this world, Mac plays portical games, haphazardly studies for the Imperial Exam, and dreams of becoming a mecha pilot. Only problem: Mac’s grades are terrible. His only hope is to pass the military exam and get into the prestigious mecha pilot training program at Berkeley Military Academy.

When his friend Hideki’s plan to game the test goes horribly wrong, Mac washes out of the military exam too. Perhaps he can achieve his dream by becoming a civilian pilot. But with tensions rising between the United States of Japan and Nazi Germany and rumors of collaborators and traitors abounding, Mac will have to stay alive long enough first…

What’s Peter’s favorite bit?

Mecha Samurai Empire cover image

PETER TIERYAS

I love trying new restaurants and exploring new cuisines, and because of that, I’m always curious what people eat in the worlds I read and write about. But I know my tastes are weird. Just the other day, I had Thai yellow curry with Korean kimchee, a croissant, raw garlic, and Chinese-style dumplings. The day before, I had nacho-styled fries with ramen and peanut butter and jam for dinner, which made my wife comment wryly on my strange palette. I like trying new combinations and sharing them with friends, sacrilegious as it may seem for the foodie puritans of the worlds.

Mecha was my chance to share the weird cookbook of the United States of Japan.

Mecha Samurai Empire is a very different book from United States of Japan. USJ focused on the tragedies of WWII on the Pacific side and was a dark mystery following a member of the thought police and a government censor through an authoritarian system. Mecha is about five cadets who are aspiring to be mecha pilots and revolves around their time at school, preparing for examinations, and learning about the history of their world. Of course, every study session and simulation test means the cadets need good food to recharge their juices.

The five protagonists end up at the top mecha academy in the USJ. This allowed me to draw on my own university memories attending Berkeley, many of which were intertwined with food. My entire budget for a month, aside from rent, was $200 which included books, extracurricular activities, and food. It wasn’t much, so I used to strategize how to split one meal into three. I’d scour for coupons, find the best deals, and hit up a pizza joint for $1 slices on special sales days. My favorite places were La Burrita and the restaurants in what locals called the “Asian Ghetto.” Sit-down diners were generally too expensive for my budget. But all that fineagling led to creative approaches to sate my hunger. Which is why for me, food is such an important part of not just my life, but that of my characters.

In my worldbuilding, one of the first questions I ask about each character is, what are their favorite and least favorite foods? Why? What does it tell us about their personality? Whether it’s a passion for sausages, or unusual concoctions blending five cuisines to completely awesome vegetarian meals, each of them has preferences and proclivities that go hand in hand with who they are.

One of my favorite scenes was when one of the cadets, Mac, goes to a restaurant with his friend, Griselda, who’s an exchange student from the German Americas. They visit a genre-themed restaurant in Dallas Tokai after escaping from a big fight and enter the spiritual/divinaton section. But the meal becomes a pretext for both to ponder the deeper threat of a looming Nazi-USJ conflict:

We take off our shoes and are given slippers (servers take away our shoes and store them until the end of the meal).

Several waiters dressed as magic and divination specialists bow to welcome us. One says to me, “Your spiritual outcast looks foggy,” while to Griselda he says, “There is much conflict and confusion in your path.”

“So vague as to mean anything,” Griselda says to me, as we both take our seats.

I leave the food choices to her and go to use the bathroom. I stare in the mirror and see my eye has swollen. It looks like the entire side of my head has a bulbous mass popping out of it. I wonder about the question she asked: What if we do go to war with the Nazis? How would our friendship change? Even thinking about it gives me a headache as I can’t bear the thought of our being on opposing sides. I wash my eye before heading back to our table.

One of the onmyoji brings out a covered plate on a tray. He uses his fingers, does a chant in Japanese, and suddenly, the plate cover floats away.

Griselda claps as they place the food on the table. She explains, “They dip the Wagyu beef in special panko and soy sauce, and they fry it for thirty seconds at 180 degrees.” She cuts it open. “It’s pink in the middle, just perfect. This miso soup uses this fresh aka dashi the chef makes every morning. The dashi stock here isn’t the powder kind, but it’s boiled with just the right amount of Katsuobushi, so the umami balance is spot on.”

The beef is super tender. When she asks how it is, I tell her, “I love it.”

I’ve never had a miso soup that is this rich with flavor, especially with the dried tuna from the Katsuobushi. The tofu practically melts in my mouth. We eat in silence, relishing the meal. The onmyoji brings out two mugs full of beer.

“This is for lightweights,” Griselda says. “Kanpai!

Prost!” I reply, as our cups clash.

I take a sip. It tastes bitter, and I don’t like it at all. But when I look over, Griselda’s drunk almost half her cup. I force myself to drink a quarter before I have to stop.

“How is it?”

“Good,” I say.

I was expecting to be drunk with my first sip, but it doesn’t have a noticeable impact. Griselda is already finished with her drink. “Don’t let me pressure you, but, uh, hurry up.”

Two mugs later, I’m too full to drink any more. I still don’t feel anything until I stand up. I feel dizzy and stumble. Griselda catches me, laughing.

“I feel like the whole planet is spinning around me,” I tell her.

“That’s what I thought the first time too. Does beer put me in tune with the planet? But actually, it’s because alcohol thins your blood and creates a distortion in your cupula.”

“What?”

“Your reality is distorted because chemicals inside your ear are going crazy.”

Amidst all the changes and distortions of the alternate history of Mecha Samurai Empire, my hope is that food is a common connection for readers in our own reality with their universe.

One final cool coincidence from the original book; I wrote about a tempura shrimp burger, which was my version of mixing two loves, tempura shrimp and hamburgers. I was pleasantly surprised when the Japanese chain restaurant, Mos Burger, recently came out with a tempura shrimp burger. Tweets about the connection between USJ and the shrimp burger went viral in Japan and at a recent conference in which I was a guest of honor, they actually served tempura shrimp burgers. Other famous authors have presciently predicted fascinating trends in science through their fiction. I am happy to have predicted the shrimp tempura burger! Now I just need to go back to Japan to try it!

LINKS:

Mecha Samurai Empire Buy Link

Twitter

Website

BIO:

Peter Tieryas is the author of Mecha Samurai Empire and United States of Japan, which won Japan’s top SF award, the Seiun. He’s written for Kotaku, S-F Magazine, Tor.com, and ZYZZYVA. He’s also been a technical writer for LucasArts, a VFX artist at Sony, and currently works in feature animation.

My Favorite Bit: Cheryl Low talks about DETOX IN LETTERS

My Favorite BitCheryl Low is joining us today to talk about her new book Detox In Letters, the second book in the Crowns & Ash series. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Welcome to the Realm, where magic is your drug, your poison, and your only hope.

An illness is spreading through the city, marking the sick in mysterious letters scrawled across their skin. What is first thought to be madness reveals itself to be an awakening as residents rediscover themselves, their pasts, and their long-forgotten magic… things the Queen wants to remain buried. Things she will sacrifice her own children to suppress.

Mercy has never been a staple of the Realm. Treachery, blood, and magic steeps the city as the rebel leader, Red, seeks to topple the Tower, Princess Fay eyes her mother’s throne, and Prince Vaun must decide whether to submit to his mother’s terrible demand.

What’s Cheryl’s favorite bit?

Detox in Letters cover image

CHERYL LOW

Detox in Letters is the second book of the Crowns & Ash Series and it was a delight to write! After setting up the world and the characters in the first book, this was where I really had the chance to dig in to the meat of the Realm and start the characters on their personal evolutions.

Fay Dray Fen is my favorite bit of Detox in Letters. She monopolized almost all of my favorite scenes in this book. She’s the princess of the Realm, completely rejected and ignored by her mother, but the single most powerful character outside the Queen’s Tower. She built her reputation into a legend, inspiring both adoration and fear from her people, but throughout the first book, she was still playing her role as princess and following the rules. She was bitter and spiteful. But, in a city where power makes the rules, her cage was very much her own construction.

Detox in Letters picks up almost six years after Vanity in Dust and Fay takes a much more active, antagonistic role against the Queen. As a princess of the Realm, she has almost no one above her and, recognizing the flaws of her city, she starts taking steps toward change. She devours information, tests her strength, and eyes the throne.

Even when the Queen takes notice, first warning and eventually attacking Fay for her disobedience and treason, the princess sees it all as a sign of her own strength and her mother’s waning power.

Rage rippled through her, surprise cutting to the bone. A hundred screams rang out, hands pulling at her waist but unable to move her from the monster’s path.

Fay’s fingers sank into rough fur, pressing into muscle until she felt the shape of bones. How dare it turn on her? How dare the Queen? She twisted her hands and a loud snap rang in her ears. A breath gushed across her cheek and a spray of blood wet her skin, flecking her hair. The weight of the wolf hung from the grip she had on its throat, suddenly very real. Its hind legs and tail went limp, dragging on the floor. The mighty head hung to one side, dangling as though only flesh and fur kept it attached.

She swung her arm down, just as quickly as she had brought it up, and threw the body to the floor. It landed in a heap, no longer the Queen’s ghostly thief of souls, but a very real, very solid beast at her feet. It had changed when she grabbed it, just before she killed it. She had killed a wolf.

The others growled, skirting along the side of the room but watching her uneasily. The tools of the Queen did not know what to make of a victim that refused to die.

Her mother had tried to kill her.

Fay clicked her teeth and stepped around the dead monster, toward the rest of the pack. They fled. They had a soul to bring back to the Queen tonight, but it wasn’t hers. It would never be hers.

Silence clung to the room, all eyes upon her. They gawked, minds reeling, unsure whether to lay their gaze upon the dead beast at her back or the princess that had killed it. And then the thunder above rumbled again and the wild patter of rain beat down against the rooftop, sweeping them into a rise of voices and footfalls as guests climbed down from tables.

Fay walked away from the wolf, waves of guests edging into the space she abandoned to get a closer look. They parted for her in the hall, all the way to the door.

“Wait!” Vaun called from her back, but she didn’t stop.

The doorman faltered at her advance, his throat bobbing when he swallowed and his shoulders pressing back under the weight of duty. He opened the doors because she showed no sign of stopping. The sound of the storm rolled in through the entrance, rain beating a violent melody outside.

“Fay!” Vaun caught her arm just as she reached the threshold, skirts swaying when his grip brought her to a stop. He grabbed her other arm, too, just above the elbow, holding her back to his chest with the dark night ahead of them. “You can’t go out. It’s raining. Everyone will see,” he whispered near her ear.

She considered shoving him away but the worry in his voice reminded her heart that it did not need a mother’s love. Instead, she turned just enough to look back at him. His face was no less pretty for all the dread and worry gathered there.

“Maybe the wolf went mad,” her brother speculated in an act of desperation. “She’s losing control. It could have slipped the leash.”

She touched his hand on her arm to peel away his hold. He let go. “Don’t fret, little prince.” Fay smiled as the shock and anger wore off. She had killed a wolf. “Everything has changed.”

LINKS:

Detox In Letters Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

CHERYL LOW might be a dragon with a habit of destroying heroes, lounging in piles of shiny treasure, and abducting royals—a job she fell into after a short, failed attempt at being a mermaid. She can’t swim and eventually the other mermaids figured it out. She can, though, breathe fire and crush bones, so being a dragon suited her just fine.

…Or she might be a woman with a very active imagination, no desire to be outdoors, and more notebooks than she’ll ever know what to do with.

Find out by following her on social media @cherylwlow or check her webpage, CherylLow.com. The answer might surprise you! But it probably won’t.

My Favorite Bit: Shawn Sheehy talks about BEYOND THE SIXTH EXTINCTION

Favorite Bit iconShawn Sheehy is joining us today with his post-apocolyptic pop up book, Beyond the Sixth Extinction. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Elaborate pop-ups feature some wonderfully creepy creatures that just might dominate the ecosystem — and be essential to our planet’s survival — in an eerily realistic future world.

Whether or not we know it, the sixth global extinction is already underway, propelled not by a meteor but by human activity on Earth. Take a long step forward into the year 4847 with the help of stunning pop-ups portraying eight fantastical creatures, along with spreads and flaps presenting details about each one. Paper engineer Shawn Sheehy envisions the aftermath of extinction as a flourishing ecosystem centered around fictional creatures that could evolve from existing organisms. Promising high appeal for curious kids and science fiction fans of all ages — and plenty of food for discussion in and out of a classroom — this evolutionary extravaganza offers a timeline of the six extinction events in Earth’s history, a “field guide” to each creature, a diagram of species relationships, a habitat map of the (imagined) ruins of Chicago, and an illuminating author’s note.

What’s Shawn’s favorite bit?

Beyond the Sixth Extinction cover image

SHAWN SHEEHY

There is no cute in “Beyond the Sixth Extinction.” There are no puppies, pandas or chipmunks. Creatures such as these fail to fit the profile (with the possible exception of puppies; see below) of organisms that might endure into the fifth millennium. Cute has poor prospects for survival.

These creatures also fail to fit my aesthetic profile for the near future.

Science fiction writers either imagine things they would like to see come true (transponders—flip phones), or they imagine things that they don’t want to see come true (insert any post-apocalyptic scenario here.) Place me solidly in the second camp. Imagining a creepy future helps me to engender communal affection and a sense of conservation for the diversity and wonder of the wild world— a world that, sadly, is rapidly vanishing.

So. I creep it up.

While I was in the idea generating stages of BT6X, I stumbled across a useful passage in Stephen Jay Gould’s “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.” He comments on how much more popular radial symmetry was as a body form in the earth’s past. He directs our attention to the fossil evidence of these creatures found in the Burgess Shale.

Contemporary examples of creatures with radial body form symmetry include sea stars and sea anemones. Humans tend to be much more familiar with bilateral symmetry, since that is what we exhibit—as well as ALL OTHER TERRESTRIAL ANIMALS. Crazy, huh? Being radial evidently only works in the water.

I leaned a bit on radial symmetry in creating the creatures in BT6X. I leaned heavily on juxtaposition—taking features of two different creatures and whipping them up in a blender. For most of my creatures, there is a primary source in the juxtaposition; essentially, the 21st-century creature from which the 49th-century version evolved. The secondary source creature lends characteristics that make the primary creature more alien.

The rotrap (an elision of “roach” and “trap”) in BT6X is a solid example of this birthing-in-a-blender approach. The primary source creature is the common house mouse. The mouse, incidentally, readily fits the profile for a creature that will survive the sixth extinction. It is omnivorous— a trait that depends on a certain intelligence. It is adaptable. It thrives in human-made environments.

I wanted contrast for the secondary source creature, so I chose the sea anemone. The anemone’s radial symmetry introduces creepiness to the rotrap because the feature is utterly alien on land. Admittedly, I was also attracted to an evolutionary function here: creatures like sea stars are thought to have once been bilaterally symmetrical, and they eventually evolved to become radially symmetrical.

If sea stars can do it, why can’t mice?

The transformation began with sitting the mouse on its hindquarters and treating it like an upright tube, with a digestive tract down the middle. I migrated the mouse’s hind limbs to a position near the fore limbs, giving it the appearance of having four arms distributed evenly around its head. Like a sea anemone, the waving arms grab nearby insects and push them into the rotrap’s mouth.

Rotrap

BEYOND THE SIXTH EXTINCTION. Text copyright © 2018 by Shawn Sheehy. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Jordi Solano. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

I included the anemone’s sedentary feature. Many sea anemone tend to stay rooted in one place for long periods of time. Rooting a land animal required a mechanism, a method of predator evasion or defense, and a way to reckon with a digestive system that suddenly had no outlet.

The obvious solution to creating a rooting mechanism was to use the tail. The rotrap’s tail developed branches and the root hairs that can work themselves into a substrate. In this case, the substrate is the vertical masonry of the cooling towers of defunct nuclear power plants.

This nuclear vertical brick environment solves the problem of predation. Being rooted high up on a wall allows the rotrap to evade non-winged predators. Living in a highly radioactive environment helps them escape most others. (This environment does not, however, affect the proliferation of various insects that feed the rotrap.)

As for the plugged up digestive tract? I simply made it a two-way street—whatever goes down gets digested, and then the waste comes right back up again.

Creep accomplished.

Rotrap popup

BEYOND THE SIXTH EXTINCTION. Text copyright © 2018 by Shawn Sheehy. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Jordi Solano. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

LINKS:

Beyond the Sixth Extinction Buy Link

Website

BIO:

Shawn Sheehy is the award-winning creator of Welcome to the Neighborwood. Passionate about pop-up books, he works sculpturally with the book format and presents workshops on pop-up engineering across the country. He lives in Chicago.

My Favorite Bit: Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law talk about SHADES WITHIN US: TALES OF MIGRATIONS AND FRACTURED BORDERS

My Favorite BitSusan Forest and Lucas K. Law are joining us today to talk about their anthology Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Journey with twenty-one speculative fiction authors through the fractured borders of human migration to examine the dreams, struggles, and triumphs of those who choose–or are forced–to leave home and familiar places.

An American father shields his son from Irish discrimination. A Chinese foreign student wrestles to safeguard her family at the expense of her soul. A college graduate is displaced by technology. A Nigerian high school student chooses between revenge and redemption. A bureaucrat parses the mystery of Taiwanese time travellers. A defeated alien struggles to assimilate into human culture. A Czechoslovakian actress confronts the German WWII invasion. A child crosses an invisible border wall. And many more.

Stories that transcend borders, generations, and cultures. Each is a glimpse into our human need in face of change: to hold fast to home, to tradition, to family; and yet to reach out, to strive for a better life.

Featuring Original Stories by Vanessa Cardui, Elsie Chapman, Kate Heartfield, S.L. Huang, Tyler Keevil, Matthew Kressel, Rich Larson, Tonya Liburd, Karin Lowachee, Seanan McGuire, Brent Nichols, Julie NovÁkovÁ, Heather Osborne, Sarah Raughley, Alex Shvartsman, Amanda Sun, Jeremy Szal, Hayden Trenholm, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm, Christie Yant & Alvaro Zinos-Amaro.

What are their favorite bits?

Shades Within Us cover image

SUSAN FOREST

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” — George R.R. Martin (A Dance With Dragons)

Stories provide a glimpse into other lives. That’s why it was such a gift to have the opportunity to work with the stories in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders: to catch a glimmer of this range of experiences of moving across, through and within our fractured world. The voices brought me inside the characters, allowing me to walk in their footsteps for brief moments. Moments made significant by wings of poetry.

It is simple to say there are sacrifices demanded by migration, even a willingly chosen journey. But here in S.L. Huang’s Devouring Tongues is how a language student, desperate to escape a precarious political situation, faces the cost of her choices:

“Your parents quietly disapprove of the way the government forced you to learn Mandarin, but you’re secretly and shamefully grateful. Mandarin gives you half of Asia. And English gives you the world. Teochew gives you nothing. Redundant. Useless. But your eyes still prickle and blur, and you wish you could remember the names of your mother’s houseplants.”

A moment. A memory.

Sometimes the struggle to free one’s self from an intolerable situation involves running a gauntlet through Hell. The rhythms of the poetry become guttural for Superfreak from Tonya Liburd:

“‘Yo. Yo.’ Danielle’s hands clamped together, sweaty. Someone seemed to have smelt the new on her and come picking for a fight. ‘Yo, fucking bitch.’ A kick thumped the back of the sofa for emphasis. ‘Yo.'”

How about capturing the cockiness, the wisdom and limited perspective of youth by Kate Heartfield in Gilbert Tong’s Life List:

“Dad was still clinging, then, to the idea that one day, Canada would let us live there. That’s why he was always trying to get me to speak Kiribati. He was afraid, once I became a Canadian, I’d lose my culture. I thought anyone who was not a fool would know we had a lot bigger things to be afraid of.”

The loss of family observed by Heather Osborne’s From the Shoals of Broken Cities:

“His mother vanished overnight, a slim presence carefully sweeping up after herself.”

And the sweetness of new discovery and new culture in Habitat from Christie Yant:

“Marcel found the stall where he’d once bought her a flower garland. She laughed as he set one on her head, and they ate festival food and drank festival wine, which made them giddy. As they grew braver, they told each other stories. Later that evening beside a fountain, under strings of twinkling lights, with the scent of spring blossoms and sound of stringed instruments on the air, he kissed her.”

These, and so many more. Sweet. Powerful. Captivating. Words that capture a feeling, a moment. You are there. Underlying observations of who we are and the borders we are impelled to cross; and the lyrical voices that tell these stories: these are my favorite bits.

LUCAS K. LAW

How many of us stay in one place from birth to death? I think it is obvious that most of us, if not all, have moved or relocated at least once—whether by choice or through force. This move could be across town, continent, or ocean. It is not just a physical migration but also a migration of soul, mind, and spirit. Our journey does not begin or end when we find a new place; it is the series of experiences, challenges, and reflections—personal or shared—along the way, that make us who we are or what we become.

I see fragments of myself in each of the stories in Shades Within Us, from an immigrant to a person caught between two worlds, from dealing with a particular norm to accepting the uniqueness in each other, from facing discrimination to finding acceptance. Each story reflects the importance of history and storytelling; the importance of communicating and connecting through one’s own art, whatever that may be. And that is my favorite bit. Why?

Stories allow us to probe or reflect on our own history more deeply.

A few weeks ago, I asked my father, “Why do you keep mentioning the name of that remote fishing village?” He answered, “I lived there until my late teens.”

Boy, it was a revelation. I didn’t know that his family fled the city during WWII. I always assumed that he grew up in the city because he was born there and that was where most of his relatives were during the Japanese occupation. And, country life wasn’t in his blood.

I knew my mother grew up in the remote areas of Malaysia; for that reason, I assumed my father was talking about her fishing village all these years. This bit of information changed my perception of my father’s life. But it also gave me an entry to probe further into his childhood years. Suddenly, all the dots connected and made sense—the things he did and the reasons behind them.

In her WWII story, Screen in Silver, Love in Colour, Mirror in Black-and-White, Julie Nováková pins down the importance of connecting with our own histories:

“Other souls can become a part of our own. They do it every day quite naturally, just by reminding us of what has been and what should be. Tracking down our histories doesn’t steal our soul; it enriches it.”

Tracking down our histories—personal or cultural—understanding and living them, expressing and sharing them: this is art; this is story.

We are all artists. We all have histories and stories; and we all have the ability within us to create and express them: writing, cooking, painting, photographing, gardening. But if we worry that we are not good enough, we don’t have the right tools, or no one is interested, we can end up in a state of paralysis, and the art within us withers. So, when the time is right, be not afraid to share your story in whatever medium you are comfortable with. Seanan McGuire captures this in Remember the Green:

 “Then I reach down, deep down, into the part of me that’s always in the green, where the green grows. The world can go as grey as it likes. I’ll still know the green.”

Remember your histories, your migrations; connect with, and share them. As Eric Choi and Gillian Clinton write in their Introduction to Shades Within Us:

“It is more important than ever to try and imagine futures that are optimistic and beautiful.”

LINKS:

Shades Within Us

Universal Book Link

Read an Excerpt

Book Page

Susan Forest

Website

Twitter

Lucas K. Law

Facebook

Twitter

BIOS:

Susan Forest is an award-winning author and editor of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. She has published over 25 short stories in Canadian and international publications. Bursts of Fire, the first in her seven-book epic fantasy adventure saga Addicted to Heaven, is not only her long-nurtured tale of rollicking adventure, but also an opportunity—one she appreciates—for an examination of the complex world of addictions. There is no family today that has not been touched by the heartache, stigma, struggles—and the often-unrecognized courage and hope—that underpin the illness of addiction. This motif is one Susan is humbled to explore with the aspiration of provoking dialogue, and the recognition of—and respect for—those whose battles are ongoing.

Lucas K. Law is a Malaysian-born freelance editor and published author who divides his time and heart between Calgary and Qualicum Beach. With Susan Forest, he co-edits Aurora (Canadian SF&F) Award-winning Strangers Among Us, The Sum of Us, and Shades Within Us. Lucas is the co-editor of Where the Stars Rise with Derwin Mak.

My Favorite Bit: Ashley and Leslie Saunders talks about THE RULE OF ONE

My Favorite BitAshley and Leslie Saunders are joining us with their novel The Rule of One. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In their world, telling the truth has become the most dangerous crime of all.

In the near-future United States, a one-child policy is ruthlessly enforced. Everyone follows the Rule of One. But Ava Goodwin, daughter of the head of the Texas Family Planning Division, has a secret—one her mother died to keep and her father has helped to hide for her entire life.

She has an identical twin sister, Mira.

For eighteen years Ava and Mira have lived as one, trading places day after day, maintaining an interchangeable existence down to the most telling detail. But when their charade is exposed, their worst nightmare begins. Now they must leave behind the father they love and fight for their lives.

Branded as traitors, hunted as fugitives, and pushed to discover just how far they’ll go in order to stay alive, Ava and Mira rush headlong into a terrifying unknown.

What are their favorite bits?

The Rule of One cover image

Steely-vented hummingbird (Amazilia saucerrottei), perched on verbena plant, Costa Rica, July

LESLIE SAUNDERS

“Resist much, obey little;
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved;
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, of this earth, ever
afterward resumes its liberty.”

Ashley and I bought Walt Whitman’s Leave of Grass when we were studying abroad in Paris. We devoured the poetry then put it in our bookshelf and thought no more of it. Fast forward years later when we first started writing the story of the Rule of One. We divide our novel into four parts, and in earlier versions of our manuscript we put quotes before each one. We were researching impactful, thought-provoking quotes when we came across the Walt Whitman poem “Caution”. The words hit us like a lightening bolt. They were a warning, an urging, a call to arms. The poem was written in the late 1800s but it felt like the words could have been written today. We knew we had to use the poem in some way for our storyline and as we further developed our outline we knew we found the perfect usage for such bold, meaningful words.

We made the poem the words of Ava and Mira’s rebellion.

In a militarized, surveilled world, these words are criminal, illegal. Impossible. Twin sisters Ava and Mira are not supposed to exist. Mira is an illegal second child living in a one-child policy America. When the governor’s son discovers their secret the sisters are forced to go on the run, embarking on a cross-country journey of discovery. When they’re on the road the sisters learn of Whitman’s words inside a journal their father left for them. Will they take the words to heart and resist? Or will they obey? We had great fun using 19th century poetry to inspire a futuristic rebellion.

ASHLEY SAUNDERS

“The government may always be watching, but they do not always see.”

That is one of my favorite lines of the whole book. Government surveillance in our future United States is at an all-time high- citizen’s every move is monitored and tracked. We were challenged with how in such a restricted world where families can only have one child, a family could get away with having twins. Ava, the eldest twin, is the only one to have a microchip. She is the face of the sisters, the character they both play.

However, Mira can game the system because she has identical features as Ava. She can fake out the Facial Recognition System, so she’s allowed to go to school every other day. A key to the sisters’ success: people see what they expect to see. Twins haven’t been detected in the United States in generations- no one has the slightest idea that Ava could possibly be hiding such a massive secret as having an illegal twin sister. Every time someone sees Mira at school they see Ava, because that is what they expect to see.

Privacy is a huge issue in our current generation and it will only get worse as technology continues to advance. I hope that the government’s iron-clad authority in The Rule of One does not become our future reality.

LINKS:

The Rule of One Universal Buy Link

Twitter

Instagram

Website

BIO:

Hailing from the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, Ashley Saunders and Leslie Saunders are award-winning filmmakers and twin sisters who honed their love of storytelling at The University of Texas at Austin. While researching The Rule of One, they fell in love with America’s national parks, traveling the path of Ava and Mira. The sisters can currently be found with their Boston terriers in sunny Los Angeles, exploring hiking trails and drinking entirely too much yerba mate. Visit them at www.thesaunderssisters.com or follow them on Instagram @saunderssisters.

My Favorite Bit: Peter James talks about ABSOLUTE PROOF

My Favorite BitPeter James is joining us today with his novel Absolute Proof. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Investigative reporter Ross Hunter nearly didn’t answer the phone call that would change his life – and possibly the world – for ever.

‘I’d just like to assure you I’m not a nutcase, Mr Hunter. My name is Dr Harry F. Cook. I know this is going to sound strange, but I’ve recently been given absolute proof of God’s existence – and I’ve been advised there is a writer, a respected journalist called Ross Hunter, who could help me to get taken seriously.’

What would it take to prove the existence of God? And what would be the consequences?

This question and its answer lie at the heart of Absolute Proof, an international thriller from bestselling author Peter James.

The false faith of a billionaire evangelist, the life’s work of a famous atheist, and the credibility of each of the world’s major religions are all under threat. If Ross Hunter can survive long enough to present the evidence . . .

What’s Peter James’s favorite bit?

Absolute Proof Cover Image

PETER JAMES

My favourite bit of my novel Absolute Proof, is Chapter Eight, in which my central character, investigative journalist Ross Hunter, gets the phone call that I did actually get out of the blue, one afternoon, that resulted in this book, the one I am most excited about of everything I’ve written.

Almost 30 years ago, back in 1989, the phone rang, one afternoon.  An elderly sounding gentleman asked if I was Peter James, the author.  Hesitantly, I said I was.

‘Thank God I’ve found you!’ he replied. ‘I’ve called every Peter James in the phone book in the South of England, it’s taken me two weeks. My name is Harry Nixon, I assure you I’m not a lunatic, I’m a retired academic, and was a pilot in Coastal Command during the War.  This may sound extraordinary, but I’ve been given absolute proof of God’s existence, and I’ve been told, on the highest authority, that you are the man to help me get taken seriously.’

If it wasn’t for the fact that he sounded so genuinely sincere, I might have hung up on him, but there was just something about this that intrigued the writer in me.  ‘May I ask who exactly recommended me?’

‘Well I’m sure it will sound strange, but I can assure you it was a representative of God.  Please hear me out.’

He was right, it sounded mighty strange and far-fetched.  But I let him continue.

He told me he lived in the Midlands and that his wife, also a former academic, had recently passed away from cancer.  Before she died, they made a pact that he would go to a medium to attempt to communicate with her, as proof of life beyond death.  Some while after her death, he dutifully did this, but instead of a communication from his wife, a male claiming to be a representative of God came through.

He told Harry Nixon that God was extremely concerned about the state of the world, and felt that if mankind could have faith in Him reaffirmed, it would help steer us back onto an even keel.  As proof of his bona fides, God’s representative had given him three pieces of information no one on earth knew, all of them in the form of compass coordinates:  The first was the precise location of the tomb of Akhenaten, uncle of Tutankhamun and the first monotheist of the pharos. The second was the location of the Holy Grail. And the third was the location of the Ark of the Covenant.

I asked him if he had checked any of these out and he replied, excitedly, that he had indeed.  ‘I can’t tell you any more over the phone, Mr James, I need to come and see you.  I’m going to need four days of your time.’

I told him that was a pretty big ask!  I said I could spare him half an hour for a cup of tea and if he could convince me we needed longer, we’d take it from there.  We made an arrangement for him to come down the following week, at 4pm.  I thought that would be a safe time, as my wife would be home from work at 5.30, and if he had me in headlock, she’d be able to assist!

On the nanosecond of 4pm the following Tuesday, the doorbell rang.

Standing there was a man in his seventies, holding a large attaché case, who had the air of a retired bank manager.  He was dressed in a neat suit, with matching tie and handkerchief and looked at me with sad, rheumy eyes.  ‘Thank you for seeing me, Mr James,’ he said, shaking my hand and holding my gaze.  ‘You and I have to save the world.’

‘Yep, well, I’ll do my best, I replied.

I made him a cup of tea and sat down with him in the living room.  ‘So where do we start?’  I asked him.

He opened his case and removed a manuscript, hundreds of pages thick, bound with an elastic band.  ‘We start with you reading this, please.’

I glanced at it, it looked about 1,000 pages long, typed with the pages covered in handwritten annotations.  ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘Leave it with me.’

He shook his head.  ‘I cannot let this out of my sight – this was channeled to me directly from God, through his representative.’

‘So Mr Nixon, you are going to sit there, in that chair, watching me sitting here, reading it all the way through until I’ve finished?’

‘Yes.’

‘This would take me four days!’

Excitedly he retorted, ‘See, I told you so!’

I replied that either he took a massive leap of faith and left it with me, or he took it back home with him after his cuppa, but there was no way he was going to sit in my home for four days!  ‘And, before anything else, could he now answer my question over the phone about whether he had checked out any of the coordinates.

He replied he had indeed.  Using his skills learned as a pilot in the War, he now had, so far, the precise location of the lost tomb of Akhenaten in the Valley of the Kings, and the precise location of the Holy Grail.  The Holy Grail, he told me, was at Chalice Well in Glastonbury.  I’d never heard of this place, but I subsequently discovered this wasn’t too far-fetched a scenario. Long a holy and mystical site, there is some evidence that Joseph of Arimithea bought the Holy Grail – the chalice used at the Last Supper and to collect Christ’s blood when he was on the cross to Glastonbury and hid it at Chalice Well.

‘I’ve been dowsing and metal detecting there, and there is something under the ground in the exact position I’ve been given,’ Harry said.  ‘Chalice Well is run by a group of trustees – I’ve approached them asking permission to do an archaeological dig at this location but they won’t take me seriously.  But, Mr James, I am sure they would take you seriously.’

Eventually he agreed to leave the manuscript with me, and trundled off into the night.  I settled down to start reading – and after about twenty minutes I began to lose the will to live.  I was wading through page after page of religious tracts, new age diatribes, and barely legible annotations.

I might have simply returned the manuscript to him the next day, were it not for an extraordinary thing that happened and was to change everything.

By sheer coincidence, the following day I had to go to Bristol to do a BBC radio interview for my then latest novel.  When we finished the interview, I carried on chatting for some minutes with the very bright and delightful presenter.  Suddenly, out of the blue, she mentioned Chalice Well.

Coincidences have always fascinated me, and her words send a ripple of excitement through me.  Twenty-four hours earlier I’d never heard of the place – and now it was twice in two days.  ‘What do you know about Chalice Well?’ I asked her.

‘Quite a bit – my uncle’s a trustee,’ she replied.

Astonished and very excited now I told her the story of my encounter with Harry Nixon.  She said she would ask her uncle what he knew about the man.  I left, feeling very strange – not exactly the chosen one but I had the feeling something was going on, and phoned a good friend of mine, Dominic Walker, who at that time was the Bishop of Reading (he went on to become Bishop of Monmouth and is now retired).  I asked if I could come and talk to him.

I should add that Dominic had always struck me as a very modern thinking clergyman, coming from a no-nonsense family – his father was a doctor, his mother a nurse – and he has a brilliant intellect.  Over lunch a couple of days later, I told him the story and asked him what he thought.

He thought about it very carefully and said, ‘I think I would want something more than just three sets of compass coordinates to give me proof of God. I would want to see something that defies the laws of physics of the universe – in other words a miracle, and it would need to be a pretty spectacular one.’

‘OK,’ I replied.  ‘If someone could deliver that, what then?’

‘You know what I really think if someone could deliver that?  I think they would be assassinated.  Because whose God would it actually be?  You have all the different factions of the Anglican, Catholic, Judaic, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh and all the other monotheist religions in utter disarray.  How would China view it or Russia?  Would either of them want a higher power usurping their authority?  What would the impact actually be on the world?’

As I left, I punched the air with excitement, as I realized I had my story right there!  A thriller about a man on the path to discovering absolute proof of God’s existence, up against those who want to stop him, and those who want ownership of it….

LINKS:

Absolute Proof Universal Buy Link

Website

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BIO:

Peter James is a UK No. 1 bestselling author, best known for writing crime and thriller novels, and the creator of the much-loved Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. With a total of 13 Sunday Times No. 1s under his belt, he has achieved global book sales of over 19 million copies to date, and has been translated into 37 languages.
Synonymous with plot-twisting page-turners, Peter has garnered an army of loyal fans throughout his storytelling career – which also included stints writing for TV and producing films. He has won over 40 awards for his work, including the WHSmith Best Crime Author of All Time Award, Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger and a BAFTA nomination for The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons for which he was an Executive Producer. Many of Peter’s novels have been adapted for film, TV and stage.
His new book Absolute Proof – a stand-alone thriller – which was published by Pan Macmillan on 4th October 2018.

My Favorite Bit: S. K. Dunstall talks about STARS UNCHARTED

Favorite Bit iconSherylyn and Karen Dunstall, writing together as S. K. Dunstall, are joining us today to talk about their book Stars Uncharted. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this rip-roaring space opera, a ragtag band of explorers are out to make the biggest score in the galaxy.

On this space jump, no one is who they seem . . .

Captain Hammond Roystan is a simple cargo runner who has stumbled across the find of a lifetime: the Hassim, a disabled exploration ship–and its valuable record of unexplored worlds.

His junior engineer, Josune Arriola, said her last assignment was in the uncharted rim. But she is decked out in high-level bioware that belies her humble backstory.

A renowned body-modification artist, Nika Rik Terri has run afoul of clients who will not take no for an answer. She has to flee off-world, and she is dragging along a rookie modder, who seems all too experienced in weapons and war . . .

Together this mismatched crew will end up on one ship, hurtling through the lawless reaches of deep space with Roystan at the helm. Trailed by nefarious company men, they will race to find the most famous lost world of all–and riches beyond their wildest dreams . . .

What is their favorite bit?

Stars Uncharted cover image

S. K. DUNSTALL

Our method of writing together involves a lot of talking. Sure, we might say one of us writes the first draft and the other then does the heavy bulk of rewriting, but it’s not that simple in real life. One of us does write a first draft, but the other writer follows, accepting or rejecting changes, editing the edits.

As we write, we talk about what’s happened in the piece that’s just been written, and what’s going to happen next.  We call ourselves pantsers because we don’t use a formal plot outline, but having talked it out, we generally know what’s going to happen just before we start writing it.

Those talks are more than just about what’s happening in the next bit of writing. Sometimes we talk about plot, or setting.  Sometimes we talk about character.  We often go off on a tangent and talk out little mini-stories about the characters.

Some of those mini stories make it into the book. Most don’t.

We didn’t realise for a long time that we were creating character backstory.

We created a lot of backstory in the characters in Stars Uncharted.  It was fun to talk out how the individual characters would work.  Particularly Nika.

Nika Rik Terri is a body modder. That’s the equivalent of a modern-day plastic surgeon crossed with a doctor crossed with an artist.  She makes people beautiful for living.  She’s a perfectionist.  She’s a craftsman.  She’s acknowledged as one of the finest modders of her day.

So much so that young Bertram Snowshoe (aka Snow), who’s on the run with her, idolises Nika Rik Terri, and mentions her all the time. Which gets embarrassing, given Nika is on the run and is now calling herself Nika James.  But we digress.

Most people would call Nika obsessed. She thinks about body modding every waking minute of her day; she thinks about the people she meets in terms of what she would do to their body to make them look better.

There’s a throwaway line early in the novel—at least, we thought it was a throwaway line when we wrote it—describing her ex-boyfriend’s old boss.

“Please, call me Leonard.” He smiled, showing beautiful white teeth. Samson Sa, of SaStudio, was meticulous about teeth.

We got a lot of mileage out of that line.  So many verbal skits came out of it and helped us build Nika’s character.

There are only a handful of body modders in Nika’s class.  One of them is Samson Sa, of SaStudio. Nika never says outright, in the story, that she has a professional rivalry with Samson Sa, but in the backstory we created she most certainly does.

So every time she sees SaStudio’s trademark teeth it makes her grind her own teeth a little, as it were.

As we told more backstory, the teeth (and a square jaw) kept popping up in the story, because all our bad guys went to the same body modder.  Samson Sa. It became an in-joke.

Late in the book our ragtag band of explorers are captured.  There’s an incident around a genemod machine, which leads to Nika saying,

“If you wanted cutting-edge mods you should have come to my studio. Instead, you went to SaStudio and got perfect teeth and a square jaw.”

Benedict stiffened. “How do you know where I got my mods done?”

“Samson Sa,” Nika said to Snow. “He’s obsessed with teeth.” He probably had bad teeth as a child. “And he loves a square jaw. What you see there is classic SaStudio. It’s like a signature.”

Snow looked at Benedict. Benedict looked at Nika. Both were a little open mouthed.

“What you’re aiming for, Snow, are mods so unique no one knows who did them. And every season you come up with a different look. Go ahead, have a closer look. I’ll watch the temperature.”

Snow shrugged apologetically and declined to go closer. “She does it to everyone,” he told Benedict.

Nika’s obsession with body modding, and creating perfect bodies is not something that we would normally write as a preference, but it was fun trying to keep her in character. Keeping that obsession and writing through how she would view the world and the people in it, although irritating at times, was one of our favourite bits.

Not only that, it shows perfectly Snow’s and Nika’s relationship.

LINKS:

Stars Uncharted Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

Facebook

BIO:

S. K. Dunstall is the pen name for Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall, sisters who live in Melbourne, Australia. They are the national best-selling authors of the Linesman series, including Linesman, Alliance, and Confluence.

Their new book, Stars Uncharted, came out on 14 August 2018, published by Ace Books.

My Favorite Bit: Lawrence M. Schoen talks about THE MOONS OF BARSK

Favorite Bit iconLawrence M. Schoen is joining us today to talk about his novel The Moons of Barsk. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Pizlo, the lonely young outcast and physically-challenged Fant, is now a teenager. He still believes he hears voices from the planet’s moons, imparting secret knowledge to him alone. And so embarks on a dangerous voyage to learn the truth behind the messages. His quest will catapult him offworld for second time in his short life, and reveal things the galaxy isn’t yet ready to know.

Elsewhere, Barsk’s Senator Jorl, who can speak with the dead, navigates galactic politics as Barsk’s unwelcome representative, and digs even deeper into the past than ever before to discover new truths of his own.

What’s Lawrence’s favorite bit?

THE MOONS OF BARSK Cover Image

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN

One of the problems with sequels is that you worry that you’ve used up all the cool bits in the first book, all the fancy magic or splendid gadgets or awesome concepts. The first book had anthropomorphic elephants (in space!), a drug for speaking to the dead, a plot to destroy an entire race and their planet, and a long dead politician manipulating society centuries from beyond the grave. It was a lot to take in, and I wanted book two to be even better, so I went looking for ways to build on what I’d already done, but expanding in new directions at the same time.

The Moons of Barsk occurs about six years after the first book. Our protagonist Pizlo, an adolescent who has been marked as an Abomination. He’s considered to be invisible by all “right-thinking people” and he’s only had two adults to talk to him, teach him, raise him. Fortunately, throughout his young life he’s conversed with the world around him, chatting with trees and clouds, even the moons that orbit Barsk. Poised on the brink of adulthood, he’s coming to understand that these voices are actually a manifestation of a more powerful gift: Pizlo is a precog. The voices are a metaphor his mind invented to make sense of his visions.

As part of Pizlo’s education, learns to use the drug for speaking to the dead and with converse the Archetype of Man, an ancient artificial intelligence and repository of all of humanity’s stories. It’s an imperfect system, as a boy who is shunned by his own world is instructed by the ghost of a machine that knows nothing of that world. But it does give rise to my favorite bit: After years of myths and tales and epics, Pizlo has an insight that all the stories are the same story. Frustrated, he confronts his teacher and rewrites his understanding of the universe.

“All your stories! They’re all the same.”

“That’s false, Pizlo. They involve different heroes performing different actions in different settings for different purposes—”

“At a meta-level, they’re all the same!”

“Oh, yes, that is true. As we discussed, there are patterns that repeat throughout all of human history and storytelling, that resonate for all people, but even so differences—”

“And at a meta-meta-level?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.”

“Every story, they’re all about what you would call the ‘human condition,’ aren’t they?”

“How could they not? They are human stories.”

“Yeah. Not the long dead race of humans. They’re everyone’s stories. Humans and Fant and Marmo and Brady and . . . and . . . everyone. It’s all one story. It’s the story of us and what it means to be that.”

“Yes, Pizlo. Every story is a way of glimpsing a different facet of who we are.”

“But that’s not just true of your stories, is it?”

“Again, I apologize. I am not following your questions.”

“Stories aren’t just fiction,” he said.

“No, you’re mistaken. Stories, by definition, are constructed. They may be based upon actual events, or inspired in some way, but through the vehicle of metaphor they—”

Pizlo waved him to silence with his trunk. “No, I’m not. Don’t start in again with metaphor. You’re wrong. Everything we do is a story, whether anyone tells it or not. And because all the stories are the same story, so is everything we do. Everyone that’s ever lived, everyone that’s drawing breath right now, and even all who will be born sometime in the future, we’re all living a story. The same story.”

“Ah. I understand you now. Yes. And, it should not surprise you that I have stories about this too.”

“About pointlessness? About futility? About asking what the value of anything is?”

“Many such stories,” said the Archetype of Man. “The concepts of nothingness, of oblivion and uselessness are a popular subset of stories.”

“But if it’s all the same story, then the story about predestination is also the story of free will. Living and death. Joy and love and hatred and fear and indifference. Each of those stories is the same story like every story. Nothing matters because everything is everything.”

“Yes. Except . . .”

Pizlo froze. “Tell me,” he whispered.

“You have invoked story, and meta-story, and meta-meta-story.”

“Yes.”

“What lies beyond that?”

“Nothing!” Pizlo shouted. “Nothing exists beyond because everything is everything else.”

“What if you’re wrong?”

“Wha—what?”

“Even if everything is story, the fact that you can conceive such a state demands that you have rejected that there can be anything that isn’t. But, to make such an observation, you first must have the concept of something that isn’t. Which means you’re wrong. Which means that story isn’t like all the rest. But it has to be. But it can’t be. Paradox.”

“Paradox?”

“A self-contradictory statement.”

“You’re saying that yes, because everything is everything else, then everything is pointless. Except if that’s so, then saying so requires the existence of something that isn’t, or how could we know? Except then the first thing isn’t possible. Paradox.”

“I don’t think I have anything left to teach you, Pizlo. Many more stories, surely, but nothing that will inform the person you are.”

“Yeah. But . . . thank you. Truly.”

“What will you do?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it? Because it doesn’t matter, but it’s also the only thing that ever could. Paradox.”

This sets the stage for Pizlo to write his personal Hero’s Journey: the Abomination from a race that is reviled by the rest of the galaxy, a young man who can see the future but nonetheless believes he can change it.

It’s my favorite bit because Pizlo shows us something quite profound: knowing the future doesn’t mean you necessarily understand it, and understanding the future doesn’t guarantee you actually know it. And either way, or both, you have to go on. Because that’s what heroes do.

LINKS:

The Moons of Barsk Universal Book Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and is a certified hypnotist. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem. His debut novel Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard won the Coyotl Award for Best Novel, and his latest is the sequel The Moons of Barsk. Schoen has been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Lawrence lives near Philadelphia.

My Favorite Bit: Drew Williams talks about THE STARS NOW UNCLAIMED

My Favorite BitDrew Williams is joining us today with his novel The Stars Now Unclaimed. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.

Hot on her trail is the Pax–a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse.

Now Jane, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers.

And that’s just the beginning . . .

What’s Drew’s favorite bit?

Stars Now Unclaimed cover image

DREW WILLIAMS

“Fuck you,” she murmured, the words gentle, almost astonished. “Fuck your sorry.”

That’s it; that’s my favorite line from The Stars Now Unclaimed. As far as I’m concerned, if a character is funny, that means the reader likes them more and cares more about what happens to them – so my characters have a tendency to converse in rapid-fire bursts of wordplay and sarcasm. Every once in a while, though, those defenses get stripped away, and you’re left with the true nature of the characters, and in this particular case, that true nature was ‘in pain’.

The line comes at almost the exact midpoint of the novel, where Jane Kamali, our protagonist, has just revealed her own culpability in the great catastrophe that has befallen the universe. It was kind of a ‘live or die’ moment as I was writing the novel: I had to find a way to let these disparate characters react naturally to this new, horrible information, to react in a way that fit with who they’d been before they learned this, while at the same time not alienating them from each other so much that they wouldn’t be able to come together and stop the threat the entire novel was focused around.

The initial genesis of The Stars Now Unclaimed was my lifelong obsession with the atomic bomb, an obsession more with the decision to drop it, rather than the ramifications – both purposeful and unexpected – of its use. My favorite quote in the world is the (possibly apocryphal) exchange between Robert J. Oppenheimer and Kenneth Bainbridge, immediately after the first successful test of the Manhattan Project:

Oppenheimer (quoting from the Baghavad Gita): ‘I have become Death, destroyer of worlds’.

Bainbridge: ‘Yeah, we’re all sons of bitches now’.

Both men knew the force they were about to unleash upon the world might ultimately have more destructive repercussions than the entire war it had been built to stop, but they – and General Eisenhower, and President Truman, whose quote ‘the buck stops here’ is given entirely new meaning in the context of the bomb – decided to move forward anyway, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I decided to set The Stars Now Unclaimed in a sort of post-apocalyptic space opera setting – I got to play with fancy toys like spaceships and sarcastic AI, whilst also getting down into the dirt and the ruin of post-apocalyptic desperation – but that conversation between Oppenheimer and Bainbridge was always in the back of my mind: an apocalypse starts somewhere, after all. Someone made the decision to do this to the galaxy, even if this wasn’t their intention. And the things we don’t intend sometimes have significantly more far-reaching consequences than those we do; none of us can see all ends.

One of my characters, in particular – an AI called ‘Preacher’, who speaks the above quote – was given reason to be especially bitter about the apocalypse: it had doomed her people to a kind of slow-motion genocide, no technology was left to create more of her species. So when she learns of Jane’s role in the unintended destruction of her entire species – when Jane, somewhat fumblingly, tries to justify what she did, why the decision was made, how it was carried out – the above line is her response. She doesn’t care why it happened, why her people are slowly vanishing from the universe: it truly doesn’t matter. There’s nothing at all Jane could say, to defend what the Preacher sees as the indefensible.

I didn’t expect the Preacher to say those words. I went into the scene with the mentality of ‘let’s just see how she reacts’; I’d expected rage, maybe, a kind of fury that would test the other characters. Instead, I got grief, and despair. The Preacher had been looking for an answer as to why her people were dying, and when she found it, it was no universal truth, no ‘there was a reason after all’: it was just people, trying to do something good, and fucking up despite it. Jane apologizes, and she means it, because she never intended for the apocalypse to happen – to go back to the metaphor of the atomic bomb, she meant to detonate a single weapon over Hiroshima (still a difficult moral decision in and of itself), not to set the entire planet’s atmosphere on fire.

The Preacher hears that apology, acknowledges it, and doesn’t care. Because she has her own pain to deal with, her own shock to process, and that’s too big for her to move beyond in that moment, and who can blame her? ‘Fuck you. Fuck your sorry.’ That doesn’t mean Jane was wrong to attempt to apologize, and it doesn’t mean the Preacher was wrong to reject it. Like I said about unintended consequences above: sometimes the things we try to do, and fail in, say more about who we are than where we succeed.

So anyway: that’s my favorite bit. Two people, trying to find a way around the wrong one of them has done, and in that moment, failing. It just feels more honest, somehow.

LINKS:

The Stars Now Unclaimed Universal Book Link

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BIO:

DREW WILLIAMS has been a bookseller in Birmingham, Alabama since he was sixteen years old, when he got the job because he came in looking for work on a day when someone else had just quit. Outside of arguing with his coworkers about whether Moby Dick is brilliant (nope) or terrible (that one), his favorite part of the job is discovering new authors and sharing them with his customers.

My Favorite Bit: Michael J. Martinez talks about MJ-12: ENDGAME

My Favorite BitMichael J. Martinez is joining us today to talk about his novel MJ-12: Endgame. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A Cold War fought by superhuman agents reaches a boiling point in the thrilling finale to the MAJESTIC-12 historical thriller/superhero mash-up series from Michael J. Martinez.

Josef Stalin is dead. In the aftermath, the Soviet Union is thrown into crisis, giving former secret police chief Laverentiy Beria exactly the opening he needs. Beria’s plan is to secretly place his country’s Variants―ordinary people mysteriously embued with strange, superhuman powers―into the very highest levels of leadership, where he can use them to stage a government coup and seize control of the USSR.

America’s response comes from its intelligence communities, including the American Variants recruited for the top-secret MAJESTIC-12 program, who are suddenly thrown into their most dangerous and important assignment yet. From the halls of the Kremlin to the battlefields of Korea, superpowered covert agents face off to determine the future of the planet―a future their very existence may ultimately threaten.

What’s Michael’s favorite bit?

MJ-12: Endgame Cover Image

MICHAEL J. MARTINEZ

Three novels into a series, one ends up racking up quite a few favorite bits. It’s my work, after all, so I should hope I like it! And there’s a lot I really like about MJ-12: Endgame, from the way the characters have grown and developed, how things unfolded to bring the series to a satisfying…wait for it…endgame.

But one of the running themes in the story is how these characters – normal people suddenly gifted with extraordinary abilities and pressed into service as covert agents – deal with the “gifts” they’ve been given. In this book, superpowers come with trade-offs, and some of them are pretty severe.

Frank Lodge has the ability to absorb the skills and knowledge from people at the moment of their deaths – but must also contend with memory and personalities. Maggie Dubinsky can manipulate emotions, but at the cost of her own stability. Only technological “null-generators” can interfere with their abilities, and also cut them off from the side effects.

How they deal with all this has evolved differently for each person. For example, take this conversation between Frank and Maggie as they walk through a Moscow park undercover:

“Don’t you shut it off now and then? I do. If the voices are particularly rambunctious, I’ll flip on a generator for a few hours just to get some peace and quiet,” Frank said.

“You do that?” Maggie asked, eyebrows raised. “Don’t you feel strange without them?”

Frank just shrugged. “It’s nice. There’s no running commentary in my head. No analysis of every little thing I do. No opinions on how to cook a goddamned egg, or whether I’m doing enough weights at the gym, or arguments between voices on what’s the most authentic way to eat caviar with tea.”

“That happened?”

“Yeah, just now at the hotel. Apparently, you can either serve it on half a boiled egg, or on bread with butter. If they weren’t just disembodied voices attached to random memories, I’d swear the people in my head would’ve ended up in a fist fight.”

Frank thought that would make Maggie laugh, but she just shook her head. “All that company with you, all the time. You’re never lonely. That’s something.”

“Wish I were sometimes,” Frank said. “That’s why I use the null generator, just to get some alone time. You don’t ever use one?”

“Hell, no,” she said, looking alarmed. “I’d feel . . . blind. Scared. I wouldn’t know how people were feeling, what they’d be likely to do.”

“You mean exactly how the rest of us live our lives?” Frank asked. “I have no idea how people are feeling except for what they say or how they look.”

“Most people hide it well,” Maggie replied, clutching Frank’s hand a little tighter as they walked, part of their married couple ruse, an old tradecraft habit. Their Russian tails likely already had a brief on them anyway. “But under the surface, they carry around so much anger. Disappointment. Lust. Sadness. All of it. That shit builds up and you never know when one of ’em is just gonna pop. The average person is just a stupid, instinctual, emotional powder keg ready to blow. All they need is the right push. And I don’t wanna be around when that happens.”

“You sound like you really don’t like people anymore,” Frank said quietly.

“People are shit, Frank. They really are. In the end, they’re just fight or flight, pleasure and pain. Everything else is just window-dressing to cover up the fact that they’re animals.”

So that’s my favorite bit in MJ-12: Endgame, and perhaps in the entire series. I like that as these powers have grown to be part of these characters, their attitudes and perspectives have changed dramatically – and maybe not necessarily for the better.

LINKS:

MJ-12: Endgame Universal Buy Link

Website

Twitter

BIO:

Michael J. Martinez is the author of the Daedalus trilogy of Napoleonic era space opera adventures as well as the MAJESTIC-12 series of superpowered spy-fi thrillers. He likes mashing genres together, obviously. His short fiction has appeared in Unidentified Funny Objects 4, Cthulhu Fhtagn!, Geeky Giving and The Endless Ages Anthology for Vampire: The Masquerade. He recently moved to Los Angeles and already misses rain and cold weather, but is otherwise thriving. He can be found online at michaeljmartinez.net and on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.

 

My Favorite Bit: Andrea Phillips talks about Bookburners Season 4

My Favorite BitAndrea Phillips is joining us today to talk about Season 4 of the serial fiction Bookburners, written with Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Brian Francis Slattery, and Mur Lafferty. Here’s a description:

Everything in the Bookburners’ lives falls into two categories: Before London and After London. Before London, things were strange, sure, but After London . . . “strange” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Magic is everywhere—and the Bookburners can only be in one place at a time.

What’s Andrea’s favorite bit?

Bookburners Season 4 cover image

ANDREA PHILLIPS

Love is wonderful, isn’t it? It’s wonderful unless you’re a main character in a story. But when you are in a story, if you and your beloved get together any time before the last act… that’s pretty bad news for you and your chance things are going to go well and smoothly. Odds are strong that tragedy is coming your way, self-inflicted or otherwise.

That’s because you just don’t see healthy long-term romantic relationships in media very often (though it bears noting that our hostess Mary Robinette Kowal does write them, and brilliantly!) In large part, healthy relationships are inherently less dramatically exciting. Calm adults rationally talking through their problems and coming to a reasonable compromise makes a great world to live in, but it’s pretty boring to read about.

So in order to make a relationship feel exciting, all of the writer’s focus is often on getting the couple together — how many TV shows have had near-infinite seasons of will-they-or-won’t-they? And then, if the story doesn’t end at a first kiss or a wedding, we tend to fixate on the kinds of stories where it’s easiest to find continuing dramatic tension: external events that come between our lovers. Fights and breakups. Pasts coming back to haunt them, misplaced jealousy and trust issues, cheating, betrayal, ignoring each other’s needs or priorities. It’s high drama, and it’s exciting to read, to be sure. But it’s not… healthy.

Unfortunately, this can have a detrimental effect on the real world, too. There’s strong evidence that the way the world is portrayed in media has a strong effect on our own behaviors. Think about how the Hollywood smoking ban affected smoking rates, and how looking at Photoshop-thin fashion models makes girls more likely to fall into body dysmorphia and disordered eating. And so modeling how a healthy relationship should work is important, simply to maintain and reinforce our cultural understanding that such a thing even exists.

With that in mind, the Bookburners team was dead set on writing the Sal/Grace romance as a solid, healthy relationship going into Season 4. Sal is a veteran police detective, and Grace is a woman cursed in 1920s Shanghai to only live when the candle bound to her life force is burning. They’ve worked together on the Vatican’s black ops magic suppression team for years, and now their partnership has grown deeper.

The strength of this partnership was important to all of the writing team, not least because we love these characters and we want them to be happy. They were always meant to be together. But nobody’s interested a boring story. So what do you do? Introduce external complications that test the strength of the relationship? Just cut off that thread so the dynamic between those two characters remains static and dull for the rest of the series, however long that might be?

Ugh. Terrible options all around.

The good news, though, is that this is a false choice. In reality, a healthy relationship is like a symphony, with tension constantly arising and resolving. And on the Bookburners team, we pass the thread from one writer to another, like a melody passing through each instrument in turn.

The Grace/Sal relationship has been a slow burn, even if it was destined from page 1. Now that we’ve arrived at that moment, we planned extensively for how to move ahead with this relationship, because we did want it to be healthy. But we also wanted it to be dynamic and compelling.

That brings me to my favorite part of this season. At the end of episode 7, Wax, there’s a moment where Sal is worried because Grace has been unhappy lately — not with her; there’s no fear for the relationship there. But Grace has been frustrated with some of the unromantic parts of life, like doing the laundry. Unlike most of us, Grace hasn’t had to deal with the tedium of maintaining a life for years; she’s been a weapon, woken only when it’s time for her to punch something.

Now, though, she’s choosing to live like a person again, at the cost of shortening the amount of life she has left. And Sal is worried for her, wondering if Grace shouldn’t go back to sleeping through the boring parts.

But Grace has a speech that I’m tremendously proud of: she tells a story about a bottle of perfume she’d once had, that she kept saving for a special occasion that ultimately never arrived. And she doesn’t want to do that with Sal. Grace wants to be there all the time, even for the boring parts, because what they have is too precious to miss out on any moment of it.

It’s easy to be in love in the quick, flame-hot days of limerence. But a healthy relationship is what blossoms after that, on every day that you do laundry, or agree to have what your partner wants for dinner even though you don’t like it very much; every discussion about a thermostat or a difficult relative or a misbehaving pet or child. Love is what happens on every day that you choose to be together. Even — especially — on the days when it’s not very exciting.

LINKS:

Bookburners Season 4 (10% off with this link!)

Bookburners Season 1 (for only $1.99!)

Bookburners (ep 1 is free)

How Serial Box works

Andrea Phillips Twitter

BIO:

Andrea Phillips co-writes the serials Bookburners and ReMade for Serial Box, with more on the way. Her solo work includes the novel Revision, about a wiki where your edits come true, the pirate romp The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart, and the nonfiction A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling. Andrea has also written for numerous interactive projects such as the iOS fitness game The WalkThe Maester’s Path for HBO’s Game of Thrones, human rights game America 2049, and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City.

My Favorite Bit: Shannon Eichorn talks about RIGHTS OF USE

My Favorite BitShannon Eichorn is joining us today with her novel Rights of Use. Here is the description:

In the 1960s, Project Blue Book assured America that no aliens visited its amber waves or shining seas.

Thirty years later, Project Black Book knows better and has the flying saucers to prove it, but they still can’t stop the body-possessing Kemtewet from scooping their pick of young women from Earth to host an alien queen.

Sarah Anderson yearned for an escape from her new life in Pennsylvania, but not for this: being kidnapped by aliens and faced with a choice between having a Kemtewet queen erase her brain or sharing her body with a Gertewet insurgent. Unless the Air Force can rescue her in time, it’s either death or a chance to make a difference in the galaxy. With Sarah, the Gertewet have one last shot to end the Kemtewet Empire and free billions of humans subject to their body markets.

In a war over consent, only some things are black and white.

What’s Shannon’s favorite bit?

Rights of Use cover image

SHANNON EICHORN

I have an obsession with alien symbionts.

It started with Stargate. Or maybe it started when I was growing up as an only child. Or maybe it started when I was bullied.

I love the idea of having that constant companion, that implicit ally in every bit of pettiness in daily life. “No, you’re not overreacting. This is a problem.” I like the idea of being paired up with someone older and wiser who can take a step back from the emotions of the moment and call me out. “You can lay off the road rage, Shannon. Tailgating them is unsafe and not going to help anything.” I daydream about having a second perspective available the instant I need it. “You have to make this snap decision for the first time. Here are the implications you don’t know about yet.”

I’ve been writing about body-possessing aliens for fifteen years. As I’ve been revising and polishing the first book in a series, my favorite bit, hands down, is the implantation scene. When I started revising, this was the core thing that kept me from skipping the series beginning: when Vinnet and her host first meet. I especially love it after all the revisions. I love how immediate the host’s fear comes across, and how it shines in the last draft. Even more, I love the situation. Vinnet is a sentient, intelligent, compassionate creature desperate to get her potential host’s permission before implanting herself, but she has no ears and no mouth. She can’t speak or listen. This whole scene is how to be responsible and seek consent when all the odds are against you. Because that’s what good guys do, even when they’re body-possessing aliens and taking over hosts is a fact of day-to-day life.

I love this scene for how it fits in the overall book. This is the end of the world for the new host. It’s been one trauma after another, and to her, this is surely how she’ll die. But because she meets Vinnet and takes on this symbiont, she gets empowered to fight the oppression that brought her here, both as an individual and in conjunction with her entire planet. As a side effect, it even assuages the loneliness she dealt with before she was kidnapped.

Every time I read it, this scene and this book are a touchstone for me to remember that a lot of good can come out of “end of the world” crises. It just takes a long time to see it.

LINKS:

Rights of Use Universal Book Link

Twitter

Facebook 

Website

BIO:

Shannon Eichorn is a scifi writer and aerospace engineer in Cleveland, Ohio. She received her Bachelor of Science in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in 2012. During the day, she works in aerospace testing but has also written service instructions for turbofan engines, taught horseback riding at a summer camp, and supported supersonic wind tunnel testing. She is a 2005 graduate of the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers.

My Favorite Bit: James Patrick Kelly talks about THE PROMISE OF SPACE AND OTHER STORIES

My Favorite BitJames Patrick Kelly is joining us today with his short story collection The Promise of Space and Other Stories. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Hugo and Nebula Award-winner James Patrick Kelly may offer the “Promise of Space,” but he delivers so much more. The sixteen stories included in this collection demonstrate the versatility of the author as a visionary and science fiction as a genre. Exploring Directed Intelligence, space opera, and shared sensory perception, he paints vivid pictures of startling futures and fantastic landscapes. And while Kelly pushes the boundaries of technology, his focus remains always on character, giving these speculative tales of loyalty and betrayal, love and desire, the human touch . . .

What’s James’s favorite bit?

The Promise of Space cover image

JAMES PATRICK KELLY

My favorite bit of my new short story collection, The Promise of Space, is actually a statistic.  Of the sixteen stories in the table of contents, all published in the last decade, thirteen are narrated from a woman’s point of view.  So?  Compare that to my first collection, Think Like A Dinosaur, which came out in 1990.  Just six of the fourteen stories in that book are in the point of view of a woman.  Am I proud of this statistic?  Well, sort of, although I’m not looking for a medal or claiming any kind of literary breakthrough.  I’m well aware that when a woman publishes a persuasive male point of view, nobody is standing by with a microphone and videocam to document it.  Women have been writing men since science fiction was invented.  Hello, Mary Shelley!

Of course, back in sf’s so-called Golden Age, when sf was run as a boys’ club, some particularly ignorant chauvinists in our genre insisted that women couldn’t create convincing male characters.  Period.  End of discussion.  But those were the Bad Old Days.  When I first started publishing, I believed that we’d moved on from the debate about whether men can write women or whether women can write men.  Now my mind has changed.  I don’t think we’re there yet and maybe we shouldn’t be. I’ve observed recently that the heat of the debate has cooled and has shifted into an interesting and more nuanced conversation.  One that I believe is worth pursuing.

Whether or not my thirteen women are convincing is for you to judge.   All I can say is that I try my hardest to get them right.  I confess that it is the externals that often flummox me.  Like clothes.  Shoes.  Hairstyles.  I remember once taking the better part of a day to figure out how to describe a manicure, having never experienced what seemed to me, as I wrote, to be a particularly gratifying experience.

For the more essential and serious aspects of characterization, I can only draw upon my own experience.  I was a stay-at-home dad before that become commonplace and was usually the only dad in the company of moms.  The years of my daughter’s childhood helped me redefine who I was and how I related to the world.  In 1989, when Maura was nine, I wrote this in an introduction to a chapbook, “Feminism may well be remembered as the most important contribution of the Twentieth Century.  Yes, more important than all the high tech: cybernetics, space exploration, nuclear physics, or biotechnology.  In the next few decades, it has the potential to transform the fundamental structure of human culture.”  And so it has, even as the transformations continue.  With the arrogance of youth, I thought myself a feminist back then, but now I realize that I can only aspire to be a feminist.  These days, I feel the weight of my examined and as yet unexamined prejudices about sex and gender, baggage from growing up male in the Fifties and early Sixties.   So I worry about what you think of my thirteen women.  I worry a lot.

Which brings me back to my collection and the conversation about men writing women.  I needed to write an original story for The Promise of Space and for reasons that remain mysterious to me, I decided to write about a highly intelligent fembot programmed to serve the sexual needs of a rich man.  Not a particularly original idea, but the twist was that her master wasn’t interested in her and she was thus sexually frustrated.  In the opening sections of “Yukui!” we see how enthusiastic she is about her skeevy role as a dependent intelligence and sexual plaything.  I’d hoped that the intent of the author was made plain when her antagonist, a woman, tells her:

“’Intelligent servitude is a terrible institution,’ the lifeguide said. ‘You don’t realize it, but your sidekick programming is a kind of insanity.’”

The story’s ending, in my opinion, is upbeat and feminist.  You can judge for yourself, since it was just reprinted in Clarkesworld.  But when I workshopped it before sending it off to my editor, Sean Wallace, at Prime, the women in my group had some hard words for me.  I realized that I had not made my intent plain enough.  Okay, that’s what rewrite is for.  But one workshop comment has been spinning in my mind ever since.  A very smart woman said, “This story wouldn’t be so hard to take if a woman had written it.”

Flash forward a few months.  I did a reading at the monthly Fantastic Fiction series at the renowned KGB literary bar in New York, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matt Kressel.  The final version of “Yukui!” is just 3500 words long, the perfect length for KGB.  So I read it.  The book wasn’t out then and this was the first time anyone had ever read or heard the rewrite.  I was a little nervous, but apparently the revised ending worked and the audience seemed happy enough.  But as I read those opening sections, I picked out a couple of women, strangers to me, who were listening intently with what I took to be troubled looks on their faces.  After the reading, there was some time for mingling.  I worked the room toward the two women, finally plopping down at their table.  “Did I pull it off?” I asked.  They knew exactly what I was talking about and one of those very interesting conversations ensued.   They allowed as how I won them over at the end but that they were very uncomfortable for most of the story.   And then one of them said, “It would have been different if you were a woman.”

And, you know, I think she was right.  I absolutely get it.

Should it have made a difference?  I don’t know, but that’s a conversation I’d really like to start. However, if you don’t mind, I think it best if I just listen to what other people have to say.

LINKS:

The Promise of Space and Other Stories Universal Book Link

Twitter

Facebook

Website

Title story

BIO:

James Patrick Kelly has won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards; his fiction has been translated into twenty-one languages.  His most recent story collections were this year’s The Promise of Space from Prime Books and Masters of Science Fiction: James Patrick Kelly published by Centipede Press in 2016.  His most recent novel, Mother Go, was published in 2017 as an Audible original audiobook on Audible.com. He writes a column on the internet for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and is on the faculty of the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine.

My Favorite Bit: Matt Mikalatos talks about THE CRESCENT STONE

My Favorite BitMatt Mikalatos is joining us today to talk about his novel The Crescent Stone. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A young woman with a deadly lung disease . . .
A young man with a tragic past . . .
A land where the sun never sets but darkness still creeps in . . .

Madeline Oliver has never wanted for anything, but now she would give anything just to breathe. Jason Wu skates through life on jokes, but when a tragedy leaves him guilt-stricken, he promises to tell only the truth, no matter the price. When a mysterious stranger name Hanali appears to Madeline and offers to heal her in exchange for one year of service to his people, Madeline and Jason are swept into a strange land where they don’t know the rules and where their decisions carry consequences that reach farther than they could ever guess.

What’s Matt’s Favorite Bit?

Crescent Stone cover image

MATT MIKALATOS

I have some favorite bits I can’t share because of spoilers, like a twist that comes late in the book but that I already set out in plain sight from early in the novel, or the secret world of unicorns that’s revealed in a battle scene. But I can share about a favorite bit that became a central part of the book, and that’s the oath taken by Jason Wu to tell the truth no matter what.

Jason has a terrible trauma in his recent past that he feels responsible for… something he lied about contributed to what happened. So he makes a decision to never lie again.

A character who never lies and is also a seventeen year old, it turns out, brings a lot of humor to the story as well as constantly complicating the plot. Jason can’t stop himself, whether it’s telling everyone about his high school principal’s toupee or explaining his plans in detail to the bad guys.

Here’s a scene where we see Jason’s truth-telling causing some future problems. Jason’s friend, David, sneaks him into the dungeons to meet one of the Scim — a captured warrior in a centuries old war:

“I’m Wu Song,” Jason said. “That’s my real name.”

The Scim chortled. “Truth teller, are you?” Its voice was like gravel spilt on concrete.

Jason’s eyebrows rose. “Yes.”

“We Scim say only three tell the truth: prophets, story-tellers, and fools. Which are you?”

Jason considered this question. “Probably fool.”

“Ha!” The Scim straightened, seeming suddenly interested. “I will trade you, truth for truth. I am called Break Bones.”

Hmmm. Interesting. “I am called Jason.”

Break Bones smiled, opening his wide, frog-like mouth to reveal jagged and uneven teeth that were each the size of Jason’s pinky. “Why do you come to the Sunlit Lands?”

“To protect my friend,” Jason said. He thought about his answer for a moment. “And to lay to rest old ghosts. And you?”

The Scim stood and shook its chains. “To shatter the sun and bring five hundred years of darkness and terror to the Elenil and all who befriend them. To crush skulls and break necks. To build a temple of bleached bones that reaches to the great dome of the heavens. To humiliate every Elenil before their death, then tear down the works of their hands, stone by stone, beam by beam, brick by brick. Only then shall I rest.”

“Huh,” Jason said. “I guess that’s why they call you Break Bones.”

“The fountains will run with blood. The city walls will be shelves for their heads.”

“Better make a priority list, because if you tear down all their bricks and then try to use the walls as shelves, you’re going to have to rebuild the walls again. It’s a lot of work.”

“You mock me,” Break Bones said, his voice low. “The Scim are not fond of mockery, Wu Song.”

Jason cocked his head. “Is anyone fond of mockery?”

“I think you’re ticking him off,” David said.

“It’s a legitimate question,” Jason replied, watching the Scim.

Break Bone’s chest was heaving, his breath coming in staccato pants. “Humans. Are you even allowed in this prison?”

“We should go,” Kekoa said. “I think you get the point. The Scim are terrible monsters.”

“No,” Jason said, answering the Scim. “We snuck in.”

Break Bone laughed, and the horrible sound of it filled the dungeon. “I like you, Wu Song. When I am free from this place I will honor you with a violent death. I will not humiliate you with captivity.”

“That’s nice,” Jason said. “Though I might prefer humiliation.”

Break Bones grunted, flashing his broken yellow smile. “What is the name of your friend? The one who is under your protection?”

“Don’t tell him,” David said.

Kekoa grabbed Jason’s arm and pulled him toward the door.

“Madeline,” Jason said. “Madeline Oliver.”

Break Bones wrapped his right arm into the chains holding him fast. “On the night I bring the darkness to you, I will come with her lifeless body, so you will know.” He slammed his arm forward, and dust puffed out of the wall where the chain was anchored. He yanked again, and the chain rattled, coming free. “So you will know you failed!” Break Bones roared, pulling the chain nearly all the way out. A distant trumpet sounded, and there was the sound of feet on the stone stairway.

As you might imagine, Madeline isn’t pleased to learn that Jason shared her name with a violent prisoner hidden beneath the city. Of course he tells her, because he always tells the truth.

Jason is part prophet and part comic relief. He ignores social niceties and his own safety to say what he thinks no matter what comes, and it creates a character who becomes equal parts charming and exasperating.

So there’s my favorite bit! Jason Wu, truth teller! I know you’ll love him, too.

LINKS:

The Crescent Stone Universal Buy Link

The Sunlit Lands Website

Matt Mikalatos on Twitter

The Sunlit Lands on Facebook

BIO:

Matt Mikalatos lives in the Portland, Oregon, area with his wife and three daughters.

My Favorite Bit: Mary Robinette Kowal and Alyshondra Meacham talk about THE FATED SKY

My Favorite BitYay! New book! The Fated Sky released today and while normally on My Favorite Bit, we have the author talk, I decided to invite my assistant and first reader, Alyshondra, to talk about her favorite bit. My thinking is that it will give you a little bit of an insight into how a first reader can shape a novel. Also… honestly, it’s one of my favorite bits, too.

Here’s the traditional publisher’s description:

Mary Robinette Kowal continues the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating Stars; The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission. Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? With the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

What’s Alyshondra’s favorite bit?

ALYSHONDRA MEACHAM

I did a lot of beta reading for Mary Robinette before we got to know each other in person. I had already done The Calculating Stars and half of The Fated Sky before we met up at LTUE in Utah. We were talking in a small group, and I was working on a Star Wars/Hamilton cross stitch to keep my hands busy and my anxiety at bay. As part of the conversation, she asked me a lot of questions: How did I design them? What materials were usually required? How long did it normally take? I thought that she was just being Good Hostess Mary Robinette, interested in her guests.

A few weeks later, Mary Robinette sent out a new chapter for The Fated Sky, and I read this:

She had her needlepoint out, and it was far enough along now that you could recognize Orion in the star field. Florence tucked the needle into a corner. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I brought you some pie.” I sent the baggie spinning across the mod to her.

Florence snatched it out of the air with a grin. “You are my favorite person.”

I snorted.

“Right now.” She winked. “Keep plying me with your pie . . .”

The Fated Sky cross stitch, closeup

It turned out that I had been talking to Researching Writer Mary Robinette, looking for a hobby for one of her astronauts. When you are on a long journey–whether by car, plane or rocket ship–it helps to have something to do. You need something to (sorry not sorry) ground you, something that you do for your own joy. On a rocket, every ounce of cargo counts, so it’s important that it be something lightweight. Elma bakes, Terrazas does radio plays, and after Mary met me, Florence does needlework. Later, Mary Robinette asked me to design the actual pattern.

“In my head, what she’s doing is a star chart. It’s a gift for Elma, because she had such trouble with stars during training.  It’d be on the same blue fabric as the flight suits, because there is a lot of extra floating (ha) around.” 

I decided that the star chart Florence used is what the sky looked like from Kansas City on October 19, 1962. That’s the day that the Mars mission launched, ten and a half years after the Meteor strikes DC. No one in Kansas City would have seen the sky, though – the clouds from the Meteor would still have been ever-present. To Florence, that makes this view of the stars even more precious.

Here’s one of the charts I used:

Star Chart from Heavens Above

And here’s the final result:

Florence cares about details, so most stars are represented with their correct colors, the background stars are relatively accurate, and the quarter moon from that night is shown as well. The visual binary of Mizar and Alcor (in the asterism of the Big Dipper) is one of my favorite things to tell people about, so she included that too. She does indulge in a little artist’s prerogative: the Moon (in Gemini), Mars, and the North Star are all in their proper places, but are larger than life. Mars is circled – here’s where we’re going! As a little dig at Elma, Alkaid (the last star in the Big Dipper) is circled too. You’ll see why when you read The Fated Sky.

Look, when I read that first line about needlepoint, I actually flailed. Think Kermit the Frog-style squealing and flapping my hands–the whole nine yards. The Lady Astronaut Universe is so precisely what I want out of my fiction. It sometimes feels like Mary Robinette is writing them *specifically for me*, and I can’t believe that I’ve gotten to influence some small part of the final product.

#

MRK again! So, this is one of my favorite bits, too and it exists because I know Alyshondra. There are lots of little touches throughout the books that come directly from interacting with other people. Writers often get asked, “where do your ideas come from” and they come from moments like this. They come from being curious and interested in other people. The writer is a filter, but the ideas are all around us.

Also, the cross-stitch is beautiful, right?

UPDATE! Want to make your own cross stitch? Kits and patterns are now on sale at Worldbuilders Market!

The Fated Sky cross stitch kit

LINKS:

The Fated Sky Universal Book Link

The Fated Sky Audiobook (read by me)

The Fated Sky Cross stitch pattern or kit

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